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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

A Label of Love

For those that knew Randy Walgamuth, several thoughts probably come to mind. They're likely the kind of thoughts that end up in the comments of every Facebook post from Ink Free News that feature his name and mug shot. But for every remark and label that the general public of our community has stuck on him, there are many more that most have failed to mention. This failure is not only due to ignorance, but to the tragic reality that so many people (including believers in Christ) neglect to see an image bearer of God the way the Father sees him.
For this reason, I felt it was vitally important to give you a glimpse of the Randy that most will never know. It's the Randy that Jesus told stories about; a living example of the heart of the Father and what the Gospel is all about. He's the perfect picture of God's mercy; the one that the Lord left the 99 sheep to find (Matthew 18:12-14, Luke 15:4-7). This man taught me more about the love and mercy of God than I could ever learn from any evangelist or Bible teacher; and it has marked me for life.

I have worked at The Salvation Army since 2014. Early on, I was like most people. I couldn't understand why he made the choices that he did. Chronically homeless and addicted, he lived out on the streets and in the woods; and sometimes in the homeless shelter. I've seen so many people (and agencies in addition to ours) invest in him. I'll never get over how much personal time and resources my own boss, Ken Locke, spent on him. No matter how busy or drained he was, he still went above and beyond for Randy like he was his own brother.

Admittedly, however, I used to feel frustrated. Randy constantly made demands and expected everyone to do and give what he needed without delay or hesitation. He also seemed oblivious to the fact that even those who had to be tough with him (whether it was a police officer, judge, etc.) actually cared about him and were way more lenient than he deserved. Countless cups of coffee, food, clothing, rides, etc. were given to him by numerous people, agencies, and strangers. The time and personal sacrifices didn't seem to sink in and make him grateful; nothing about his lifestyle changed and it usually just got worse. So many times, he was in and out of jail (and the hospital as well). In all my prayers for him, I finally lost it one time as I was thinking about the fact that he got all that medical care, but I (a tax paying and law-abiding citizen) had no health insurance. God changed my heart with one phrase, "Melissa, this could be his reward in full."

His reward in full. It broke me. I couldn't get over it. If the most reward he would ever get would be all the things that he gets now, how sad and frightening would that be?! What good would it do me to be angry that he was taking so much now when I would be getting an inheritance for eternity that he may never get to be a part of? Am I really going to be mad about the fact that he got the temporary care for his earthly body that I didn't? What good is it to gain any advantage on Earth but lose your soul (Matthew 16:26, Mark 8:36)? Was I really going to be that jealous brother in the prodigal son story?

That's when things shifted for me; not just in how I saw Randy, but in how I saw everyone. It is so easy to be angry at others when they have something we don't, behave in terrible ways, and even get away with things that they shouldn't. Yet, God sees them the same way He sees us. He forgives their great debt and expects us to do likewise (Matthew 18:21-35). Randy had a record and reputation that everyone could see and judge; and yet God loved and wanted him. I realized just how truly merciful and loving the Father has to be in order to continually and relentlessly pursue this lost sheep of his. If He loves Randy SO MUCH to keep rescuing him and giving him countless second chances, how much more grateful should I be as a child of God? ALL OF US have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Who among us ISN'T a Randy? We have all sinned; and yet, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Every single one of us is a sheep that has strayed. I too have behaved in terrible ways; offending God and others. I can't imagine what my own rap sheet must look like, how great my debt must be, and how much I have truly been forgiven. God has been merciful to me and has spared me from lots of things that I deserved (both here and in eternity) and gave me mercy that I do NOT deserve. The Good Shepherd gave His life for every one of us lost sheep so that we would return to Him and be reconciled through Him (Isaiah 53:6, John 3:16-17, 1 Peter 2:25). I've accepted Christ and am safe. Jesus wanted Randy safe too and this is the verse He reminded me of every single time: The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. - 2 Peter 3:9 (NIV).

