By Vicki Lerdahl, Prescott UMC in the Desert Southwest Conference
In October of 2016, I took family leave. I knew I had to step out of the pulpit to give my best to my family and do the best for my church. It was so heartbreaking that first year. I prayed continually about what God willed for my call. Several weeks before Conference 2017, knowing I was not assigned, I cried out to God to help me live out my call.
On that night I awoke at 2 a.m. compelled to get my computer and order 500 hand held crosses like those I had ordered for my previous church, and I did so. The small crosses were hand made from the pruning of the olivewood trees in Bethlehem by Christians who witness there.
The following night I awoke at the same time being led to order 1000 more crosses. I went to the computer, looked up that amount and wondered if I wasn’t just overly enthusiastic about the first 500 and wanting to order more. So, I decided to wait and pray about it.
The next night I was awakened with the word to order 1000 crosses and take them to the Bishop to give to the whole church. I immediately ordered this time. I made an appointment to see Bishop Bob for a few days later. Now, the Bishop and I haven’t spent much time together, so I wholly relied on God’s courage. Trembling and unsure of how Bishop Bob would receive my story, I told it all, including words of hearing how we are hurting Christ and his church. Bishop listened attentively with no clear expression of judgment as I babbled for ten plus minutes.
Finally, I stopped talking. With a calm voice the Bishop replied with his own story. He said something like this, “I have been praying for God to show me what gift to give the people at the end of our Conference worship to send them out to make disciples”. By then I was crying with joy beyond measure. I was of course relieved my Bishop believed me, but I was overwhelmed by being part of God’s answer to his prayer.
We all received two crosses that year, one to keep and one to give away. I have given them to churches and to 100s of people I have met throughout the year. When Annual Conference 2018 came around once again I heard that I was to order crosses, 2000 to give to all the churches, but this time without detailed instruction. I ordered them immediately. I offered them to the Annual Conference committees, but they were not needed. So, I waited to hear where they were to go.
Within a few months, the Spirit led me to request a way to send them to the 2019 General Conference. Again, I called Bishop Bob. Bishop made the connection for me with the help of his Executive Assistant, Julie O’Neal. The General Conference committee who decides about these kinds of things must have heard the Spirit as I did because they said yes to receiving them. God surely had his hand in this.
Each of us, like the crosses, has a beauty all its own. We too are pruned into the same image, yet, created uniquely different to bring joy to God and to his world. My hope is these crosses will remind us Christ is our only judge, we are but people being perfected in his love. His assurance of mercy and forgiveness to all who receive him is the message of the cross. May we all use his courage to take up our cross and go into the world and make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world until he returns. Amen