A Story To Hold Close

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Article by Paula Weatherly

February 13, 2019

 

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17

 

“My family and I have been a part of Jenks First Baptist for over 13 years. We are so thankful to be a part of a truth-driven, faithful, God-loving and God-serving church. My husband, whom I cherish and adore, and I have three of the coolest kids. Mattie is a sophomore at OSU. Emma is a senior, and Harper is in 8thgrade.

 

One of my precious friends from church approached me after talking to our youth pastor, Drew, about writing a story encouraging others to step out of their comfort zone. The story Drew shared with her has so much faith, hope, honor and love for the gospel. The story is in honor of Shannon and Asa James.

 

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

 

In the fall of 2017, our youth pastor Drew and his wife Shannon were expecting their first child, a son, Asa James. But on December 29th2017, Shannon went to be with Jesus. On the afternoon of January 3rd, 2018, Asa James joined his mom in heaven.

 

Drew and Shannon are woven into my family’s lives. When they announced their happy news, we could not wait for them to be parents. We were ready to join with the church family and walk alongside them as they raised a child in this broken world. We were ready to love so deeply. Shannon’s sudden death was such a tragedy to our family as well as the entire church family.

 

After Shannon’s passing, I had the honor and privilege to be with family and friends the morning of Asa James’ dedication, early on January 2nd, 2018. I stood with a broken heart for a husband, grandmother, grandfather, aunts, uncles, as well as more family and friends, knowing how short Asa James’ time on earth would be, but the words of truth and faith were spoken that day for Asa James with the Holy Spirit so present in that room.

 

As the dedication was closing, there was a Holy Whisper that was clear in my heart. I prayed in that moment for My Lord to give me the strength, courage, and the opportunity to share Shannon and Asa’s story for his glory, a responsibility I carried with me at all times. I believe God puts people in our lives who haven’t heard the gospel. We, as believers, have a choice to make. My prayer has been for the Holy Spirit to nudge me, and I choose to be obedient in sharing their story going forward.

 

 “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” Proverbs 16:9

 

Over fall break 2018, I traveled to New York City with Emma and others on a school trip. As we planned our travels, I prayed that in NYC, I would be obedient and take opportunities to share Shannon and Asa’s story. Excited to see the results, I was certain that God would work through me. I flew separately from the group, arriving at noon, a little earlier than them. Sitting down to wait in the Newark Airport, I received a call from Emma. They were delayed until late evening. With that news, I exited the airport, hailed a cab, eagerly anticipating a solo adventure.

 

As a woman travelling alone, I believe that my gift of talk is one of my best security measures. I entered the cab, talking immediately as I took a look at my driver, Paul, a large, unhappy-looking man. I didn’t know if he would respond to my invitation to talk, but it was a thirty-minute cab ride, a long time for me to stay silent with a captive audience. The worst that would happen is short answers or odd looks. I get those often if y’all know me. As I continued talking, I heard the Holy Whispers and thought, “God, here we go. So glad you have my back.”

 

I asked Paul how long he had lived in NYC. He gave me a short answer. “OK, not going to be talking much,” I thought. Then Paul asked me where I was from. I thought, “Yes, that is my cue!” I told him where I was from, about my wonderful husband, how Reg and I have the coolest kids, and why I was in NYC. I shared about the delay and more about my life than he probably cared to hear. I then asked him about his family. Paul wasn’t married but talked with pride about his two daughters, Sabrina (27) and Sarah (23) and his grandchildren. As Paul talked, I thought, “OK Lord, I want to share your gift with this man, but I need an opening.” As we stopped at a red light, I looked up. On the corner was a large building with a sign, New York City Baptist Church. I was shocked at such a large church in New York City, but I also knew a sign from God when I saw one.

 

I commented on the beauty of the big church and shared that we attend a Baptist Church. I then told him about the people who lead our church and how much we love them. “But,” I said, “our youth pastor Drew has a story that is close to my heart. I would love to share it with you, but, Paul, I will most likely cry. Don’t worry. I’m ok, just emotional about the people in this story.” I prayed a quick prayer and started talking.

 

I told him Drew and Shannon’s story. I wanted Paul to know what amazing, God-loving, sweet-spirited, faithful, trustworthy, and loved individuals they were. I then told him about Asa James along with several things about their lives. I wanted him to understand how good they were together and what great parents they would have been. Paul was heartbroken, and this large, intimidating man’s eyes were watering as I finished. “Paul,” I said, “You can’t cry; you’re driving!” He smiled at me, and I continued to share the good news that none of us are alone in this broken world.

 

I continued with the story, “Drew has a savior who loves him so much. I can’t imagine him walking through this without Jesus and his faithful promises.” Paul looked puzzled. “Paul, do you know Jesus?”

