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“Let God be GOD”: Lessons Learned From Unexpected Places

August 20, 2011


I’m off to find that journey’s end
And I may not pass this way again

So, let’s go build some bridges, Mister
Let’s go mend some fences, Sister

Come along, Stranger.  Come along, Friend
I may not pass this way again.

I was looking for the words to a poem that I read/recited in school. I think it is written by McKuen. Googling it, I found the passage above, which I don’t remember … but I like.

Pondering upon the writing prompt of “Lessons Learned from Unexpected Places,” and thinking about the friend who submitted the prompt, the place is Coeur D’Alene, Idaho.  I was there on mission trip to help North Star Church, a new church plant under the leadership of pastor and friend, Scott Hanberry.  From the first time I heard the name “Coeur D’Alene” mentioned, I knew that I was supposed to go there.   I did not know why. I did not even know what kind of “mission” or work I might be doing. I just knew that my journey would lead me there.  I knew that there was something for me in CDA, that I could not (or would not) get elsewhere.

It was an unexpected place. I’d never heard of it.  And … once I researched more about the place, I still wasn’t sure what “kind” of mission needed to take place in a city like CDA.  Here are some facts … just FYI from Google:

  • Located in Kootenai County, ID, the population is about 45,000
  • Predominantly Mormon
  • Median income is $45,000
  • Located on a pristine, mountain lake
  • A resort town, with lots of artsy, eccentric type people
  • Mostly white (I counted 50 black folks at the Fourth of July Celebration that had about 50,000 people there)
  • The median cost of housing is about $190,000/rent is about $800

One of the first things that I learned about CDA and Kootenai County is that this area has one of the largest per capita, populations of registered sex offenders in the nation.  That was a bit alarming piece of news from this unexpected place.   I actually looked it up online to see how many, and there were hundreds (about 500) … in a place with about half the population of Bradley County, TN where I live, where there were less than 50 on their list.  As I said, a bit alarming … I guess the mountains are a good place to hide out for folks like that. Creepy to think about!

During the week of “mission” work, our team participated in such activities as church building repair and renovations, painting and then planning, promoting and supporting a block party that the church was hosting.  We stuck flyers in the doors of houses in the neighborhood and talked to a few folks, informing them about the North Star church.  As I pointed out, the area was predominantly Mormon, so we were about as well received as Mormons are in Cleveland, TN.  You are looked upon as someone who is trying to tell you that your ways are wrong, and you need to reconsider “our” ways.  You need to read this, or come hear that, and … by the way, we’re having hotdogs and blow up toys in that vacant lot, if you want to come join us with “no pressure” to believe what we say. (wink/wink)

I have to admit, not one fellow in a suit on a bicycle has ever invited me to a block party … I guess they have not adopted that evangelism tool yet.

There is a significant time change between Cleveland, TN and CDA, ID (2 hours).  So, I was up a lot earlier than normal, and so was the sun.   One morning about 5 o’clock, I decided to go for a walk.  I had an eerie feeling about it … especially since I knew about the demographics in the population.  Still, I thought I would be safe enough just walking down the sidewalks near the hotel where I was staying.

On this particular morning,  I took off walking, listening to my MP3 player, not paying a great deal of attention to anything but traffic … and I walked past this Denny’s.  Suddenly, my heart felt extremely heavy!  I even felt cold … and“hardness” inside.   The sky suddenly seemed overcast, and I felt scared.   I kept walking for another block until I came upon a small and aged trailer park.  I had a feeling that I was getting into a less than savvy part of town, and accounted my eerie feelings to that … so I turned around and went back to the hotel.

Later that night, I heard on the news that the suspect in a recent murder and kidnapping was discovered at the Denny’s in CDA … a waitress called authorities when she recognized the little girl that had gone missing.  He left the restaurant and was captured a few hours later.  I had to wonder if he was in there when I was passing by …

When I think back on the mission trip to CDA, the first things that pop in my mind are the people I encountered.  As I remember them … I wonder if they remember me.  It is not that they knew my name, but can they recall the “encounter” they had with a perfect stranger who was passing their way?  I doubt that anyone who found the flyer for the block party could even identify the person who stuck it in their door.  Do you think they could remember the person who served them a hotdog, or helped them out of the bouncy toy?  Probably not but strangely enough, a few of their faces are still etched in my mind.

Towards the end of our mission, we spent a relaxing day on Lake Coeur d’Alene.  It’s beautiful … no, it’s more than beautiful if you can imagine.  We took a boat trip around the lake, and while riding on the boat, I took up with a little boy of Middle Eastern descent.  He ended up sitting on my lap while I led the entire group in “God Bless America.”  Now surely, that little boy can remember that as vividly as I do.  You think?  Well, maybe his parents do.

