(Not the real Paul but looks a lot like him.)
The first time anyone noticed him was four years ago at the annual Thanksgiving dinner at church the Saturday before Thanksgiving. “Come and join us for Thanksgiving dinner.” That’s what the sign out front had said all week. And there he was. Lean and lanky wearing shorts, tennis shoes, and a light-weight windbreaker. Surprising since it was raining and cold. His hair was greasy, and when you shook his hand your eyes watered. That’s how ripe he was. His name was Paul. I know because he sat across from me at the table that night.
Thirty-five to fortyish, Paul lived in group home not far from our Methodist church. He struggled with some kind of learning difficulty and was receiving disability. From what he told me, he spent his time wandering all over town because he had nothing better to do. He was talkative and considerate, very soft-spoken.
And apparently he didn’t eat regularly because he certainly had his fill that night. When he learned we have food during fellowship time, after worship, he began coming on Sundays. Then he started attending the monthly men’s group because they always had coffee and donuts. Pretty soon he became a fixture around church.
We began to notice him then wandering around downtown in shorts in the middle of winter. How he avoided getting pneumonia was a mystery, so as folks got to know him, they began bringing in gently used clothes to add to his wardrobe, which was – literally – a tall order since he stands about 6’2”. Those men who took him under their wing introduced him to the showers by the kitchen, making sure he had the common necessities for better hygiene.
He didn’t talk much at all about his background. To my knowledge, he had no family. He would sit in the very back pew on Sundays and sing his heart out in a rather croaky kind of voice. And pretty soon he was part of us. He must have felt that, too, because he began sitting closer to the front during worship.
That spring he asked if there was anything he could do around the church to help out. Our pastor put him to work with the lawn and the parking lot. Manicured. That’s what you think of when you look at the grounds now. I’ve never in my life seen anyone do so much yard work – and enjoy it so much. The church wanted to pay him for his time, but federal disability laws made that not possible. And besides, Paul says, this is his ministry, though he didn’t have the Christianese to put it in those words exactly.
Today Paul has many friends at church. He goes places with them now and then, and he’s not just warming the pew till he can get breakfast on Sunday, he really enjoys the service.
Jean is an older lady, early 70’s I’d say. She’s a “refugee” from a local mega church that got a bit too big for its britches and hired a PR person who effectively alienated all the older members of the church who then migrated every which way. Jean is one who ended up with us. A lovely, friendly person, she found our laid-back church community an easy fit for her and stayed. She’s been with us nearly a year.
Now it’s our custom during worship to ask for prayer requests. As they’re offered, the pastor repeats them and the congregation responds with, “Hear our prayer, O Lord.” Jean is a prayer warrior. Involved in the community where she lives, she keeps an eye on her neighbors, visiting them and praying for their many needs. So it’s not uncommon for her to have a list of requests during worship. What IS uncommon is for Jean to use last names. She’s very sensitive about violating people’s privacy. But yesterday she forgot.
One of her prayer requests was for her neighbor Cody who tended to be kind of a recluse. She hadn’t seen him for several days and finally got worried. On Thursday she’d knocked at his door, and when he didn’t answer, she started to track him down. She knew he had no family, so she checked the nearby hospital. And sure enough, there he was. She elaborated a little on his condition, then as she lifted him up in prayer she, herself, was surprised to hear his last name slip out of her mouth. The rest of us thought nothing about it.
The offering was taken, the choir sang, Gary gave his sermon, we sang a final hymn, and closed with our benediction. Then, as Jean walked out of the sanctuary, there was Paul waiting for her. He’d been crying and was visibly upset. As it turned out, Jean’s neighbor Cody was Paul’s brother. They had been estranged for many, many years, and had lost total track of each other. Jean was quite shaken but excited when she finally got to Sunday School. She’d given Paul Cody’s phone number and more details of his serious illness, and Paul was on his way to the hospital to see his brother.
I have no idea how that meeting went. I’ll probably hear about it from Jean this week. But for all of us who know what had happened, we figure a small miracle is brewing. And Jean, most of all, is humbled by how God used her to reunite these brothers at a time when they needed each other so much.
Miracles seldom garner public attention. Most of them you never even hear about. But once you’ve seen one, it’s not something easily forgotten. Unfortunately, learning to recognize miracles is a part of our lives we neglect – whether we attend a church or not. It’s a practice we should cultivate because it would give our faith in humanity AND God a much-needed boost in this age of turmoil in which we live.
I have to agree with Albert Einstein and author Willa Cather in their attitudes about miracles.
"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as if everything is." (Einstein)
"Where there is great love, there are always miracles." (Cather)
I hope you’ll start looking for miracles in your life. They’re all around you!
(Posted on Impromptu Promptlings promptlings.word