One of the most vivid of my childhood memories is sitting with my mother in the small West Texas church we attended. One of my early prayers, as I remember, was something like, “Lord, I would like to be able to touch the floor with my feet while sitting in this pew.” I think we adults forget what it’s like for a small child to sit in the pew in the uncomfortable shape of an “L.”
My mother finished the eighth grade and never received musical training of any kind, but she made it possible for me, as a young reader and aspiring singer, to participate in the hymn singing at the church. She pointed. She sang.
Her finger pointed to the words of the first stanza on the page of the old Broadman Hymnal as the church sang, “When We All Get to Heaven.” We sang the chorus. Then her finger rested on the first word of the second stanza of the old hymn. I found that I could add my little voice to the congregation’s as we sang, ” in the mansions bright and blessed, He’ll prepare for us a place.”
Almost 60 years later, I enjoy recalling a 40-year career spent in directing church music. A music education has made it possible for me to help train quite a few aspiring young musicians. The journey in church music has put me in front of choirs and instrumentalists who looked to me to set the tempo and mood of the piece on which we were working or performing.
A few days ago, my wife and I read Psalm 145 during our morning devotional time. I read aloud, “One generation shall praise thy works to another, and shall declare thy mighty acts.” I thought of my mother’s little finger pointing to the words so I could learn to praise my Maker with the rest of the congregation. Later in the day, I recalled another portion of Psalm 145: “They shall abundantly utter the memory of thy great goodness, and shall sing of thy righteousness.”
Later this month, my family will celebrate Mother’s 100th birthday. Dementia has removed her ability to converse with us. We’re not sure she knows when we come to visit, but when we walk toward her in the nursing home, it’s not out of the ordinary to hear her singing, “When We All Get to Heaven.” Her hoarse little voice chimes out in perfect rhythm those words, “When we all see Jesus, we’ll sing and shout the victory.”
I’m almost 6 feet 4 inches tall now. I can sit in almost any chair (or pew) and my feet can touch the floor just fine. My childhood prayers were answered. I’m thinking my mother’s prayers have been answered, too.
Gerre Joiner of Decatur is a semi-retired church musician. His mother, Nell, resides at The Hills Nursing Center in Decatur. She will celebrate her 100th birthday July 30.