As a seventeen-year-old soprano, I thought I had reached the pinnacle of success on the Sunday I walked into Duke Chapel with the All-State Choir to sing. Duke University has a United Methodist seminary and having been raised as a United Methodist preacher’s daughter, I was so honored and humbled to be singing in that gorgeous, holy cathedral.
I lined up in front of the chancel with the rest of the choir and sang Psalm 23 (among other songs whose names I no longer remember) and then, because we were seated in the choir lofts, when they served communion, they served us before they served the congregation. The conductor was served first and then, as the first seat soprano, I was served second. As the conductor stepped away so that I could be served, I thought I heard him whisper to me, but what he said didn’t make any sense.
Watch out? For what? I knelt in front of the minister and received my bread and then dipped it into the cup and ate it. And suddenly, I knew what the conductor meant.
It was wine!
Now for those of you who weren’t raised in the United Methodist Church, it might be normal to be served wine at communion. But for us, though we called it wine, it was really just Welch’s grape juice that we were being served. And so this was startling to me and very unexpected. And in Duke Chapel? I was speechless.
Life rarely gives us what we expect. Think about it. How many of us graduate from high school and expect to end up unemployed and living with our parents again at age 30? Who gets married expecting to go through a painful divorce? Who looks into the face of their newborn child and expects a future of drug abuse and trouble with the law?
My life is extremely different than what I expected. There are so many things I expected to have by age thirty-two that I just don’t have. For a while, I pitied and pined for what I didn’t have, but then some of my friends gently suggested that since I didn’t have what I expected, maybe I should ask God what He expected.
That was when I stopped working a dead-end, minimum-wage job and got a Bachelor’s Degree from Methodist College.
And once I graduated, God began sending me on the mission field. First, as a translator, then as an eye-team leader, then as a pharmacy tech, and then, building teams.
Then, when I believed I was going to be stuck in the city, paying exorbitant rent in shoddy apartments forever, God made a way for me to buy a brand new, never-been-lived in house in the country. And I pay less now to buy than I did to rent in the city. (That’s a God thing, y’all!)
God keeps surprising me and all of His surprises aren’t pleasant. The last week of July, while I was at the Echo Conference in Dallas with Marni and Katdish, I was checking Facebook between sessions and learned that my friend Kristi’s daughter, Cheyenne, had died of rhabdomyosarcoma. This is one of those things that’s unbearably hard to understand. Thousands of people around the world were praying for Chey’s healing, but then God chose to heal her in a way that was so painful to us. And yet, as we all mourn, I watch Chey’s mom smiling through her tears, knowing not only that her baby no longer hurts, but that God has used her life powerfully.
That day in 1995 in Duke Chapel, when I expected to taste sweet juice, instead I got sour wine. I took into myself the body and the blood of Christ. It didn’t taste good going down, but it was life to me. Each day as I face unexpected, unpleasant challenges, I’m faced with the same decision. Will I swallow the sour things, knowing that there’s life in them?
Today, I choose to embrace the unexpected.