At times, angels come in the form of men. And sometimes, as happened last Sunday, God sends a man in the form of an angel.
When my family decided to go on a missions trip to inner city Chicago (now awarded the unenviable and tragic title of deadliest city in the United States), it went against all reason. It also went against my mid-life hormones flooding me with joy one minute and tearful dread the next at the thought of our family’s challenges with autism being on technicolor display for five days.
Dread won out. Looking through the bus window, the terrain changing with every passing mile, I watched with dismay as one by one, familiar supports fell away from my safe suburban world until, by the second day of our adventure, prayer had already become my only refuge. “Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance…” we read together in our group study of James. By Sunday morning, I knew either God needed to show up so I could count my trials all joy, or I needed to get my family home.
That morning, my 18-year-old son, sleep deprived and sensory overloaded, could not bring himself to enter the makeshift sanctuary where our team and local believers had already begun to raise their voices in rhythmic, joyful song. John was near tears, an anxiety attack paralyzing him with fear as he begged me to help him overcome feet that wouldn’t move toward the door and despite a heart that wanted them to. “I just wish there was a pastor who could pray for me.”
I looked around at the empty hallway. Everyone was gone. The pastors of the church were all away on vacation and anyone else who might have helped was now in the worship service. I lifted up a silent cry, not knowing how to help my son and hoping that a God who sees would also be a God who intervenes.
And then he came.
A tall, black man in Sunday shirt and pants, holding a heavy, worn Bible in his large, worn hands, walked through an adjacent doorway and moved with purpose straight toward John. “Are you okay?” he asked. Frankly, not knowing who he was or where he was from, my heart added fear of the unknown to my concern for John. My instinct at first was to politely lie, as all good Christians do. But before I could respond, he looked my son in the eye with his calm, watery-brown gaze so full of grace it felt like a hug from heaven. “Really, are you okay?”
And John told him how much he wasn’t. When John was finished, Raphael paused, and then shared a story of his own. A longtime drug addict, God had rescued him 35 years ago and changed his life through daily prayer, confession and constantly reading His scriptures. And just like that, in a short ten minutes, he transformed John’s despair into hope, pressing his phone number into John’s hand and assuring him that he could call him whenever he needed to.
The next evening I saw another boy, sitting alone, looking for all the world as if he could use an angel. Raphael was gone and l was pretty sure I didn’t have wings. But I turned, walked toward him and asked, “Are you okay?” He politely lied, as all good Christians do. “No, really,” I pressed him, as gently as I could, “Are you okay?”
I wish I could say that he, like John, opened his soul like a floodgate and welcomed my invitation. But looking me briefly in the eye, I witnessed his internal struggle before he closed his heart and told me that he was fine.
Maybe my wings just weren’t yet in working order. But being willing to go where I had once feared to tread was a pretty good start. Learning to love and to let others love my family is a trial worth enduring. Count it all joy.
Question: Is there a challenge for your special family through which you can also see God’s provision, allowing you to prayerfully “count it all joy”?
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