Left Side Back Row: Friends, Randy and Larry, (both are now home with the Lord).
In what few years I have known Randy, I saw him soften. He even frequently attended church at The Salvation Army (and on more than one occasion, donated his cigarette lighter in the offering plate). I have watched prayers be answered; even when he would tell us outright NOT to “pray too hard” for him. We prayed all the more; and it obviously worked! I saw Randy experience the heart of God through each act of love, mercy, and kindness (even if he didn't recognize it). God moved on the hearts of so many people to share the Gospel, their time, money, and resources. Ken has always said, "No one has heard the Gospel more times than Randy Walgamuth." Every act of compassion sowed a seed; and God was even more patient than we were to see them grow. Year after year, Ken would say, "I don't think he's going to make it through another winter." We dreaded the day that he would be found frozen outside or something worse.

The "something worse" was cancer. Again, no one thought he would last as long as he did. Once more, God showed His amazing love and mercy. Randy didn't suffer alone outside. The last year or two, he was either at The Fellowship Mission, the hospital, or hospice. No doubt the staff was amazed at how many visitors Randy had these past few months. I think he finally understood how to give and receive love. For the first time, he said to me, "I love you, Melissa." I was amazed to hear him say it! "I love you too, Randy." I assured him that there were so many people that did and that God loved him even more. I asked him if he confessed and believed in Christ as Lord. He said, "Yes. Yes I do, Melissa." I don't think any of us saw some big emotional/radical change, but we all believe that on whatever level his mind could still understand, he believed and was making his peace. In fact, that is what Ken assured me of. He said that he had never seen Randy so at peace.

I have many more things I could share; and they're only a fraction of the many testimonies that I know others have. People that have known him a lifetime have told me about how much he has been through; even as a kid growing up. Pain and trauma take a toll. I wonder what his life would have been like if his childhood had been different. It makes me sad to think about what his life has been like and how he's the very last of what family he had (even his only child passed in recent years). Despite all the darkness, the light still won out. Jesus shone through so many people that Randy couldn't hide from it. God had His way. Randy couldn't tune out the knocking at the door. None of us may know for sure when/how he opened that door to Jesus, but we believe that he finally let Him in.....and that Christ welcomed Randy into heaven. We love you, Randy! Thank you for all that you taught us! Until we meet again!

Update: Click here to read an additional post of my thoughts after Randy's funeral.

Monday, January 1, 2024

My Word for 2024: Hope

I truly can't believe I'm already composing a blog post about my word for 2024! Not only does it seem like 2023 went by super fast, I also feel like I still have a lot of growing and healing to do with my previous word. My word in 2022 was the same way. Both were difficult but BEAUTIFUL words that carried a lot of growth with it. Those words have been everything for me and I am very grateful for all that God has brought me through and how I've become closer and more in love with Him than ever! He truly has been (and will continue to be) my refuge and safe place; more than enough for me. 

Given how weighty the previous two words have been, I was hoping for a bit of a break and that I would get something like Isaiah 40 (like I did in 2020) or "Come" in 2021. And there it is right there: I was "hoping." 

Last week, I had been praying, journaling, and waiting for my word. A lot of things were heavy on my heart and I was unburdening myself to the Lord. I felt emotionally drained and weary. I really needed refreshment and restoration. 

As my lunch break ended, I was leaving the sanctuary and getting ready go back to work. Suddenly, something caught my eye. The decorative bulletin board to my left had several words on it, and the one closest to me said "hope." I've seen this bulletin board many times, but for some reason, it's like it jumped right out and begged to be seen out of the corner of my eye as I walked past it. I'm like, "Hope. Could that be my word?" I had mixed feelings about it. At first, I thought it was restful, beautiful, and the perfect word for me. It made me feel good, relieved, and hope-ful! Yet, simultaneously, a part of me wanted to shut it down because it seemed too generic, cliche, and simple. As always, I wanted to be sure, so I shelved it in my mind for consideration and waited for further confirmation. I was still hoping for something that I considered a "better" word. I knew I was being a little bit too much like Red and a little less like Andy with that mindset. I had no reason to treat hope like a "dangerous thing" when I knew that true hope does not (and never could) disappoint, because it's JESUS! In fact, that verse had been coming to my mind a LOT, and here it is in context:
Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory. We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. - Romans 5:1-5

When you look at those verses altogether, it would make perfect sense that "Hope" would be the word that follows "Refuge" and "Enough". All the problems and trials that I have had in these past few years HAVE helped me develop endurance and have strengthened my character. Now, I need to progress to being strengthened by my "confident hope of salvation." I want to increase in faith; being secure in Christ and comforted by the fact that I'm filled with love by the Holy Spirit. God will not disappoint me and it's ALWAYS safe to hope in Him!

