Modern Miracles Rebecca Wortham’s First Sermon April 3, 2016

Modern Day Miracles– Rebecca’s First Sermon — April 3, 2016

At the United Church of Huntsville, United Church of Christ

SCRIPTURE READING—Acts 9:36-43

Down the road a way in Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha, “Gazelle” in our language. She was well-known for doing good and helping out. During the time Peter was in the area she became sick and died. Her friends prepared her body for burial and put her in a cool room.

Some of the disciples had heard that Peter was visiting in nearby Lydda and sent two men to ask if he would be so kind as to come over. Peter got right up and went with them. They took him into the room where Tabitha’s body was laid out. Her old friends, most of them widows, were in the room mourning. They showed Peter pieces of clothing the Gazelle had made while she was with them.

Peter put the widows all out of the room. He knelt and prayed. Then he spoke directly to the body: “Tabitha, get up.

She opened her eyes. When she saw Peter, she sat up. He took her hand and helped her up. Then he called in the believers and widows, and presented her to them alive.

When this became known all over Joppa, many put their trust in the Master. Peter stayed on a long time in Joppa as a guest of Simon the Tanner.

SERMON

MIRACLES JUST AHEADWhen I was asked to stand in the pulpit for Pastor Hurst, my immediate thought was, “You probably should ask my husband first. He’s an ordained minister, and I haven’t attended seminary yet.” When I learned the Lectionary’s sermon topic for today was “miracles,” and after our music minister asked me to accompany the choir on a song about special needs children, I changed my mind. I figured I had enough experience with miracles and special needs children to share the power of God through my story.

I was familiar with the story of Tabitha and how Peter raised her from the dead. I had read hers and other stories of miracles whenever I was going through a particularly rough time, or when one of my sons was sick or in the hospital. I had been raised in military chapels across the United States and world, and I spent most of my adolescent years in the Presbyterian Church where my Papa preached, so I was familiar with Scripture inasmuch as I knew where to turn if I needed healing.

FAMILYSomewhere along my journey, however, after I became a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints at the age of 18, I put less emphasis on God’s Word and more emphasis on what MEN could do. I was taught that my Bishop, my husband, the elders, deacons, teachers, and other males in the Mormon Church held the sacred “Priesthood,” or a direct line to God. Thus, whenever I needed help, I would turn to MEN instead of God. Pretty soon, this became a rather daunting experience, especially since I was a female! As a single mom with two small boys, I always had to track down a MAN in order to be healed. J

BONDAGEThis constant need to always seek a Priesthood leader led to a constant need to always seek a man, period—and this led to a hard-wired dependency that kindled all kinds of abuse, including the untimely death of my 3rd son, Isaiah James.

Ironically, it was the bondage my sons and I endured that eventually ignited my extreme desire to break free. I thought about the Israelites and how they escaped from Egypt, and I prayed it wouldn’t take me 40 years walking through a wilderness to do the same. I made a conscious decision to seek God fervently. I was familiar with finding Him in Scripture, but I didn’t know where else He existed, so I did what every enlightened person does when she needs help and turned to Google. J

FREEDOMI typed “Where is God?” into the Google search bar, and one of the options that appeared was “AskAPreacher.com.” I clicked the link and was directed to a 5th generation, Church of Christ preacher named William Wortham. He was finishing seminary and preaching for a small congregation in Austin, Texas. I told him I was looking for God, and he told me he could help.

Ultimately, my search for God and William’s desire to teach me how to find Him turned into a friendship and beyond. We even discovered our moms had attended the same tiny high school in the same tiny town of Arkadelphia, Arkansas and were pictured together in the French Club and Choir photos in their yearbooks. What are the odds of our mothers knowing each other when we were raised on opposite sides of the country and world? God MUST have ordained our meeting!

