This is a picture of some of the world’s greatest body builders, all assembled in one place for an early Thanksgiving dinner. The little church building on the corner of where highways 309 and 23 meet in Ozark–Webb City Baptist–can’t contain them all at once anymore. Lifting weights, after all, makes you grow.

So we’ve grown to this place where we have to rent the armory for our big gatherings. And that lends itself to all kinds of other spiritual implications but I’m going to exercise self-control and not mix metaphors. Because English teachers, like everyone else, should practice what they preach. I’ll just draw your attention to one tiny detail in the top left corner of the picture. See that giant rope? I don’t know why it’s there, maybe some training purpose for the soldiers who use the armory. But for my kids it is the absolute best feature of the church Thanksgiving dinner, even topping the desserts.

Last year someone got the bright idea to climb that rope. It may or may not have been my son. This year the kids formed a line as soon as they ate their turkey and dressing. From Stella’s age to the older teens, each waited for a turn to clamber up and ring the cowbell at the top. (I have no pictures of this because I was too busy worrying that they might fall to their deaths despite the gathering of adults underneath the rope spotting. I do have a picture of the chief spotter and his wife before he assumed rope duty.)

For some of the bigger kids the challenge was easy. Jeremy White conquered the rope in a matter of seconds. Zoey Tedford slithered up and down it swift and smooth as a snake. My niece Madeline, with strength that belies her 80 pound body, mastered it with ease.

The younger kids had a little more trouble. A few of them made it, and several got close before deciding to turn back. Adelaide, being Adelaide, powered to the top and rang the bell while we all cheered. Stella stared up at her big sister starry-eyed.

None of the other little ones seemed to take their turns very seriously. They played on the rope, just having fun. But Stella was all business. As so often happens in our family, Madeline and Adelaide inadvertently created a standard for her, and she set her heart on ringing that bell.  When it came her turn in line, she rolled up her pant legs and took off her shoes and socks, presumably for traction. The look on her face made my heart ache.

Keith Masingale, youth director and chief spotter, helped her climb up several feet. When she tried to move beyond his reach her little arms quivered. There she was, locked on that rope, refusing to slide down but unable to move up. She hung on for what seemed like a hundred years, inching upward, then slipping down into Keith’s arms. Once on the ground her shoulders slumped as she made her way to the back of the line. We repeated this process two or three times.

Finally, Stella was the last person left in the line. Everyone else had conquered the rope or lost interest, at least until next year.  No one had the heart to tell Stella it was over. Keith began his usual boosting of her, up as far as he could reach. Then Stella’s dad came alongside Keith and boosted Keith on his shoulder. While we all formed a circle of spotters, Stella stood on Keith, who stood on Stone. And she reached the top of the rope, and rang the bell. (And Keith’s wife Sheila and I cried.)

I’ve been basking in that moment all week. In a world where the body of Christ often gets a bad rap (much of it well-deserved) there’s a place called Webb City Baptist. There’s a gathering of simple country people who don’t have it all together, but have it all, together. We are learning that lifting others up, bearing one another's burdens to fulfill the law of Christ, is what makes us all grow. Click To TweetCome grow with us!


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