They pulled up in an old station wagon on that first Sunday. You could tell the mom dealt with the struggle of hoarding. Everything they seemed to have ever owned was in the back seat and the very back of that station wagon. There was barely room in the front seat for her and her two children to sit. Trash bags filled with trash were even tied to the roof of the vehicle. The old clattering station wagon pulled up the ramp onto the church parking lot. As she turned the car off, it backfired like a gunshot.
She got out of the driver’s seat. Her two children, a daughter around age 14 and a son around the age of 12, slid out behind her. Their clothes were old and ragged. The colors and the patterns of each did not match. But, with a smile and a big family Bible (probably the only Bible this family had), they entered the church. I was thrilled to have them in the church, as any pastor is to have a new family attend. Our church family was courteous but seemed a little leery for some reason. Perhaps some of them who lived in this town knew the family. I did not.
As I began to preach that Sunday, I started to understand the church’s hesitancy. Not far into the sermon, the little boy began to bark like a dog. Everyone turned around to look at this family, especially the barking little boy. The mom didn’t seem to notice his bark but did see people staring. The boy stopped. The people looked back at me and I continued without missing a beat until…. the boy began to bark again. His timing was always perfect. Just at a major point, it seemed, he would bark. The church members would all turn around. The mom would look at them. Finally, I think she realized it was her son’s barking that drew the stares.
The mom told her son, “Stop it!” With that, he barked louder. And I am still preaching. Finally, she grabbed him by the arm and dragged him out with his shouting, “Momma, don’t hit me! Momma, don’t hit me!” Now the mom never abused her son. He just did not want to be disciplined. The daughter followed. The son barked in the parking lot, while the mom and her daughter stood at the front door of the church and listened to the sermon.
The family returned every Sunday. Lori and I loved on them as did most of the church family. I got to know them, and the church tried to help. I learned that this woman’s extended family had a great animosity for her immediate family. Her adult siblings tried to get her to give the little boy up. They wanted him committed. They wanted him gone. But this sweet mom would not give up on her son. Every Sunday they would come. Every Sunday he would bark. Every Sunday she would take him outside while she would stay at the front door listening.
I noticed another thing about this little boy. He would get upset and bite huge chunks of flesh out of his own arm. It was awful. He would do it in public, even in the church. Finally, some members called on me to put this little family out because the boy was causing others to not want to attend. I understood their sentiments, but how can the Body of Christ not love on the least and the lost? I refused to put this family out.
Roll forward several months later. This sweet mom was at their old trailer house. She had cooked a roast for her little family. The little boy, the one who barked and bit himself, choked on a piece of meat and died right in front of his mom and his sister as they did all they could to dislodge the food. She called me to have the service at the church. I told her we surely could. She asked me to do it and asked my charge. I let her know I would gladly do the service and, as always, I do not charge.
I did not expect a lot of people for this service. Most of the Church family had pulled away from this family of three. Their own family had despised them so much, I did not expect them to show either. I pulled up to the church that Saturday morning about an hour before the funeral was to start. I was shocked – the whole parking lot was packed. Every family member of this little family was there. Every church member was there too. This little boy’s life had been snuffed out and the whole town realized how cold they had been.
It was a monumental moment in this town and in this church. There was repentance and there was kindness. There were tears and there was a tender divine correction. And God moved. Jesus loves the least of us and we should too.