"Language, as well as the faculty of speech, was the immediate gift of God." ~ Noah Webster

Sunday, February 16, 2014

A Faded Red Sweat Shirt - In The Slipstream

I wrote a book several years ago about my dad’s life. I have often thought about adding an excerpt from my book to this blog from time to time. I have thought of posting a story that makes me laugh; or seemed relevant for one reason or another; or a story that simply crosses my mind now and then. I have never posted anything from my book so far, but today, I decided I would. Below is an incident from Chapter 10 of my book, and it is one of my favorite memories from my youth because of the teaching moment it gave.

My book? It is called In the Slipstream and I am pretty proud of that title and all that it represents. In any excerpts that I may chose to post, I will label them with that title. Some names may be changed to protect the innocent; i.e. names, reputations, or anything that could be wounded from a misunderstanding I may have caused by poor writing. I hope you enjoy this selection.


I remember so clearly the church of my youth. TLC (name change - to protect the innocent) was our church home for most of my growing up years. This church was the denomination in which my mom had been raised, which was one of the reasons that Dad and Mom selected it as our church home. 
TLC was a rather formal church as most were at the time; it was the early ‘60’s, after all, and formal settings were traditional. Suits and ties for the men and boys, dresses for the ladies and girls; though not required, were definitely the norm.  It was a bit ceremonial, but it had a core congregation that truly loved the Lord and wanted to serve Him. I loved TLC and still remember fondly, many of the congregants. 

I so vividly remember on a particular Sunday morning, we took our place in our usual pew and began singing hymns. There was an older gentleman sitting behind us, and we knew this was his first time there. He was dressed in a faded, red sweat shirt and jeans. He wore his hair in a “crew cut” which was a style beginning to dwindle somewhat in popularity by this time; and I seem to remember a bit of unshaved stubble on his face. He was slightly heavy and wrinkled with age, and…all alone. He was noticeable because his clothes were a bit out of place in this formal setting. 

I watched him from the corner of my eye. I was probably about eight or nine years old at the time, but I had always been a people watcher, fascinated with human behavior. When others were joining in conversation, I was listening and watching, as conversing did not come easily for me. I noticed this gentleman was soon singing from the bottom of his heart, with tears streaming down his face. I will never forget how much it touched me, as I knew this man was having meaningful communication with our Lord. 

After the service, on our way home in the car, Dad mentioned the old man and I could tell Dad was very moved as well. I said something about the man’s red sweat shirt and how out of place it was.  My comment wasn’t meant to be derogatory; it was just my way of explaining (as a 9 year old) how I knew the scene we had looked upon was a special moment in a gentleman’s life that was probably not completely comfortable in our church setting. 

Mom quickly responded, “But his shirt was clean.  It was probably the best he had.” 

I understood that. I knew in my heart that it was probably the best he had. But that red shirt was part of what made that whole incident so relevant. I am so thankful for parents that would point out something like that to their children after the service was over, and use it as a teaching moment. I am equally as proud, that I had parents that would teach us there should be no judgment on folks that were really trying to do what was right, though it may be at a time in their life when they were down and out.  There have been many times in my life I have thought about the old man in the faded, red sweat shirt.  It is a memory and a lesson to cherish.


Now please understand, back then (as far as I know), all churches were more formal than many are today. My folks both still believe that suits and ties for men, and dresses for ladies should be worn to worship services. I am quite sure they have never worn anything else. But equally, my folks have no judgment for anyone choosing to wear something else. I am so thankful they cast no judgment on this man who served as an example to me and my siblings. I am thankful that even more than that, my folks taught us that we had better not even think of doing such a thing as harshly judging someone. They still maintain that philosophy to this day. It isn’t even a philosophy - it is a way of life. It is simply who they are.

This wasn’t the only time my folks instilled through the way they lived their lives, a respect of all persons. Of course, we were never allowed to make fun of anyone, and we were taught to treat all with kindness. Heartless pranks and thoughtless words were unacceptable. My folks had a heart for the lost. My dad took candy bars to jail inmates and went back to make sure they were received. He always had time for the elderly and the sick. In those awkward moments, that many like to avoid, my dad would be there. He encouraged and supported anyone who was trying to better himself. I remember the loving pat on the back and words of encouragement he gave a man who had told my dad he was able to buy a nice, new motorcycle because he had finally quit drinking. His wife sat proudly on the back of the bike. I had previously seen her heartbreak and even as I write this I am moved to tears. I don’t think the man was yet saved, but my dad had no condemnation for the rough-around-the-edges biker…just a pat on the back and the love of Jesus in his words.

I now attend a church that is not as formal as the one of my youth. It is casual, come as you are - and that probably means wearing just about anything one would show up in other than pj’s. I like that. I think God likes that too, for He looks on the heart. That is not to say there isn’t a place for both casual and dressy churches. In His wisdom, God allows us and enables us to find the place where we are most comfortable. I would be disappointed in my dad if he ever showed up in anything but his tie. It has to do with who he is. But we have raised our son that it is fine to be casual when one is seeking teaching that hits the heart. We always have and always will respect both types of services. When I worship with my folks, I wear a dress, even though not everyone there still does. My husband feels the same way; his mom had a very sad experience at a church who condemned the way she was dressed. It kept her out of church for years. And no, it doesn't really matter who might think that was just an excuse.

I don’t know what ever happened to that old man. I don’t know if he ever returned to our church. I know he got what he needed there that day, and I know enough to trust our Lord that He would never leave or forsake that old gentleman. There is not a doubt in my mind that the old timer left with a cleansed soul that day, and I am quite sure our Lord had not a word of condemnation for him. I’m not so sure I can say that about anyone who may have shown the old man thoughtless disdain, or insensitive judgment. But I'm thankful I saw none of that there that day so long ago.

I know I don’t always live up to my folks standards. I yell in traffic and I shake my head at people exuding a bit too much pride. But when I get too down-hearted and discouraged with myself and others in all our Christian “holiness”, I try to remember the elderly gentleman in the faded red sweatshirt. He was clean, you know.



  1. Very, very nice post. I do show too much pride and get holier than thou in my attitude. I have been kind to people and I have hurt people. I would like to think I would have treated the man in the red sweatshirt kindly.

  2. Mary, I have never seen you show too much pride or be "holier than thou". And I KNOW you would have been kind to the man in the red sweatshirt. I can't wait to see him in Heaven someday. I'm quite sure that I will and I know I will know him. I'm going to thank him for teaching me a lesson that I may not always have remembered to follow, but one that I always came back to. Then I am going to ask him what his favorite hymn is. ;-)