Surprised! (Again)

Last Saturday I was the overnight host as our church provided a week’s shelter for homeless families as part of the Wilmington Interfaith Hospitality Network (WIHN). That sounds all faithful-servant-ish, doesn’t it? The reality is that I was more like the child who tells his father he WILL NOT go work in the vineyard, like a big ungrateful brat (and then changes his mind and goes anyway, Matt. 21:28-32).

Image courtesy of dan/
Image courtesy of dan/

It’s not pretty, but that’s how I felt when I first found out I was needed. Like most ministry-moms, my plate is full: deadlines, packing lunches, homework, exegesis, grocery shopping and writing, to name a few. At church, I teach the kindergarten Sunday School class, sing in the choir and teach Zumba on Wednesday nights, for Phoebe’s sake! Sound familiar?

I love these ways of serving. Teaching, music and even leading Zumba are wonderful ways for me to use my gifts in our congregation where my husband pastors. But as most of us in ministry know, rarely is that enough. Somewhere, somehow, something gives and someone needs a volunteer last minute.

Two weeks ago, word went out that a Saturday night host slot had to be filled. The regular volunteer had been recruited to chaperone a youth trip scheduled for the same weekend, an adventure that would be our  eldest son’s inaugural middle school-wide retreat. Yes, this volunteer is that good.

So I figured the least I could do is say “Put me down as your last resort person to fill that host spot.” Real generous, huh?! But weekends are hard for us, as my husband works on his sermon and I plan for the Sunday School lesson and we tag-team the kids and all their Saturday games and activities, as well as their own preparation for Sunday morning.  Surely, I thought, someone else will step up. But at least I would get points for being willing, right? 😉

Only no one else responded. Not one adult could do it–of all the middle school and high school parents and various youth volunteers. Seemed like everyone had the same problem I did: Saturday nights are too busy, Sunday mornings too chaotic.  Suddenly, I was it—along with one of our (amazing) senior high youth girls.

Really, God?! No one else in the entire church could do this? I kicked imaginary dirt, mentally put my hands on my hips and spiritually stuck out my lip. That done, I began working out the details, negotiating on the home front and packing. Oddly enough, as I packed, the “I WILL NOT!” mentality lost its hold. By the time I walked through the door to start my shift, I sensed I was exactly where I needed to be.

I’d always been interested in this ministry, where local churches host temporarily homeless families for a week. Our family had helped provide a meal years ago; one time my husband took the boys to eat and play with the families. Each time I read the request for WIHN volunteers in the bulletin, I feet a tug. But how could I be away overnight with everything going on in our lives?

SURPRISE!  God’s tug turned into a gentle kick in the pants. I was going to serve with WIHN whether I planned it or not. And as usual, God’s plan was far better than mine would have been. I met our three families—one with five kids—and immediately felt at home. One of the kids made a nametag for me, surprising me with his thoughtfulness. After that, I was swept into a game of charades and taught a new game called “Therapist” where a the “therapist” has  diagnose each “patient” pretending to have an issue.  Trust me, it was fun.

These children welcomed me. They were a delight. I heard the parents’ story of searching for employment and dealing with homelessness for the first time.  I could only imagine the fear, stress and chaos of dealing with five children in a constantly changing environment. But they were doing it–and well. The children were loving, energetic and respectful, the parents managing far better than I suspected I would.

Instead of an evening of draining giving, giving, giving, I was receiving. This vineyard in our fellowship hall was ripe with God’s love. And I was far more in need of it than I had known. SURPRISE! Again, God had the best in mind. As I fell asleep in my cot that night, I could only hope and pray that I was offered a bit of the blessing I received.

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