Jo Ellen

For a few years in the early 2000’s Jean and I had the great privilege of serving a group of churches in Oregon and SW Idaho on behalf of our denomination. The 43 churches in the Cascade District were grouped into geographical Divisions and we gathered with the leaders of the churches in each Division at least once per year. We’d make a weekend of it and have a dinner meeting with all the pastors and their spouses, then visit and speak in one of the churches in the area on Sunday morning, before returning to Bend.

On one of those weekends when we were with the SW Idaho churches, I spoke on Sunday morning at a church in Boise. It was a small church, meeting in a borrowed facility, maybe a Scout Lodge. They didn’t have any musicians to provide the worship music, so they played worship songs from a CD in a small boom box and the pastor stood at the front and led us in singing. It was simple and sweet!

Then the pastor introduced Jean and me and I gave them a greeting on behalf of our denomination’s District Supervisor. I encouraged them that they are part of a good group of churches that has significant outreach to many nations. I told them that we were able to be with them on that Sunday because the denomination they’re part of cares about them and had sent us to them so we could get to know them better and better understand their situation. I love to do that! Then I began to speak the message, the sermon, I had prepared for them for that morning.

A lady suffering from multiple sclerosis, sitting kind of bent and twisted in her wheel chair, sat in the front row. She was as attentive to my words as her condition allowed. I could tell when something in my message really connected with her because her head would bob back and forth and she smiled. I must have been doing okay because she bobbed and smiled often!

When the service finished, I went to her and introduced myself and asked her name. Her name is Jo Ellen. She’s been part of the church since it started, and one of the important reasons the church meets in that little building is that it has a ramp so Jo Ellen can easily get in and out in her wheelchair. Jo Ellen is an important part of that church!

Jo Ellen lives in a body that keeps her alive but isn’t able to allow her to do all she’d like to do. Her body also hinders her ability to express the thoughts and ideas of her excellent mind. She had some helpful and encouraging comments on my sermon! er naShe didn’t talk very loudly and it took her a long time to form and speak her words. I leaned in close to hear her whispers and to watch her mouth shape the words so I could understand what she was saying. I thought, “How frustrating that must be for her!” I was glad it wasn’t as hard for me to say the words of the message as it was for her to express her thoughts about it. I’m afraid I don’t have the stamina or the courage Jo Ellen has.

Our conversation took some time. As I listened carefully to Jo Ellen, I wondered how many times Father God has had to bend down close to me and watch my lips forming the words with difficulty and heard me struggle to speak my heart to him. How he loves us!

Thinking back to that Sunday morning, I realized that I don’t remember anyone else from that morning or any of the other conversations I participated in after the service before we all went our separate ways. But I’m so thankful for that conversation with Jo Ellen on that Sunday morning! It turns out that whatever else may or may not have taken place on that occasion, Jo Ellen had some things to teach me. I’m not sure how memorable my sermon was that Sunday morning. I know the things I learned from Jo Ellen were memorable!

Here are a few things that have occurred to me and that I’ve been thinking seriously about. Maybe there’s something for you to think about here as well:

    • I can’t imagine life in Jo Ellen’s wheelchair. As far as I’m concerned, she’s a hero! I can imagine, however, my own God-aware spirit living in a body of flesh that often refuses to cooperate. My spirit wants to do what is good and noble and my body of flesh can be so stubborn and uncooperative! My spirit has kind and wise things to say, and my body of flesh mumbles and stammers and sometimes doesn’t speak at all.
    • God loves the person I am, not just the person I wish I was! I’m sure Jo Ellen must have been frustrated with the reality that her brilliant mind was hindered from communication and expression and control by the limitations of her body. I know I get frustrated that my spirit is hindered from expression and control by my flesh with its stubbornness, selfishness, and me-centered focus. But God loves the whole me! And the whole you! Not just your spirit, but your whole self.
    • God may have something really important to say to you and teach you through someone you’re not expecting to speak to you. It may require some effort on your part to listen and hear. It may not be easy for the person to speak those words to you. Don’t miss it because you’re too busy to stop and listen. Don’t miss it because it’s too much trouble to listen.

As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.

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