by J. Thomas,
On my way to learn the current theme, “Time for Love,” I find another: “Better Together.” Thank goodness I am looking! I already know what life event to share, and I know the Bible passage I want to tie in – but I do not know how God is going to weave all of these elements together to make a story that could only point to His miraculous work.
Here is my portrait of the miraculous catch of fish in Luke 5, updated for our contemporary audience.
This is my haul. I drive down to Westfield, New Jersey on a mission – to get “oodles and oodles” of clothes to put into boxes and bags. I will load up my Honda Accord and donate it all to Never Alone Again, a non-profit organization supporting victims of domestic violence and abuse. Every Saturday at 11am, its Resource Center provides food, clothing, diapers, and baby formula to anyone in the community.
The previous weekend is my first time volunteering there, and I feel like a guppy. There are tables of free clothes and volunteers checking people in to keep some order, but I cannot find my place. After about an hour flopping around, Ms. D. adopts me and asks me to help her in her duties of keeping the line moving while making sure people are not on top of each other. My tense muscles slightly loosen as I find a way to contribute. In the end, I am not there to work as much as to witness. To observe the weekly miracle of Theresa Johnston, taking her story of resilience over adversity to create a small organization that transforms her large sphere of influence one life at a time.
Before driving down, I try to impress upon Theresa the size of Westfield’s “Free Market” and the amount of surplus clothes that would be available.
“If you have someone with a truck, we should get some more people to drive down with me,” I explain.
I could tell that my attempt fails when she asks me if I could store the donations until the following weekend. No matter, I am not deterred and will show Theresa what I cannot convey in words.
Bible connection: In Luke 5, Jesus instructs Simon Peter to “set out for deeper waters.” I, too, obey Jesus’ voice and set out for deeper waters in Central Jersey letting down my net for a catch. The abundance of blessing is more than I could handle and more than I could bear – like my “joy joy joy joy joy joy!! =)” experience that I blog about and made a YouTube video about. The container of my heart is being stretched to the point of tearing like the worn fishing nets of Jesus’ first disciples. And just as Simon Peter calls over his partners to help him, I call my friends to load up their minivan with boxes and bags of donated clothes. I will make two trips back and forth. After unloading my packed car on Saturday, I make another two-hour drive the next day to gather the boxes stored in my friend’s garage. Triumphant in my mission, I make plans to meet with Theresa for coffee and exchange stories.
As much as I love a good story, I have always sought the deeper meaning and truth behind it all. Especially when it comes to the Bible. As a tenth grader, all I wanted for Christmas was a 17-volume commentary set on the New Testament by Scottish theologian William Barclay. More than 35 years later, I get to read Barclay’s insights, for the first time, on how the account of the miraculous catch of fish in Luke 5 provides a “list of conditions for a miracle.”
If you would indulge my artistic license, here is my recipe list for the best environment for a miracle.
Better Together study from William Barclay:
- An “eye that sees” or A WITNESS. Barclay matter-of-factly states that there is no reason to think that Jesus created a huge school of fish. In the Sea of Galilee, there were teems of fish naturally covering square acres at a time. He thinks that Jesus likely had a keen eye and saw such a school which might make it appear like a miracle. My friends invited me to go camping with them last Labor Day weekend, and on our return, they were well aware of the Free Market as all the local Westfield residents were. I scored an abundance and toys and children’s books for my four-year-old daughter. I partook in the generosity Westfield residents because my friends were supporting me through a life crisis. As a result, I was there to witness this “free market” event and knew where the surplus donations could be found. WE are all the witnesses who see.
