It was a Friday night and the church was hosting Fall Fest. Through the clothes ministry, I was blessed to be able to hand out coats as well as witness to and love on people. A woman stopped by my table to inquire about coats for her children. She lingered just long enough for me to feel led to reach out and get her story. She and her three children had spent a couple of nights in the Kroger Parking lot when a man found them. He took them to the local hotel where their room was paid for through Saturday, that next day. She heard about Fall Fest from a family member and said she felt led to come and bring the children. That’s where I met Mary. She had a job and was going to meet with the source for housing, but not until Tuesday. She said she was hoping for an apartment in this complex that was close by. She knew it was a rough neighborhood with a history of crime and wasn’t keen on living there, but knew they needed a roof over their heads. I encouraged her that the apartment was just a starting point, it wouldn’t be forever. Right about that time, Amy walked by. Perfect timing as she lived in that neighborhood. She was able to provide my new friend Mary with the number for the landlord of her building where an apartment was just becoming available. We prayed about it, yet she never asked for help. I asked the obvious question lingering in the air; “What are you going to do from Saturday until Tuesday?” She replied “I don’t know…” I wrote down her information, her room number, and after Fall Fest went to the hotel to insure they had a place until Tuesday. I did it because I felt led to, that still small voice that I’ve learned when it speaks, I should listen. When I told her what I intended to do, the tears came along with the hugs and sincere appreciation. I reminded her it was not me, it was God working through me, putting me in her path. All thanks and praise needed to go to Him. I learned a little about my faith that night too. After I prayed with her, to be honest, my first thought was “How can “I” fix this?!? “I” need to go pay for the room, but I don’t have enough money to do everything they probably need…” And it was if I could almost hear God say “Where is YOUR faith?!? You do your part that I put you in her path to do, and you have faith I’ll put someone else in her path for the next step.” That was a good lesson for me that evening. If I could just cut a check to everyone I meet, where is the faith? Where is their testimony going to come from of how God provided?” I was able to find peace in doing my part and knowing God would take care of those next steps. I met her in the lobby at the hotel and I witnessed to her and asked her to please come to church because God could heal, break chains, break addictions and set people free with a peace that surpasses all understanding. She said she had grown up in church and knew that, but with all she had been through, she felt condemned. As I spoke God’s promises to her, I made eye contact with the little redheaded girl behind the glass and something stirred in me. I felt something and I thought of her off and on the next couple of days.
Mary came to church that Sunday. It was so good to see her! She called later that evening to advise the landlord called her back and said “Even though it’s the weekend, I felt the urge to call you”. Of course he did! Divine steps, appointments, it was a God thing! Mary started coming to church on Thursday’s and Sunday’s as she was waiting to get into her apartment. I watched her faith grow and her smile once again return. She shared how the bible she had been given had a bookmark at the exact verse she needed for that moment, that was a sign to her that her prayers were being heard.
Now comes the exciting part! Where it gets even better in ways I could not have fathomed. I thought my appointment was Mary. But God had even more in store. Things had gotten delayed and Mary needed one more night before she could move into the apartment. A man at another local church had went by to see her and told her he’d pay for their hotel room for Friday night. While we were in church he called and left her a message saying he was traveling and was not going to be able to make it back in time to help her. I felt a bit frustrated for her and the situation, and wrestled with what to do. Once again, I felt led to move that evening. In retrospect, there’s no doubt that situation fell apart to put me back at that hotel on that Thursday evening…
I went to the hotel once again. I almost gave Mary cash because it would have been easier for me and I could get home. I was hungry and tired as I hadn’t yet had dinner going straight from work to church. But God spoke to my heart and said “No, go there.” I walked into the hotel and the little redheaded girl was there again. As I paid she said “Can I ask you a question? Are you related to her?” I said “No, I just met her last week”. She started crying and said “How can I get someone to help me like this?!? I work 5 days a week, I just found out I’m pregnant, the dad beat me and the cops found him outside my house waiting on me. I’m done with him; I know this has all been a result of my bad choices, but I’m scared.” I asked her to come out from behind the glass that stood between us. I hugged her and prayed for her and talked to her a bit. Turns out, she ended up witnessing to me as she said “God doesn’t make bad things happen to us, the devil tells us it’s that, but it’s our own free will. We let the wrong things in and make bad choices.” This girl knew the word. She went on to say “I had just re-dedicated my life and was living right when I met him and I let him suck me back into a life style that was wrong. I don’t know how to be a mom, I’m scared. But God’s got something in store for me; I’m not even supposed to be able to get pregnant”! This all came out in a diatribe of fear and emotion with tears rolling and body shaking. There was nothing I could do in that moment but hug her and pray with her, telling her she was not alone. She said she would be there until 11pm when I asked. I told her I’d be back when that stirring started again and that still small voice once again spoke. I went to Kroger and got her a gift card for food and gas. On the drive back I heard in my heart “Share a bit of your story”.. When I got there, Mary was in the lobby as well getting something. I gave the girl the gift card as she cried and said “I would not have made it to work tomorrow. I have no food and no gas. But God heard my prayers!” I hugged her and I then asked “OK ladies, you guys don’t know me, do you want to hear my story?” There was a resounding “Please!” I started sharing my testimony of where I had once been, and how broken, but how merciful and good our God is. And then another girl came in, and another. Then two men came in and they all lingered to listen. I found myself holding church in the lobby of that hotel! The one man I had also met at Fall Fest said; “I used to be like you; full of light and love and helping others. I had a ministry with the homeless, but then I started drinking again.” I said “Well you know what Pastor Darlene just said tonight? The devil said ‘Peter I know, Paul I know, but who are you?’ You were doing good things for the kingdom and the devil knew your name. It’s time for you to get back to where you need to be and take back what’s yours.” I told those listening how we have witnessed heroin addicts set free at Hope Over Heroin and they are now living full lives once again free from addiction. The pregnant girl behind the counter told him of the gift card and he said “See, when you were so upset last week I told you that God would bring someone in to help you, right on time.” In that moment, I knew God had used me to be there, right on time. There were sincere hearts crying out that night and that’s why I was put there to be a reminder that there is hope. Through her test, this young lady now has a testimony. I told how the thing had fallen through with the help Mary was supposed to have received so I could be put there that night to witness, help and love on her. I was sent because I pray every morning “Put someone in my path I can help today, or someone who can help or teach me.” When you say that prayer, and you mean it, you have to be prepared for divine appointments and guided steps! There is no greater blessing, than being a blessing to someone else.
