Friday, May 27, 2011

Encounters With God: My Friend Denise

Myself, Denise & Donna- 1982
Today's first post is brought to you!  The guest blogger scheduled for today is going to submit a post a bit later, so it turns out to be a 2 for 1 Friday!   I apologize for anything I have "misremembered" in telling this story.  If any old friends are reading today, please correct me in the comments section!

In the late 1970's and early 80's (my college years) I ran around with a very special group of people.  One of the things we all had in common was worshipping together on Sunday mornings at New Garden Friends Meeting, a Quaker church in Greensboro, NC.  I was one of the youth leaders there (along with the pictured Donna Haynes; the photo is from a New Garden pictoral directory) at the time while still in college, and a lot of my friends were members there as well.  Among this group of friends was a woman named Denise May.

I met Denise when she lived next door to (and eventually with) one of my best friends, Beth Vestal.  Beth and I had grown up in youth group at New Garden, and when Denise started hanging out with she began attending as well. It was quite a switch for a Southern Baptist girl from eastern NC, but Denise fit right in and loved going with us.  I could tell you lots of stories about Denise, but the only thing you really need to know is that she introduced me to my wife of almost 25 years, Marilyn.  Needless to say, Denise is special to me.

One Sunday morning we were in meeting for worship at New Garden, which always featured a period of open worship (silent prayer and meditation when anyone who felt moved was welcome to speak).  During the open worship that morning Denise seemed restless and uncomfortable and like she was on the verge of speaking- which was something she had never done. But she remained silent.  After worship as we were all preparing to go to lunch, she approached me with a question.  "Carl, do you know where Belize is?"  I didn't.  In fact, none of us recalled ever having heard of Belize.  It turns out it is the northern-most Central American nation.  After lunch we went our separate ways, and later on that evening Denise called and wanted to talk.  She had indeed been restless during worship.  She told me God had spoken to her very clearly as she prayed and told her He wanted her to go to Belize as a missionary.  For her, the fact that she had no idea that Belize was a country in Central America was confirmation that it had indeed been the Holy Spirit that had given her these marching orders.  We talked and prayed, and I gave her the name and number of the lady in charge of world missions for Quakers.  And to be real honest, I thought that would be the end of that.  It all seemed a little nuts...

But it wasn't nuts- it was just a "God Thing!"  Denise soon quit her job teaching Home Economics to high school kids and began training to be a missionary in Belize.  It turned out that Quakers had a thriving mission there and needed help.  God had interrupted her perfectly normal life with an extraordinary call to serve.  Her life was turned upside down, just like the first disciples when they heeded the call to follow Jesus.  And after almost a year of training, we had a big party for Denise and sent her on her way.

I wish I could tell you that Denise went on to change the world through her work in Belize- but this is not that story.  In fact, she was there for 2 days.  The poverty and conditions completely overwhelmed her, and she came home quickly.  But the story does not end there, either.  After her return, she was offered a position as a youth pastor at a Friends Meeting in Asheboro, NC.  She accepted, and became a missionary in a completely different field of souls.  And she was awesome. 

So here's my point:  When we encounter God, it is our job to follow His leadings and go and do the things we are called to go and do.  God is still in charge of results!  Scripture is full of heroes whose paths to serving God were winding and crooked.  God calls us to be faithful; whether or not we are successful is up to Him.  Even the most powerful encounters with God do not come with fully marked road maps- but that does not make them any less real.  Because of the call Denise received that morning in 1983, I always enter worship with the expectation that something miraculous could happen.  And that is as great a gift as I have ever been given.  Thanks, Neicy May!

Because of Jesus,

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