It had been a rewarding but exhausting week at one of those events where my time neatly split between talking to large audiences and listening to one-souled audiences. After every sermon, a line sometimes 20 people deep would wait to talk with me, some of them so agonized that they’d begin to weep when their turn came. It was a blessing to me. I’m comfortable in that sacred space of whispered pain and glittering tears. But as surrendered as I am to the role of helping the downcast, I began to wear out toward the end of my stay.
God serendipitously arranged for a fun companion on the next leg of my journey—a young musician and preacher from Australia named Billy Otto for whom my daughter had arranged a house concert.
We would drive several hours to her home and stay the night. Billy is a riot and I knew it would be a fun trip and a needed break from the unrelenting need.
After some last minute loose-end tying and one final meal of cafeteria food (too deep-fried but delicious) I made my way to the lodge door one last time. A white-haired gentleman approached me. “I wanted you to know that I appreciated your talks this week,” he said, “they meant so much to me.”
“So glad to hear that,” I smiled.
“I lost my wife recently and I’ve had a lot of loneliness,” he confided. I speak about loneliness in my seminars, trying to bring honesty about our emotional needs back into style, to create a kind of transparent culture where we can “bear one another’s burdens and fulfill the law of Christ,” Galatians 6:2. It touched me that this man felt safe to be so raw and open about his grief. I looked right into his eyes and waited for more honesty.
“God did something else this week at campmeeting,” he went on, “He led me to someone special. We’ve spent the whole week together!”
“Really?” I cried as he nodded. I don’t recall how it happened, but I somehow ended up at his table snapping pictures Clifford and Colleen with my iphone. Aren’t they beautiful?
God was saying, “Thanks for listening to the pain of my children this week, Jen. But realize I’m bigger than all this. I can send shafts of light into the dark. I can surprise a grieving soul with joy. I can direct the broken road of a widower to a springtime of love in the autumn of life.”
Tell me–when have you been surprised by joy?