When I was a boy, I attended a small country Methodist church less than a quarter-mile from my home. It was a good church, a loving church that viewed all its members as equals, par for the course in the rural outskirts of Mississippi forty years ago. This sense of blanket equality, however, routinely inspired our preacher – Iuka native W. T. Dexter – to call on a diverse and unique group of individuals to lead in prayer when we opened and closed our services. We might hear the soft, almost inaudible words of the shyest young mother on the planet. We might hear the studied and sincere words of some great future preacher, just a boy back then. We might hear one of our church pillars pray fire and brimstone down and wrap it up by speaking in tongues (I’m serious). Looking back, I think Bro. Dexter may have entertained himself with his choices and our reactions to them, at least a little bit, but I surely don’t begrudge a preacher who’s doing the Lord’s work a chance to smile on occasion.
One of the faithful that made Brother Dexter’s prayer roster, and therefore had opportunity to offer up public petition to the Lord on a regular basis, was Mrs. Della Norton, a pleasant, gray-haired grandmother who, when I was 10, I thought to be 90 years old. She was probably around 55.
Now, Miss Della was “pure country.” Not being a part of the refined, big-city jet set from Baldwyn, our nearest metropolis, she had no pretensions, and when she prayed she did not sugar-coat what she said. If Brother Cyrus had been drinking too much, she prayed that Brother Cyrus would stop drinking so much. If Sister Effie Sue had been fighting the temptation of reading trashy novels, and Miss Della knew about it, she would publically ask for that temptation to be lifted from the so-afflicted Effie Sue. As you might imagine, even in a church of pure-country equals, this practice caused more than a little squirming. And to heap coals onto the heads of those who would rather that Miss Della had not been called on to pray in the first place, she would pray for a long, long time.
At Sunday dinner on more than one occasion it was suggested by the less-reverent in our clan that Miss Della might be happier with some other, more expressive denomination, to the absolute horror of my grandfather. Papa would have accepted the Pope into our little Methodist congregation if the Holy Father would have helped him sweep off the front steps before folks starting getting there on Sunday mornings. To suggest that a single member in our 60-person body might be better served in another congregation was heresy to a church builder like my grandfather. When we hit 100 in attendance one Easter you would have thought we had just won the Super Bowl and Papa had thrown the winning touchdown pass as time expired. Ultimately, he declared Miss Della’s prayers off-limits for Sunday-dinner discussion, and we sat quietly eating our creamed potatoes that had cooled about 10 minutes longer than we would have liked.
Miss Della’s prayer history reached its pinnacle, in my mind, one fall Sunday morning. My younger brother Clay and I were sitting with our grandparents about three pews from the back on the left-hand side of the church, and Miss Della was across the aisle a row or two closer to the front. As the invitation ended that morning, Miss Della was called on to close out our service, and I could have sworn that I heard a slight sigh escape my grandmother’s lips. Thank goodness, Papa was hard of hearing. My brother propped his folded arms on the pew in front of us and laid his head down. We were still standing at the 8-minute mark – through prayers for the nation, our leaders, our pastor, each community that encircled our church, the sick and bereaved, and so forth – when Miss Della moved outside the box.
“And, Dear Lord, please be with my mother. She has been suffering so with her hemorrhoids.”
My brother’s head popped up, and several people cleared their throats, including my mother who was on the row in front of us.
Della continued, “Suffering so’s she can’t even sit down. Lord, bless her and heal her of this affliction. We know that You can touch her and make her well, and ease her from the pain and embarrassment of these awful hemorrhoids.”
Clay was chuckling. I’m not sure he even knew what a hemorrhoid was. I know I didn’t, but I had seen a remedy for it advertised on TV. I felt my grandmother began to shake just a little. I looked up at her, her head still down in prayer, eyes closed, but her teeth were showing. Was she smiling?
“And Lord, bless each one of us that we don’t have to suffer these hemorrhoids ourselves in the future. Dear Lord, you know there are many of us here – under the sound of my voice – that have had our own bouts with these devils. Me, Mama, Sister Effie Sue…”
Many knuckles grew white, tightly gripping the backs of the pews, as Miss Della’s roll call of the proctologically-infirmed continued.
“… So many others, Lord! We ask You now, ‘Have mercy. Keep us safe from them, Lord.’ Amen.”
And it was over. God bless Miss Della. On that fall Sunday morning she accomplished something that few preachers ever achieve. She sent an entire congregation home with the biggest smiles on their faces that I have ever had the pleasure to see leaving a church. Brother Dexter even laughed out loud a few times when he would shake the hands of his closest companions as they departed that morning, including my grandfather. And Papa laughed, too.
If there’s a moral to this story, I guess it’s this: If you ever feel the urge to ask for prayer for your hemorrhoids, just do as the Lord leads you. “All things work together for good for those that love the Lord.” God bless Miss Della.