- A “spirit that will make an effort” or A REASON. At the end of Westfield’s Free Market in 2020, I watched several trucks carry the unclaimed items away. Back then, I had no connection to Theresa Johnston or her organization Never Alone Again. I did not know that Never Alone Again’s Domestic Violence Resource Center operates year-round and provides a few dozen residents with clothes, diapers, formula, and food every week to the community. After collecting donations from local residents every day, Theresa and the army of volunteers she employs sort, process, and organize the donations for efficient and effective distribution to those who need it most in Teaneck, New Jersey and the surrounding towns.Anyone who needs, with no questions asked, can stop by and get connected with resources that are most vital to them. Once a week since COVID-19 quarantine started, the community lines up every Saturday morning to gather a several bags worth of donated clothes for themselves and for others they know need clothes too. The men and women who swarm the tables of donation, though unruly at times (hence the need of Ms. D’s gentle rebuke), are actually on a mission to give clothes to the ones they love as well as get the items they need. The reason for all of the madness is simple: love. WE all embody the reason which is love.
- An “attempt at what seems hopeless” or AN IMPOSSIBLE MISSION. All the circumstances were against Simon Peter because the logical time for fishing was past. Yet he responds, “circumstances be what they may, if you say so, we will try again.” If we wait for the perfect circumstances or the perfect timing, we will never begin at all. Barclay prods us, “If we want a miracle, we must take Jesus at his word when he bids us to attempt the impossible.” It seems impossible to topple systemic social and economic inequality, but we need people like you and me who will raise their hand and volunteer for the impossible mission: an attempt. Jesus calls us all to take his left hand while his mighty right hand performs the miracle. WE can all make an attempt at the impossible mission.
- With these ingredients, all we need now is a stirring of the Holy Spirit, which is the love that passes between the Father and the Son and binds every zoë together, whether animal, vegetable, or mineral. The Holy Spirit is all of it. The reason for the miracle, the secret ingredient, and the mixing spoon. The Holy Spirit is the Person who chooses the time for this Love Feast.
“Better Together” summarizes the thread that runs through each of these ingredients or environmental factors if you will.
First, this miracle would not have happened if it were not for my friends who lived 35 miles from me that I see almost every week. There is no way I could have known about Westfield’s Free Market. But because we have formed a tight-knit family of friends, I witnessed this “sighting” of a large trove of surplus clothes.
Second, I need a connection to Theresa Johnston and Never Alone Again. What good is the knowledge of this huge haul of clothes if there is no organization to help distribute it? I am so glad to have hopped, skipped, and leaped my way from church to food pantry volunteer, so that I was able to meet this phenomenal woman. You can see more about the work she does at this YouTube interview. Theresa Johnston gave me the “spirit” to make an effort because of all she already does.
Never Alone Again’s Anchor Verse: I will never leave you nor forsake you. Hebrews 13:5
And, finally, I need a connection with something greater than myself – the impossible mission. You can find the impossible mission anywhere you see someone trying to do something by themselves. Whether it be trying to escape an abusive relationship or become a successful entrepreneur. More than 20 years of struggling with my addiction, I have learned that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. For me, trying to do it by myself was my insanity.
For my first-ever post for godspacelight.com, I wrote about my how struggling through my addiction Improved My Conscious Contact with God. I did not get sober right away, but learned to ask for help, which in retrospect, was by far the greater miracle. In the crucible of my hardest times, I learned the hard way that I cannot do it alone. Whether it be beating an addiction, surviving a personal loss, or strengthening a marriage, humans were not meant to operate in isolation. It a crisis like this where all of the cracks become exposed of “doing it alone” and things fall apart. It is when the nets tear and the boat of our lives begin to sink. Like Simon Peter, we are gripped with our utter inadequacy. Go away from me Lord; I am a sinful man!
We don’t have to build again with the help of others, but we get to. This is what I see in Never Alone Again’s anchor Bible verse: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5). It is my honor to introduce you to a remarkable woman of faith who has learned so many lessons the hard way and has committed her life to the joyous miracle of helping others find the truth that God has a new name prepared for them. Please support her ministry at neveraloneagain.org.
To the Godspace Light community, I plan to post at least one more follow up on Theresa a few months from now on the Godspace Light blog. I hope you can watch with me and keep looking for what the Holy Spirit is doing through our extraordinarily special space.
NOTE: J. Thomas will soon publish his first book Dry and Barren Land: persevering through seasons of spiritual drought. For now, please check out his blog at dryandbarren.com.
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