I’m on the other side of another interstate move, an exhausting practice I really need to stop: total upheaval followed by a long season of making a new life, five times over in the past fifteen years. You might think I’d be used to it by now, but, alas, uncertainty abounds every time and I always worry about how the new-life-making will go.
But in addition to the uncertainty and worry that show up every time, God shows up to remind me that He’s got my back. And my front. And my sides. (For those thoughts, go read Psalm 139:1–12.) For example, money is a little tight these days, a situation not helped by having to pay full July rent for two apartments in two states. When I moved into apartment #2 late in the month, it had not been cleaned, despite the fact that a cleaning contractor had been paid to, well, clean it. So before I could put anything away, I had to scrub away someone else’s grit and grime. Gross. I mentioned this to the management, and in response, they prorated my July rent to my move-in date, essentially paying me $677 for my cleaning services.
God showed up.
He also showed up last Sunday when I visited my new church for the second time. Arriving a few minutes early, I decided to sit in the sanctuary rather than stand in the lobby waiting for my friends (because standing in a church lobby as a visitor is one of the most awkward things imaginable for a single adult: “Why do I have so many appendages, and where can I put them all while I stand here against the wall taking up space?”)
So I took a seat near the back and busied myself reading the bulletin. As strangers slowly filled the seats around me, one of them made me look twice. She did not look like a stranger. She looked very much like someone I knew, but not in the “We’re friends” sense. She looked like someone I knew in the “You’re the daughter of the pastor who married my parents fifty-nine years ago” sense. You know, that one.
Lest you think I’m crazy (as my friend asked later, “How would you even know that?!”), let me explain.
I grew up in the same church my mom has attended since she was five years old. I still consider it my home church, though I haven’t attended regularly since I started jumping state lines fifteen years ago. But my parents still attend, and so do I when I visit.
In its history hall, honoring its 130-plus years of existence, is a section devoted to the pastors who have served. For some churches, this section would consume the entire wall. For this church, six frames dot the wall: three from the church’s earliest years, when nearly a dozen missionaries and pastors filled the pulpit but only the most notable three are pictured; and three from the years since 1941, when a streak of long-term pastors began that has yet to be broken. The pastor that married my parents is in the fourth frame, and he and his wife served the church for thirty years and raised their family in it.
I missed all of this, not arriving in the church nursery myself until the church was transitioning from that long-term pastor to the next. But roots go deep in this church, so while I was growing up (and putting down my own deep roots), I heard stories. And then when “old timers” returned for regular visits, I put names with faces.
Which brings me to last Sunday when I saw this woman in my row who looked a lot like the daughter of the pastor who married my parents fifty-nine years ago.
But it couldn’t be. That would just be too bizarre. I move from Washington to Minnesota to land in a church pew with someone from my home church (of a different denomination) in Wisconsin? Get real.
Then halfway through the service, I saw it. Propped at her feet was a canvas bag filled with pamphlets and papers, but the only paper that I could read from where I sat said “The Gospel Hour Beacon, April, 1981.” That probably means nothing to you, but I almost laughed out loud. The Gospel Hour was a radio program started by that fourth pastor on the wall. It aired every Sunday morning in Milwaukee for years, and in connection with the program, the church published a little paper called “The Gospel Hour Beacon.”
Who carries bulletins from thirty-four years ago in their church bag??
I’ll tell you who. People unknowingly prompted by God because someone else needs His encouragement. Someone from home! Someone who shares a piece of my history in a place where I have no history.
Janis, the daughter of the pastor who married my parents fifty-nine years ago, told me later she’s had that paper in her bag for several months—probably since Easter. She’d come across it somewhere at home and wanted to share a poem in it with a friend at church. But what really happened is that God wanted to remind me that He’s got my back—past, present, and future. Every time.