I was shocked on Sunday that God was leading me without me even noticing (at least at first!). My analytical mind was struggling with a timing issue. It was noon, and Vista de la Montaña U.M.C.’s morning worship service, plus the special groundbreaking service for their new Education and Administration Building, was over. My plan was to attend a program at St. Paul’s U.M.C. at 4:00 P.M. Did it make sense to drive the hour home, then drive the forty-five minutes to St. Paul’s U.M.C.? My conclusion was that it didn’t make sense. Instead, I would get some lunch, then do some work parked at St. Paul’s U.M.C. (it’s handy having a mobile office—also known as my car!).
After doing a bit of work in the parking lot of Vista de la Montaña U.M.C., twice I asked Seri about nearby restaurants. None of them jumped out at me. I don’t know that part of Tucson very well and didn’t know the location of any restaurant. I made an unusual decision for me. I would just start driving and would find a restaurant. When I saw a bunch of roofs, I decided to pull into their parking lot. It turns out this was the back entrance for a strip-mall. I parked for a moment when I didn’t immediately see any restaurants. As I started cruising the strip-mall, I saw a stand-alone building on the other side of the parking lot. Could it be a restaurant? My decision was made when I saw that it was an Olive Garden! I wasn’t sure how to respond when I reached the front doors. There stood a small group from Vista de la Montaña, including their pastor and two guest pastors. They were just getting ready to go in and sit down. Of course, they invited me to join them. God embarrassed me a little bit with this one. It made it look like I followed them to the restaurant.
There was some shuffling around as we decided who would sit where. I was on a corner, with a church member sitting next to me. It is likely that I have encountered her in church meetings, but without her name tag, I would not have been able to come up with a name. She started telling me about some of the mission work that she and her late husband had done all over the country, including going to Alaska twice. I mentioned that I had served in Alaska. The situation started to feel strange when she asked what years I served there, and where. Would you believe that this is a couple that I knew over twenty years ago?
Sherry and Rex were a part of my life at an especially traumatic time. My church in Wasilla, Alaska, was building a parsonage. This in itself was stressful! Rex came to be the foreman for part of the summer, while Sherry was going to help to keep us organized. We had the parsonage framed and were ready to put on the roof. It was early in the morning when the arson struck and burned our parsonage down to the ground. Sherry said that she can remember talking to me in my office about what to do with all the scheduled work teams. She didn’t recognize me earlier in the morning on Sunday, but now she clearly knew who I was!
I have no doubt that I was supposed to be at Olive Garden on Sunday so I could visit with Sherry. I can see now that I was following God’s leadings, but I didn’t understand it at the time. I have been wrestling with our Annual Conference’s theme of “Called Anew to Follow”. What does it mean to follow God, and how do we do it?
There are instances when we have a clear vision of what God wants us to do. When this happens, we should act on it. What about when we don’t have a clear vision? Maybe this is when we leave room in our lives for possibilities instead of making hard declarations. God has a way of leading us before we even know what is happening. In our lives, do we trust God knows the way forward? Sometimes that is where we need to center our faith.
Your brother on the journey, Mark
Further thoughts: I’m a big supporter of self-care. The Book of Discipline allows every District Superintendent to take a “Renewal and Study Leave” once during their time as a Superintendent (#420). With the approval of Bishop Bob, I’m taking my leave this summer. My leave will start on Sunday, June 30, and finish on Wednesday, September 4. During this leave I’m going to take a break from writing “Mark’s Musings”. Don’t worry (or be worried?!?), “Mark’s Musings” will continue until my leave starts and will resume when my leave finishes.