So, I don't usually do two posts in one day - but I had to share this!
I take turns with my pastor hosting an "Open Sanctuary Night" at our church on Thursday nights - a time when the sanctuary is open for anyone who'd like to come pray, mediatate, clear their head, or simply relax in a quiet and peaceful setting. We have the lights dimmed, candles ready to be lit, prayer helps, and a inspirational reading for anyone who'd like it. We've been doing this since June and on an average night we might get 2-3 visitors, some repeats, some just checking it out. Almost everyone has said what a wonderful experience it was for them.
Small attendance, but so worth it for me to be there. I think it's so easy to get caught up in the "busy stuff" in church life, that we forget to stop and make space for God to speak to us... I LOVE my Thursday nights. And tonight was a winner!
I haven't been feeling well this week - headaches, unusually tired, today I felt achy and had an upset stomach... I was very tempted to have someone else unlock the church and lock up - even if it meant there wouldn't be much hospitality for Open Sanctuary tonight... But something kept tugging at me. Something told me to go anyway. Find a quiet seat in the darkened sanctuary and enjoy the peace and quiet...
So I did.
First, our church secretary stopped by - as she does almost every week. I can always count on her presence for at least a little bit!
Then, people from the community started showing up for our church's Job Club (for people who are currently looking for work). Their leader hadn't arrived yet, so I invited them to wait in the entryway sitting area - or spend some time in the sanctuary. One man was thrilled to have the sanctuary available to him. He went right in and lit a candle and spent some time in prayer. I was so excited that he felt comfortable enough, on his first visit to our church, to go right in!
Next a couple of ladies from our congregation stopped in, lit candles, and prayed by themselves. When one of them left, she grabbed my hand and thanked me for this wonderful opportunity. She said that this experience "helped her breathe again... and refreshed her life." Her husband (who's in his 80s) had recently undergone a risky hip replacement and is healing wonderfully! She was simply there to say "thank you" to God. My eyes filled with tears at her sincere gratitude...
Once she left, the man from the Job Club came back out and tapped me on the shoulder. He asked me if I'd be willing to do him a favor. I said, "of course." He told me his name and asked that I'd pray for him. Wow. Of course, I would.
By now, the evening is over half over. I'm overwhelmed and shocked at how God works in people's lives... and I look up and find another woman standing next to me. She's not a member of the church - in fact, I've never seen her before. She asks if I'll be at the church for awhile and I said yes (even though, I would normally start packing up in about 10 minutes!).
She proceeds to tell me that she is staying with her daughter-in-law down the street. The daughter-in-law had just recently had a baby and it sounded like her husband was out of town. The woman proceeded to tell me that she had been awakened the last three mornings with horrible nightmares and was now having trouble sleeping and just felt terribly overwhelmed by these dreams. When she told her daughter-in-law, she was surprised by her advice. Her daughter-in-law is from Sri Lanka and has never talked about faith with her before... but her advice, was that maybe she needed to pray... The mother-in-law was shocked! She thought about it and decided to go for a walk tonight - up the street to our church... Which happened to be open! She walked in to see the sanctuary lit by candlelight and knew the Spirit was calling her here... She asked if she could go get her daughter-in-law and if I would wait for them.
They returned a little while later - with her 23 day-old granddaughter. We chatted for a bit and they spent some time lighting candles and talking and praying together. When they left, they asked if I would be here next Thursday - they plan to return. And were excited to say, "See you Sunday!"
As they left the church, I stood in the sanctuary shaking, covered in goosebumps, with tears in my eyes. I always talk about how we should always have big expectations of God working in our lives and in our congregations and communities... But God was messing with me tonight! I've been humbled in my faith - and can't wait to see what else is up God's sleeve!
God does work in mysterious ways. I have no doubt about that.