Churches have choirs, leaders, teachers, organizers and preachers, but none of those roles ever suited me.
So when I was asked to write a devotional for a new Advent booklet at my church, I found my niche.
Terry Gaines brought the idea from her former Atlanta church, Trinity Presbyterian, when she joined South Mecklenburg Presbyterian Church in south Charlotte.
Dr. Matt Brown, senior pastor at South Mecklenburg, liked the idea, and next thing you know, Gaines was asking for Advent stories from the congregation.
That was 10 years ago, and Gaines is still organizing the booklets. Susan Craig, another church member, began helping Gaines after the first year. She actually puts the booklets together after Terry edits them.
The booklet is online, but about 300 copies are printed.
“I really feel like it’s a gift to me,” Gaines said. “I’m just the mediator to get the stories out.”
Gaines said that I’m the only person who has written a devotional every year. This year it crept up on me, with two writing projects consuming my thoughts.
All it took was a walk to my mailbox, past our magnolia tree, and I had my story (visit the church website www.smpchome.org to read the whole story). Here’s the short version:
We planted a thin, straggly magnolia tree in our front yard.
Our little magnolia tree was far from being a shade tree. It looked more like a weed than a tree.
We had found it following a memorial service for my late mother-in-law, Anne. After the service, we walked around her yard, which was shaded by a towering Southern Magnolia tree. After 30 years of growing inch by inch, this tree had grown to an impressive size.
Anne used to cover the fireplace mantel with its large, waxy leaves and pure white blossoms during the Christmas season.
The devotionals have a specified word count and must include a Bible verse and prayer.
Pencil sketches drawn by children age 5-12 accompany each devotional. “I like to keep it simple,” Gaines said. “There is no coloring.”
This year’s booklet, as in most years, came together in about six weeks. On Veterans Day, children gathered at the church to work on their drawings. I always look forward to seeing what drawing is sketched for my devotion, and I have yet to see the one for this year.
Some years I write my devotional almost a year in advance. Last year, my mother and my husband helped me deliver much-needed items to Carolina Equine Rescue & Assistance.
Here’s a short version of my story from last year:
“The three of us, not exactly wise, visited a manger … a real-life manger. Two incredible folks, like Mary and Joseph, tend to the animals on a farm in Wingate. Although there are no camels, donkeys or sheep on this 14-acre sanctuary, pigs named Matilda and Bruno, horses (11 of them today), goats named George and Bootsie, numerous chickens, dogs, peacocks … live here. There is always room at the inn.
“The barn abuts the house, so the animals get care ’round the clock every day of the year. Volunteer farmhands, somewhat like shepherds, clean the stalls and feed the horses. We, the three of us, brought alfalfa, horse feed and salt licks for the horses … kind of like gold, frankincense and myrrh if you’re an equestrian. We unloaded the gifts in the barn, where Christmas lights illuminated our dusty path. It seemed like angels were singing as Christmas music resonated throughout the stalls. We tossed overripe bananas, smashed pumpkins and apple peels to the pigs in their sty. The horses allowed us to pet them and the goats followed us around like family. A crisp stillness was in the air and a very bright star was hanging above us.”
In 2012, I got my idea simply by looking out the window one night. Several years back, I was so inspired when I listened to choir member Tony Bentley sing “O Holy Night” at the Christmas Eve service that I wrote my devotional that night for the next year.
Being able to write for my church gives me an opportunity to do something I love.
They would never want my voice in the choir, and I don’t have the patience to sit through committee meetings, but I always have a story.