Or, The God Thing
Our family went to church this morning. In the midst of our evacuation, we had gone to church our first Sunday in exile; just keeping up with the normalcy and routine of Sunday morning worship helped us feel more settled.
When my teen was researching the material for her speech on refugees and immigrants last winter, she learned about a member of a church a couple of hours from ours who had been detained, arrested, and deported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). In the course of preparing her speech, she corresponded by email with two of the man’s pastors. When I discovered how close the church is to our temporary home, I suggested we attend worship there.
Our first worship service there made me thank God that we evacuated, because that worship time filled my empty, stressed-out heart and soul. The people at this church were the friendliest I’ve ever encountered at a church. As I was chatting with this lady or that one, a woman about my age came up. I recognized her instantly as a classmate from Divinity School. She was sitting with another couple from school and her husband was on the pew in front of her. It was like a mini-reunion – five of us from school all sitting in a cluster.
The pastor got up to preach. She was on week two of a series based on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship out of the book of Mark. Bonhoeffer is my favorite theologian, and this book has a challenging theme. The message bothered me, challenged me, convicted me. Pastor Lauren talked about being willing to go against the law of the land for the sake of the Kingdom, for the greater good of showing mercy to the persecuted. It was, in a word, perfect.
M and I met the associate pastor with whom she’d emailed, as well as the senior pastor. I found out that one of my husband’s former customers is still a member there and active in the church. It’s always good finding out that kind people are faring well. My younger daughter has the unique ability to make friends wherever she goes, and she has the unique ability to befriend even little boys who are still firmly entrenched in the “girls have cooties” stage of life.
Around mid-week, we discovered that our period of exile was coming to an end. Along with firm plans to return home came plans for the weekend. There was a much different mindset at that point. No longer was it a matter of indefinite waiting and wondering. Now it was about having fun for the weekend. It came as no surprise when H, my younger daughter, asked if we could go back to “that church” this Sunday because she liked the preaching. That was a no-brainer; of course.
At this point in our evacuation, we truly miss home. We are frustrated by how cut off we are. We are frustrated by there being a need for willing hands to work and our inability to lend ours to help those who’ve suffered much worse than we have. We yearn to sleep in our own beds on our own pillows. We crave the routine of home – the Wednesday trash pickup, services at our own church, M’s and my nightly streaming of House and Gilmore Girls.
Today is Sunday. We got up and dressed for church, returning to Greenwood Forest Baptist. I can’t speak for my husband or daughters, but my reasons for going were pretty self-centered – to receive the benefits of a great communal worship experience and to hear a word from the Lord. No sooner had we sat down when my gaze landed on a lady in the front row, a lady from our home church, one we’d gotten to know when she was in college and a part of our church’s college ministry. H was off socializing. I grabbed Mary’s hand and said, “Come on.”
She asked, “Why?”
I replied, “Look at the front row.” She instantly recognized Jazzmone.
It was about this time that the lady happened to spot us as I’m half dragging my teen down the aisle. We embraced, my younger daughter joining us for an enthusiastic, tearful, joyful group hug. We’d found home.
This is where the God moment happened. As the four of us were standing at the front of the church in full view of everyone in the sanctuary, Jazzmone shared that her heart had been burdened for home. The road conditions have prevented her from getting home to her family, friends, and our church, and she missed home. She missed all that was home for her, including the people from home. As we embraced, she found home.
Jazzmone had just messaged me a few weeks ago about how much she missed the girls and exclaiming over how much they’d grown since our paths had parted. She had kid-sat the girls on a few occasions and had formed bonds with them then.
I went to church today to get something for myself. Instead, I gave something far more precious to Jazzmone. Happiness filled her heart probably even more than it filled mine. Sometimes we find ourselves in less-than-desirable situations, and sometimes it’s because God is going to use us to touch someone else.
Post Script: We arrived home the day after I keyed these words. Our home was undamaged and our property survived unscathed (though our grape trellis and fig tree look a bit sad). We left my husband’s parents’ house with the excitement of knowing the interstate was open to 13 miles before our exit, so the journey home wouldn’t take much longer than usual. As I stopped for gas, a notification came in informing me that the interstate was completely open all the way to its east-bound end. It is good to be home, and we still have many reasons to be grateful, just as we did throughout our entire evacuation.