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Grace Notes: Ode to a pipsqueak giant

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By The Staff

Every church has one and mine is no exception - a matriarch or mother of the church.

It's not a title or position someone campaigns for or is appointed to, but it's a role someone becomes by virtue of her love and faith and selfless faithfulness.

In my church, that would be a tiny pipsqueak named Betty Santana. I always tell Betty that the reason I like her so much is because I tower over her. The truth is, even though she's only about 4-foot-9 or so, she towers over everyone at my church, me included.

I don't know her exact age. I'm guessing late 70s or early 80s. I do know that she's a Kansas girl. She married her husband, Ted, when she was a teenager.

They lived much of their lives in Miami - Betty pronounces it "Miamah." Ted worked for the Post Office and when he retired they moved north to Inverness, Fla., where I live.

Betty was one of the first people I met when I first came to this church. She's one of the first people anyone meets there. Not that she's pushy or wants to be known. She just loves whoever walks through the door.

If you send Betty or Ted a card or note, it gets placed in their blessing basket. Each morning when they sit down to pray at the breakfast table Betty draws a card out of the basket and the card sender gets prayed for that day.

It's been a while since I've been picked, but that's only because I haven't sent any cards in a long time. But whenever Betty sees me she always says, "I'm praying for you and that family of yours."

I know my family's not the only one.

Once, many years ago, I felt quite sinful and in need of confession and appeared on Betty's doorstep. She let me in and let me cry and tell her what was troubling me.

I've since forgotten what it was about, but not Betty's kindness to me. She's firm about what the Bible says about sin, but also about what it says about grace and forgiveness.

My pastor says every pastor should have a cheerleader like Betty Santana. When his brother died tragically at age 35, as my pastor drove into the cemetery in Tallahassee to do the graveside service, Betty and Ted were already there. They had left Inverness before dawn and drove the 200-plus miles just so their young pastor wouldn't have to face that terrible day alone.

Another time, my pastor told the congregation that the absence of any sexual immorality in his life was not because he was particularly virtuous or spiritual, but only because of God's grace and the Holy Spirit's protection.

After the service Betty marched up to him, pointed her finger and informed him that the absence of scandalous sin in his life was because she prayed for him and that if he was ever unfaithful to his wife she would personally "whop" him.

She would, too. She may be little, but she's feisty.

I sat next to Betty at church a few weeks ago. She and Ted like to sit in the same spot I like, but when we're at the same service I move in deference to them. (Plus, I don't want Betty to whop me.)

During the service Betty confided in me that she has a thing for cute shoes but that her feet are starting to hurt. She said she's fighting having to wear sneakers to church. She always says it's the fault of the "A-G-E in the water."

These past few years haven't been easy for Betty. She's been ill and frail. She and Ted lost their only son a few years back and that nearly killed Betty.

But she keeps going. She and Ted still hold hands. During communion I noticed the two of them standing together, Betty's head resting on Ted's arm.

Betty and Ted - you can't talk about one without the other - have been married 65 years. I think Ted's the only man Betty ever kissed. She loves dachshunds, probably because she's taller than they are. She has two, Hans and Elvis.

As far as I know, Betty Santana never did anything extraordinary, except she has loved me and loved our church for the past 25 years.

Every church has a pillar, a tiny woman on her knees, holding up the church.

Ours is named Betty, and this one's for her.