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Revelations: How much more could we be doing?

By BY JENNIFER PREYSS
March 16, 2012 at midnight
Updated March 15, 2012 at 10:16 p.m.

Jennifer Preyss

Last Sunday, I joined one of my favorite pastor friends at Grace Lutheran Church for early morning worship service.

The Rev. Bill Hassel, or as I call him, Pastor Bill, had pre-arranged for us to speak to the congregation about an upcoming charity event called Barefoot Sunday.

If you remember from last year, Barefoot Sunday is a regional shoe collection effort that aims to send new and gently-worn shoes to impoverished Malawian children and adults. The event culminates this year on April 28, with three live bands, a pledge to go barefoot on Sunday and (hopefully) a successful goal-reaching night of collecting and sorting 5,000 pairs of shoes.

Pastor Bill was kind enough to volunteer with Barefoot Sunday this year, and I was secretly thrilled about all the one-on-one time I'd get to spend with him during the organizing process.

So, when he Facebooked me last week and said he'd arranged two church speaking engagements for us, I was more than excited to get in some extended Bill time.

We met at Grace Lutheran around 8:45 a.m. and enjoyed a cup of coffee and pre-worship conversation. If you remember, daylight saving time started that morning, and I was already dragging from losing an hour of sleep.

"Do you want something to eat?" Bill asked me, as he caught my eyes transfixed on a mound of chocolate donuts and assorted pastries.

"Yes, I'd like all the donuts and all the kolaches, please," I giggled.

Laughing, Bill said, "No, I said ... do you want some thing, not things."

I knew eating a 10,000-calorie donut wasn't the best way to combat my early morning fatigue, especially if I had to give a speech later, so I stirred some creamer in my coffee, stepped away from the sugar and followed Bill into the sanctuary.

As soon as we turned the corner, we were instantly greeted with a room of smiling faces.

Not that I was surprised.

I don't think I've ever been anywhere with Pastor Bill where he isn't approached by an army of friends and family coming to greet and hug him. He's somewhat of a mini-celebrity in Victoria for his years of pastoral service in the Lutheran church. But more recently, he's gained recognition for his efforts to help raise awareness and medical research funds for ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease, is a terminal neurodegenerative disease that progressively weakens muscle movement, while preserving the mental faculties of its victims.

A few years ago, Pastor Bill was diagnosed with the disease.

But even while confined to a motorized wheelchair, losing his ability to communicate (well) without a digital speaking device, that man can run circles around just about anyone.

Pastor Bill has more than a few legitimate excuses to discontinue his service to the Lord and his children, but I've never seen him give authority to his disease.

He's always ready to offer you a smile, or spout some encouraging words of advice. He's always patient when someone doesn't understand him, and ready to find humor in his situation. He's always prepared with a clever quip, and always willing to tell you about the love of Christ - even if he has to use a computerized voice to articulate it.

I'm encouraged each time I'm with him because he reminds me how many times I give authority to excuses.

For example, when the church services started that morning, the congregation was asked to stand and sing a hymn together.

My immediate caffeine-deficient thought (please don't judge me): "Stand up Jenny, you're tired, but you won't have to stand long."

Then I glanced over at Pastor Bill and realized how much he'd probably give anything to be able to stand in church again, worshipping God.

It was then I started standing taller.

As the congregation sang along to the hymns, and I quietly followed along, I again glanced over at Pastor Bill, and realized how much he'd probably love to be able to sing praises to the Lord.

It was then, I started singing with the church until I found a decent pitch that I thought the Lord would enjoy.

At the end of the worship service, Bill and I were invited to the front of the sanctuary to talk about Barefoot Sunday. Pastor Bill used a computerized machine to read his speech, while I stood nervously next to him with my knees knocked together.

I momentarily envied Bill's computerized voice machine.

Then I realized how much he'd probably give anything to be able to publicly address a church congregation again, using his own voice.

When his computerized speech ended with, "And now Jennifer will talk more about Barefoot Sunday," I moved the microphone to my mouth and asked God to allow me speak well for him.

I talked about the project, and how we sought to collect 5,000 pairs of shoes for people in Africa who had no shoes. I made jokes, and they laughed, and it seemed at the end they were interested in the project.

But as I said goodbye to Pastor Bill and drove away from the church, I realized how much I misuse the basic, fundamental gifts the Lord gives me.

My mouth, my legs, my voice, my hands, my mind, my eyes are made to serve the Lord and his people. And just because I don't have legs, or a voice, doesn't mean I'm exempt.

So, thanks Pastor Bill, for reminding me how much you do - and how much more I could be doing.

Jennifer Preyss is a reporter for the Victoria Advocate. You can reach her at 361-580-6535 or jlpreyss@vicad.com.

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