I was not familiar with the name Nettie Cooper before April 23, 2018. I’ve still yet to have the chance of meeting her. I’ll be as honest to say that at this point I may not recognize her even if we were standing in the same room together.
Though her face and physical stature stood only briefly in my memory, her chosen words that filled a crowded sanctuary on that April evening are immovable and inerasable.
It was the first night of the 2018 Louisiana District Council for Assemblies of God ministers. Nostalgia was the guest of choice in the room as the District’s campground was the host location for the annual meeting.
Generations were united. Though some decades apart in age, Baby Boomers and Gen Z’s alike could walk along the same path and both say with gratefulness, “This is where I experienced the Lord.”
A proud companion to Nostalgia goes by the name of Honor.
One certainly makes for a sore celebration guest without the other. In fact, the only thing that makes Nostalgia so pleasant is its paired attention with Honor. Pleasant and powerful feelings of the past only continue when we can identify and attribute the source that brought about those moments to begin with.
Honor was certainly in attendance with us that night. Firstly, honoring and praising God – the ultimate source -- and then honoring each other. This is how I came to hear from Sister Nettie Cooper.
At 98 years young, Sister Cooper was asked by Superintendent Scott Holmes to come to the front of the room. In the midst of honoring missionaries and pastors, innovators and the faithful, it was now time to recognize the pioneers of our great network with a distinction titled The Legacy Award.
Handed out regionally and annually, this recognition came along with not only a trophy of glass but a trophy of words. Sister Cooper was described as faithful, hard-working and steadfast.
We heard of her life of church planting and pastoring in partnership with her husband, a lifetime poured out (and still flowing) of productive efforts for God’s Plan. We heard of her character and great love for people. We took in details of her life and the extensive value she pillared for what is built today.
In full transparency, it was in the midst of these expressions toward Sister Cooper that my mind wandered for a few moments. I expected that following everyone’s thanks to her she would have an opportunity to share her wisdom and recognitions.
My imagination snowballed starting with one question and rolling into an avalanche of thoughts.
“I wonder what she is going to say when they hand her the microphone?”
“If I was in my late nineties, who would I thank publically after a full life of serving?”
“Which leaders and mentors would I mention?”
“Which stories would I tell of victories won and hard times championed?”
Though tuned into my own mind for only a few seconds, by the end of it I was writing my own Oscar equivalent speech to present in 70 years myself. Similarly to how quick my mind flashed back to the moment, let’s jump back there as well.
Expectancy swelled in my heart as they handed her the microphone. I was on edge to soak up any stories, any wisdom she might provide in those next few moments. Wisdom indeed came, but not how I predicted.
Five seconds. 10 words. All of a full sentence pointed away from herself and on to the rightful Owner.
“I am only what God has made me to be.”
And just like that, she handed the microphone back to the hand it came from. She made her way back to her seat. Just as quickly as honor was received, she so readily bestowed it before The Lord, like a crown at the feet of Jesus in eternity.
I can vulnerably say that is not how I would have responded. Her response was so contrary to what I had built in my head as a formal acceptance speech that I’ve been chewing on the same thought until this time.
Sister Cooper’s words will not only remain alive in me but before me. Her words are now posted as a piece of art in my office as a constant reminder of what her attitude and character have come to mean and what we can learn from the example.
So much attention today is set on sharing stories. Stories of victory and defeat. Tales of adversity. Records of wrongs made right. Triumphs of the human spirit. We clearly see them in the news. They are whispered in advertisements. Social media platforms beckon that our own stories be forever recorded for humanity to see.
As I’m writing, I picture the tear-filled face recording their testimony in the phone’s front camera. I see the parent snapping and posting the good deed of their child, an act unexpected and heartwarming. I think on the irony of this all because our own blog’s tagline is “Sharing Stories. Shaping Perspectives.”
Our day-to-day is filled with needed stories that mold who we are, propel us to move forward and compel us to make a difference.
Yet, as followers of Christ, our stories are worthless and simply praises of self if not accurately portrayed in the light of His Story.
If you asked a younger version of myself what my biggest fear was at the time, it was dying and not being remembered – not making my mark on history.
Though I still wrestle with these feelings, I am starting to see even more clearly what a life following Jesus means over a lifetime. I saw it in Sister Cooper’s demeanor, her stance and her sentence.
I want what she so evidently has, to be able to confidently also say, “If there is anything in me that is worth celebrating, then it’s not me. It’s The Lord inside of me. Let my small part of His great story always point back to Him.”
Or just exactly what she said on that late April night. That seemed to work best the first time anyway.