Last week as I walked into church with my family, I saw my daughter Shelby make a beeline for an older lady who recently began attending service by herself. We introduced ourselves to her several weeks before and made sure in the following weeks to look for her and chat her up. This particular morning she was sitting right inside the door and, in her special way, Shelby greeted and hugged her. A few minutes later as our new friend made her way into the sanctuary, she passed us this note. It’s a little difficult to read so I will translate: To Shelby: Shelby I love you and every day we live I thank God for the privilege to know you and your parents. May God continue to bless us. Love you, Florence.
This Sunday-go-to-meeting Shelby greeted a sweet family of little people with hugs and high fives. They have always felt a kinship with her for being different. We then sat down to worship beside a friend I met in the chemotherapy treatment room two years ago. She now attends our church and sits with us every Sunday. As Shelby laid her head on Miss Jeanette’s shoulder and settled in for a long snuggle, Jeanette smiled and I cried. I barely held myself together as I contemplated how kind God is to give a severely developmentally challenged teenager such a sweet and important ministry.
As the drums and guitars of the praise music filled the room, I felt gratitude swell in my heart with the volume. And I thought about my own service in this body of believers. Over our 12 or so years of involvement, I’ve greeted at the door, written name tags, co-lead a life group, acted as web host for the online service and refilled the note cards in the backs of the pews. But the last couple of years I’ve struggled to find my niche. I longed to actually use gifts and talents God has given me as opposed to being a warm and willing body. I believed the chores I’d done before added value, but wanted more. I think I’ve documented here before that I am all but allergic to working with children. The times when I bit the bullet and stepped into a classroom, I may have broken out in hives. And yet it seemed I only ever heard about a need for more hands in the children and youth ministries. I attended meetings about a couple of other things, but nothing fit.
Without a place to serve and being “between” life groups, I started to feel pretty disconnected from church. I knew God wasn’t leading us to move on because our teen was, and is, sooooo plugged into the youth ministry and even serves in the children’s area faithfully (maybe I could learn something from her). And yet, for a time church was so painful for me that I asked my husband if we could come in late and slip out quickly so we wouldn’t have to talk to anyone!
But a few weeks ago, someone invited me into a weekly gathering of women. And we had an opportunity to share an extra vehicle with a family in need. Then the women’s minister introduced me to a young mom of a baby girl with special needs. She placed my hand in hers and said, “She wants someone who understands to walk with her.” And I am. Gladly. Then the youth minister called me to tell me that another mom is facing a health crisis. When he asked her how the church could come alongside her, she said, “You can tell Lauren.” And just like that I’m serving within the body – supporting other believers in a body I love. I may not be joining a ministry with a name and a budget, but I’m passionate about friendship and I’m getting to do friendship with intention. Purpose. Community. Church. For my daughter and for me. Just the way we are.
To be honest, a couple of years ago I struggled to feel like God was kind to me. A first for me, for sure. And my life is still far from perfect. In fact, we have so many loved ones facing hard, hard things right now that my daily prayers feel heavy. But the responsibility to love them well keeps me going. And though the world is broken, God is moving. And I’ll never get over the fact that He uses someone as messy and faithless as me. And He uses a 14 year old blonde haired beauty with a natural singing talent and a heart to invite. He also uses a retail manager who does EVERYTHING with the utmost integrity. And He uses a 19 year old who thinks like a two year old and wears her heart on her sleeve. It’s the kindest thing I’ve ever witnessed.
4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your[a]faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead,[b] do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. Romans 12:4-8 NIV