God has blessed me beyond my capacity to accept or understand. Sometimes, when I get overcome by self-pity and frustration, God just has to tap me on the shoulder and remind me of that fact.
Tonight, I attended the Murfreesboro District, United Methodist Church, Lay Speaker Dinner. This was the first such banquet, although the district wants to make it an annual event. For any readers from different traditions who may be unfamiliar with the term “lay speaker,” it refers to trained but non-ordained volunteers who are able to preach or serve in other capacities in the church — most notably, to fill the pulpit for a pastor who may be sick or on vacation. This was a dinner to which all of the district’s lay speakers had been invited, free of charge. (Spouses, pastors or other guests had to pay, however.)
The brochure announcing the event didn’t really say what the program for the dinner would be. I assumed, correctly, that there would be a guest speaker.
The guest speaker turned out to be C. Don Ladd, who has been active in the lay speaking ministry in the Nashville District and the Tennessee Conference as a whole. I was delighted at this. You see, when I took my first advanced layspeaking course — becoming, in the process, a “certified” lay speaker — I took it in the Nashville District, because I had a schedule conflict with the class in the Murfreesboro District. Don Ladd taught that class, and in the process he was an incredible blessing and inspiration to me.
I had e-mailed Don a couple of times in the intervening years, but I really didn’t think he would remember who I was. There’s no telling how many lay speakers he’s worked with over the years. And I look quite a bit different now than I did when I took the course — my thick hair is much shorter and I have a goatee. I figured it would be fun to go up and introduce myself after the program and see if he remembered me.
Don’s program tonight had to do with the three words found in the rim of the United Methodist Lay Speaking Ministries logo: “Caring,” “Communicating” and “Leading.”
When he got to “caring,” he startled me.
“I’m delighted to see that John Carney is here tonight,” he said. “I taught John in a lay speaking class several years back at Forest Hills UMC. John has demonstrated his caring by ministering to people in the streets of Africa. I have read all about John’s trips and I’ve prayed for him.”
Five minutes earlier, I didn’t think Don Ladd would even remember who I was, and now here he was holding me up as an example of caring. I was both thrilled and horrified — thrilled that he remembered me and horrified that he made what I’ve done sound like something more important than just a two-week mission trip.
I tried to think of where he would have heard about my Africa trip. He said I mentioned it in an e-mail, and I probably did, but I don’t recall it — and that’s not really where he got the details. He got the details from Mildred Bomar. Mrs. Bomar, a dear, sweet lady whom I have known since I was 10 years old, was one of my father’s parishoners when we first moved to Bedford County in 1972. Mrs. Bomar now lives in Nashville (or Brentwood) and is an active member of Forest Hills. She clipped out my first-person Kenya trip accounts from the Times-Gazette last September and shared them with Don Ladd.
And Don prayed for me.
And I never knew.
How many times this week have I moped about the demands of work, the frustrations of my finances, the feeling that I’m trapped in a rut? How many times this week have I acted like God had abandoned me? God has never abandoned me, or you, or anyone else, and I know that. But I still behave like a spoiled child.
Most of the time, I really don’t realize what a lucky man I am. Sometimes, God has to remind me.