Jake was giving God one last chance as he got out of his car at the church on the corner. Life had been so hard, especially lately. Shoving the pain down one more time he headed towards its doors.
She saw the elderly woman take a shaky step onto the ramp that covered the stairs. It didn’t have any handrails. She thought about how her own mother was comforted and steadied by taking her arm as they walked, so she offered it to the woman. The elderly woman smiled and thanked her. They chatted about the weather as they walked down the ramp and parted ways.
A mom carrying a small child saw the woman offer her arm and smiled. She loved this church even though she had only been there a couple of times.
“Good morning, did you need help finding something?” a man standing at a visitor’s booth nearby asked her.
“Is the children’s ministry still down this way?” she asked just to be sure.
“Yes, but you have to go around because of the construction. Here let me show you,” he said walking towards her.
They walked around a shed to get back to the doorway. He was pleasant and her son warmed up to him quickly.
Someone met them at the door and the nice man told her to have a wonderful day. The young woman at the door showed her how to check in her son and walked her to the room with children his age.
The man who had walked her around the construction went back to his booth, greeting everyone he passed. He stopped for a second to chat with someone he knew. They exchanged a laugh.
Probably an inside joke, Jake thought as he approached them.
The man looked Jake in the eyes and said, “Good Morning!” His smile was bright.
Jake mustered a small smile and a nod. He was following the people who seemed to know where they were going, but in the few seconds it had taken to walk here from his car, he was feeling his mood brighten.
“Beautiful day, isn’t it?” asked another man coming along side of Jake.
Jake nodded thinking, it was a pretty friendly church but that didn’t really prove anything. Still, he was glad they were.
A pleasant woman with bulletins greeted them at the door. The man Jake had walked up with told him to have a nice day as he stepped away to greet someone he knew.
Jake slipped into the back row on the left as the worship team moved towards the front. A large screen was counting down for something. Jake assumed that was when the service would start. He was right. As soon as the countdown hit zero there was a soft drum roll and the music began.
Jake didn’t sing. The lyrics were displayed on the screen over a view of waves crashing at a cliff. The video mirrored his feelings lately. Jake was determined not to participate. He stood without singing. This was God’s last chance and he wasn’t going to make it easy on Him.
There was a break in the music and someone came up and asked visitors to fill out the card in the backs of the seat in front of them. Jake stared at the little red card and pen in front of him, but didn’t pull it out. The music resumed and people around him lifted their hands in the air. Jake stared at the words, feeling lost in their midst.
Soon the music was ending and a man, presumably the pastor, bounced up onto the stage as the worship team stepped down. Happiness seemed to ooze out of him. The screen now held a Bible verse as the pastor began. He spoke of fighting for your joy and how he wanted them to be happier today than they were yesterday.
“There’s more joy in Jesus than in anything…” the pastor said and Jake felt like he looked him directly in the eyes when he spoke.
Jake was thinking he hadn’t felt joy since his before his father got sick. It had been a long fight against the cancer that had caused his father so much pain. He had passed away a fraction of the size he had been when he was strong. Cancer had devastated every part of him. Jake’s small mother had seemed to have no trouble lifting him from his wheelchair to the couch or bed.
A single tear threatened to roll down his cheek as his heart ached at the thought of it. Jake did his best to will the tear to stay. His mind wandered, barely taking in the sermon, though a visual or two broke through. God’s presence hovering like a cloud over the temple and God’s light showing them the way in the dark.
Jake thought to himself. “It would be nice to know where you were supposed to go.”
Jake felt like life had been filled with darkness lately. His mom’s health was deteriorating now as well. She missed his dad so much. No one expected her to be with them much longer. He wasn’t sure he could take the pain of losing her too.
“We were designed to be in relationships, in relationship with God…”
Jake thought about being alone soon. Those thoughts scared him.
“How can I be in relationship with you God? I’m not even sure you exist. Where were you when Dad died? Where are you now?” Jake thought.
Jake felt a warmth fall over his shoulder. He looked to his side but no one was there. His heart beat wildly in his chest as if he were a rabbit caught out in a field alone. He froze, afraid to move. The feeling didn’t go away. It was as if God sat down in the chair beside him and put his arm around Jake and whispered in his ear, “Here. I’m right here.”
Jake didn’t hear another word of the sermon. It was all he could do to keep the tears from falling. The pastor finished and sat down a few rows in front of him as the music began again. Jake didn’t stand when the worship leader asked them too. He was too afraid the feeling would leave him.
A paraphrase of a Bible verse he knew, where two or three are gathered, bounced around in his head. Had God truly met him here today? Jake couldn’t shake the feeling and he couldn’t explain it.
As he walked slowly from the building several people smiled and spoke to him. Jake was still miles away, focusing on what he had just experienced, and trying not to let it overwhelm him. He looked down and realized he was carrying the visitor’s card and that somewhere in the service he had filled it out. Barely, but still, his name and email were present.
The man who had walked in beside him stepped up next to him again. “If you take that to the booth over there, they have a gift for you,” the man said patting him on the shoulder as he pointed to the visitor’s booth.
“Thank you,” Jake said in almost a whisper. The warmth of the man’s touch reminded him of the warmth he had felt in the sanctuary.
People were smiling and chatting all around him, but Jake was still lost in what he couldn’t explain. Even though he had arrived to give God one more chance, he had dismissed all that he had witnessed.
It was a friendly church. They did seem joyful and Jake longed for that joy. More importantly Jake longed for the relationship he thought they must have with God, if there was a God.
He handed the man at the booth his visitor’s card and the man handed him a small bag of things. Jake peered down into the bag at a coffee cup and some other small items. It was nice. If this man had any idea how he had felt when he arrived, Jake wasn’t sure he would still be as kind to him.
No one thing had made a difference. Determined to walk away sure there was no God, Jake had dismissed them all one by one. He couldn’t dismiss God’s presence.
But God had a different plan and each thing Jake had witnessed or experienced had brought him one step closer to the place God planned to give him back his faith, the place where God showed up in Jake’s story.
God knew Jake had only one more chance to offer Him, and He used His people to bring Jake close, and to complete the morning that Jake would never forget. Just the way He would use Jake in someone else’s story in the very near future to move His Kingdom forward. His plan was perfectly woven.
You see, little things don’t mean much… they mean everything.
Vicki L. Pugliese