A trip with my husband to a technical conference in Colorado, meant I was on vacation and on my own during the day. I could freely explore the beautiful resort hotel with every amenities imaginable. The hotel shuttle was 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 and I looked forward to 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.
As soon as the last prayer was said, loud music began for VBS. We 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 Catholic faith/ Sharon offered to drive me to the hotel instead of my calling the shuttle. I welcomed the opportunity to talk with her, a recent convert from a fundamentalist non-denominational church. Although younger than me, 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.
Bakery Cafe for coffee and getting personal
Sharon was not there the second morning. At Mass, I surrendered my day to the Lord and he seemed to say in my heart: “Listen!” After Mass, I invited Regina and Cindy for coffee at a nearby bakery cafe. They accepted and we munched on muffins and drank coffee for more than an hour, discussing the different movements in the Church, recent scandals, 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 to her 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 from her the desire to drink. It was an amazing miracle story. We parted and I walked across the street to Safeway to get some snacks for our hotel room before I called the shuttle to pick me up.
Outside Safeway with a desperate mother
Half an hour later I was sitting at a table outside Safeway waiting for the hotel shuttle when a beat-up truck with three women inside pulled up and parked nearby. Two of the three women walked past me into the store, laughing and talking. Then the third woman got out of the truck, hurried toward me and offered me a dollar to use my cell phone. I gladly gave it over to her at no charge. She was trying to call her children who were in the custody of their handicapped father for the summer. As I listened, she said that when they separated she had given him all her money to care for them. Now she was on her way to a nearby town where she had enrolled in nursing school. Her two companions were new friends she didn’t know if she could trust, but she was all alone and they were all she had. I assured her that no one was ever alone.
She shook her head and began to cry, telling me that she had messed up and become an alcoholic. I told her about my new friend Cindy who had been away from the Lord, became an alcoholic and how her alcoholism was miraculously healed. In tears, this woman said she had turned away from God when she was 10 and there was no hope for her. She seemed to listen as I reminded her of God’s love for her right here and now, just the way she was. I stressed 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.
Listen — and encourage
Her friends came out of the store and headed for the truck. She thanked me and caught up with them. The hotel shuttle arrived and I returned to the hotel in awe of what the Lord had done, amazed at what has just happened within two vacation hours.
I was reminded of the adage: God’s doesn’t call the qualified—he qualifies the called. He had called me that morning to “listen” and what great blessings he had showered on me! He allowed me to bring his love and encouragement to two women with the same problem, but a problem I hadn’t personally experienced. Cindy would have been a more effective personal witness to the young woman at Safeway, but she was not available — I was. Listening to Cindy’s personal story of victory qualified me to be the messenger with the exact encouragement the Lord meant the second woman to hear.
We don’t set out each morning looking for people who need God, for they are all around us. indeed, they are us. We fuel our tanks with prayer and holy Eucharist. We surrender our day, accept God’s invitation into his day and walk with confident assurance that we are prepared 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.
(© 2017 Nancy HC Ward)