Updated: Feb 6
Do You Really Want to Get to Know God?" BLOG SERIES STORY TWO
This afternoon following some time writing in our Redwood fifth wheel R.V., Helen and I stepped outside to take a much needed walk around the campground. It would be a quick walk. After an intense week of learning at Duke, I wanted to hurry up and pack and spend some time with our son, Ryan, his wife, Meigan, our almost three year old, grandson, Daniel, and our almost one year old grand-daughter, Isabella. Helen was ready to get a break from the version of Bart I refer to as the this Bart has a bit too much excitement and energy, I guess we could call him, Energizer Bart. (Seriously, I needed a break from that Bart too).
So we stepped outside... As soon as we walked down the steps of the camper, we looked across the way and noticed some new neighbors had arrived, neighbors we had not yet met. They were sitting at their picnic table. Helen gave me the look, the look speaking clearly "Energizer Bart, this is NOT the time for you to show up." Helen made it plain: "Bart," she said, "This is going to be a quick introductory conversation. You're not going fishing for stories NOW!" Under my breath, I commented, "Guess we'll find out."
They saw us coming and smiled. They both looked to be about mid-fifties. We noticed their truck had an Ohio license plate. With warmth, they looked into our eyes and we greeted each other. We met D and her husband, J. Immediately we felt a connection. I asked, "How long have you been here?" "We've been here one month now. We're full timers. We plan on being here a long time. This is our home." We told them a little bit about ourselves. I said, "We've lived here for two-and-one-half years. We plan to live here three-and-one-half years until Helen retires. We have a house in the mountains up in Ashe Couty near The Blue Ridge Parkway. Helen did not want to commute a total of four hours each day because it takes two hours to get there from here. We're usually not here on the weekends. We wanted to come over and meet you."
We got the sense they wanted to talk some more. D said, "We moved from Ohio because we wanted to go somewhere warmer." J said, "Our list included North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida." I said, "In my opinion, you chose the best spot. I love North Carolina. When I was thirteen, we moved here from West Virginia." (Where they came from is the Eastern part of Ohio, not far from the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia where my ancestors settled back in the 1700's and 1800's.)
We talked some about what we had in common.
Somewhere along the way, I can't remember the details, we started talking about our vocations. J said, "I work with HVAC." D said, "I'm a special education teacher at Southwest Randolph High School." I said, "I'm a semi-retired United Methodist minister. After serving with churches full time for thirty-seven years, at the age of sixty, I semi-retired from full time parish work where I tried to do good things to go all out with what I sense God most wants me to be and do." J and D smiled. J said, "That's great! I was United Methodist when I was younger."
Then Helen finally got the opportunity to speak. She shared, "I'm a social worker. I started the FaithHealth program at Randolph Health in Asheboro. I've worked there for twenty-seven years." D frowned and said, "I'm sorry.... I was a social worker for a few years too." "What kind of work did you do?" Helen asked. She said, "I worked with criminal offenders. The job got dangerous and I got out!" "I love being a high school special education worker." I sensed in D a deep caring, sensitivity, and I could tell she was a good listener. "I know your students love you," I said. "They do! I love them too." "I know they thrive working with you," I said. She smiled and said, "Actually, they do." With excitement, Helen proudly shared, "Our nephew, Ian, is eight-teen years old. He has Down's. His different abilities bless our family in so many ways!"
Then J started telling us some of his story. "After I had COVID back in the fall, I got a blood clot in my lungs and almost died." Prior to that, I was in an awful car accident and my back was severely broken in several places. I laid in bed for six-and-one-half years!" "Whoa!" I said. "What was that like?" "It was like HELL," he said. He looked over with shining love into D's eyes and said, "My wife pulled me through." "After the accident, I became addicted to prescription opoid based drugs." D said, "He was on fentanyl." When I heard that, I looked into J's eyes, stumbled, and wondered if I might fall down.
"I cannot imagine what that was like! Through no fault of your own, you became addicted to opoids, I said." Helen asked, "How did you get off of it?" D said, "I found him totally passed out one day. The person I knew as J was gone. He was a shell. I found his father and said, 'If you'll support me in this, we have to intervene.' "His dad told me he would do all he could to help J. The doctors wanted to wean him off of opioids." I told the doctor, 'No, he's doing this cold turkey!' I took off work and stayed with him for two weeks." J said, "I thought I was going to die! I wanted to die! She carried me through."
