Saturday, March 27, 2010

This is Church!

"Great are the works of the Lord, they are pondered by all who delight in them" - Psalm 111:2

There are endless files in my mind labeled "God stories." It's sad that I will never remember all of them- there are simply too many of them (Ps. 40:5).

But knowing that I'll never recall all of them makes me more resolved to never forget some of them. Like this story.

The story of Rita.

Leatha met her on Craig's List searching for a dresser. Wednesday, I made the follow-up call to get more info on it, along with directions to her house. Convicted by Mark Cahill's message at Salt two weeks ago (click here), I began to ask her some questions about her life. Why was she selling this dresser?

Her husband (?) of 20 years found another woman and she was moving in with her 4 kids on Monday. Rita had to leave.

Her only possession was this dresser, an heirloom passed down from her grandfather. It was her only means to get money to drive to East Texas, where her mother lives.

I shared John 17:3 with her, that Jesus wants to draw near to her during this time and have an eternal kind of relationship with her. He would never leave her. I prayed with her on the phone and the conversation ended awkwardly, with her sobbing on the other line. I told her I would try to get there Friday afternoon.

As I was teaching the next night at Salt Company on John 17, I shared the story with our students. As I was teaching, the moment I shared the story I had this nagging thought, "Mark, invite TSC to join in this unfolding story of redemption." So I asked one of our staff guys to throw out a box and whoever wanted to could put in some money to share the love of Christ with this stranger from Craig's List.

Here's the box with wads of cash.

Friday afternoon we pulled up to the small Iowa town, knowing something very cool was about to happen...
Rita cheerfully met us as we pulled up. She brought a broken piece of the dresser to us and said, "I'm so sorry about this. I'll take $10 off for you."

"No need for that," we said with a smile.

We gave her the $75 for the dresser, and she looked at it with such... respect. With one sale, she had just liquidated all her assets in this life- and now she held the precious cash in her hands. It was all she had, and it was soon to be turned into gas money to get to the only place she had to go- her ailing mother's house in Texas.

I asked her what she had for help to get her through this hard time. Any kind of faith?

"Just me," she said, with a sense of shame.

We gave her a gift basket with random gifts... candle, tooth brush, tooth paste, Anthem cd, Intersect magazine filled with God stories of people in our church, Esmerelda and Christmas Came One Night DVDs. Then we gave her a Bible and showed her some verses.

She had a Bible, but she said she couldn't understand it because, as she said, "It's so and so who beget so and so who beget...always 'begetting' everyone. I can read this one you gave me!"

Then we dropped the bomb.

I handed her the money wrapped in a big roll of RED tissue paper and I said, "This next week is Holy Week, where we celebrate what Jesus did for us on the cross. The college students in our ministry wanted to bless you with this gift. We all want you to know it's from Jesus."

She unwrapped the red paper, and found wads of green paper.


She sat and wept, the money soaking up her tears.

This went on for about 10 minutes. The crying turned to wailing. She fell to her knees and grasped my legs, still weeping. Then she clutched onto Leatha with an awkward hug.
Leatha and I wept and laughed as Jesus met with the 3 of us in her living room.

She told us more of her story. I won't go into detail about her life, but I will say that Texas may be a safer place for her. We all got on our knees, and I asked if she would like to pray to Jesus. I will never forget her words...

"I don't know any prayers," she said, again ashamed.

So I prayed for her, and that gave her some confidence to tell Jesus thank you. I wish I had her prayer recorded. It was beautiful. She mustered up all the spiritual words she could to incorporate into her prayer, "Thanks for grace, and for believing in me to meet me here today."

It wasn't a prayer of self-reliance, rather, it was her saying to God, "Who am I, that you would visit me today with such kindness?"

We plan on keeping in touch, and helping her get on her feet in Texas. Her mother is in bad health, and lives in a house that has had the utilities shut off for 3 months. Rita thinks this trial might be God's way of reaching her mom, too, as she'll be able to care for her and show her God's love that she had just received.

Driving away, Leatha and I talked about how we hoped Rita knew she wasn't dreaming and that really did just happen (and also that we were people, not angels). Although I did kind of hope we would just disappear and pop up back in Ames...
We were struck with a couple things.

Of all the people on planet earth, God chose to put a target on this hurting woman in the middle of nowhere in Iowa, which is also in the middle of nowhere, and lavish her with grace, love, and money she would need to survive the next couple months. All because of a random visit to Craig's List...

It's yet another fulfillment of Isaiah 41:17, 20; 42:3, "The poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. But I the LORD will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake that people may see and know, may consider and understand, that the hand of the LORD has done this, that the Holy One of Israel has created it...A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out..."

But we also thought of how powerful our corporate expression of love can be. We can do more together as a body than as individuals. This isn't so much a story for Leatha and me to take credit for.

This is a story about God's people, each giving a little, but together giving a lot, and showing the world- or Rita- Jesus...

This is church!


Jack and Sheryl said...

What an amazing God story, Mark. Thanks for sharing. That was really encouraging.

rachwrites said...

I love how beautifully this demonstrates God's individual care for each of us and how He has prepared things for us to do here that we seemingly stumble across. Thanks for sharing this encouraging story!

dannyandjessie said...

That was a beautiful story..I cried most of the way through. God goodness is breathtaking! Thank you for being open to being a vessel of His work. What an awesome God story!!

J. et K. said...

My sister-in-law just sent me the link to this post.

Thank you for sharing it - and for posting the link to the message.

Kiki said...

Love the story! Beautiful.

So, where in Texas? We're in Houston.

bronasjergen said...

AWESOME!!!! God is so GOOD!!! I love love that story!!!

janie said...

Very precious. Thanks for sharing, Mark!