We Need Each Other
It was the first Sunday at our new church and as I made my way to the front row, I met Joe. While I observed right away that Joe had been born with Downs Syndrome, I had no idea at the time how meaningful Joe would become to me. Joe sat right next to me on the front row. Our first conversation was very short. It went like this:
“Hi my name is Joe, what’s your name?”
“Hi Joe, I’m Brady.”
“Are you my new pastor?”
“Yes I am, it’s good to meet you, Joe…” But before I could finish my sentence Joe embraced me in a hug. That was the first of many hugs from Joe.
There was so much Joe didn’t know about me. He didn’t know my strengths, my weaknesses, my passions, my interests, or even my name, but he did know that I was his pastor. That was all it took for Joe. He loved on me just because he loved to love people. I quickly found out that this was just the beginning of Joe loving on me.
The second Sunday Joe met me on the front row again with a pressing question. Joe touched his goatee and then he patted his bald head and asked, “Who do I look like?”
“I don’t know, who?”
With a big smile Joe said, “I look like you!”
As I smiled back I responded. “I like your hair cut, Joe. It looks good on you.”
“Do you want to touch my head?”
“Sure,” I replied, knowing Joe was determined that I touch his bald head no matter what I said.
I should have guessed what would come next. “Can I touch your head?”
I told him sure.
After we patted each other on the head, Joe gave me a full grin. As my heart warmed I hugged him and said, “I love you, Joe.”
But his response surprised me.
“I love you, Dad.”
“Dad? Joe, I think you are almost old enough to be my Dad. How about brother?”
“Okay, Dad,” Joe replied.
From that day on, the ritual repeated every single Sunday. Without fail we would have the same exchange week after week. But every time I was greeted with fresh exuberance and authentic love.
Rom. 12:5b (NLT) “Since we are all one body in Christ, we belong to each other, and each of us needs all the others.”
We really do need each other.
Joe got that.
Joe lived that.
I have learned a lot from Joe, some new things, and some things that I had learned before but Joe helped bring them to life again. I will never forget the many Sunday mornings just before church would start. After our weekly greeting ritual, Joe would sit next to me. Sometimes I might have a guest speaker with me or family from out of town but no matter what, Joe would sit right next to me. Joe insisted that we be together. It was hard to be lonely around Joe. He brought community right to you.
Right after Joe would sit next to me, just before the service would start, he would ask, “What’s the scripture?” Joe insisted that I not only tell him the scripture for the sermon but that I would turn his bible to the right place. No matter what passage I had prepared, Joe would always suggest I use John 3:16. Then he would quote it to me. Not every week, but often he would then offer to preach for me if I wanted. I would thank Joe but let him know I was okay. “I’ve got it today, Joe.”
I will never forget Joe’s answer one day. He only said it to me once (which was unusual for Joe) but it only took once to stick with me.
“I am here if you need me. I think you need me today!”
I am sure Joe was referring to his offer to preach, and while I felt the Lord had once again already prepared my heart, Joe was so right. I did need Him!
After just about every sermon I preached Joe would come up to the front and wait to get my attention, asking for my sermon notes. Not the outline in the bulletin, but my manuscript. I wasn’t quite sure why he wanted them but I didn’t need them anymore, so I would give them to him week after week.
One day I had the privilege of visiting Joe’s home. During the tour, Joe wanted to show me his room. He was intent on showing me a stack of papers he had next to his bed on the night stand. Sure enough it was my sermon notes, a whole stack of them. Joe then said to me with a definite voice, “I got ‘em!”
I am not quite sure what “I got ‘em” meant.
Was it that he had not lost them?
Was it that he wanted to show me he was ready to preach?
I am not sure.
But I do know that Joe didn’t just walk with me. Joe came alongside and wanted to work with me!
It was the Sunday morning shortly after Dolores (Joe’s Mom) passed away. When I greeted Joe that morning he kept with our regular greeting ritual. But this day I hugged Joe and said, “I have been praying for you, Joe.”
He smiled, looked at me, and asked, “You have?”
“Yes, Joe. I have been praying for you as I am sure it has been hard losing your mom.”
Joe began to cry, and cry some more. I was concerned that I might have really upset him. I wasn’t exactly sure how to help him, so I gave him another hug. Joe latched on and wouldn’t let go. Church was getting ready to start and honestly, I didn’t know how long Joe would keep crying. It was just a few minutes, but in those minutes Joe wept, and when he stopped he simply said, “I love you, Dad.”
“I love you too, brother,” I said.
Time very well spent.
It would be amiss if I didn’t share about Joe’s vibrant participation in the worship at our church. Weekly, Joe loved the worship through music time! I quickly noticed that whatever I did, Joe would do the same thing.
If I would stand, Joe would stand.
If I would raise my right hand, Joe would raise his right hand.
If I would say amen, he would say amen.
The only exception was if I would clap my hands. Without fail every time I would clap my hands, about two measures of music would go by and Joe would be at my side turned toward me. Both of his hands would be raised up shoulder high as if to give and receive a double high five. I would turn to him and give him a hand slap and he would be up for at least four or five more. I confess, there were times I was trying to focus on what was next in the service, gathering my thoughts on the message, and I did not pay attention to my actions. I would start clapping and be caught off guard by Joe’s insistent high five worship. I would try to tell him I had to focus and I couldn’t do our high fives right then.
Joe would just look at me like, “What are you talking about?” and go for another high five.
I felt the Holy Spirit quicken my heart instantly. “Brady, Joe is focusing on worship. Worship for him involves you. He sees worship as a team sport!” WOW! I so needed this lesson that the Lord brought through Joe.
What could be more important in worship than loving on one another? What could be more important in worship than lifting up the name of Jesus together?!
How often do we get fearful of breaking out in authentic worship? How often do we get fearful of sharing our faith with others?
The Lord has used Joe to teach me we need each other. There is someone around you who needs you today!
Don’t wait for the perfect moment.
Don’t wait for an invitation.
Just love on them. Just sit with them. Just hug them.
I will never forget what Joe told me, and he only told me once.
“I am here if you need me. I think you need me today.”