I looked into D's eyes and said, "Please be real with me. I'm not expecting any particular answer. During this, what was your experience of God? Did you sense God with you? Did you sense God's absence?" Did you sense a little bit of both?" She paused, "You know? I sensed God with me most of all when I told the doctor, 'He's doing this cold turkey!' In that moment, I felt set free!"
J said, "I've been clean ever since! I live in great pain everyday. My left leg is completely numb. God gets me through." I said, "Wow, that is a powerful story!"
Both of them asked Helen and I to tell them more about our work. Helen told them about the work she does with the homeless and persons who frequent the emergency room who do not have insurance. It's the only place they can go where people have to see them! Then she told them about a several million dollar settlement Randolph County received to help persons and families of persons who are addicted to opioids. This is part of the settlement that was paid out by drug companies who were sued because the medicines they developed were extremely addictive. Helen talked about one of the committees she is on that is meeting next Tuesday evening to try and figure out more ways to form community partnerships to grow forward caring that invites healing.
I said, "D, I'm not surprised we bumped into you and J this evening. I see all kinds of ways God is connecting people together now across vocations, disciplines, and gift sets so we can collaborate and do something about the dysfunction that is being acted out around the world including close to home. D, I can tell that you have some unique gifts and vocational experiences such as writing I.E.P.'s. that would help fill in some of the puzzle pieces concerning ways community partnerships can walk beside persons reeling from the dis-ease of drug addiction. What would it look like for you to meet with the committee and share your gifts by joining the committee's conversation? " (It dawned on me that J and D both could offer all kinds of helpful insights. It dawns on me now as I write this that when Helen wakes up tomorrow morning, I'm going to tell her. "Helen, I think you need to invite J to that meeting too.").
J and D both asked me to tell them more about the ministry I'm doing. I gave them my card and invited them to look at the website. I told them how I'm gathering stories and bumping into people like them so I can share their stories.
Likewise, Helen and I told them about High Rock Lake Ministry. "Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day Weekend there is an outdoor worship service that gathers at a pavilion over looking High Rock Lake on the Lexington side. It's a thirty minute drive from here." With enthusiasm, simultaneously they commented, "We'll be there!"
As we left, I said, "D and J, we look forward to getting to know you more!" With excitement, they shouted, "We look forward to getting to know you more!"
As we started our walk around the campground, I looked over at Helen and smiled. She did her best not to smile back. She started jogging. I walked faster to keep up with her. It was all I could do to keep from laughing. As a semi-trained husband with almost forty-two years of experience, I decided it would be best for me to remain silent for a while.
I thought, "Wow! God. I live in a campground, a great place to connect across suspicious social categorizations that tempt us to treat one another as better than/lesser than. You know God? I don't consider myself to be a very good organizer. I like to prayerfully play at work. If I had to recruit story tellers who represent various societal categorizations, I would not do it. It'd be WORK! I live in a campground! All I have to do is show up! You do the hard work! There are a bunch of story tellers who will live various lengths of time at this campground. As you lead and they feel led, I will invite them to tell me what it's really like to be them. Along the way, I will gather various stories with persons representing various backgrounds. Take these stories Divine Story Teller Revealed in Word Made Flesh. Holy Spirit, take each story and like an old fashioned "quilting" sew each story into a picture of the ways each story reveals a missing puzzle piece that will awaken us and empower us to care enough to gather and put together holy imagination like puzzles that lead to healing and transformation for all especially those who we cast aside to the margins because we don't want to be overwhelmed by the brokenness in them and uncover the brokenness in us.
May we discover the joy that comes when we embody connections inspired by sharing perceptions that gets us closer to 20/20 vision when we live like, "Jesus' friends are our friends too!"
On the one hour drive to Stokesdale, Helen looked at me and a big smile lit up her face. Contagious belly laughter followed. She turned to me and said, "That didn't exactly turn out to be a quick introduction after all!"
We can't wait to get to know J and D more. We can't wait to find out who God bumps us into next.
Be on the look out for more stories to come...
A Picture of Helen standing by our fifth wheel at Zoo-Land Campground Asheboro, North Carolina
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