When I am in distress, I call to you, because you answer me. Psalm 86:7
Several days ago I woke up singing the lyrics from a Sara Groves song:
Paul and Silas bound in jail,
got nobody for to go their bail.
Keep your eyes on the prize. Hold on.
Sara Groves is one of my ALL TIME favorite songwriters, but there was no apparent reason why I woke up singing those lyrics. I wracked my brain trying to connect the words or melody to anything that was going on in my life, but I couldn’t. So, I pushed the song out of my head and went to meet a friend who had asked me to coffee.
Brendan and I met several years earlier at a National Worship Leadership Conference over a mutual love for Christian music. Naturally, I assumed he wanted to talk about worship music, but instead he asked, “Would you please pray about co-leading a Bible study with me once a week at the Lamb Center?”
The Lamb Center is a daytime drop-in homeless shelter in my area that offers meals, clothing, employment opportunities, counseling, health care, and Bible classes. Being a bit of an alpha-dog, I asked, “Who decides what to teach?”
“The teacher,” he answered.
“What scripture did you use last week?” I asked.
Without missing a beat, Brendan responded, “Acts 16, about Paul and Silas.” (God moment #1) But hold on, there’s more.
I don’t take any of these “coincidences” for granted. This is how God speaks to me. So, while I may not have felt called to co-teach a Bible study at a homeless shelter, I did feel God calling me to be there.
Four days later, I woke early to mentally prepare for my first experience at the Lamb Center. Prayer. Meditation. Two cups of coffee. I was ready. Then my phone rang.
It was the nursing home where my mother resides. Staff discovered when they went to get her up for breakfast that she had suffered a stroke. This was her third—maybe fourth—in as many years. The difference this time was that we had a DNR (do not resuscitate) and MOLST (medical orders for life-sustaining treatment) in place. The stroke would be allowed to run its course without medical intervention. It was now up to God whether she would survive.
My sister and father rushed to Mom’s bedside. Because I live three states away, I prayed. Then I headed to the Lamb Center, which is where I knew God was calling me to be.
Brendan opened us in prayer that morning by turning our attention to Psalm 23. “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing…” Before verse 2 was read, my cell phone rang. It was my sister. I stepped outside and, thanks to Face Time, was able to see Mom and commiserate with my sister face-to-face. Her words gave me chills. “The priest was just here,” she said, “and he read Psalm 23 over Mom.” (God moment #2) But hold on, there’s more.
Back inside, Brendan was just asking the group to share where they had seen God that week. When it was my turn, I shared about my Mom’s stroke and how Psalm 23 had been read in a nursing home in upstate New York at the same time we were reading it in Virginia. The response was looks of amazement and tears.
The assistant director then asked for my mother’s name. “Loretta,” I said. She proceeded to offer up a prayer for my mother by name while about 20 people from all races and backgrounds bowed their heads to pray for her. The experience was not only humbling; it opened the way for another God moment to reveal itself.
One of the volunteers shared a dream he had experienced that night where he felt called to pray for the mother of a friend he hadn’t seen in over 20 years. That mother’s name was Loretta. Yes—before I had ever shared my story, this man had been praying for “a friend’s mother named Loretta.” (God moment #3) I had never met this man before, but because of our shared faith, we are friends in Christ. But hold on, there’s more.
When I got home, the first thing I did was Google “Eyes on the Prize” to remind myself of the rest of the song lyrics. But the first entry to pop up was in reference to a 1987 TV series of the same name about the Civil Rights Movement. Then I Googled “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize.” The first entry that popped up this time listed the song as an American Civil Rights folk tune from the 1950s. The version I know, by Sara Groves, was released in 2011 to support efforts by IJM (International Justice Mission) to obliterate slavery around the world.
I started to contemplate all the ways people are enslaved. Some are forced into labor against their will. Some are tricked into sex trafficking. Some are enslaved by addictions, be it alcohol, drugs, porn, sports, or a plethora of other pleasure-seeking desires. Some are enslaved by their own fears or shames while some are enslaved by other peoples’ prejudices or preconceptions. Some people are enslaved in prison. The mentally ill are enslaved in their minds. Others, like my mother, are enslaved in their bodies due to illness, disease, or accidents.
Whatever the enslavement, God is aware of it, loves us, and wants to free us.
I am overwhelmed by God’s love for me and the way He spoke through song and scripture. So specific. So tangible. It was as if He was gently reminding me that the order of life is in His hands and that all things fit together for His good, regardless of time or space.
I sought the Lord and He answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Psalm 34:4
My mother is still clinging to life, but I know without a shadow of a doubt that when she passes from this world to her eternal home, she will finally—finally—be free.
Hold on, Mom. The best is yet to come.
THE SONG THAT COMES TO MIND IS Eyes on the Prize by Sara Groves. Lyrics:
“The wait is slow and we’ve so far to go. Keep your eyes on the prize. Hold on.”