My Grandpa King was a founding deacon of Immanuel Baptist Church in Wichita, Kansas. My dad grew up there and my parents got married in that sanctuary. I was an adorable Type-A baby in the church nursery no doubt bossing the other Baptist infants.
After moving all over the south, we returned to IBC in 1987 so my dad could build and run the Christian Life Center just as I was starting 8th grade. He would stay on staff for around twenty years.
Thus, my entire adolescence was located under that steeple at 1415 South Topeka Street.
When your dad is a pastor (albeit a very rogue pastor who specialized in basketball tournaments but here we are), your church is as familiar to you as the home you were raised in. You know every nook and cranny because you are there allllllll the tiiiiiiime. And because it was the 80s, children were not required to be supervised. Were you indoors? Somewhere on God’s property? Then you were fine. Your dad would be done in three (four and a half) hours. Figure out your life.
After reading every Nancy Drew book in the church library and exhausting my Sandi Patty solos in the sanctuary, I started exploring. Which is when I experienced the good fortune of Miss Hazel Jewell.
Miss Hazel was the church bookkeeper. She started working at Immanuel when [**calls Dad**] she was 18 years old and retired at 78 on her 60th anniversary. She never married; the church was her family. Miss Hazel was rotund both in body and soul; to me, she could have been 52 or 89. I couldn’t tell.
She had a small, cluttered office in the middle of the church, right near the secret passageway to the sanctuary if you knew your way around. Her system was highly organized to her but chaos to onlookers. Books helter skelter everywhere. Torn pieces of paper sticking out of their spines marking important dates or numbers. A small black and white TV in the corner so she could watch her favorite, Gaither and Friends. Bags of candy on every shelf lest she ever run out for the pastor’s kids/deacons/everyone who frequented her office.
Miss Hazel was a young staffer when my dad was coming up, best friends with Tim Siler who, fortunately or unfortunately, was Pastor Forrest’s son. Dad and Tim were absolute ne’er-do-wells. One time in middle school, they crawled on top of the roof and cherry bombed the church ladies in the courtyard. One of the deacons saw their ladder, took it down, and left them stranded on the roof until Pastor Forrest and Grandpa could come fetch their rascals. The boys were grounded for two months until Miss Hazel intervened and begged for their mercy. She miraculously got their sentence lifted. She could hold a grudge against the pious folk for two decades, but she adored the scoundrels.
Ditto one time in high school when Dad and Tim were tasked with driving a group of younger kids to some church field trip, got bored waiting for whatever soul-enriching experience they were having, and just left them all there. Drove off to go race their cars instead. When the adults lost their minds and punishment was swift, Miss Hazel stepped in on their behalf and called it a “misunderstanding of transportation” and won them a reduced sentence.
Fast forward a whole generation, and Larry’s daughter found her way into Miss Hazel’s messy office.
Three memories come immediately to mind:
- Miss Hazel would absolutely crush your rib cage with her hugs. She was probably the reason church people invented the side hug. There was no restraint. If you were not a “touchy person,” you were plumb out of luck. You were in Miss Hazel’s kingdom. She would hug the stuffing out of you.
- In no universe would you EVER come up empty for candy. There was candy everywhere. Hard candy, gummy candies, lollipops, orange peanuts, lemon drops, Atomic fireballs, peppermints, Good and Plenty, Twizzlers, everything. For children whose parents were into oat bran, it was nirvana.
- No matter what time, what day, whatever else was going on, Miss Hazel would stop what she was doing and talk to me. I mean, talk to me. She’d ask a million unrelenting questions. She never forgot a detail. If I was into Josh Asper the last time we chatted, her first question the next time was: “Has that Josh wizened up and called you?”
I’ve been thinking lately about the idea of generosity; ‘tis the season after all. Generosity is often tied to money, and to be sure, financial generosity is no joke. I call as my witness our pastor Adam and his wife Patty who left $100 of groceries on our doorstep when we were young marrieds without a nickel to our name. I run an entire organization that funds nonprofit work around the world. Money matters and absolutely counts in the generosity calculus.
But today I’m thinking about a generosity of spirit, like Miss Hazel had. This benevolent gift of time and attention, affection and care. It costs both nothing and everything. Talk about a practice of yesteryear. We can barely put our phones down when having a conversation with someone we love, much less some random pastor’s kid eating your Jolly Ranchers and bemoaning her invisibility to Josh Asper. What an offering. What generosity.
This brand of lavish kindness is available to each of us…to give. I’m compelled by Miss Hazel’s legacy to put down the phone, quietly close the laptop, make eye contact, ask for more:
- How did that make you feel?
- What happened after that?
- How do you want to respond?
- What are you hoping for?
- That was really brave of you.
- I love how you handled that.
- That wasn’t at all your fault.
- You did the right thing.
- What are you dreaming up?
- What do you hope will happen?
- Where would you love to go?
- How would you like to show up?
- What would you have done differently?
- How do you wish that would have gone?
- What would you have liked her to say?
- What would you say today?
- I really love how hard you tried.
- This isn’t worth quitting over.
- You are going to nail this next time.
- You are asking great questions.
Generosity of spirit looks like time, attention, thoughtfulness, follow-up. In some ways, it far exceeds money or stuff. It sounds like loyalty and feels like love. It is the type of affection that has a 49-year-old woman talking about it 36 years later. Maya Angelou famously said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
About twenty years ago, Wichita-based radio station KLEO ran a contest for “people who have been at the same job the longest.” My dad called in and nominated Miss Hazel in her 50th year at IBC. She won by a landslide.
Miss Hazel is in heaven giving Bit-O-Honey’s to Jesus and bruising his ribcage now, but I look forward to joining her one day so we can pick right back up on my love life. I have TONS to catch her up on.
What a legend. What a mentor without meaning to be. I’d love to be just like her. May “generosity” mark our legacy. I hope one of my kids names their baby Hazel Jewell and she becomes worthy of her namesake.