“Bless her heart. She means well.”
That’s something that people, especially Christians, like to say right after they have just finished gossiping about someone: “That’s her second baby out of wedlock, bless her heart.”
We also say this about people who lack social skills or people who embarrass themselves on a regular basis: “My son finally asked out the girl he’s had a crush on for years. He didn’t realize that he’d forgotten his wallet until they’d already ordered, so he called me from the bathroom, and I had to drop it by. Bless his heart.”
My youth minister in high school had his heart blessed enough times to turn it into an Olympic runner’s. His propensity for verbal blunders often provided some comic relief while he was leading the congregation in prayer. He often mixed up his Ls and Rs: “We are so breast to be here this morning.”
Tim was a loyal friend to me, one of my biggest fans. He was also patient with the group of high school boys that enjoyed dreaming up new ways to irritate him. I flew his briefs from the flagpole at church camp. I drank from one of the special crystal goblets that he and his wife had used at their wedding reception and had intended for that one purpose only. During a mission trip we sneaked out of Baxter Institute where we were staying in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, walked twenty minutes to a grocery store, bought sticky condoms, and hid under his covers and pillow. He spluttered and spit and told us we knew better, and his face turned the red of a cooked lobster that time. I thought he would start sweating blood. The only thing that would have made us happier was if we’d gotten some profanity out of him. Tim endured all this.
I can think of dozens of ways that Tim not only served us but also tried to create a space where encounters with the living God would happen: bible studies, lock-ins, church camp, mission trips, retreats, service projects, bible classes, movie nights, dinners at his house, phone calls, games, sports, fundraisers, workouts, conversations, and even those times when he corrected us and taught us healthy boundaries.
Yes, he sometimes forgot to exercise tact, but adolescent boys in particular often need a straight shooter, especially if they were caught smoking marijuana on the first afternoon of church camp before the worship service.
When I peed in a decorative cookie tin and left it on his front porch as a prank, he was upset. He made me realize I shouldn’t repeat that stunt.
None of us ever questioned Tim’s intentions. He had the best. But with his largeheartedness and gung-ho attitude toward his ministry came a certain naïveté. His strength just wasn’t reading the emotions that flicker across kids’ faces and using them to adjust his tack. He wasn’t totally oblivious, but he just didn’t see likely, and preventable, outcomes.
Tim is similar to my mom in that sexual innuendo often went right over his head.
When a stranger at a Harris Teeter supermarket opened his car door into the side of my mom’s Suburban twice, she confronted him: “Excuse me, sir! Do you realize you’ve banged me twice?”
She was still indignant about his disregard for her property at dinner that night when she told the story. She was also still unaware that she’d used a double entendre until I burst out laughing.
Some of us just get sexual innuendo whether we want to or not. A word’s dictionary definition—its denotation—and its connotations in a certain context, like so many hitchhikers, cohabitate in some people’s minds. Our minds aren’t necessarily in the gutters, but we can’t help but connect the dots when a word or phrase has colloquial meanings that get funnier the farther away they are from speaker’s intent.
I don’t think Tim was the one responsible for naming the high school girls’ bible study that his wife led, but he didn’t anticipate a problem with the name Just Us Girls.
Before long, he started using an abbreviation to make announcements: J.U.Gs. After listening to Tim give details about J.U.G’s. meetings for a couple of weeks, I had to intervene. One Wednesday night after our bible class, I approached him.
“Tim, I think you should change the name of the girls’ bible study.”
“Why?” he asked.
“Because the name is J.U.G’s.”
Not comprehending, he started at me.
“Think about it. Jugs, you know, boobs?!!”
He furrowed his brow for a couple of seconds, and then the light of comprehension dawned on his face.
Bless his heart.
What would you call that role, ensuring that people don’t look like perverts? Consluting?