It was a Sunday afternoon. I absolutely didn’t want to do anything but sit on my couch and watch whatever TV sporting event I flipped to first.
It had been a rough couple of weeks. We were going through a brutal tragedy in our little church involving the accidental death of one of our teenagers. I was drained. Mentally. Emotionally. Physically. Spiritually. I was done. I wanted to sit down and not think about anything and not talk to anyone. I definitely didn’t want to go to my brother-in-law's birthday party, which was two hours away.
At this party I would have to talk to a bunch of distant relations. Talking to close relatives that you see all the time is all right, because you can zone out whenever you want. And they know you, so it's fine.
But talking to distant relations is hard work. You have to look interested. You have to listen to what they're saying. You have to respond intelligently. You have to appear glad to get to know them. These were all things I wasn’t up for at the moment.
And besides, the birthday party was two hours away. (Did I mention that?) And we were going to spend the night there. All of this seemed like work to me. None of it seemed like it was worth it.
So by the time we arrived, I was feeling pretty sorry for myself.
I plopped myself down in a plastic chair on the back deck and tried my best to wear an expression on my face that established that I loved everybody, and I thought that birthdays were wonderful, and the weather was great, but I really wanted to be left alone.
It didn’t work.
My father-in-law's cousin from the Upper Peninsula in Michigan (the very definition of a distant relation) sat down next to me, slapped me on the knee, and said, "I heard you've had a rough week!"
I just looked at him.
Someone said, "This is Randy. He's a pastor up in the UP. You haven’t met him yet, have you?"
Nope, I hadn’t.
So Randy and his wife introduced themselves to me.
They are now two of my favorite people in the world. No lie.
They talked with me for about three hours. Other people came and went. But we just talked. And every single thing that Randy said that afternoon was something I needed to hear. He told me about walking with his little congregation through different tragedies, about the tender mercies of Jesus, about how God graciously brought to the end of himself a couple decades ago, and how God has proven himself faithful over and over through the years.
And it wasn’t just what Randy from the UP said. It was how he said it. He exuded gospel grace.
He never once said "Let me give you some advice." But everything he said that afternoon was full of gospel wisdom. Somewhere along the line in his 50 plus years of life, he had started to truly believe that God was in control. And the doctrine of God's sovereignty hadn’t made Randy from the UP uptight. Or arrogant. It had made him unassuming and gentle.
That afternoon I needed a pastor. I was in transition. I was in a new pastorate. I hadn’t built up any solid friendships with any other pastors in my new town. I was trying to help a dear family in my church walk through an unspeakable tragedy and I was wiped out.
My instinct was to hide and to zone out and to stay inside my head.
God wasn’t having that.
He brought me two hours away to a birthday party I didn’t want to attend, so that a distant relation who I may never see again could sit down and shepherd my wandering and thirsty heart. So that I could hear the gospel again. And not only the words of the gospel but also the calmness and the meekness and the sturdiness that it brings with it.
Our God is so gracious to us.
He leads us, kicking and screaming, beside still waters.
He restores our souls.
Sometimes he uses distantly-related Yooper pastors named Randy.