Another verse that kept coming to my mind is this one: 

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. - 2 Corinthians 4:7-9

That definitely screams "hope" to me! I have been feeling every bit like a fragile clay jar. Yet, I am filled with the great treasure that is the Holy Spirit. No matter what has happened, He fills me and never abandons me. He builds me up and restores me. Always.  

It didn't take long for confirmation to come. The very next day, I was bent down and getting something from under the sink in my bathroom cupboard. When I began to stand and lift my head up, my eyes met smack dab with this jar of beauty cream on the counter: renewed hope in a jar. My gosh, you can't make this stuff up lol! I was like, "Seriously?! You've got to be kidding!" I laughed because this is so like God to do this with me; and I also heard "There's Hope in Front of Me", by Danny Gokey, playing in my head lol. I'm like, "Ok, but I still need that third sign." He was very quick about it. Again, I couldn't help but laugh because it's just too perfect! I had a stack of clean clothes sitting in a pile that were waiting to be hung up (I know! Tsk, tsk!). I took the top shirt off of the pile to wear, and what do you think I uncovered as I did so? Yep, that's right! I uncovered "hope"!! 

"Really. For real?!" I thought. Wow lol! I just couldn't get over it. There it was again; staring me right in the face! I laughed and shook my head, "Ok, ok. I get it." 

Next, something else came to my mind. I happened to think about a gift that was recently given to me by my friend, Anita. It was a cross with a word on it. "The word is 'hope' isn't it?" I said to myself. Yep, it sure is; and it has Romans 5:5 on it (as well as Philippians 1:20). 

I journaled all of it later in the day and went to biblehub.com to look up the word: ἐλπὶς elpis . It seemed that "hope" was indeed my word. Nevertheless, I asked God if he could make one of those verses show up somewhere in the next few days; so I could be extra sure. Or, if the number 1680 (the number in the concordance) showed up, that would be cool too. Up until today, I hadn't seen any further confirmation, and I was telling myself, "Melissa, you already know. It's 'hope.' Why are you fighting it?" I know very well why. It's because of all the times I DO hope and things don't work out. "But that's just the people and things of this world. That's not where your hope is anyways," I told myself. Yes, I know that. Maybe that's exactly why I need this word. I was reminded of this in the movie "Slumberland", which I watched this weekend for only the second time since it came out (and I highly recommend it!). You may not get the dream you want, but you're going to get the dream you need. "Hope" isn't the word I really wanted, but it's most certainly the one I need. It's basic, simple, and beautiful; and those aren't bad things. In fact, Andy is right

Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.

"Hope" isn't  meant to be an overused word or cliche. True hope is much deeper than that. It's time to really rest and soak in the REAL hope. Jesus is my hope NOW and for all eternity. He is with me NOW; and I'll also be with Him whenever I go home (or when He comes back for me/us; whichever comes first). I will NOT be disappointed! All the people, things, and cares of this life will all be gone, but my eternal hope is always real and certain. 

Today is the first day of this new year; 365 days of new opportunities and each of those days that we get is a gift from the Lord! As a wonderful bonus, God did confirm that verse for me once more as I was looking back at this old post of mine about Red and Andy for this post. I also had the pleasure of seeing this post in my Facebook memories. There's no doubt about it! I can be confident of my hope, which is Christ, and look forward to all that is to come:

For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die.

- Philippians 1:20.

So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary. 

- Hebrews 6:18-19

Grace and peace to you, my friends! I genuinely HOPE and pray that this will be a blessed year for us all! Our "hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness." On Christ the solid rock we stand, all other ground is sinking sand! Stay anchored! He is our firm foundation! Amen! God bless you!