Cathy and I recently watched an episode on television of the series Blue Bloods, 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. As is frequently depicted he voiced a prayer before the meal and made the sign of the cross. It was a touching scene of his family giving thanks before enjoying their meal and family time. Cathy and I agreed how we wished more families would follow their example and not only pray before meals but in family devotions as well.
Such was not the case for Cathy and me prior to marriage and was not part of our lifestyle for several years after marriage. Our families individually prayed before meals usually on Sunday, but this was the extent of our family prayer life. My family never had a family devotion and seldom talked with each other about spiritual things. Cathy’s experience at home was similar.
I have previously written about the spiritual impact my brother Berry Lee (Bubba) had on us, and it began soon after we were married in 1965. During his visit with us in New Orleans several months after marriage he began witnessing the love of Christ to us, and one of the highlights of his visit was a special meal at Commanders Palace. I have recounted the shock both Cathy and I experienced when Bubba prayed what seemed like the longest prayer ever voiced prior to our meal. We had never been a part of anything similar.
Following our spiritual conversion twelve years later Cathy and I understood more clearly the necessity of prayer. We believe prayer whether at home or in a restaurant is a personal matter and should never be done to impress others or make them believe we are spiritually superior. 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 before every meal while holding hands. In the beginning we felt self-conscious but continued because we knew this was the right thing to do. The first confirmation of our belief occurred while attending an advanced Bill Gothard seminar in Denton, Texas in 1978 one year following our conversion.
Bubba tried to convince us the best place to stay for the seminar 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 their dormitory suites at a considerable cost savings. This 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. The big disadvantage was it was a fifteen minute drive from the NTSU gym. We had no idea whether any other conference attendees were staying at the Holiday Inn, but discovered after checking in the motel was full.
The morning of the start of the conference we were in the coffee shop having breakfast and noted the restaurant was full. We remarked there must be some other event in town to have so many people in the motel, including lots of children who we knew were not attending the 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 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 two years later when a couple who were well-known to us from El Dorado but 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 in a desperate tone, “Is there anything you can possibly do to help us?” I told him Cathy and I knew a couple in Charlotte who might be able to help. 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 now over thirty years later.
The Cooper’s were also instrumental in encouraging another set of friends who lived in a town neighboring Charlotte. He was a physician classmate, and he and his wife needed encouragement in attending the Bill Gothard seminar in Charlotte. Their experience with the Cooper’s and the lessons taught at the seminar strengthened their marriage and changed the dynamics of their home.
Over the years we have had people who were strangers come to our table in a restaurant and quietly say, “I saw you two praying together before your meal, 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: Following the conference Bubba and LaNell never stayed in another college dormitory suite. Their experience according to Bubba was not worth the cost savings..