Looking back five years to when I actually walked the Camino de la Santiago in northern Spain, I recall the word I received time and again telling me “Just you wait to see what I have planned for you.”
Even then, I was dumbfounded God could have plans! But, of course, God does have plans for you and for me and for the lives we have been given.
Since then, I’ve stepped away from what had been my whole life – pastoral ministry in the local church – and walked into the streets offering mediation. I work with anyone in conflict and there are a few folk in conflict these days.
A couple had come to me to help mediate their divorce — this is painful and tough for anyone. Some marriages crumble. There are many factors causing this. But, if dissolution is the path, how much better to choose to mediate dissolution rather than take it to the courts. In mediation, I get the privilege of helping couples keep the family in tact even if the marriage is split.
This couple arrived tense, unnerved, hurting. I looked at them and said, “I understand you have a faith connection, could we begin with prayer?” They breathed this sigh of relief. As I prayed, the tension eased; Jesus stepped into the room. After prayer, we walked through how to save the family, honor the kids, and choose to still communicate, even while splitting the marriage. At the end of our time, they were beyond grateful. “You have helped so much,” they both said.
As I look at the skillset I am using in mediation, it staggers me how God built it into me even prior to calling me into this role. In mediation, I need to be curious and ask lots of questions. For ten years now, I’ve learned and helped teach biblical storytelling with the international ministry Simply the Story (STS). The format is based upon asking questions! So God trained me in curiosity and in the questions which best help bring fruit. In STS, we lead discussions of the stories using the mantra to “listen and respond,” so in mediation those are key skills.
While a pastor, I dealt with plenty of conflicts over the years. I became unafraid of conflict, and had courage to enter into it. As a mediator, it has helped me to not fear conflict and can see it as healthy. While pastoring, I carried loads of pain from the stuff going on in the church, and learned, the hard way, this didn’t help me or the people feeling pain. In my first mediation experience, there was so much pain in the room, and I absorbed it. Since then, I’ve learned the pain people bring in is their pain, not mine. To allow that to be the case, is powerful. I then can actually keep my full faculties intact.
One couple hit massive upset with one another while in mediation. I saw this, and said, “Do you guys need to take a break and allow me to speak with each of you separately?”
“No,” the husband said. “We are fine!”
Fine would not have been my word for it, but, I heard his resolve and said, “Okay. What options do you see to this current stalemate?”
The question floated in the air. Both were silent for a moment. Feelings of betrayal, anger and hurt reverberated between them. They tried again for a few more minutes, then the husband said, “I need a caucus!” A caucus is to take a break, and speak with me separate from one another for a few minutes.
“Good idea,” I said. I asked the wife to step out first, while I spoke with the husband, and then we could switch places.
As a pastor, all that emotion in the room would have unnerved me. All the places inside which were little and exposed would have felt scared. I might have heard a little voice saying, “That man is scary!” But because of all the preparation God has done to bring me to this place, I felt calm. They felt all kinds of emotions, but I could be in a place of prayer and calm for them. It is remarkable what happens when peace is present in such times.
After the caucus, I watched this couple negotiate their own agreement with ease.
In these moments, I think back to the “Just you wait!” I had heard on the Camino. That “just you wait” has unfolded into incredible ministry to people both within and outside the church.
Yesterday, as I walked through the Nashville terminal, I stopped at one of those shops to buy a Naked Green Machine and asked the woman helping me, “How’s your day going?” She looked up and said, “Terrible.”
“What’s up?” I asked.
“I’m the only one here. I have to help all these people. I’m so tired,” she intoned.
“So tough,” I said. “Hey, could I pray for you?”
“Yes,” she said.
“What’s your name?” I asked. She gave it, “Chantielle.” Such a beautiful name!
So, I prayed. As I did so, the presence of God came over me and I began to pray for some specifics in her life. I closed the prayer and looked up.
“How did you know?” she asked me, looking into my eyes. Her black hair pulled up in a hair net with a pink ribbon tied around it.
“Know what?” I asked.
“How did you know I was struggling whether God loved me or not. I feel so abandoned. But you just prayed specifically for that.” I did not remember what I had prayed!
It was one of those divine appointments. Those moments in life when you just show up and God does something unimaginable.
I looked back at her and said, “I didn’t. But you see, God knew. I think God might have sent me to you to remind you He is real, and loves you today, just where you are. He brings light into darkness. He separates the light from the dark. God does stuff like that. He heard your cries so wanted to remind you, He’s real, and really here for you.”
She was astounded. “Really?”
“Really,” I told her.
By this time there was a guy to my left holding his computer open waiting for her to give him the wifi password and another man, on my right, waiting to buy a drink like mine. So, we completed my purchase. I cannot stop praying for her and seeing her eyes looking at me so astonished, asking, “How did you know?”
“Just you wait,” Jesus had said. And I am saying, thank you!