Not the kind in a bowl; the best selling book series.
(My favorites are the ones my stories are in.)
You'll find my story "Approaching the Throne " in their latest release, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Volunteering & Giving Back.
Of course, I also posted it below for all you wonderful blog friends.
Sunlight streamed through Bible Truth Ministries' multicolored windows. I relaxed on the blue padded pew, ran my fingertips across its glossy wood back, and enjoyed the fresh scent wafting through the air. This friendly church already felt like home.
My husband, Jake, and I sat with other new members in an orientation meeting led by a congenial deep-voiced elder. As the session drew to a close he said, "Should you feel a call to serve, we have many options available."
I squeezed Jake's hand and smiled. We enjoyed helping others. Surely there'd be a place we could be useful.
The elder read the list of service opportunities in his James Earl Jones voice:
Grounds Crew. Jake perked up. He already helped many of our neighbors with their mowing and snow shoveling. I knew he'd found his niche.
Food teams. I thought of my non-existent culinary skills and pictured black smoke billowing from the church kitchen. I knew to steer clear of that one.
Choir. Being slightly tone deaf, my voice sounded like a cat in a blender. No need to inflict that on our new church family.
Youth ministry. I'd taught children's church for years. I thought, "This is it, right Lord?"
Silence. No Holy Spirit nudge. No divine light bulb shining overhead.
I slumped back and listened to the rest of the list.
Then the elder paused and proclaimed in a voice of doom,
"Church cleaning team."
I felt a nudge in my spirit. I scanned the gleaming sanctuary and mentally calculated the hours it might take to clean the large space. I decided I wasn't hearing God after all.
God prodded again.
I adopted a "Get thee behind me, Cleaning!" posture. "Lord, surely you don't expect me to clean the church?"
But he did.
With a mental scowl, I signed up for a cleaning slot.
The next Friday evening I joined a team of hug-slinging church members. Five women, ages ranging from young to grandma, plus one forty-something man, extended a cheerful welcome.
"Do we meet every week?" I asked, trying to hide my apprehension.
Our team leader had the grace to look appalled, "Mercy, no! Each team cleans once a month."
I silently congratulated God. I could handle once a month...maybe.
The team leader explained the division of tasks: dusting, vacuuming, window washing, etc. The lone man on our team pointed to a mop and said, "I always clean the throne room."
The bible talked about God being on his heavenly throne, but I'd never heard of anyone taking a mop to it. The others paused at my blank look. "Um, I'm not familiar with that theological reference," I said.
Good-natured laughter erupted. A lady put her arm around my shoulder. "'Throne' is slang for toilet."
Another woman patted my arm, still giggling. "'Throne.' Girl, you're a hoot."
I smiled weakly and took the backpack sized portable vacuum she handed me. I strapped the shell-shaped appliance to my back, and like a middle-aged mutant cleaning turtle, sucked crud from the pew crevices as instructed. The rest of the team sprang into action.
With Bellevue, Nebraska's Strategic Air Command close by, Air Force members and veterans comprised the majority of the church. This group demonstrated military precision in their search and destroy mission against Enemy Dirt. Dust bunnies quailed before their feather-duster onslaught.
Most surprising to me, no one complained or grumbled. Between vacuum bouts I heard snatches of laughter and song.
The ensuing months brought a myriad of new "opportunities," like pew polishing and carpet cleaning.
One evening, washing windows beside a cheerful mite of a woman, I asked, "Do you enjoy cleaning?"
She laughed. "None of us like cleaning. We do it to serve God, and serve others."
Her words rose to mind soon after, the day our regular bathroom volunteer went MIA--missing in action. Our team grandma asked, "Jeanie, would you mind cleaning the throne room?"
Unwilling to show my apprehension before this hard-working woman, I gulped and squeaked, "No problem."
Shouldering the arsenal of bathroom cleaning weapons, I headed off to do battle in the throne room.
I pulled on two pairs of rubber gloves and gingerly entered the first of four bathrooms. The church men might be aiming for Godliness, but they sure weren't aiming for this throne. I backpedaled and sent up a King James's type plea. "Oh Lord, surely thou canst deliver thy servant from the evil before me."
No answer from the upper throne, so I set to work on the one in front of me, anointing it with copious quantities of Pine-Sol. After completing the fourth bathroom I sprayed myself with enough Lysol to open an ozone hole overhead.
Although I never grew to love cleaning, I did grow to love my teammates, and learned their true mission--prayer. After every cleaning session we gathered together, clasped hands, and approached God's heavenly throne, seeking his help for people and situations around the world.
Each time we prayed their dedication struck me afresh. Their love for God overflowed, evidenced by their faithful service to him and others.
Time passed and I volunteered for other church activities, like holiday productions and the praise dance team. My kitchen stints remained limited to non-cooking areas for the health and safety of all involved.
Through it all, I stayed on the cleaning team. Ironically, I became our regular bathroom cleaner, the "Throne Room Queen" wielding a toilet brush in place of a scepter.
One day someone will settle into the pew I'd occupied years before. Sunlight will stream through the clean windows. She'll run her fingertips over the glossy wood pew. Her children will play nearby on the spotless carpet. She'll think, "I want to join the cleaning team."
My replacement will join the ranks.
In the mean time, God's on his throne, and I still have one to clean.
My pastors, Rordy and Ramona Smith of Bible Truth Ministries Church in Bellevue, Nebraska.