And then there was a waiter in the fancy-schmancy restaurant where a group of us indulged in ten dollar bowls of ice cream.  His name was Joe.  I know this because on the fly, I made up a song that the group of ladies ended up singing to him … as he served us.

                Once, on mission in Idaho … we met a waiter whose name was Joe.
                He served us ice cream in a bowl. Now we know, a Joe in Idaho.

Do you think that we passed his way … made any difference in his life?  Maybe not, but it probably gave him some joy on that day.

Like I said previously, hearing the name Coeur d’Alene, and knowing full well that I would be there one day, I had no idea what would happen, or who I would meet.   I just knew to go to this unexpected place.

In the twelve years prior to this mission trip, I had suffered a great loss in my life. I had taken many paths, both paved and un-blazed, met a lot of people and collected many memories, in those years … but something was always amiss.  You see, in more than a decade, I had not been able to touch or even communicate with my oldest daughter, Catie.  It has been a heartache that pains me to this day. 

When I first heard of CDA, I had no idea of its proximity to Missoula, Montana where my daughter lived.  But about a week before the trip, I got to researching and saw the highway that connected the two places. Now, I also did not know how BIG … BIG SKY COUNTRY is.  So, the connection on the map was not as close as it appeared.  Still, my heart was hopeful that since I was in vicinity of her, there might be a chance that I could make contact.  {I was ignoring the fact that she had not spoken to me for more than a decade}   And so I prayed fervently for “something” …

As it turned out … after a few days of mission work … and anxiously trying to make contact with her … (I say “anxious” because I was so fearful of more rejection and heartache), I was able to speak to her on the phone.  I asked her if she could meet me somewhere … and I was so excited when she offered to come to CDA.  I think that it was a 4 hour drive. 

I was eager to see her … and I was still anxious too.   This was my little girl that I had not seen for many years … I didn’t even really know her.  I didn’t know how she would receive me.  I knew that I wanted to run to her and hold her in my arms … but I was afraid there had been too much distance for that.  I anxiously awaited her arrival all day … and then she finally arrived.  I did greet her with a hug. I tried to not be too overbearing with my elation at seeing her … but I was excited.

We got to spend the night together … talk about things that had transpired over the past decade.  I got to tell her that I loved her and that she was always welcome to come back “home.”  She got to see God’s love in action as the men on my mission team cleaned and gassed up her car for the return trip to Missoula.  They fed her and loved on her … just as Jesus would have.  She even got to help us with the block party and witness a blessing, (and hopefully a lesson) … that occurred in this unexpected place.

While we were having the block party on this vacant lot where the North Star Church would eventually build their worship center, a summer storm rolled in.  Suddenly, the sky became as black as could be.  The wind blew and there was lightening, thunder and rain.  As quickly as it came in it rolled on out and over the mountain.  And as it did … we all witnessed the most phenomenal double rainbow ever seen.

There was an unbroken ribbon of red/yellow/green/purple/blue on top … with a thick blue-gray ribbon in the middle … and then an unbroken ribbon of red/yellow/green/purple/blue on the bottom.  It covered the whole sky over the CDA landscape.  Phenomenal!!!




I stood there looking at it, and recalled a song that I used to sing to my daughter when she was a baby …

                Oh a rainbow is a promise that God is in control.

                Yes a rainbow is a message, that He’ll always keep my soul.

“What a mighty God we serve!” 

In those twelve years prior, I never, ever dreamed that I would visit a place like Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.   I didn’t even know a place existed.  For ten years or more, I mourned the loss of this child in my life.  For years and years, I cried myself to sleep asking God to take care of her, to watch over her … to keep her safe.  I begged Him to heal my broken heart and I admit, I have begged Him to restore the relationship.  But I also admit that I spent plenty of my own efforts, time and money trying to do that in my own strength … to no avail.

So passing through this “unexpected place” … the intention was to go there and impact the lives of others.  “Come along, Stranger. Come along, Friend.  I may not pass this way again.”  But, as it turned out, my life was impacted more than those I met on the street, on the boat or in the restaurant.

God taught me the most valuable lesson I have ever learned.  Have the proper perspective!

In this world, there’s just too much “I” … “ME” … “WE” … and there is just not enough “HE!”

He’s got this and He can be trusted!  He IS IN CONTROL.  He’s better at it … so much better … and any attempt I make at “controlling” life circumstances is futile.  All the fretting … all the wailing and gnashing of teeth … all the finagling and manipulating and orchestrating is wasted.   

The best lesson ever … “LET GOD BE GOD.” 

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