Today was probably the best chapel we’ve had all year, in my opinion. Even more than that, I think it was what I needed to hear.
Today we had Sarah Thebarge come speak to us in chapel. Let me tell you her story:
She had it all planned out. She wanted to be a medical journalist for a big newspaper or a magazine. When she finished her undergrad, she decided she wanted two master’s degrees: one in medical science and one in journalism because she believed this would make her the most competitive in her field. She was accepted to Yale. After graduating, she wanted to go report on the health system in Africa. She was dating a guy and they were making plans to get married. She had everything she could want.
She went to the doctor and was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had surgery and the cancer was removed and the doctor told her there was no chance of it coming back. When she went back for a follow-up, they found that it had come back and it was more aggressive. She had more surgery and started chemo but she had to put everything else on hold. And everything pretty much fell apart.
When she got done with chemo, she got sick with pneumonia. When she was finally got out of the hospital, she decided there was nothing left for her in Connecticut and sold all of her stuff and flew to Portland.
When she got there, she had only a suitcase of clothes.
One day she was riding the train, and a lady with two young girls got on the bus. The younger of the two was very tired and crawled into Sarah’s lap and proceeded to pass out. She was worried the mom would think she was trying to take her daughter, so she started a conversation with the lady. The lady, who did not speak English very well, told her that they were refugees from Somalia and she had five daughters under the age of nine.
When they got off, the lady left Sarah with her address. A few days late, she went over there and found that this family had nothing. The girls didn’t really have clothes except what they were wearing, there was no furniture or food. So she decided, as a human being, she was going to help this family. Her church helped and she managed to get the girls real shoes and clothes and food. She spent a lot of time with them, a few nights a week, teaching them about America and helping them with their school work.
And she decided to help send these girls to college, so she wrote a book.
When the book was put together, she looked over the first manuscript and felt something missing. There was nothing about her character to explain why she decided to help this family. And that’s when she realized that while they were very different, they were the same. They were both refugees of sorts and they both wanted to start over. So, while she was helping them, she realized they were helping her.
She taught us a lot today, actually. It was a really great story.
She talked about how broken she felt and how many pieces she felt like her life was in and that God came in and put it together in a way that she never imagined. She never got to go to Africa, but she met this Somali family. She never wrote for a newspaper or magazine, but she put her writing skills to use and wrote a book.
Her first thing was this: Bad things happen. And we’re not going to like them. But good is going to come from it. And we’re going to get through it, and we’ll be better on the other side.
Her next thing was that God uses the broken. First she talked about the Pharisees, whom Jesus did not like; they “lived in their heads and not their hearts.” She talked about Paul and his transformation from a persecutor of Christians to a man who proclaimed the Gospel. And Sarah and Elizabeth, who were well beyond child-bearing age. God took them and blessed them with sons who He used to change the world.
Her last thing was that when God uses us to change the world, he changes us first.
And then she made one of the coolest connections I have ever heard in my life. Jesus talks about His people being His vessels. And Jesus is called the Living Water. And we’re broken. And this Living Water wells up and fills us and then spills over into the people around us.
Sometimes, we need to slow down and live in the now, and we forget that. Sometimes we’re too busy with planning for the future. We’re too busy worrying about what’s next. And God has a way of slowing us down and saying, “I got that, I need you here.” If Sarah had decided she was too busy to visit this family, she would never have been able to help them. And she would never felt the love and experienced the healing the gave her. And that was His plan.
Here and now there is a plan for all of our lives and our struggles are nothing with God on our side. Because He’s got the big plan already figured out. He just needs us to listen. And be here.