MARRIAGEThe first time William made the 14 hour drive to Alabama to meet me and my 5 and 6 year old sons in person, he arrived 2 hours early and got to see a messy apartment and head full of pink sponge rollers. Even so, he says there was an instant connection to us all, and he proposed to me the next time he visited. After I said yes, he returned to Texas, graduated from seminary, and applied for preaching jobs in Alabama. The elders at his new church needed for him to be married before he could start preaching, so we planned our wedding in a week and wed in one of the oldest churches in Alabama, Mooresville Church of Christ.

It was a beautiful service with hardwood pews and white picket fence, a worn preaching suit and borrowed tie, and a clearance sundress from JC Penny. The food, music, and photography were provided by my students’ parents, and our honeymoon consisted of a quick trip to Chattanooga—WITH my teenage foster son and little boys.

SPECIAL BOYSThe wedding and honeymoon we planned and executed in a week wound up representing our entire marriage—from that point forward, we’ve been fast and furious! We’ve done BIG or gone home! Although we’ve only been married for 14 years, William’s counselor tells us we’ve already experienced ALL of the top predictors of divorce and suicide! How we are still married is a miracle in itself! We’ve defied a plethora of statistical odds and still remained standing—or, maybe we’re a bit wobbly, but at least we’re still hopeful. J

A year after we were married, Joshua William was born. He was premature and had to spend some time in the NICU, but we thought we were out of the woods until we realized he was 2 years old and still not talking. His doctor suggested we take him to Vanderbilt, where he was diagnosed with High Functioning Autism. That diagnosis rocked our world.

A few years later, Caleb Joseph was born. He struggled with ear infections and surgeries from the very start, never made eye contact, and didn’t want any type of physical affection. His doctor suggested we take him to Vanderbilt, where he was diagnosed with High Functioning Autism, like his brother.

We spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on therapies and treatments not covered by insurance, and we were always exhausted. BUSY was the only mode we knew—and it is how we survived.

By the time Benjamin Isaac was born, our marriage was held together by the tiniest of threads. So it was even more difficult when Benny came to us blind, deaf, and missing part of his brain. He actually came to us dead—he had to be resuscitated at birth—and his birth left me needing a blood transfusion and hysterectomy–so the entire ordeal and months surrounding were one of those periods of time we referred to the story of Tabitha, Peters, and miracles.

DARK PERIODI’ll never forget sitting in the pediatrician’s office with my husband, mother, and sons and hearing our doctor say, “This is the worst brain scan I have ever seen. You need to go ahead and prepare for his death. This baby won’t live past 4 months.” I had already lost one son to Heaven and didn’t understand how God could take another. It was suggested that we quit our jobs, choose a burial plot, and spend our remaining days together as a family, and this is what we did.

The period following Benjamin’s birth was dark. We endured a lot of those top predictors of divorce and suicide during this time: Special Needs Children; Critically or Chronically Ill Children; Job Loss; Career Change; Homelessness; Bankruptcy; Loss of Close Personal Relationships due to a Change of Faith, Church, or Belief System; Death of Parents or Children; Estate Settlement; Addiction; Infidelity; Multiple Major Surgeries or Hospitalizations; and Depression or Anxiety.

We’d get through one major life event only to have another one hit. The year after William stopped preaching, our oldest son, Zach, needed bone surgery, our second son, Jacob, was diagnosed with Epilepsy, and our teenage foster son decided to start doing drugs. When William’s mom died unexpectedly, we weren’t allowed to attend her funeral since we had left the Church of Christ and were deemed heretics. William had a nervous breakdown when his dad died a year later. It was difficult handling things alone when William was in the hospital, especially with so many therapies, Benjamin’s daily seizures and surgeries, and my teaching career. We hired a former student to serve as a full time Nanny. It’s funny how life works, because all of these years later, Nanny Jessie asked where we attend church and now attends here, too.

