Cathy and I recently watched an episode of Blue Bloods on television, and at the conclusion of the program the New York City Police Commissioner was seated at the table with his family preparing to have a meal together. As is frequently depicted in the show, he voiced the prayer before the meal and quoted a standard blessing often repeated before a meal and made the sign of the cross. It was a touching scene of a family giving thanks together before enjoying a wonderful meal and family time. Cathy and I agreed how we wished more families would follow that example, and not only pray together before meals but pray together in family devotions.
Such was not the case for Cathy or for me prior to marriage and was not part of our lifestyle for several years after marriage. Our families individually prayed together before a meal usually on Sunday, but that was about it for my own family. We never had a family devotion and seldom talked with each other about spiritual things. Cathy’s experience was similar.
I have previously written about the spiritual impact my brother Berry Lee (Bubba) had on us, and it began shortly after we were married in 1965. Bubba was not one who traveled much outside of Union County, and some of the reasons were because he was so busy with the responsibilities as a husband and father, and because he had such a busy family medicine practice. Cathy and I were very surprised when we received a phone call from Bubba asking if he might come to New Orleans to see our apartment, tour Charity Hospital and just find out how we were doing as newly weds. That didn’t sound like Bubba, but we welcomed a visit and really looked forward to his coming. We didn’t have a clue of his real motive for coming! His purpose was to share Christ with his little brother and new sister-in-law whom he believed were in need of a Savior.
During his visit, he took us for a meal at Commander’s Palace, and just before I was about to begin eating he said, “Wait; we haven’t done something very important. We need to pray.” I was 26 years old and had never been at a table in a restaurant where someone prayed aloud before the meal. To say Cathy and I were uncomfortable at what seemed like the longest prayer ever uttered, would be a huge understatement. I felt like every eye in that exclusive restaurant was upon us, and they were thinking what religious nuts those folks must be. We did love Bubba but were relieved when his visit was finally over, and we could get back to “normal.”
Following our spiritual conversion more than 10 years later, Cathy and I understood more clearly the absolute necessity of prayer; individually, together and with other believers. We believe that prayer whether at home or in a restaurant, is a personal matter and should never be done to impress others or elevate our spiritual status. It is simply a matter of showing gratitude and praise to the One who has given us all we have.
Soon after our conversion we began praying together before every meal and holding hands while praying. In the beginning we felt a little self-conscious, because this was a marked change from the past, and we still thought others might see us and believe we were attempting to showcase our spirituality. The first confirmation we received we were doing what God desired occurred while attending an advanced Bill Gothard seminar in Denton, Texas.
Bubba tried to convince us prior to attending the best place to stay for the event was on campus at North Texas State University. The conference was being held in their large gymnasium, and they were offering couples to stay in the dormitory suites at a considerable reduction in cost from staying in a motel. That especially appealed to Bubba. Cathy and I discussed the options and decided to stay at a Holiday Inn which would provide us more privacy and luxury than a dorm room, no matter how nice the college setting. The big disadvantage was it was a 15 minute drive from the NTSU gym. We had no idea if any other conference attendees were also staying at the Holiday Inn, but the motel was full.
The morning of the start of the conference we were in the coffee shop having our breakfast and noted the restaurant was full. We remarked there must be some other event in town to have so many people in this motel, including lots of children who we knew were not attending a Bill Gothard meeting. A couple approached our table and asked if we were attending the seminar, and we were surprised they would even suspect it. We were not wearing our name badges. They asked if they might ride with us because they had flown to Denton from Charlotte, North Carolina and did not have a vehicle. We got to know Gary and Virginia Cooper well over the next several days of riding back and forth together, and then having some meals together. We asked them how they picked us out of a large crowded restaurant, and their response was, “We saw you praying together before the meal and suspected you might be attending the seminar!”
God used that “chance meeting” of the Cooper’s 2 years later when a couple who was well-known to us from El Dorado but then living in Charlotte; called me one morning. The husband tearfully told me he and his wife were having serious marital problems and were on the verge of divorce. He asked me in desperate tones, “Is there anything you can possibly do to help us?” I told him Cathy and I knew a couple in Charlotte who might help, and I would put them in touch. I called the Cooper’s and they responded quickly by connecting with our friends and becoming a critical source for reconciliation. The marriage relationship of our friends was slowly stabilized with the aid of the Cooper’s, and they are still together 30+ years later. The Cooper’s were also instrumental in encouraging another set of friends who lived in a town neighboring Charlotte. He is a physician classmate, and he and his wife needed encouragement in attending a Bill Gothard seminar held in Charlotte. Their experience with the Cooper’s and at the seminar strengthened their marriage and changed the dynamics of their home.
Over the years we have had many people who were strangers, come to our table in a restaurant and quietly say, “I saw you two praying together before you ate, and it meant a lot to me.” We have never had anyone say, “I wish you wouldn’t make a public display of your religion.” God uses our witness for Him in so many ways unknown to us, but occasionally he sends someone like the Cooper’s to reinforce His words: “In all your ways acknowledge Me, and I will direct your path.” (Prov. 3:6)
PS: Bubba and LaNell never stayed in another college dormitory despite it’s reduced rate.