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God Had Other Plans

I did not even want to be there. It was hot, southern hot. The kind of hot that makes it hard to think or breathe or walk in a straight line. I was fresh out of a worship service, and my body was tired. I needed to eat, and the last thing I wanted to do was sit in another pulpit. I wanted to go home, watch television until my dreams hijacked the lives of the characters on the screen. But I had promised to be there because I love this family, and this family loves me.

When I pulled into the lot and saw that there were no legal spaces left, I joined the rest of the latecomers and snagged a brightly marked “No Parking” space and hustled to enter the crowded church. In a way, I was relieved. Crowded is not the right word. It was, as we say in these parts, PACKED. Men and women of every sort stood in the vestibule, too close for comfort, but not close enough for altercation. I peeped into the sanctuary. Mourners were stuffed in every pew. Others leaned against the walls, like grieving sentries posted for duty. Seeing this, I devised a plan to wade through the crowd, glad-hand for a moment, view the body, greet the family, and share my regrets for not being able to stay. After all, I did not have a seat.

But God had other plans.

An usher recognized me immediately, and said, “Follow me.” Before I could respond, she was gone, and the sea of people parted as if she had raised a staff and the breath of God had swept through the sanctuary. I had no choice. Through the crowd I walked until I reached the very place I was determined to avoid. The pastor greeted me with a hug and the kind of smile that bespoke fatigue, compassion, and apology all at once. I know that smile. My colleague pointed to the empty chair next to him. Of course, there was a seat for me. We both serve this family, and we knew what it meant for me not only to be there but to be seen there, up front to support them.