Guided Sight

Signs and Serendipity

A chance encounter reminds us that God prepares us for many things, if we’re paying attention.

By Marcia Morrissey, September 22, 2011

After church last Sunday we decided to go out to lunch. It became one of those serendipitous experiences. We had planned to go to one place, but at the last minute Ed decided he wanted Chilis. At the table next to us was a family with three young children. I heard the youngest one making noises, and saying, “hi,” repeatedly—nothing unusual in a family restaurant. Ed was talking back to her, and said to the parents that she was a “cutie.” I had looked over and smiled their way, but when the mom said that her 14-month-old was deaf, and she was just learning to speak because she had had a cochlear implant, that caught my interest.

Ed, of course, had noticed that she was deaf because he could see her implant. We then got into a friendly discussion. A few minutes into talking with them, I mentioned losing my eyesight in my early 20s. I had assumed that they could tell, but apparently they couldn’t. Our conversation took off at that point with this family speaking of disabilities, and advances in technology that weren’t available only a few years ago. The mom felt very comfortable sharing with us how reluctant she’d been about having her daughter’s surgery done, and her husband’s belief in giving their daughter as much of an advantage as possible.

In preparing for the surgery, the parents had discovered that they both were carriers of a gene that caused this type of profound congenital deafness. Their other two children were able to hear.

This little 14-month-old was saying “hi,” and “bye,” while waving her hand at Ed the whole time. Mom told us that she was so excited to be able to hear sounds that she had never heard before, and was also enjoying speaking and making sounds herself as does any little one that age learning to talk. She was enthusiastically sharing her newfound ability with us!

The doctors told them there was no longer a need for their daughter to learn sign language, but the parents disagreed. The implant, after all, comes out at night, for bedtime, and it is not used when bathing. Their daughter is still deaf, even with the implant, so why not learn both?

Interestingly, the mother already knew sign language! In college she had to take two years of a foreign language with her major. She attempted German, but was having a terrible time with that. She then was happy to learn that she could take sign language as an option to fulfill this requirement. She believed that there was a Providential “hand directing her” toward sign language all those years ago.

How frequently we find that something we believe was thrust upon us by accident ends up being an experience that has a hand in the rest of our lives.

After the surgery, the little girl had to wear two hearing aids for awhile to see if that would make any difference. It is a step in the process. Probably because I was blind, she felt comfortable sharing several incidents of people saying things that were likely well-meaning, but thoughtless, and were hurtful to her. She told of a woman at the grocery store who saw her baby with the hearing aids, and asked why she was wearing them. When the mom explained, the woman said how sad it was that her baby was deaf, and asked if she was “dumb,” as well. She realized that this woman meant that word to mean unable to speak, but it has taken on a much different connotation, and she was very hurt at this remark.

I always know when people are desperately searching for the politically-correct term for blind when speaking to me. They are trying so hard to be considerate that I try to put them at ease and tell them it is okay with me to say the word “blind.” I shared that, and a couple of my own stories, and she felt a bit better. Most people just don’t know what to say to someone who lives life a little differently from the norm, and it becomes easier, sometimes, to just let it go, or to nicely make it a teachable moment without offending the befuddled person.

Unfortunately sometimes some people just come off patronizing, and then is time to be a bit more direct.

We were about to leave, and she had gotten up to take her 4-year-old daughter to the restroom. She came over to shake our hands, and to say how nice it was to meet and talk to us. I could hear the smile, and gratitude in the voice of this mom to have had this opportunity. A moment of serendipity—yes, but I got the feeling we all felt perhaps a “hand at work” in this “chance meeting.”

Marcia MorrisseyMarcia Morrissey is a wife, mother, and grandmother of two sweet little granddaughters in Minnesota. Her husband, Ed Morrissey, is a writer for

A Pastor Looks at Ministry Over the Long Haul

From Evangelical Covenant Church pastor Don Johnson, who serves as pastor of Montecito Covenant Church in Santa Barbara, California. He shares thoughts on ministry over the long haul that first appeared in his “Jibstay” blog.

By Don Johnson

What does it take to stay vital in ministry after 30 years?

Whenever I hear that type of question asked, I perk up my ears for wisdom. I appreciate discovering what sustains others in ministry over the long haul, because ministry is far more of a marathon than a sprint. I fear a lot of the seminar offerings out there fuel “sprint” behavior – how to crank up and get fast results with a technique, a series, a technology, or a new, charismatic staff person.

Don Johnson

I must admit that I’ve been there and done that. The fact that I’m writing this on my new iPad reflects my love of technology and gadgets. I’m a sucker for the flash and the new. But, here are some thoughts I have about what I find works for the long haul:

1. A consistent personal devotional life. A balanced spiritual formation portfolio works: scripture, relevant, and ancient. Reading keeps me alive and connected to the Word, these times, and the deep heritage we have in our faith.

2. Ask questions and listen. The people God has placed around me often, on the surface, are both boring and irritating. I’m tempted to stereotype and discount them. Yet they are exactly the gift God has given me to discover, and the discovering work is that of conversations (often over time) where I ask questions and then listen deeply (not competitively so I can share my stuff). The profundity of the ordinary continues to bless and delight me.

3. Show up. Make commitments and keep them. Learning to show up when I’m not the center stage (real problem for senior pastors) is another gold mine. When I hang in the back of the room and let someone else lead, something good happens to my heart.

4. Expect good from people (and don’t be surprised when they let you down). Vitality in ministry is not sustained by cynicism, sarcasm or gossip. Those approaches, over time, shallow my life. It’s so easy to be critical and tougher to be positive (and realistic at the same time).

5. Avoid gossip, but speak directly. Talking around an issue or person corrodes relationships, while going directly is tougher, but healthier. The longer I’m in leadership, the more impressed I am by the disease of gossip. If I am unwilling to go to the other person, but simply insist on gossiping about him/her, “what are my intentions?”

6. Take time to play (Sabbath rest). Always being “on” and available is debilitating. Take days off, go away from the church, leave the country, put away the list. When I play, I do not take myself quite so seriously.

7. Reverse mentoring. Someone several years ago gave me that notion, especially for technology. I always need a bright 17-year-old around to introduce me to some emergent technology and trend (even language). But now I’m finding that young people can bless me spiritually if I ask them into a conversation and listen seriously. Being near a college campus has been a gift to me. These young men and women often “get it” more than my peers. That gives me hope.

8. Tithe to the local church. Money can get a stranglehold on pastors’ lives because we are “never paid” what we are worth and we usually see those around us with more, newer and nicer. Nothing releases covetousness, greed and stinginess like tithing. Tithing continues to teach me to genuinely trust in God’s generosity.

9. Bless your local church. There is no perfect church, council, building, budget or community. We can endlessly critique and resent the flaws in our unique setting. Get over it! There will be no perfect church (or pastors) ‘til Jesus comes again. The church is Christ’s bride, and that bride has some issues! But she is still the bride.

10. Learn from the culture around you. The culture is our context, not our enemy. Learn to listen deeply to the media and music. What is the hunger? Where are the hopes? What is the story behind the tattoo?

11. Say “thank you” often and regularly.