May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Joe walked in the front door of our Lutheran church one Sunday morning in 1993 with an “expectant” smile. “Expectant” because Joe seemed to expect that he was coming into a place of hope. By chance, I was just inside of the door and stuck out my hand to greet him. We hit it off pretty quickly. Joe soon revealed that he had been staying at the “halfway house” down Washington Blvd., about a block from St John Lutheran Church. He was “out of options” in his life and wanted to start over. A funny thing about extending a hand to a person you’ve never seen before is that you never know where it might all lead.
You see, Joe had had and then lost a great family and his job as a middle school Spanish teacher, as a result of alcoholism and drug use. Seemingly compounding his losses was his degenerative eye disease that rendered him legally blind, and it was getting worse. Our congregation took to his confident smile and gracious demeanor and Joe took to us, diving into activities and Bible study. We helped him with housing, and he found employment. Hope was turning into fulfillment, it seemed. Over the next 5 years, we learned that God had much more in store for Joe and for us than we ever imagined.
You see, Joe felt a call to be a pastor. Joe? The former drunk and wife abuser? Why this guy had had it all and he drank it all away. Yet we upstanding Lutherans had to admit that we’d heard this kind of story before. Just about every Sunday as a matter of fact. Soon he was interviewed by our synod’s staff and bishop, and he underwent a rigorous candidacy path. And then Joe was recommended, attended Trinity Lutheran Seminary, remarried, and in 2002 accepted a call to a nearby church. Joe’s story is really humbling. Just when we think we’ve got God all figured out, the great mystery of our faith astonishes us again. God, as He promises, answers the cries and prayers of the hopeless in ways we mortals can never do. Thanks be to God!