Editor’s note: Today we welcome Nancy Ward to the New Evangelizers blogging team!
The business trip with my husband to a technical conference in Colorado became a mini-vacation for me. I was on my own during the day with the hotel shuttle available to take me anywhere within a three-mile radius.
I found a church two miles away and happily headed for 8 a.m. Mass on Monday morning. It was a small quiet sanctuary perfect for spending some prayer time after Mass. But the staff was setting up for Vacation Bible School (VBS) so I retreated to a side chapel where a few women were gathering to say the rosary.
At the last “Amen,” loud music blared for VBS. I almost ran to get away from the noise.
Outside, three women welcomed me with warmth and curiosity. They introduced themselves: Regina, Cindy and Sharon. I was right at home talking to them about our common Catholic faith and soon Sharon offered to drive me to the hotel instead of my calling the shuttle. I discovered she was a recent convert from a fundamentalist non-denominational church. Although only recently retired, she felt she was at the end of her life. She was so glad she had come “home,” even with the disapproval of her family.
At Mass on Tuesday I surrendered my day to the Lord and he seemed to say in my heart: “Listen!” After Mass Regina and Cindy joined me for coffee at a nearby bakery café. We munched on muffins and drank coffee for more than an hour, discussing the different movements in the Church, changes in the liturgy, our country’s financial crisis and on and on.
Then we got personal. Cindy, the youngest among us, revealed that although her body was in pain almost all the time from several debilitating conditions, she was close to the Lord and content with her life. I listened intently as she told me about a time when she was away from the sacraments, devastated by a divorce and became addicted to alcohol. She came back to the Church, received forgiveness and the Lord completely took away her desire to drink.
It was such an amazing miracle story that I spontaneously gave her a hug. We parted and I walked across the street to Safeway to buy snacks for our hotel room before I called the shuttle.
Half an hour later I was sitting at a table outside Safeway waiting for the shuttle when a beat-up truck with three women inside parked nearby. Two of the three women walked past me into the store, laughing and talking.
Then the third woman, about Cindy’s age, hurried toward me and offered me a dollar to use my cell phone. I handed it to her, waving off the dollar bill in her hand. She tried to call her children who were in the custody of their handicapped father for the summer.
When they had separated she gave him all her money to care for them. Now she was on her way to a nearby town to enroll in nursing school. She wasn’t sure she could trust her two new friends, but they were all she had. As our eyes met, I promised her that no one was ever alone.
She shook her head and began to cry. She had “messed up and become an alcoholic.” I told her about Cindy who drifted away from the Lord, divorced and became an alcoholic. After she came back to the Lord her alcoholism was miraculously healed.
In tears, this woman said she turned away from God when she was 10 and there was no hope for her. I reminded her of God’s love for her right here and now, just the way she was. I assured her that everyone has a second chance with the Lord. Through her tears I saw a tiny hint of hope as I promised to pray for her.
Her friends came out of the store and headed for the truck. She mouthed a “thank you” and ran to catch up with them. The hotel shuttle arrived and I returned to the hotel in awe of what the Lord had done, amazed at what had just happened within two vacation hours.
I was reminded of the adage: God’s doesn’t call the qualified—he qualifies the called. He called me that morning to “listen.” He allowed me to shower his love and encouragement upon two women with the same problem, but a problem I hadn’t personally experienced.
Cindy would have been a more effective witness to the young woman at Safeway, but she was not available — I was. Listening to Cindy’s own story of victory qualified me to be the messenger with the exact encouragement the Lord meant for the next woman I met.
We don’t set out each morning looking for people who need God, for they are all around us, indeed, they are us. We add fuel to our empty tanks with prayer and Holy Eucharist. We surrender our day; accept God’s invitation into his day. We listen for his call and walk with confident assurance that he has prepared us for anything. The opportunities to joyfully serve him emerge in whatever the Lord puts in front of us right here, right now — even on vacation.
Copyright © 2012, Nancy Ward