MODERN DAY MIRACLESSomehow, we made it. We survived, and life went on. We even had a lot of GOOD times—mostly GOOD times, I would say—including adopting an adult son from Ghana, Africa, named Bless. But life wasn’t without hurdles. Within the past three years alone, we’ve averaged 2 major surgeries per year, Bless contracted Malaria and was hospitalized for several weeks, and Caleb contracted Henoch Schonlein Purpura Renal and spent 11 months on chemotherapy going back and forth from Children’s Hospital to home. Jacob enlisted in the Marine Corps only to have a freak accident during boot camp and get sent home, Zachary was deployed to the Middle East with the Air Force, our landlord decided to sell our home, leaving us with 15 days to find a new place to live, Joshua came out which led to the majority of my extended family writing us off, and I went to see a doctor about ankle pain and wound up being sent to a rheumatologist, who sent me to a gynecologist, who sent me to an oncologist, who performed major surgery to remove 3 masses and still hasn’t released me from his care.

Finally, things are starting to settle down in our home, and we’re experiencing a few measures of quiet—an extended rest in life’s great score where we have the opportunity to be STILL and listen to the sound of SILENCE. In this silence, we learn to appreciate God’s orchestration as a whole. The Maestro didn’t compose life’s score using only ONE part. He blended ALL of the parts–melody and harmony, good and bad. Sometimes, sorrowful solos moan the melody. Other times, joyful glissandos dance the sweet song. Spirit speaks loudest during the rests. ALL parts of the music are beautiful and necessary. ALL ebb and flow amongst each other to create the masterpiece that is life. THAT is a miracle—LIFE is a miracle!

Looking back on that time, I have no other explanation as to how we survived other than to call it a miracle! Repeated miracles, seen and unseen, occurring in everyday life, through every day people who we refer to as the hands and feet of God: our doctors, nurses, therapists, counselors, teachers, students, pastors, friends, neighbors, and other village people. We have SO much to be thankful for, and we have trained our ears and hearts to hear the GOOD far more than the bad. I now understand that I hold the Priesthood, too—a Priesthood given to ALL men AND women equally that allows us to see the God in each other. William has an awesome teaching job and is even considering going back into the ministry. I started the Madison City Youth Orchestra and have watched it grow from 3 to over 200 students in just under 3 years. All of our children are healthy, Benjamin lived past 4 months, can see and hear, and is about to graduate from 1st grade, and Caleb is in complete remission!

Joshua is wearing his rainbow colors proudly, has become quite a civil and human rights activist, and has even attended Peacebuilder’s Camp, where he created a platform to help all LGBTQ children. He even got invited to bake cookies for, and meet Bernie Sanders, personally! His coming out led me to a vast network of Christian Moms of rainbow kids all over the world, and these serendipitously sweet, strong sisters and other advocates in our community have become part of my extended family. I’ve also been able to meet and love not 1, but 3, FEMALE pastors—wow! Joshua’s cookie business is booming, our goals of meeting our son in Ghana may actually come to fruition sooner than later, as we’re trying to get him to America to attend college. Our deployed son comes home in June and will finish college soon thereafter, and our son who was injured at boot camp wrote about his experiences there and received a full tuition scholarship to college, where he has a 4.0 in his junior year. William and I are both enriched through weekly counseling, and my counselor even suggested this amazing church called UCHuntsville, where I have quickly inherited new parents and siblings. What’s more, the music minister is gay, women are allowed to preach, children are allowed to pass the offering plate, and members can wear everything from slippers to suits and still be accepted and loved! On one of our 1st visits, Benny did a cartwheel down the aisle in front of the entire congregation, causing me to gasp in horror. Nobody in the congregation even blinked an eye!

MIRACLES HAPPEN        I’m also learning how to be STILL so I can FULLY recover.

Our everyday trials and joys have taught us to see everyday miracles, and we have also learned to see the miracles in others. Our struggles unite us—when we experience pain, we become more empathetic and compassionate with those going through hardships. We remind one another that God glows in the dark! Light still shines through broken vessels! We remind one another that all is well—and all shall be well.

When William and I have taken the time to be STILL, we have found the God we were searching for—right here within us, deep within our souls, only a breath away. We have learned that God is everywhere, accessible to ALL. When we have listened for—and HEARD—the sound of SILENCE, we have experienced God in everyday, miraculous ways!

Spirit shines through our souls and stories, and miracles happen every day!

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