We called her the Little General.
I was visiting my new boyfriend’s church one Sunday morning and felt a hand clamp my shoulder.
I turned around to find an older woman with bright eyes and a genuine smile.
“I wanted to meet you,” she said.
I don’t remember what all she said to me in that short conversation, except for one thing.
“I’m the wedding coordinator around here, you know.” She gave me a conspiratorial wink.
I’m sure my eyes popped wide open and my jaw dropped two inches. Don’t say that so loud! We’ve only been dating for two months!
But just a year and a half later, she coordinated our wedding. She and the other ladies of my new church didn’t let me lift a finger after I gave them all my preferences. They created a beautiful reception hall and made the sanctuary glow with candles and flowers.
Peggy ran the day’s schedule with military precision.
And she had the week after my honeymoon planned too. “Good! You’ll be back in time for VBS!”
“But I don’t wanna—”
“It’ll be great! I need help in the craft room.”
The day after I arrived home from my honeymoon, I found myself in one of the Sunday school rooms helping her prep. We were about to be inundated with the first of several groups of kids that day.
At the sound of footsteps thundering down the hall, she put her arm around my shoulder and started to pray. “Lord, here they come…” After that, it’s a blur of trying to help kids get more rice into old neckties than on the floor and making sure they didn’t burn themselves with the hot glue gun putting googley eyes onto their new “snakes.”
We were exhausted. But that was only the first day. Four more to go.
By the end of the week, I knew all the ladies who served in VBS pretty well. They treated me like I belonged there.
I’m not sure what the kids learned that week, but I know what I learned.
I was welcome.
Did Peggy know that I’d spent the last few years hiding out on the back pew of my previous church? Could she have suspected that I was flat out scared to even try relationships with people from church?
I’ll never know. But her heart to serve inspired me to want to do life with other Christians and join in Kingdom work again. She helped me to see that I was in a healthy, safe place and it was okay to make friends. (What drove me to hide as a stranger in the previous church is a story for another day.)
I served in VBS the following year, and the year after that. I also joined the choir and filled lots of other roles in the years to follow. She didn’t slow down, either. Any time she could, whether it was a “church day” or not, she would gather kids to do crafts, learn sewing, or attend “Peggy’s camp.” Any skill she had she devoted to sharing the gospel.
The last time I saw her, I joyfully greeted her after being away for six years. My joy turned to confusion when it took her a few minutes to recognize me. In fact, she was a little confused about where she was and why she was there. We were standing in the fireside room of the church where her children and grandchildren grew up. Where we’d served together many years. I left my own graduation party for a minute to go and have a little cry.
It was good to be back with the people I loved, though time had clearly marched on. Though I’d lived in Tennessee for years by then, I still didn’t fit in with a church family. As much as I tried, I never felt “home.”
It occurred to me that it might be time for me to be the one to clamp someone on the shoulder and say, “Hey, I want to meet you!”
It took a few years, but I think I’m in that place now. It took a few changes and some heart work. I have a long ways to go before I become as servant-minded as Peggy, but God’s doing a great work in me.
Earlier this month, I learned that Peggy had finally gone home to be with the Jesus she loves. As sad as it is to hear of her passing, I am comforted to know I’ll see her again and that she’s at peace right now. She no doubt knows where she is.
But I wonder if she knows the impact she had on me and hundreds of others like me. The way she inspired me to become part of a loving church family, not once but twice. How she taught me that if you want to lead people to Jesus, you first have to be like Jesus.
I owe her a debt of gratitude and can’t wait to be there myself to tell her thanks.
But first, I’ve got some Kingdom work to do.