Forrest Gump Goes to Church

by Andy Wood on August 23, 2009

in Esteem, Life Currency, Love

Forrest gump 2“I’m not a smart man – but I know what love is.”
-Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump

Attending a Christian worship service is a very different kind of experience for many different kinds of people.  For me on most weekends, it’s Game Day.  All hands on deck.  Because of the responsibilities I have, it’s something of a 90-minute rehearsal taking place in my brain – rehearsing sermon points, announcements, and service order points that will unfold in a matter of seconds – all under the theme, “What comes next?”

This weekend was no different in that regard.  We had three services with lots of moving parts, and I was tracking with all of them. And yet for reasons I have yet to understand, I was surprised to find my heart stirred by special faces in distant places.  I found myself so aware – so drawn – so surprised by love – at one point during one of the offertories, all I could do is sit there and weep. 

In short, I was beautifully startled by the people who attended the services in my West Texas church this weekend.

There was Willard Cagle, all the way from Catania, Sicily.  My first paid ministry position had been as one of his youth interns.  We’d lost touch for 31 years – sometimes the brutal choices and broken voices in life can have that effect.  But we’ve found each other again and have a lot of grace-of-God to talk about and celebrate.  And today, he was there. 

There was Debi Parnell, children’s pastor from Dothan, Alabama.  As dozens of our kids came with their parents to the front of the worship center, lo and behold, there Debi was.  She and I grew up in the same church, sang in the same group (which she recruited me for and wouldn’t take no for an answer), and graduated from high school together.  I last saw her 21 years ago, but through the wonders of social networking, get to keep up with her and her ministry.  But I didn’t expect to find her at Turning Point.

Ed Keyes was there.  The man who taught me to worship and to lead others to worship was so there as we sang, “I Exalt Thee,” which he introduced me to.  Here I thought he would be busy leading worship in Mobile, and I haven’t even talked to him in nearly two years. 

Mohammad and Shaikha were there.  This extraordinary Muslim couple from Oman that we met in Bangkok showed up.  Never have I met someone who, in the course of five minutes, was so hospitable, so caring, so eager to get to know me and my wife and ready to invite us to stay in their home… just in case we ever decide to visit Oman.

So many more people came that I hadn’t expected to see.  My kids were there.  Somehow the responsibilities they have in missions, youth ministry, or grad school didn’t keep them from being a part of this day.   My parents came, too.  For some reason I could help “randomly” thinking, as we sang “From the Inside Out,” I wish they could see and hear this. 

One by one they came and came by – these and many more… Danny Kincaid, my pastor Fred Wolfe, Mason Smith, Mike Hannaford, my two grandmothers, Mildred Balzli (my first grade Sunday School teacher, for cryin’ out loud), Ruth Sharpe.

All here at the same time. 

All a complete surprise (particularly since some of them are now in heaven).

Many of them have shoulders I now stand on because they have poured into my life.  Many more are friends – peers – with whom I have labored and learned across the years.  Still others are people I have had the privilege of pouring into.  

And for whatever reason, as I went through the mental checklist and loved and hugged and sang with and prayed for and preached to the people I so love in this place, all these other loves and lives joined us – because my heart was so full of them.

It is now hours later, and I still don’t know why.  Why on this day?  Why at this season of my life?  What is going on behind the veil that I can’t yet see or comprehend? 

Today I was reminded again that the Kingdom of God is a huge place, and that all of us who belong to it are part of something we can hardly comprehend.

I was reminded that every time I preach or share the gospel, I stand on the shoulders of men and women who have laid a living foundation in my life.

I was reminded that earthly miles are a cruel illusion, and that time can be a harsh deceiver.

I was reminded that at no time do I act, think, serve, worship, or live alone. 

I was reminded that grace works for Sunday School teachers, homeless guys, family members, Muslims, and yes – pastors – too.

I was reminded how important people are to me – even if I haven’t seen them in years. 

I was reminded how loved I am.

Throughout the movie, Forrest Gump takes refuge in thinking about the people, living and dead, who have touched his life and whom he continues to love.  And as long as he knew what love is, it never really mattered what else he did or didn’t know.

Today, in the wisdom and economy of God, I got to be Forrest.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Lyle A. Way August 28, 2009 at 2:11 pm

Dear friend,
I’m nearly trembling as I read this amazing account of the experience you had Sunday. How wonderful to see these people again; people who impacted your life. I think the Lord is so caring to give you this experience; this glimpse into eternity. Love is indeed amazing. It can strengthen all weaknesses, heal all hurts, make joyous all relationships. The source of all true love made this event especially for you. Thanks for sharing it with us.

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