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James R. Stout

Plans and Reasons

            It was the morning of December 16, 1972. I was 17 at the time and like the song says, “It was a very good year”. I awoke early that morning, took a shower, fretted over the perfect outfit to wear much much the same as a male bird will groom himself to attract a mate, and I even used a new fangled thing called a “hot comb” (a precursor to a blow dryer before those were marketed for the home) which allowed me to display my hair without the natural waves that I so disliked. When I emerged from my bedroom looking my very best I was dressed in a pair of flared casual dress pants, a paisley shirt that matched perfectly, a white and very wide leather belt that were all the rage, and matching white leather dress shoes (no kidding). My mother, who was standing in the kitchen across the hall from my room, looked at me, did a double take, then asked a question.

            “Are you going to church?”

            “Yes, ma’am. I thought that I would.” I replied.

            You could have seen the wheels turning in her head like in a Merrie Melody cartoon character. As she continued to cook the fried eggs for her and my Dad, she looked at me once more and spoke.

            “There must be a girl you want to see.” She said.

            Well, I made an immediate denial and did so with just the right amount of indignation. Mom just rolled her eyes. Within the next ten minutes I denied such a suggestion twice more. In a strange similarity, I was a living example of the Apostle Peter denying Christ three times before the cock crowed. There was no rooster in or near the house, but of course, there was a girl!

            I went to church and enjoyed the morning Bible study (the girl was not in my department though) and then managed to sit next to “the girl” during the worship service. The best part was the 15 minutes after the service when we got to talk. That day was the first Sunday I had gone to church for a couple of months. In fact, for the past 3 or 4 years my attendance was intermittent. I had accepted Christ as my savior when I was 8 years old and we went to church every time the doors were open from the time I could remember until I was about 13. But Mom had started working and we sort of backslid for a few years. I won’t go into the reasons; I’ll just say that it was what it was.

            For the next 13 months I didn’t miss a Sunday. I still attended church most Sundays even after that, but I was working by then and there were weekends when I had to work on Sundays. I would still go on Sunday nights and Wednesday nights (back in a time when all Southern Baptist Churches had services on those nights) I kept going even when “the girl” and I broke up (actually, it was a series of break ups and getting back together that lasted for over a year), but I admit that I didn’t go as regularly. But by March of 1975 I began to be more serious about my relationship with Christ and I started attending church every Sunday again. There was no girl at the time. I was not dating anyone at the time.

            What’s of interest is that during those two+ years my parents started to go to church regularly again. I guess they didn’t like the feeling of seeing me going to church while they sat at home. They started going and even joined the choir which required a dedication of time that merely going to church on Sunday morning required. Dad and Mom had sung in church choirs since way before I was born. Dad even directed choir at times when the choir director was out of town or sick at several of the churches that we were members of all through my growing up years. Daddy sang bass and Mama sang Alto!

            The fact is that when I started going to church regularly in December of 1972 I was going because of a girl. That’s not at all the right reason to go to church, but during the months that followed my interest in God’s word, my love for being amongst other Christian young people, and my relationship with Christ grew. “The Girl” didn’t necessarily set out to start something, but she did. When I look back on it now, I can see a spiritual chain was at work. Her parents were terrific people and were dedicated members of the church. They made sure “the girl” was at church with them. She had grown up in that church and I most likely had seen her many times during those years, but my first memory of her wasn’t until December of 1972. Her parents were already part of the chain, she was the next link, then I became a link, my parents became a link after me, by 1976 my sister and her husband started going to church regularly and my brother-in-law accepted Christ as his Savior. They became the next link. All because I was smitten with “the girl” enough to start going to church 4 years earlier. You know what? God uses us in ways to bring others to Him and we never know at the time what his plan is or where it is going to lead. But God knows.

            I didn’t end up marrying “the girl” (I was far from perfect and I was young and dumb), but that was apparently not the plan that God had. Or maybe it was, and I goofed, but God takes us and all of our goof ups and makes new plans. Paul McCartney sang about life being a long and winding road. It is indeed that but rest assured that if we stray from the road on which God prefers us to be, He will provide a way back to the road that ultimately leads us back to Him. We just have to be willing. I must say thanks (not that she would ever know about this blog and therefore see this entry) to “the girl” for being there and part of that chain. She may not know it, but she started something in my spiritual life that hasn’t stopped. Other people have come into my life that have helped me along this path and some of them I never would have met if I hadn’t wanted to see “the girl” on that long-ago Sunday morning. So, let me say to you, if someone you know decides to start going to church and you question their reason for doing so, then stop. It very well could be that God is providing a way to bring that person to Him.

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