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When God Interrupts Ministry

You find God's presence in surprising places.

The way pastors work, we easily confuse an outboard motor for the wind of the Spirit. We are God-called but task-driven. We find ourselves up to our eyebrows in earthbound pursuits: drafting worship plans, writing memos, reading minutes, sorting mail, phoning cantankerous parishioners.

In the wake of our religious activity, God gets pushed to the periphery.

I want to be Moses, but I feel like Aaron. I'm the one down in the valley managing camp life. Mount Sinai's lofty crags are someone else's reality. Pastoral work becomes boring, predictable, routine.

Where's the lightning, fire, wind, voice--where's God?

Then I visit Mary.

Today is the first time I will see her in her new home. Just a few days earlier, she was moved from the hospital to this nursing home, a move she dreaded, a move she fought tooth and nail. Mary never planned to spend her golden years in a nursing home.

Providence has turned the tables on Mary. Her stroke partially paralyzed one side of her body. Nor can she speak the way she wants to. A woman used to serving others is forced to swallow her pride. She must learn to receive. Even in this bustling center of geriatric care, she sits alone in her wheelchair isolated from family and friends.

As I walked down the hallways of the nursing home, my eyes search for her familiar face. There she is.

"Well, Mary!" I holler.

Mary turns her head: "Oooooh, my friend!" Bright smile. Twinkling eyes. Warm hug.

In this unguarded moment, Mary's speech is clear. It's when she tries the hardest that things get garbled. Now Mary desperately wants to talk but can't. Her desperation only makes her more frustrated. After a few attempts at a conversation, I suggest we wander down to the activity center.

"I have a gift for you, Mary."

Several years ago Mary gave me a gift, her poetry. Mary's poetry is not merely a collection of pretty verses but an expression of heartfelt devotion to Jesus--a window into a saint at prayer.

Today I want to return the gift. I can't give Mary her speech back, but I can give her the gift of memory.

Her eyes betray her eagerness as I open the envelope, and I begin to read the first poem. After just a few words, her eyes brighten, she leans forward, and a question forms on her lips.

"Yes, it's yours," I say.

Mary smiles and then laughs.

"It's good, isn't it?" I say, and she giggles like a school girl.

"Yes, it's good, Mary!"

For the next half hour, we read her poem/prayers together--and laugh and worship. Surrounded by wheelchairs and white hair, loneliness and boredom, we roar and giggle and feel the presence of Jesus.

Down here in the valley, among the ordinary tasks of the day, today a bit of heaven opens up. God meets us ordinary people in an ordinary place.

How easily I forget.

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