Stories of grace.
That's who we are, and that's what we carry.
Every one of us a little glimpse in to the power of God to forgive us when we mess up and to transform us in to completely new people full of joy, peace, patience, goodness, gentleness, kindness, faithfulness, self-control, and love that are impossible without the presence of His Spirit within us.
As we've finished up the fall retreat season at ECCO, there are two stories of grace held by two grace-filled people in particular that really stuck out to me.
Jan - Hope in the Valley of the Shadow of Death
I had the pleasure of attending the Women's Retreat at Camp ECCO this year and was blown away by the story of an incredible woman named Jan.
As we ate lunch together, Jan expressed that she believed that God put a very specific call on her heart and gave her a very specific purpose for her life. Jan, now growing older herself, is called to love and listen to people, specifically the elderly. She loves to sit with those who, day in and day out, are experiencing the depth and breadth of pain, sickness, grief, loneliness, and the hard questions of what their lives were/are worth.
Jan spent much of her life as a nurse in a nursing home, but the story she told me was not one of despair, but thick with HOPE.
Reflecting back she told me, "There were some really precious people." Specifically, she told the story of one man who had crippling arthritis. His arthritis was so severe that it bent his knees to his chest and froze his arms in front of him so that he sat on his bed, unable to move, practically in the fetal position. On top of that, he also could not see a thing, but Jan said that he knew every single nurse by the sound of their footsteps alone.
Jan remembers one specific day walking in to this gentleman's room and him saying,"Mrs. ... is that you?"
"Yes, Mr. ...", she said.
A joyful smile broke across his wrinkled face. "Good," he said, "I've been sitting here praying for you all day."
WOW! My heart hit the floor...immediately humbled! This man had every reason to be grumpy, complain, and be self-centered. I probably would have been. He was surely in severe pain and alone, but instead of fixating on his own situation, he found joy in communing with his God in conversation about those who cared for him. Wow! He found a hope bigger than anything this world could give him, so indescribable my words could never do it justice. That's a God who gives peace that surpasses understanding!
Joe - Joy When Two Spirits Give Witness
Joe! What a guy! What a friend of Jesus!
I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the American Camping Association's Fall Festival this past September, and be aware that this is not a Christ-focused event. This is the nation's big association for camping and parks and recreation professionals so this was like a one-day convention with sessions and a keynote speaker.
Well, lunchtime rolled around and I was thrown in to every loner new kid's worst nightmare...no one to sit with at lunch. So I looked around the "cafeteria" and saw an older African American gentleman who I thought I recognized from the pictures of trainers for the sessions also sitting by himself. So, feels right, I go over and introduce myself and ask if I can sit with him. He says, "Oh of course, of course" and we begin polite conversation. He asked me what I did and what I was doing there. I told him that I worked for a Christian summer camp in Carrollton, OH and explained a little bit of my job.
His demeanor went from outgoing and pleasant to exuberant. He looked at me and asked, "And are you a believer too?" And when I said yes, he threw himself back, clapped once, and exclaimed, "I knew it!! I could just tell by your smile and the way you came over here and talked to me! You just have that kind of glow!"
Of course, I was so excited because that kind of reaction is the goal of my life! And I breathed a sigh of relief as I felt much more in my element now, and me and good old Joe talked on and on all of our lunch break about our faith, frustrations, and experiences. He poured out encouragement on me, took an interest in my life, and asked about my opinions and experiences with frustrations he had been experiencing for his daughter who was just slightly older than me.
Sadly, many of my experiences meeting strangers who are Christ-followers, especially those older than me, outside of a "church" setting have been less than stellar. Usually, they are a little cold, preoccupied, and uninterested or they like to inform me how I should think or act without really asking for my perspective. Now, hear me, I'm not attacking any generation here. We all have fault and need to pray to become more Christlike every day while looking for opportunities to embody that love, but talking with Joe gave me heart that we can live like that!
And I thought to myself in the midst of the chaos and sin, what a wonderful God!