In a previous ministry position, I was responsible for directing pastoral care at a church. My job was to remind people of God’s presence through my presence and prayers as well as to oversee those offering care to others. When someone was sick or dying, a family was going through a crisis, or a newborn baby was brought home, I was there to offer care, as well as discover if and how our church family could help further.
Every Sunday morning in the foyer, our eyes meet. Her eyes are full of joy, twinkling. Immediately she breaks into song, loudly singing my name, “Mar-le-na!” She ambles over, we hug, and I say, “It is so good to see you.” She always responds with, “It is good to be seen.” And then I remind her, “You know I love you.” And she trustingly offers, “I know you do.” My dear friend, who is seventy-five and dealing with progressing dementia, remains full of the joy of the Lord. She’s childlike in her trust of Jesus and those who love Him.
Years ago, a family member who suffers from bipolar disorder had an extreme psychotic break. The manic episode led to job loss, jail time, and homelessness. For two months, I was on the phone with social workers, law enforcement officers, friends, and family members, trying to figure out how to help him. I even contacted my family member’s church. But no one there could direct me to helpful resources.
When my family and I moved to a new town, I was hired as the Director of Discipleship at our new church. For me, that means that Sundays and Wednesdays are full and that on these days I have to come up with a quick dinner or leave my husband and young daughters to fend for themselves. That’s why I’m grateful we have a microwave. When I’m pressed for time, I sometimes prepare a simple meal of baked potatoes. Instead of the hour it would take to bake them in a traditional oven, we have them ready in seven to eight minutes. That’s fast—near instant gratification!
An early church leader named Tertullian wrote that unbelievers in Rome would say of Christians, “See how they love one another.” Particularly in the first three centuries AD, individuals or families who moved from rural areas to cities in search of a better life were very vulnerable if they became ill or faced hard times. In urban areas, they had no familial or communal support network to help them as they might have had in rural villages. As a result, the streets of the Roman Empire were full of weak, sick, elderly, and other vulnerable people who were left to fend for themselves.
In March 2015, the magazine Australian Popular Science reported that a company is hoping to “resurrect” people by the year 2045 through artificial intelligence and nanotechnology. Their goal is “to store data of conversational styles, behavioral patterns, thought processes, and information about how your body functions from the inside-out.” Then they’ll code this information, have it built into an artificial body, and use the brain of a “deceased human.” In many ways, what was previously science fiction is becoming reality.
My best friend from college, now a missionary in France, stopped to see me during one of her furloughs. I remember her telling me that she had to leave by 4:00 p.m. As she prepared to depart, the wind started to pick up. Menacing clouds rolled in. She ran to her car, and we quickly waved our goodbyes. About five minutes later, the winds roared to life and shortly after, it grew dark as night. Concern for my friend’s safety gripped me as I surveyed the storm. I’d never seen anything like it—nearly pitch black during the daytime. Fortunately, my friend made it home safe.
Those who were with Dallas Willard—philosopher, speaker, writer—when he died from pancreatic cancer in 2013, tell of the beauty and grace he demonstrated as he faced death. One of Dallas’ friends recalls that he said, “I taught on the Great Cloud of Witnesses and now I’m experiencing it. I am in heaven’s hallway and there is a large community coming for me. They are the most loving persons I’ve ever been around.” His last words before entering eternal life were simply, “Thank you.”
I once heard an amazing true story of how one man’s conversion affected untold numbers of people. When the man—who lived in a South American village—heard the good news of the gospel and decided to follow Jesus, his life radically changed. First, he stopped being abusive toward his wife. Then he began selflessly acting on her behalf. After a while, his wife started her own business and hired other villagers. As a result, the village prospered financially. In turn, many children could spend their days learning at school instead of toiling all day in the fields.
Many years ago, my pastor was talking with a church youth group about “masks.” He asked the students to state what God would see under their masks, should they choose to remove them. What was under their façades? Most gave superficial answers, but one, a senior in high school, had a much more profound response. She had experienced a painful life that included a suicide attempt and had found trouble nearly everywhere she went. Quietly she said, “I think God would see brokenness, but he would also see beauty.”
Charles Spurgeon, Martin Luther, poet and hymn writer William Cowper, Mother Teresa, and contemporary author Ann Voskamp—each has been recognized for their devotion to Jesus. And each has also battled depression.
The owner of the coffee shop I escape to when I have a writing deadline told me she wants it to be the “community’s living room.” And I think it is. There are heart surgeons, business people, judges, medical students, teachers, kids from local schools, college students, parents, pastors, and writers who frequent it. Although I’m new to the area, I’ve already come to recognize many of the patrons. The people who work there are friendly and welcoming. The coffee and food are good. The atmosphere is cozy and alluring. It’s a go-to place in our community.
I know of a man who passionately desires to be a pastor. He’s worked in youth ministry, camp ministry, and even alongside pastors in the church. He’s well-regarded by those with whom he interacts, having willingly volunteered his time while faithfully loving his wife and children. And yet, he’s been unable to find the right place to serve fulltime. Several churches “nearly” called on him. But he’s yet to receive a ministry role in any official capacity.