The house next door to mine is owned by a non-profit organization for adults with mental and physical disabilities. It provides a comfortable, quiet home for a couple clients. Walking by this house, I'll often see a few of the clients out on the porch talking together, enjoying the sun, or working on simple crafts and projects to keep busy. It's not uncommon to see their cheerful faces out there and receive a wave, or a friendly, "Hello!"
But today was different.
Today, as I hustled down the street to meet up with a friend, I hardly acknowledged the two elderly ladies sitting out on the porch of the home. My eyes turned down to my phone as my friend and I texted back and forth, I was brought out of my own little world when I suddenly heard a loud shout: "Praise God!"
I looked up with a start, and scanned the area for a moment before I heard the voice again, even louder. "Praise God, praise God!" My eyes came to rest on one of the elderly women sitting out on the front porch of the care home. Unsure of what to do, I simply smiled and waved. And as I turned to continue walking, I was stopped by the same voice. "What's your name?" I slowed right down, and turned hesitantly. For sure, she was talking to me.
"Karis!" I shouted back, and had to repeat myself for her to understand me. And that's when she called for me to come over.
I don't know this woman. I'd seen her around town a couple of times with the other clients, either doing light volunteer work or appearing at charity fundraisers, but I'd never met her until now. When I approached her on her porch, she leaned over in her chair, and stared directly into my eyes. And with slow, slurred, and nearly incoherent words, she began to speak.
"Karis, I want to ask you a question. This life is short. And if your heart were to stop beating this very minute, do you know, beyond any shadow of a doubt, where you would go?"
Taken aback, I stammered, "Y-yes... I love Jesus, and I believe He's given me eternal life--"
"No!" she interrupted. "In the end, many, many, many people will THINK they know, but they won't actually know. Many will think that they will go to be with Jesus, but will actually be separated from Him forever. So, my question for you is: Do You Know??"
I paused for a minute, still slightly shocked at this conversation I was having with this stranger. Even her friend seemed to be staring at me intently, despite her crossed eyes. I took a breath, looked back into this woman's eyes, and realized. This was the detour. This was a moment that was planned by God, and not by me. This was a moment that was unfolding out of thin air before my eyes. And I decided that I would be present.
Emboldened, I responded. This time, with true conviction. "Yes. I've given my life to Christ, and it is my biggest desire to serve Him until I die. I want to do His will every moment of every day, because He saved me from my sin."
At this, the woman's eyes welled up. She tossed her head back, and exclaimed a joyous, "Oh, my!" Laughing heartily, she looked back at me, shaking her head in wonder. "You truly are my sister in the Lord! Won't it be wonderful to be together with Jesus someday soon? Won't it be something?"
From that point on, my grin wouldn't fade. We talked and talked. We laughed and laughed. The entire time, ignoring the buzzing of my phone and my original plans, I instead chose to partake in this heavenly moment on earth. This divine interruption was suddenly as clear as day. These precious minutes of mutual encouragement and blessing between us was something miraculous that I did not want to miss, or cut short.
She asked me about my high school life. She asked me about my family. She asked me about my summer. She asked about my plans for the fall. "Well, I'm heading to University to study media and communications, with the hope of using writing and journalism in the mission field someday."
Her response struck a chord in me. "Oh, WOW! But isn't it amazing that God can change your plans in the blink of an eye? Isn't it amazing that sometimes God crumbles our plans, and gives us brand new ones that we could never have imagined?"
At first, I thought to myself, That's a weird thing to say to someone who just expressed their dreams.... but then I realized how right she really was. Here sat this woman, living a beautifully full life despite her mental and physical challenges, convicting me with every word. While my immediate thought was to question what plans she possibly could have had for herself that would have been changed by God, I was struck by how similar I truly am. How similar we all are.
Aren't we all just tiny people trying to control our tiny lives, and failing miserably? We organize our futures and try to set them up in just such a way so that we can accomplish and enjoy a very specific category of good things. We figure out exactly what courses we need to take, what jobs we need to apply for, what skills we need to develop, how we need to look, and where we need to locate ourselves for optimal results. We set out agendas for our lives. We set up timelines for ourselves. When we want to be married. When we want to have kids. When we want to retire. We set these limits and expiry dates and set forth in expectation.
And, more often than not, God runs them into the ground. We pray, "Your will be done," and then stick our foot in our mouth... because we often forget what that really means. God's plans begin where our plans end. His Will starts where our will crumbles. His agenda is set up in the ashes of ours.
And the result of this destruction is always beautiful. While we grumble over the time we've wasted or the plans we've had to abandon to follow Christ, the reward is always infinitely more valuable than what we would've reaped from chasing after our own ambitions. He is for us, completely, and entirely. He's got our best interest on His mind. And to reject His leading and follow our own understandings is to do nothing but a disservice to ourselves.
Hearing this wisdom from this "frail" and "unfortunate" woman could not have been more perfectly timed. The theme of this entire summer has been the abdication of my plans, and learning to adopt the wild and untamed ideas of my Father. My motto for the past few weeks has been "Life is interesting." And that's because sometimes, it's all that can be said. I've been learning what it means to go with God, being comfortable in the uncertainty, and steadfast in the mystery.
Listening to this woman speak was an incredibly humbling experience. An irreplaceable moment. A priceless memory. She begged to pray with me, and I felt her weak fingers strengthen around my arm. Together, we bowed and spoke with God.
And as I walked away to meet my waiting friend, I had to shake my head in wonder at what had just transpired. What purpose did it serve? What point was there to talking with this stranger? What was gained?
And I was once again struck by His assurance. That was the detour. That was the roadside attraction that jolted me out of my reverie. That was the instance that shook me awake, and smashed through the walls I had built to encase my own little world. That was my unplanned, unpredictable, unexpected rendezvous with Jesus; my conversation with the Lord through the mouth of a meek old lady who simply obeyed the Spirit's nudge to call out to me.
Thanks to her passion, her blaze for Christ, and her shameless praise, God used her as His vessel of blessing to me today. And it makes me wonder. How often do I ignore those nudges, and miss out on a divine interruption and a heavenly moment, for the sake of keeping my own schedule? How often do I push my own agenda ahead of His brilliant plan?
Starting now, I hope my answer will be, "No longer."