Julie and Julia…in church

The Lord is my strength and my shield;
my heart trusts in him, and he helps me.
My heart leaps for joy,
and with my song I praise him. (Psalm 28:7)

That was our call to worship this morning in church. Mike read verse 8 as well, but as I look at the words on a bright and sunny Sunday, it is this verse that speaks to me.

My heart does trust in him and he does help me. I believe that. Every day. But what happened in church today reminds me anew just how much he helps me.

What happened? Well, Jesus walked in again.

I was getting ready to sing with Mike and Nicole and Stan on the opening song for the 10:55 worship service. The countdown was ending and we were standing on the chancel, mics in hand, ready to launch into Mike’s anthem Undefeated, when she walked right in front of me.

It was Jesus. I had first met her a year and half ago when she walked into church on a weekday. We had an amazing half-hour encounter that was such a bright spot in my life at that time, that I put it down in words. Hit that link and read it. Jesus did walk into church that day!

Julie and Julia in churchTo see her again today was like an affirmation that in this new year, I was right to continue to trust God, and my oh my! he would still be there to help me. After the service ended I rushed over to Nicole to tell her about my Jesus sighting. Nicole was just as excited for me, and then I took a quick glance toward the pews as I removed my in-ear monitor, and there she was!

I thought she was leaving after the previous service, and maybe she had been, but there she was. She was sitting at the end of the same pew Steve and I had occupied at 9:25, and now at the end of the 10:55 she was there with Marti Bloes, our elder for Caregiving. How appropriate! The King of caregiving next to our elder of Caregiving.

I rushed over and said to Marti, “Her name is Julia! But everyone calls her…”

“Peg,” she filled in before I could finish.

“But I call her ‘Jesus’ because that is who she was to me a year and a half ago when she first walked into my life.”

She brightened up when I said her name, and could not place me. She is still the sweet, befuddled elderly lady she was that long ago summer day, but I knew more than that. I told the story to Marti and she smiled as well.

I grabbed my phone, searching on my blog for that story. I wanted to remind her of what she had said and done for me that day. I apologized for describing her as “a white-haired, elderly woman,” and she smiled.

And I kept reading:

And then she told me about how she had refused counseling after her husband died because she knew she herself could get through the grief and come out on the other side without help…until she couldn’t. She spent one hour with a counselor who just listened; that amazing gift of presence is so important!! And at the end of the hour that counselor wanted to tell her one thing. She said, “Peg, there is nothing you can do about this now. God owns it. He will make all things right in their time and your time here is not done yet. Let God have this grief because he knows what to do with it. It’s his. Let him have it.”

She thanked the counselor and they never met again. But Peg would put her head down on the kitchen counter every morning after that for a year and just thank God for what was his and not hers. And daily she would start to feel different from the day before, until one day God spoke to her and said: “I have given you a new heart.” And she believed it.

And then she looked right at me and said, “He will give you a new heart because you have thanked him for it over and over again.” And she was standing there, speaking clearly, not befuddled, not struggling to come up with a name, clear-eyed, clear-minded and all I could see was Jesus. It wasn’t Peg after all. It was all I could do to keep the tears from streaming down. She was there to comfort me.

It was quite the new year’s gift this morning after worship. I am pretty sure I will see Julia/Peg/Jesus again. She lives in the assisted living facility up the street. She feels a need to come back to church, and I am glad it is mine.

When I came home, I stood at the sink to wash up a few dishes and looked out the window at the tall pine trees that stand in the north yard. Yesterday, the strongest branches were still holding on to deep globs of snow. Only the strongest branches can hold on to that weight, I remember thinking yesterday. The rest of them have let go of their loads and have sprung back up to the sun.

Now looking back at the story of Peg from a year ago, I am seeing that differently.

“Let God have this grief because he knows what to do with it. It’s his. Let him have it.”

The big globs of snow that I had been holding on to, that had been pulling my branches down with their weight, were grief: grief at the loss of a dear pastor and friend, grief at the loss of a little sister taken too soon, grief at change I wasn’t ready for. I wasn’t holding on because of strength; I just didn’t know what to do with it.

And now I do. Just give it over to God. It’s his. And like the snow, it melts away. My branches reach back to the sun and, oh!, how I feel the light and the warmth on my face.

And my heart leaps for joy.

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