Driving away from the hotel I had to smile because I felt I had passed a test on my journey. I have a dream in my heart to someday speak at women’s and leadership conferences. In that moment I recalled an interview I sat in on just a month prior with singer Lindsay McCaul who is now touring with Jason Gray. She had a college degree but God put it on her heart to share with others through music. She told of her first gig being a worship leader to first graders who couldn’t even read the screen with the words to the songs as she wondered “Is this what it’s going to be?” Lindsay stayed faithful to her dream, trusting in the small things and passing those tests of faith until she was moved on to bigger things. I felt in my spirit that night at the hotel was my first conference. And if those seven people are the biggest crowd I ever have, then I’ll keep sharing my story seven at a time!
Two weeks later Mary brought a man to church with her she had met. The pastor prayed over him and he was delivered from a Heroin addiction. He has been coming to church now every Thursday and Sunday as well; clean, sober and once again with hope. Mary said “I just want to pay it forward someday, for what God has done for me.” I pointed to the man up at the altar that she had invited and said “Look at that Mary, you already have! You are helping save another man’s soul, he’s being released from addiction, and he’s finding God’s love here.”
After a wait and sleeping on a relative’s floor, Mary and her children now had a roof over their heads. It was their very own apartment and they were together. I shared this story over lunch with work friends who responded “Let’s adopt them for Christmas!” One lady sent out an email that reached a man who replied “I have a queen sized bed if they need one?” They did! Mary had no bed and had just told me the day before, “I will just be happy to have a bed again to call my own.” That launches into this next ripple. I didn’t know how to get the bed delivered. I almost posted a plea for help on Facebook, but it didn’t feel right. And then a young man I knew was laid heavy on my heart. I couldn’t stop thinking I was supposed to ask him to help. Late one evening I sent the message “I need help moving a bed. I will fill your truck up with gas and pay you $25.00 to move it for me.” Here’s what I didn’t know… That same night as he got ready for bed he had gotten on his knees and cried out “I don’t have enough money to buy gas to get to work next week until payday. I don’t know how you are going to fix this, but Jesus, I know you will.” He woke up to that message the next morning, rubbed his eyes and read it twice and then woke his wife up praising God saying “He is faithful to answer our prayers!!” And once again, in that instant, I knew why that still small voice spoke his name and he had been laid heavy on my heart.
The bed was delivered and the word was put out to a few co-workers. We delivered a tree with all the trimmings, those things the mother had asked for when I asked for a wish list; cleaning supplies, toiletries and linens and a box of food. One employee and his family adopted the children and their mother buying them Christmas presents. As I went to deliver the gifts that day before Christmas Eve my car looked like Santa’s sleigh. Mary was in tears and very thankful that her children would have such a nice Christmas.
Oh but the story doesn’t stop there….the ripple had not yet reached the water’s edge. I got a message on Christmas Eve that people where the daughter who had adopted the family worked wanted to also help this family. She had shared the story and become an example of what the birth of Jesus was really all about. In the bible you will often read “Love your Neighbor”, “Take care of Orphans and widows” and now people three and four degrees of separation away from the situation wanted to give! They had been touched by this story and a light was now shining in them. But the most surprising message of all came Christmas Eve night. One I never expected and had to read twice to make sure it really said what I thought it did. The family had a friend in a pro football player. When this player heard, he was also moved to compassion. I had the honor and privilege to take two footballs, signed by that team, to two young boys who love football and love this team! Something I couldn’t have even fathomed when this all started! And everyone on this journey who has given so unselfishly has shined a light to others around them. It is fun to sit back and wonder what lives will be touched and what turn of events will continue to happen as the ripples go towards the water’s edge.
One coat, one conversation, started a ripple that has affected many lives. I often like to think of how Mary’s children will have a testimony when they grow up and how God will use them to help others. Never underestimate what one small act of kindness will do or what kind of chain reaction it will start. Me? I can’t wait to give away more coats!!
“Faith is taking that first step even when you don’t see the entire staircase.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.