I was attending a large contemporary church in Grand Rapids Michigan. At the time I was also heavily involved in a Prison Ministry. Every month, volunteers would meet at my house for a pizza party and stuff over 1,000 envelopes with Christian materials that were being mailed throughout the country. This was tedious work, and after several years the number of volunteers started to dwindle. So I told the staff at the church that I was looking for more volunteers.
One Sunday after the worship service a very disheveled lady approached me as I was pouring myself a cup of coffee. “I would like to volunteer.” “Excuse me” I said, “What do you want to do?” “I want to help with your prison ministry, you know, mailing your letters!” Grace was a middle aged woman with some staggering physical issues. She was extremely overweight and her clothes looked like she had drooled all over the front of them and then slept in them. Grace appeared to have a great deal of emotional baggage also and frankly, I wasn’t sure I could trust her to do what needed to be done. The blouse she was wearing had food stains all down the front of it and her shoes were worn out and muddy. But there was more, Grace had problems speaking. She would stutter and stumble over her thoughts and at times seemed to be unaware of all that was going on around her.
I explained to Grace that each month there were almost a thousand envelopes that needed to be stuffed and over five thousand sheets of paper that needed to be folded. A daunting task! “OK,” she said. At this point my chin was dragging on the floor picking up crumbs from the table next to me! Was this really God’s answer to my prayers for help?
I decided that I would box up all of the materials for the next mailing and take them to her house and just see what happened. This is ridiculous I thought! She looks like she can hardly take care of herself much less stuff all these envelops and keep it all straight! But…. whatever!
The following week I had a hard time finding the address that she had given me. When I finally found the address I thought I must be on the wrong planet! The house at that street address looked like it was condemned! As I made my way through the debris splattered yard I felt a sense of shame. My house was very nice, but this one was a mess! Could this really be where she lives? As the door opened there was Grace. This time she had on a different dress but it still had the tell-tale food stains flowing down the front of it. “Oh man, what am I getting myself into?” I thought. As I went through the door the reality of Grace’s world struck me. It was a barren room, with a large TV blaring. There was an unfriendly smell of stale food and mold, and the place looked like a hurricane had gone through it! Was I going to leave my precious prison ministry materials with her?
But then I met the source of her dilemma, her children. Grace was the mother of two severely autistic Children. The television was their source of engagement with the world. As the children would move around through the house they would always end up back at the TV. When it came to meals, the stains were tell-tale signs of trying to get her severely handicapped children to eat. As I made my way into her world, further and further I questioned if she would be the best choice with which to leave such responsibility. I had to make a decision: is God the captain or not, was it about me or God? Immediately the children were drawn to the new obstacles that were in their way. Boxes of letters, envelopes and stamps. What have I done!
Grace was a woman that faced daily challenges I rarely had ever considered. And as her name implies, she did it with grace! In her own way, Grace wanted to follow the calling that Christ had placed on her heart. She was already caring for her family as best as she could, but she felt God calling her to help with the prison ministry. It was a humbling experience that day to walk out of her house realizing what challenges I would face that week compared to hers. And she still wanted to answer the call of God on her life! In reality, God was her captain!
For many months Grace did a fantastic job! The envelopes were stuffed and organized, placed in the mailing trays properly and always ready to go at the agreed upon time. Grace was truly a measure of God’s grace in my life. Wow, did I learn a lot about myself, God and others through that experience!
NOTE TO SELF: Stop judging others, let God do His thing!