Meanwhile, I still had bills to pay, so I took the first gig that caught my eye: a temporary position as a security officer overseeing a construction site for a new power plant going up 20 miles from home. As far as seeking new direction goes, I couldn't have nailed a more radical starting point for the end of my past life. There I was, a twenty-something has-been, wearing a cheap uniform instead of a snazzy business suit, recently divorced, house foreclosed, still stunned by the shell-shock, now suddenly working minimum wage with no responsibilities other than showing up and sitting there.
My first day on that job, no one knew I used to be somebody. No one knew I hung suspended somewhere in the tension between old life patterns and new standards of godly living. Earlier that week, my roommate of nine months—whom I'd met through a program of addiction recovery while everything was falling apart all around me—had just bailed on me to move to North Dakota to marry a guy she'd just met. Finding myself homeless for the second time in the last year, with my divorce finalized less than ten months ago and no money to consider many other options, I'd just moved my last few worldly possessions into my "significant other's" basement apartment. Now, I'd come back to church about six months prior, and I knew our new church friends would frown on our premarital situation. Of course, by then, I already knew we were going to get married, but it was way too early in the arrangement to tell him that. Relationship status? "It's complicated." So there I was, moving in with my boyfriend on Wednesday, starting my new job on Friday, as he and I were looking forward to getting baptized together that coming Sunday.
I didn't have the vocabulary to describe the tension at the time, but I was stepping right back into my familiar old patterns of living in sin, even as I was looking at serious decisions about obedience to Christ. God has often used life to explain to me what He means in His book. When Jesus speaks into the mess and happenstance of the Samaritan woman in John 4, I remember there's a term for women like she and I; before Christ, we were known as "damaged goods." And I wonder what her learning curve must have looked like after encountering His unexpected grace that day.
Turns out Allan had been pastoring a small church in my own town for a few years, and pastoring a small church is not exactly a ticket to financial stability. Allan explained he'd been working part-time jobs to support his ministry, and now the other church was asking him to come on full-time for a year. As he was telling me about this, something happened. I saw that God had laid His cards just right for the two of us to end up in the same place at the same time and have a six-hour conversation about faith while we sat in a guard shack together and watched workers drive in and out of a construction site.
First of all, I thought it was the coolest thing in the world to meet a pastor out in the real world, working a real job just like me. That got my attention and my curiosity like nothing else. And from there, for our whole shift in the guard shack on that Friday before my baptism, I had a Baptist pastor's undivided attention while I asked all the stupid questions I ever wanted to ask about the Bible and the "rules" and "living in sin" and what's so bad about premarital sex anyway. In no time flat, we zeroed in on the heart of my current wounds and weaknesses: my struggles with marriage and my insecurities about calling myself a Christian.
I've been reflecting for a couple of weeks now about the ministry of vulnerability, and how the vulnerability of disclosure carries through every other impact area therein. Proximity alone is not enough to speak meaningfully into each other's lives. Allan and I could've sat side by side and counted cars all day and never made a connection. Or he could've nodded and changed the subject instead of discussing faith in the workplace. He could've even produced some sage biblical wisdom without ever getting into any muck about his own insecurities in marriage or church community. But Allan stepped into the vulnerability and met me in the middle of my struggle, and that first day on the job as a security officer changed my attitude and outlook upon faith.
At the end of the day, Pastor Allan went on his way and I went on mine, and we haven't seen each other again. And I have never forgotten the impact of that encounter or the unique intersection of proximity and ministry.
I went on to get baptized that Sunday morning next to the man who is now my husband. Baptism was our first step into obedience... it wasn't our last. Our church family loved us and led us and rejoiced when we tied the knot. By God's grace, we've had the opportunity to engage with hundreds of others in our community since then. Today, we can look around our church on any given Sunday and see people who are there because of us. That is humbling and powerful. That is what God can do through the ministry of vulnerability.
In that job, there came a day when I was to go down to the computer lab for the purpose of observing and documenting a lengthy repair procedure. The individual who would be demonstrating the procedure for me was a very young man we'll call John, whom I'd seen around the halls from time to time. John was a 19-year-old engineering student, recently married. He seemed like a nice kid. I didn't expect us to have much to say to each other. But there I was, setting up camp at John's repair bench to document a four-hour computer repair procedure. In no time at all, it became clear that most of the procedure consisted of sitting there waiting for the computer to get done doing stuff. So we could either start chatting, or we could sit there and stare at the bench for four hours.
With a few introductory inquiries, I learned it was actually John's last week in the computer lab. He and his young wife were expecting a baby, and he was moving to a different department to start over working nights in assembly, so he could be more available during the day. John explained that his wife was also in school, with plans of becoming a doctor. As I listened to John share about the sacrifices he was prepared to make for his family-to-be, it was quickly evident that this young married couple was taking on an absurd amount of commitment and trying very hard to work through it responsibly, sensitively, and proactively. John was the opposite of my narcissistic former 19-year-old career-mongering self in every possible way.
But before long, we were talking about school, and about hopes and dreams, and about meaning and purpose in life. I shared that I was a full-time ministry student outside of my day job, and I could relate on the topic of prioritizing marriage and goals for the future, as I'd let my goals get the best of my marriage in the past. That got John's attention and curiosity like nothing else. He seized the opportunity as soon as we were left to ourselves: "So, you want to be a pastor? Why are you here?"
He and his wife had yet to find a church home, he went on to explain, and he knew they were young, and he knew they had a lot to learn about marriage. And something happened there. I saw that God had laid His cards just right for the two of us to end up in the same place at the same time and have a four-hour conversation about faith while we sat at a repair bench together and watched lights flash on a computer.
In no time flat, we hit on John's current weaknesses: insecurities about marriage and uncertainties about the future. We talked about a lot of things that morning, and I shared some muck about my own struggles in marriage and how the example of godly people had changed everything for my husband and me. John asked a lot of questions, and I didn't have good answers for all of them, and that was okay. He picked my brain for resources that he could take home to discuss with his wife as they worked to develop their attitudes and outlooks upon faith, and I shared the resources that had been meaningful to my husband and me.
At the end of the day, John went on his way and I went on mine. Many months later, as I was shaking hands at the door to my church one Sunday morning, I met a very young man and his very young wife who were there for the first time with their newborn child. And I will never forget the impact of that encounter or the unique intersection of proximity and ministry.
We can never know at first sight what kinds of vulnerabilities another person might be carrying with them at the moment we end up in the same place at the same time. We might meet someone at a time when they're reaching out for connection, the way John was when I met him. We might meet someone at a time when we're reaching out for connection, like I was when I met Allan. We'll meet people in all different stages of mess and happenstance, theirs and ours. We have no idea what transitions we may have an opportunity to speak into all around us. In the workplace, at school, on the street, at the coffee shop, in prisons or brothels or Christmas teas—let's be ready when people are surprised to meet a Christian "out there." Let the answer to the question, "Why are you here?" be "Because we're all in this together."