Often in the classroom I have witnessed what I will call ‘reluctant learners’. If you are a teacher, you might be able to recognize this student. He grumbles as he shuffles into class, slumps in his chair, complains about every assignment, disputes every grade, and rues the fact that he even ‘has to take this class’. As a teacher, it is tempting to write this student off — to say, “his loss; I’m doing the best I can here!” It’s tempting to do that, that is, until you recognize that you have been that ‘reluctant learner’.
This past week I got a full dose of the ‘aha’ moment as I recognized the reluctant learner in me. It probably started on Friday morning. I got a phone call from a dear pastor friend (if you’ve been following my blog, this is the man who gave me the book on healing). He wanted to check in, walk down memory lane a bit, and pray for me. He reminded me, as he often does, of a day way back in 1990 when my husband and I were planning to relocate to Jackson, Michigan — just temporarily — so that my husband could complete his internship in professional counseling. We spotted a Lutheran church on a hill as we drove into Jackson to sign our six-month lease. We had a little extra time, so my husband pulled up the long drive, and we decided to see if anyone was inside. Indeed, this same pastor was inside. As he tells the story, he had been praying and praying for someone to come partner with him in ministry to work with the broken families in the congregation. He wanted someone who could walk with these families through times of divorce recovery and other personal issues they were facing. We walked into his church and said we were moving to town temporarily and were looking for a place to worship while we were there. This pastor, who is now in his 80s, says that at that moment, he knew his prayers were answered.
Now, when I look back on that moment, I think, “Wow, he must have been desperate!” We were, at that time, two young, selfish, immature individuals who were on a path to something — who knows what! Certainly we could not be the answer to anyone’s prayers. In fact, the first time we worshipped at that church, I leaned over to my husband and said something like, “I don’t see myself here at all!”
That’s pretty funny when you consider that we ended up staying for twelve years! Yes, I reluctantly shuffled into the place that would become my classroom. I learned a lot of lessons in that place — many of the lessons that I have written about in this blog!
I learned that God provides — not in ways that I demand that He provide, but in His own breathtaking ways. Just after we joined the church, before we knew many people at all, I was getting close to delivering our first daughter. We didn’t have much income at the time and didn’t really know how we were going to meet all the needs of a new baby. But God knew. Over forty women who had just met me gathered to throw me the baby shower of all baby showers. Their gifts barely fit in my car! They gave us everything we could have ever needed for that baby! On the day she was born, my husband left me at the hospital with a heavy heart. He knew what our bank account looked like — empty. How was he going to put food in the fridge before we got home? He had no idea. But God did. When my husband dropped by the counseling office that day, he found a check for over $500 in his mailbox from insurance payments that had ‘just come through’. On the day he brought me home, members from our church met us with a footlocker full of groceries and stocked our fridge to bursting. I could tell story after story of how God used that body to teach us that He would provide.
I also learned that I didn’t know everything. That lesson involved a very long series of painful mini-lessons. I learned that I didn’t know everything about parenting when I judged other parents and then watched my own children misbehaving — even biting and hitting other kids! I learned I didn’t know everything about teaching when my Bible studies flopped and I offended some of my students who just happened to be members of the church! I learned that I didn’t know everything about event planning when I planned a women’s retreat that lasted too long, didn’t give women enough time to relax, and didn’t honor the people who served. I learned I didn’t know a lot about forgiveness when I was put in the position time after time after time to need it so desperately.
I learned that God is gracious at this church. I learned this lesson because despite all of my failures and ugliness, these people continued to lavish love upon us. I mean– lavish. Eleven years ago when my husband announced that we would be leaving that church to go to the seminary, that body simultaneously wept and celebrated. They planned a send-off to top all send-offs! They helped us pack up our house. One member, a realtor, listed and sold our house, refused to take a commission, and then gave us a monetary gift! Another member came over, took all the items off my walls, wrapped them in paper and packed them in boxes. Dozens showed up on moving day to load all of our possessions, Tetris-style, into a U-haul truck. Then, they paid my husband to go to the seminary. Yes, that’s right. They covered our medical insurance for a long time, and they sent monthly support to help us with living expenses. When I had unexpected surgery, they paid our share of the cost! They prayed for unceasingly! Dozens trekked to St. Louis to encourage us while we were there. And, when it was time for my husband to be ordained, they threw open the doors and hosted the ceremony and a meal to follow. I am telling you, these people can lavish the love!
Well, yesterday we went back to that church to worship again. It had been a few years since we had seen many of them, but from the moment I walked in the door I didn’t stop hugging people. It felt like we had returned home after a long time away. So many smiles. So many memories. As my husband preached a message of God’s ability to do ‘immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine,’ I looked around the sanctuary and was reminded of time after time when He did just that.
That first time I walked into Redeemer, Jackson back in 1990, my imagination was very limited. I didn’t see how in the world God could bless us in that place. Maybe it would be ok for six months, I guessed, but stay for twelve years? Come on, that was not gonna happen.
Thankfully, God is able and willing to take a reluctant learner like me, hold me in the palm of His hand and guide me through lesson after lesson to give to me a life that is immeasurably more than I could ever ask or imagine.
Thanks, Redeemer, for allowing Him to use you to touch this reluctant learner.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.