They go before me, my strange saints: per crucem ad lucem. Through the Cross, to the light.
My firebrand grandmothers: one a Bible-carrying shotgun named Hardtop Hannah for her love of travel and independence, the other a Sunday School prophet who taught so fiercely that people still quote her in the hollow.
My aunt B with her Clemson regalia and Mountain Dew t-shirts and cigarette habit, whose laugh carried over everyone else’s during the family Christmas, who turned the last years of her life over to God with unbridled fervor.
Mabel, my great-aunt, with her men’s jackets and painted-on eyebrows and pink curlers: we attended different churches but over Big K orange cream soda she watched me read her large-print Bible with eager eyes. “God is good, honey,” she reminded me as she refilled the styrofoam cup. “God is good.”
Edgar and Mr. Buchanan and John and all the kind old gentlemen whose hair was white when I was still knee-high, who wore their nicest suits to church and sang like they meant it because they did mean it, who snuck me peppermints and who delighted to see me in church on Sundays in my little flouncy dresses and my shiny shoes.
And Ruby and Betty and Diane and Bonnie all the women, from the kind to the tart, who taught me in Sunday School, printed out old hymns for me, wrote letters, encouraged me when I started first to write and then to teach—or simply smiled and said, “Jesus loves you,” offered hugs.
Dr. K, whose sonorous voice and passion for literature taught me how to teach, taught me you could teach, could be a scholar and love God all at the same time, that one could be enhanced by the other.
I smile sometimes thinking of them and I laugh sometimes thinking of them because these are God’s lot: this crowd of witnesses identified by their worn sandals with broken straps, and cigarette butts, their careful lipstick and Sunday dresses, their walkers and canes, their crinkle-wrapped candies and magnificent beards, their twinkling eyes and belly laughs, their generosity, their Bibles scribbled over.
They loved me, or they taught me what love could look like, or they helped remind me over and over again that God is present here, now, in His church. And many of them have been gone years now, but for all that, root deeper in my heart. These are my people. They have helped to make me the me that I am, a me who can see Christ, because—in different ways, at different times—they met Him, too.
Sometimes their leaving feels like watching a photograph fade, the edges gone brittle and flaking away.
But only for a time.
And in the now, I think to myself: I don’t know who I will turn out to be. God does, but I don’t. We’re never really grown, Christians: always in metamorphosis, always transforming, always becoming the person God sees in us, the person God made. I suspect we won’t fully know who we are until our redemption is complete and we are ourselves, fully: unencumbered by pain and sin and grief through the greatness of mercy, enveloped only in love beyond love.
I can’t imagine. But in the interim, what I hope to be is one of the strange saints. Let me be the professor someone remembers, years from now. Let me be that one needed, encouraging word. Let me be the smiling face that looks familiar and warm even if we haven’t met. Let me be a reminder of God’s goodness. Let me be the story someone tells, years from now, with a laugh and a smile.
Let me be one of God’s lot.
Peter and his impulses, John and his locusts, Jacob and his birthright. Thomas and his doubts, Martha and her micromanagement, Jeremiah and his sorrows. Uncertain, unworthy, and somehow called. Anointed. Appointed.
My strange saints will fit right in.