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Sophie, spreader of gloom

In honor of Pastor Appreciation month, these blog posts for October center around the unique people whom God brought across our pathway in ministry. Some stories are sad, others glad. All contain a lesson we learned.

The elderly woman plodded up the church aisle, brow furrowed. She arrived at her seat, dropped her cane onto the pew and sat with a heavy whump. Those who smiled at Sophie usually received a glare in return.

Sophie was a picture of dejection. If a person didn’t know she was dead serious about being dead serious, they would think she was putting on a melodramatic act.

By way of explanation, Sophie (not her real name) was an elderly woman who attended our church long ago. She had suffered hard things in life, mostly at the hands of her cruel dad. Unlike those who chose to forgive, Sophie held her emotional wounds close.

Her mission in life was to spend the rest of her days making herself and everyone else miserable.

When this disgruntled woman appeared at church it seemed she enjoyed making a scene. She once told my husband as she went out the door, "I don't get a thing out of your sermons!" A person had to wonder why she bothered coming. Perhaps she enjoyed spreading gloom, much like Eeyore the donkey in the Winnie the Pooh stories.

Once I tried to make Sophie shake my hand. Instead of meeting my outstretched hand, she raised her cane in a threatening gesture. She was serious about being the center of attention, even if it was negative.

The real test came when Sophie brought her portable keyboard to "help" the piano and organ play for services.

The problem was, Sophie was the only one who enjoyed her playing.

Not to be outdone by larger instruments, she hooked a speaker to her keyboard so she could rival the volume of the piano and organ.

The pastor was away on vacation when this occurred, and the guest speaker knew better than to tangle with this thorny problem. And so, the congregation gritted their collective teeth and endured until the minister returned, disassembled Sophie's keyboard and delivered it back to her home.

Church members reached out to this pitiful scrap of misery in various ways. Mostly, Sophie reacted with scowls and frowns. On the rare occasions she needed someone to do something for her, she surprised them with a rare smile and a somewhat normal attitude.

We were novices at dealing with parishioners who had serious mental problems. Out of desperation, we took Sophie to a counselor and received a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder. And that explained why no one could please her, no matter how they tried.

When we moved to another state, we left Sophie in the hands of the next pastor, hoping for the best. We heard many years later that Sophie finally allowed the Lord to cleanse her from bitterness and hatred. One more soul, snatched from the jaws of death, just in time.

The lesson for us? Even Jesus didn't win them all. And some things just take time.

Have you ever known someone like Sophie? Tell us about them below.


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