In the right place at the right time
Thursday, July 20th, started out like all my other busy days.
Early that morning, I traveled to Tulsa to spend the day with the interns and children of Project Transformation. I was scheduled to visit the sites, observe the ministry of this fine summer program, speak to the interns at dinner that evening, and return to Oklahoma City late that night.
Little did I know just how long the day would be.
At Tulsa-St. Mark's and Grace churches, I saw loving attention to children. All were engaged-with the help of volunteers and interns-in reading, creative art classes, and games. I even joined them in a dance. My visits concluded, I had some free time before the meal at Tulsa-Asbury church.
A friendly greeter showed me Asbury's prayer room. It was a quiet, cool place to wait on a 104-degree day, and provided me some devotional time. I began to read that day's lesson in the Upper Room magazine.
My cell phone rang as I finished reading the selected verse from John 14. My niece from Houston updated me about my ailing mother: Her status had suddenly worsened.
It was not the first time I had received such news in recent months. Yet, no matter how many times you hear that, you become unsettled in spirit.
When I returned to the day's devotional, I realized its topic was the unexpected death of a mother. The writer shared how emotionally devastating the loss was to her entire family. The lesson's conclusion examined the words Jesus spoke to his disciples on what the Holy Spirit would do in their lives. The sentence that leaped out at me spoke of the "unimaginable gift from God that is with us and within us."
I moved to the room's small altar and knelt to pray.
The Bible there was opened to Isaiah 43. My eyes immediately fell on verse 5: "Do not fear, for I am with you!" I prayed at length, and thought long about my mother.
My phone rang again at 9:15 p.m., as I was returning to Oklahoma City. In that call from my niece, I learned my mother had crossed over into eternal life five minutes earlier.
After that call, what I experienced on the highway that night can only be described as surreal.
Mingled between my cries of thanksgiving and praise to God, a feeling of calmness and peace overcame me. At that moment, I realized I was not the only one in the car!
The Comforter, the Counselor, the very Holy Spirit was there with me, reminding me of the Truth I have preached all these years. I was assured that the death of my mother was not an ending, but a beginning, and that I would see her again.
In following days, that same abiding Spirit held me up and enabled me to stand firm.
In retrospect, I realize God came to me in that prayer room at a time I most needed Him. It was not coincidence that the Upper Room lesson dealt with the passing of a mother. It was not happenstance the Bible was opened to a passage in Isaiah that reminded me God is with me.
Of all the places I could have been, I know being in that prayer room put me in the right place at the right time!
Reflecting today on my experiences these recent weeks, I proclaim to you: God's power that is with us and within us is REAL. God's promises are TRUE. God truly has given us an unimaginable gift; although it hurts deeply to lose someone you love, it is possible for your sorrow to be eased, for you to be comforted in your pain. God can do that!
I thank God for the life of my mother, Dorothy, whose memory will forever guide me and be with me. I thank you, Oklahomans, for all your prayers and expressions of kindness.
Most importantly, I am thankful for the presence of the Comforter who rode with me during the darkest night of my life.
We are not alone.
"O Thou, in whose presence my soul takes delight, on whom in affliction I call, my comfort by day and my song in the night, my hope, my salvation, my all!"-No. 518, United Methodist Hymnal, writer Joseph Swain