I left town for Ian; technically, I left the state. Even though I don’t regret the decision, there’s a weird sense of guilt that comes with it (that may be for another post).
I got back to West Bradenton Thursday evening. Electricity on. Wi-Fi working. Cul-de-sac cleaned. It was like nothing had happened. But all you have to do is open any social media platform and be brought into the reality that something most certainly had happened.
Friday morning, my church sent out an email stating that the Sarasota elementary school where we meet isn’t able to host us today. So the challenge was issued to, instead of attending a service, serve the community. Here’s the challenge:
Even though we may not be gathering as a church this Sunday, we can still BE THE CHURCH. This Sunday, we invite you to join us in a SERVE SUNDAY. Would you get out and serve the people around you? Imagine the church in action spread throughout our neighborhoods and our city. What a beautiful thing that will be.
Serve Sunday doesn’t have to look like just cutting debris and clearing yards, although it might be. This could look like making a meal with your kids for families still without power. This could look like taking some cookies to the local fire department. This could look like simply walking the neighborhood and checking in on each home, asking if they need anything.
Let’s do this, if we see a need, let’s meet a need.
My guilt was already driving me to do something, which I managed to do on Friday and Saturday. I could have let that be it. But something was telling me that wasn’t enough.
This was supposed to be the first Sunday of my serving in a role that had me showing up at 7AM. With that off the table, I decided to drive to the beach to run, of course, but also to find answers to “enough.” Three hours later, God had given more answers than imaginable.
Before heading to the beach, I stopped to fill up the car. I overheard normal conversation about how other customers had fared the week and how challenging it was to have to keep generators running. AWARENESS #1: Not everyone has power yet.
I always park on the Gulf side of Coquina Beach. But not today. The main public parking was not open. Across the street, however, is a smaller parking lot where boat trailers park and have water entry access. And across the street is where you get a great view of sunrise. I arrived just in time to get this shot.
I took off north to head back to Cortez road and cross the bridge to Cortez Village. I had just come to the first bend in the sidewalk and this is what I faced (I took pictures after my run for better lighting).
Few people were moving about as I made my way to the bridge. Honestly, I’m not sure how many people are back. Other than cars on the road, it felt mostly abandoned. When I got up to the bridge, I was thinking about just running up to the draw bridge and turning around, but I felt the urge to continue over. As I ran down the other side, my left shoe felt loose. At the foot of the bridge was a slight right turn into a mobile home park that I have never explored. I saw a sitting bench, so I paused there to tie my shoe. That led me down a further exploration of this park and Cortez Village, which was a first.
All along my run to that point, my “enough” was to pray for the residents, visitors, store owners, and businesses of Coquina Beach. As I continued that as I ran through the village, out of nowhere sat this little neighborhood church.
At first, I ran by it. But then I knew I was to pause and serve this congregation by praying for them. I walked the parking lot. Nothing seemed damaged. It didn’t even look like there had been any debris. Either they’d already cleaned it up and disposed of it, or this little spot had not been touched. I counted the parking spaces; only 15 spaces, four of them handicapped. I thought about the pastor of this congregation. How unique his service is. How alone he may feel. How tempted he may be to believe the lie that his work doesn’t matter. AWARENESS #4: All service to others is service to God.
As I started back over the bridge to head back to my car, I still was asking God to show me what else I could do besides pray. The line “let’s meet a need“ from the email was my focus. And then it was clear. I had already heard the need. The folks buying gas beside me earlier illustrated a clear need people have. That was the final “enough.”
So back to the gas station I went. And I’m thinking, this is going to be a little weird-walking up to strangers and offering to pay for their gas. And my counter to my self talk was, “It’s only weird if you make it weird, John.”
My question after I pulled into a parking space was, how do I determine who to approach. I decided to just watch and see who might look like they had the most need. And as I watched and waited, it became clear.
I ended up approaching two customers. The first one was an elderly couple in an older car with a handicap license plate. He started walking toward the store with cash in his hand. When I asked if he’d allow me to pay for his gas with my card, he paused to see if I was serious. I let the silence speak. He said, “I have the money.” I replied, “I see that, but how about you keep it for something else.” And that was it. Nothing weird. Just mutual gratefulness. AWARENESS #5: Generosity is a universal language.
The second customer I suspected was serving others himself. He opened his truck’s tailgate and started taking the caps off of three 5-gallon gas cans. When I walked up and asked him if he’d paid for his gas yet, he said no. I asked then, “Will you let me pay for your gas?” Too bad we haven’t figured out how to take photos just with eye contact yet. He looked stunned, and his mind was swirling. Again I let the silence speak. The first thing he could say was, “I’m usually the one offering to help others. No one has ever asked me something like that.” My search was over. Customer #2 was enough. Those gas cans were to keep the generators running in his neighborhood. AWARENESS #6: Seek and you will find…God honors those who serve their neighbors.
Thank you, Hope City, for the challenge. The Sunday after Ian will always serve me as a reminder of the many ways God gives us enough.