by Joani Schultz
Got a minute?
Um, you’re thinking…Come on. Get to the point. I don’t have time to read this right now.
Maybe you’re willing to pause, catch your breath, and savor two “long haul” stories. Since you’re busy, I’ll treat you to the punchline: God brings people into your life for a reason. So don’t give up!
You Make a Difference
Last week my husband Thom and I had the privilege of visiting a few of our Lifetree Adventure’s Mission Trips. I’ve never experienced anything that catapults teenagers and adults into a deeper relationship with Jesus than these service experiences. These mission trips bring new friends together working on ability-stretching projects they never thought they could do—for people in need they’ve never met. And the most beautiful thing? The week uses a highly intentional plan for “connecting the dots” of their relational service to their relationship with Jesus.
It’s stunning. We see thousands of homes, projects, and lives transformed, but I didn’t expect this long-haul example.
Here’s what I mean:
I met Pastor John. We were introduced just so he could tell me his story. He began by explaining he attended his first workcamp back in 2005.
(Wow, I thought, that was over a decade ago!)
He described the very first meeting with his work crew of five young people. They all came from different youth groups, assigned to work together for the week.
(By the way, the mix-and-match approach for work crews has become part of the “secret sauce” for these life-changing mission trips. Nobody believes it works, but it miraculously does. That’s because EVERYONE starts at the same level—as strangers, with no preconceived baggage. This small, diverse crew of six jumpstarts what can become lifelong friendships after only one week of serving together! But hang on. I’m getting ahead of myself.)
Jessica, one of the young teenagers, listened intently as Pastor John led the get-acquainted activity. “Wow,” he thought, “What an attentive young lady. She’s hanging on my every word.”
After the evening’s activity ended, she stopped him, looked in his eyes and said, “I didn’t understand a frickin’ thing you said.”
Shocked, he then realized his thick southern North Carolina accent must’ve sounded like a foreign language to the young girl who’d never been outside of Boston.
(I love the “foreign exchanges” that happen when youth groups from all over the United States show up!)
That exchange didn’t hinder them, however, and by the end of the week, Jessica had developed a deep respect for this pastor. She handed him her phone number as she was leaving, and shrugged, “Here’s my number. But I know you won’t call.”
That was all John needed to follow up. You see, Jessica came from a tough home life, and the pastor in him noticed and decided to make a difference.
(How incredible to notice and then take the risk for God to shine through that relationship!)
Over the next decade, Pastor John encouraged Jessica to follow her dreams, go to college, apply to military school, join the Marines. Through all those years he encouraged her from afar. When she became a captain in the Marines, she invited him to pin on her captain bars. And recently, he was honored to perform her wedding before she and her husband set off for a life of military service.
She wondered what to call John. “You’re not my dad…what do I call you?”
They both decided he could be her “godfather.”
Never underestimate the difference you can make in someone’s life! Like Pastor John, YOU matter!
Trust God’s Timing
This story shows us the beauty of longevity and God’s relentless affection. When you embrace the power of God working through you, you can be in it for the long haul. You never know how/what/when/where/why—but you can be assured of the WHO. When God puts you with another, you and God become the WHO. In a miraculous way, God’s affection reveals itself in our care for others.
However, we may never see what God’s up to in this lifetime.
So trust God’s timing. Be patient. And believe in God’s power working through you.
I think William Paul Young said it best:
“God pursues us with a relentless affection, whether we know it or not, whether we want it or not. That’s what love would do…So love will pursue us, because that’s what love does.”
Here’s another reminder of God’s timing and one of his long-haul surprises.
Thank Someone Who Matters to You
You’ve heard the line, “Go ahead, make my day.”
Usually we’re parroting Clint Eastwood’s catchphrase which, by the way, was chosen as No. 6 on the American Film Institute list, “100 Years…100 Movie Quotes.” But I digress.
I just had to let Linda know she “made my day.”
After my last blog, I got a surprise email from one of my former youth group members. I couldn’t believe it had already been four decades ago!
(I still don’t accept I’m that old, but hey.)
Linda wrote the kindest message: “I am still learning from you as I did in high school!… I experience the transformative power of stories frequently in ministry. Dan (her husband) had a preaching professor tell him, “ain’t nobody been saved by what they know!” You’re right, it’s a heart relationship with God in Jesus Christ. You were one of the first people who embodied that relationship for me and helped me begin to experience it for myself.”
I am so humbled.
I thank God that he brought Linda into my life and worked through me to make a difference for her. I’m so delighted. She became a wonderful wife, mom, and pastor, bringing Jesus’ love to everyone she meets. She also told me her first book is coming out this summer, “Motherhood Calling: Experiencing God in Everyday Family Life,” essays written over the years after her son was born. How cool is that?
Linda made my day. And I had to tell her.
So, I encourage you to take a moment and surprise someone with a word of encouragement for hanging in there with you for the long haul. Maybe it’s a teacher, coach, pastor, spouse, friend, whoever.
Put Luke 6:31 into action: “Do to others as you would like them to do to you.”
Go ahead. Make someone’s day!