 

I shared some Bible truths with Paul. “Jesus wants to hang out with you all the time. He wants a relationship with you and to be your friend, like you are my new friend.” He had the biggest smile; I could tell he was processing all that I had said. He had some questions about heaven, and I continued that Jesus was a special gift to us all. I shared the gospel with him, and he chose to follow Jesus right there in his cab. I was in awe at how amazingly crazy God’s ways can be.

 

“Can I pray with you?” I asked. He nodded, “OK dude, don’t be closing your eyes when I pray! Remember you’re driving!” He laughed as I began to pray, the peace that comes with knowing God enveloping the cab.

 

Paul then told me that he was going to tell his girls about the good news of Jesus and about his new friend Paula. “I can’t wait for you to meet in heaven, Paula,” he said with big, child-like excitement.

 

“Paul, that is the best news you can share with your kiddos.” I left Paul to check into my hotel and venture out.

 

 “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5

 

I was so excited about my cab ride, but I was more excited to see what God had planned next. I walked for blocks, taking in all of the people, the lights, the stores . . . the stores! One particular window brought me to a sudden stop, so much makeup! I was the kid at the candy store window. The lights were bright, the colors sparkled, and I couldn’t resist. As I entered, a girl approached me, asking if she could help me.

 

“Oh yeah,” I immediately replied, “Girl, I have been running all over NYC, and it is time to freshen up this face.”

 

“What have you been doing today?” she asked.

 

“Oh, let me tell you!” I replied. I shared with her about Paul’s and Drew’s stories. She wanted to know more. I was so pleased to be able to talk about my sweet friends, new and old.

 

The girl was finishing my touch-up, “I knew when you walked in that I wanted to talk to you. I just knew you had something to tell,” she said.

 

“I always have a story,” I replied with a laugh. She told me she was a believer but had drifted so far from the Lord that she wasn’t sure how to get back to him.

 

“We all mess up,” I said. “You are a child of God and his arms are always open to you. He wants to hang out with you all the time. He loves you.”

 

She smiled, “Thank you.” She finished with some bright, fun lipstick. I hugged her tightly and whispered a prayer in her ear. Her eyes started to water.

 

“You cry,” I smiled,” I just got a fresh face.” We laughed and hugged again.

 

“I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.” Jeremiah 24:7

 

I started looking for a restaurant nearby. The one I chose was beautiful. I walked in by myself, owning it with my fresh face. The maître d’ seated me at a very cozy table for two, very close to other small tables. After perusing the menu, I decided on the lobster mac n cheese to celebrate my six hours in NYC and my two new friends. I was actually quiet while waiting for my food, in awe of how my day had gone. God is so faithful. After a few minutes, two ladies were seated right next to me. I had been quiet long enough. I smiled and said hello. The tables were so close that I heard their entire conversation, and when my mac n cheese arrived, I couldn’t help but hear their comments.

 

I asked the ladies if they wanted to try some before I started. Out of courtesy, they said no, but their eyes told a different story.

 

“Y’all know y’all do because I heard you talking about how good it looked. You can try mine and order something else that you might want.”

 

I put some of my mac n cheese on their plate before they could dismiss the offer and before I dug in. That was the opening God needed.

 

“Where are you from?” they asked.

 

I told them all about my day. I told them Drew’s and Paul’s stories. They wanted to know more about Drew, Shannon and Asa. They thanked me for sharing my food and stories before telling me they were believers but had drifted far from Christ. These ladies from California let me know they had not heard the gospel in a nonthreatening way before. I just wanted them to understand that God’s love is unconditional. Grace abounds for all. We are all loved and worthy of his unfailing love. I hugged the ladies and headed back to the hotel.

 

 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

 

As I was sharing my day with Reggie, Emma called. I talked to our sweet girl, and she gave me an update on their late arrival. Then she asked, “Mom, what have you been doing all day?”

 

I was so excited to tell her, “My day has been unbelievable, let me tell you, girl!” I then told her about Paul, the lipstick girl and the mac n cheese ladies. As I talked, I could hear her smile.

 

She laughed and said, “That’s awesome, Mom!” When she hung up, Emma had a choice to tell the people she was with about my day or not. Emma shared my day along with Drew, Shannon and Asa’s story. Emma opened the door for her school group of moms and girls to ask questions, and I had the opportunity to answer some of those questions the next day. This journey started sharing a story with a cab driver in NYC, and through Emma’s obedience, it returned home.

 

The promise reads “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified. Do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Y’all, God equips all of us with gifts and courage. I want to encourage all people to know you are loved and God will give you the words to say when you have the opportunity to share a story. Be who God made you to be and choose a story to hold close to your heart. Then let God do the rest.”

Paula Weatherly

 

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