About 3 years ago I had just finished the “Experiencing God” Bible study with my women’s small group. One of the main points of that study is that God is at work all around us and we just need to look for opportunities to join Him in His work. Sarah Stephens, who works at Horizons, was in my group and was always amazing us with numerous stories of God very obviously at work at Horizons. She would tell us about these very specific answers to prayer (like being short 10 loaves of bread and as the Head Cook was walking out the door to purchase some, someone appeared at the back door with 10 loaves of bread, wondering if Horizons could use them…that type of thing)…you may even know some of these yourself…wild! I may not be a rocket scientist, but I did make the connection that if God was showing me He was working at Horizons, maybe I needed to join Him there.
So, I spoke with Sarah and because I am not great in the kitchen, I was thinking she might have me make copies, stuff envelopes, help write grants, etc. Instead, she said they would like to start a Women’s Bible study at Horizons and wondered if I would try to get it off the ground. Let me just say, this was pretty far out of my comfort zone. I really hadn’t anticipated working directly with the clients, and wasn’t sure I was the right person for the job. I wondered how I could relate to the women at Horizons…we had such different life experiences. But, the more I prayed about it, the more certain I was that Horizons was where God wanted me to serve. I remember specifically praying that God would let me see the women there through His eyes, thinking that if I could do that, He would take it from there. So, I said yes and started going to Horizons every Thursday for lunch to get to know the women there.
After about six weeks, it was obvious that a formal Bible study was a bit too much for us to bite off with Horizons’ female clients, but I still felt that God wanted to use me in some way there, so I kept showing up on Thursdays. I got to know several of the women. One, in particular, named Marsha, was in her early 60’s, widowed with no children, and living in the New Tremont apartments above WGEM at the time. She was very friendly and upbeat and used lunch at Horizons as a way to stretch her money each month. One day at lunch, Sarah came to our table and told me that Marsha had some news to share with me. She had accepted Jesus as her Savior and we celebrated at lunch that day with her. Sarah said when she spoke with Marsha about finding a church home, Marsha mentioned that she had attended my church once and really liked it, but had no way to get there (she had no car and took the city bus when she needed to get around.)
Of course, I told her I would take her, and that started a bond between us that grew and grew over the next six months. I saw Marsha grow in her faith (every Sunday after service she would pepper me with questions about the sermon on the way home), I got the privilege of baptizing her that Fall, and my daughters came to think of her as their “slightly quirky Great Aunt”. She was always ready to laugh at herself and would tell us funny stories about things that had happened to her during the week. It also became obvious to me how little she had materially, yet she was much more content than most people who have much more than they need. She learned to rely and trust God for what most of us would consider basic needs. Here are some examples:
At one point during the year, she decided to move to Lampe Hi-Rise in order to save money on rent. I offered to help her move, but she said her sister was coming to help her. The following week I asked her how the move went and how long it took. She said it went just fine…they moved everything over in one trip. I was stunned. I really couldn’t imagine being 60+ years old and having all of my earthly possessions fit in the back of a car. Her apartment at New Tremont was furnished, but the one at Lampe was not. She had an air mattress that her brother-in-law built a frame for, a recliner chair, and a 13″ TV, all hand-me-downs. The one thing that she said she would like to have was a small kitchen table and chair so that she could eat her breakfast somewhere other than in her chair in the living room. We searched high and low at all of the thrift stores in town for a small set like that, but found nothing even close. I was frustrated, because I couldn’t understand why God wouldn’t allow her this one small thing and wondered if I should just buy one for her, but somehow I felt strongly that I shouldn’t. She, on the other hand, was content to wait on God’s timing. She had no problem with the fact that we couldn’t find what she wanted and told me that it would happen eventually, not to worry. Sure enough, a few weeks later when I picked her up for church she said, “Guess what Sharon? This nice man was moving out of Lampe into a new apartment and didn’t have room for his kitchen table and chair. He asked me if I wanted it, and it fits perfectly in my apartment!” Of course he did…that blessing was not for me…it was for the man who helped her. I saw God use people to meet Marsha’s needs time and time again, and by watching how much God loved her and how He provided for her, I gained a new understanding of how much God loves all of us, including me. I knew that before, but I knew that with head knowledge, and now I knew it with heart knowledge like never before.
Another time we were at church and the offering plate came around. I had often seen Marsha put in a dollar or two, and this time she leaned over and whispered to me that she couldn’t put anything in today. It had been a long month and her check wasn’t coming until Tuesday. She told me that she only had $2.50 left, but that was okay because that was exactly the amount she needed to do her laundry and that was the only thing she needed to do that next day. Again, I was stunned. I thought of the story of the poor widow in Luke who gave the two copper coins. While it wasn’t much by the standard of the day (just like Marsha’s customary dollar or two), it was all she had, and the Lord held her up as an example. That day, the Lord held Marsha’s giving and her trust up as an example to me, too.
I will never forget Christmas Eve services that year. Marsha went to church with my whole family. I had a huge smile on my face just watching her belting out the Christmas carols. It was her first Christmas as a Christian and her joy was so obvious. A few weeks later, in late January, 2012, I went to pick Marsha up for church and she wasn’t there. That was unusual, because she always called me when she was unable to go. I tried calling her several times that day but couldn’t reach her and started to wonder if something was wrong. The next day I got a call from our church secretary who told me that Marsha’s sister had called looking for me. I called her and she gave me the shocking news that Marsha had passed away unexpectedly over the weekend. They think it was a sudden heart attack. Many people at Horizons have health issues, but Marsha had never been one of them, so it was truly unexpected. I was so sad (I still cry thinking about her), but I also couldn’t help but be awed by the way that God knew that her days were short on earth, but made sure that He claimed her for His kingdom before He took her home. I felt like He had given me the privilege of a front-row seat to watch Him work in her life and to observe just how much He loves His children. What a blessing!
Later, we had a memorial lunch for Marsha at Horizons and Marsha’s sister came. She shared stories of Marsha’s childhood…and told me that Marsha’s mental disability stemmed from the fact that the umbilical cord had been wrapped around her neck at birth, cutting off the flow of oxygen to her brain and causing permanent damage. Once again, I was stunned. Marsha had a mental disability? How could I not have known that? I thought I knew her pretty well, and yet I had never seen that or questioned some of the “quirky” things that she did. I was completely confused. I started to feel bad about the fact that I obviously hadn’t known her as well as I thought I had, and was starting to second guess my entire experience, when I very clearly and distinctly heard (not audibly, but in my head) a voice say, “You asked to see her through My eyes.” I knew instantly that God didn’t see her as someone with a disability…He just saw her as His precious child that He loved. My prayer was answered and because of that, I had an experience with God that I will never forget. I know that Marsha is with Jesus now and I can’t wait to see her again someday. I’m very glad to share “our” story, because it helps to keep her alive in my heart and I know God is using it for His glory.