I remember Jessica as an eighth grade girl, riding in the car with me going to some church youth event at five o’clock on a Saturday afternoon when the familiar words came through the radio, “Coming to you live from the Fitzgerald Theater in beautiful downtown St.Paul, Minnesota…”
Jessica made a face and reached to turn the station.
“No you don’t. Don’t you know what this is?”
“It sounds terrible,” she replied.
“This is ‘A Prairie Home Companion’ with Garrison Keillor,” I said. I proceeded to give a ten minute speech on why this was the best thing she would ever hear on the radio, while Garrison crooned a Patsy Cline duet with Emmylou Harris in the background. Jessica cringed with visceral disgust at the steel guitar solos.
A few weeks ago I was sitting next to my friend Jessica and Garrison, decked in red tennis shoes and gray suit, said those words we were longing to hear, “Coming to you live from the Ryman Auditorium in beautiful Nashville, Tennessee…”
She’s almost thirty now, and still a friend. She’s become everything a pastor could hope for – thoughtful, engaged, compassionate – a follower of Christ in word and deed.
And we sit in that old theater that before it hosted the Grand Ole Opry was a church and we hear Garrison talk about retiring and say, “Some of you were subjected to this show as children and youth, and now you subject other children and youth to it…” Kim and I both look at Jess and she laughs and smiles a knowing smile.
When the show is over Garrison hangs around and starts singing songs.
Out of nowhere, in this theater with pews for seats, he sang something it seems everyone in the place knew:
“Praise God from whom all blessings flow…”
We were all singing. And I was remembering all the times over all the years I had sung this very song with my friend Jess. I thought of so many other friends as well throughout the years who have stood and sung this hymn of praise with me – too many to name, but all dear to me, all bound to me and I to them by the God whose blessings we sang in that old auditorium on those wooden pews.
I put my arm around Jess as we sang, “praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.”
The sound seemed to linger, echoing off the walls. And in our hearts.
I am thankful for the blessings that flow from God. Among the one I’m most thankful for is the beloved community of the church and friends bound together by Christ in bonds which can never be broken.
I will miss Garrison. But I’m glad Jess will be subjecting young people to reruns for years to come.