Friday, March 25, 2011

You Know Not What You Ask

You know not what you ask. Can you drink the chalice that I shall drink? They say to him: We can.
Matthew 20:22
 The sun rose with all the splendor of a sunset. Simultaneously, a full moon, huge, golden, sank behind the western mountains. The scene reminded me of A Letter From a Friend.

I am writing to say how much I care for you. I want you to know me better. When you awoke this morning, I exploded a brilliant sunrise through your window, hoping to get your attention. But you didn’t even notice. Later you were walking with friends; I bathed you in warm sunshine and perfumed the air with flowers. Still you did not notice me. So I shouted to you in a thunderstorm and painted a beautiful rainbow. You didn’t even look! Tonight I spilled moonlight on your face and sent a cool breeze to refresh you. As you slept, I watched over you and shared your thoughts, but you were unaware of my presence. I hope you will talk to me soon. When you are ready, I will be near. I love you very much. You’re Friend, Jesus.  (Author Unknown) 

I asked to be His witness, but I did not fully understand what I was asking.

Shortly afterward my husband passed away, followed by financial disasters and health issues. Three years later I remarried. Four months after the wedding I was a widow again. The cartilage in my thumbs disintegrated, leaving bone grinding on bone. Unfortunately, the nerves were still intact. I couldn't hold a spoon or fork. Buttons were impossible. Forget the pantyhose. The doctors said I was too young for replacement surgery and I would just have to live with it.

And yet, He spoke tenderly through Scripture, dreams and premonitions. He sent rainbows, lilies, and other symbols as reminders of His love, compassion and promises.  Occasionally a last minute miracle spared additional suffering. I married again with God's promise of years together in health. My finances improved. I was finally eligible for replacement surgery. Then, things spiralled downward, then up and then down again. God sent more rainbows and lilies.

And so, I tell stories to anyone who will listen: here, at work, on the bus and at home. Each re-telling affirms my own faith.  I worry less and pray more. The cup is less bitter, and someday, when I can relinquish all desire for control, the chalice will be sweeter and life will hold more joy than sorrow,  because we know that to them that love God, all things work together unto good, to such as, according to his purpose, are called to be saints.    Romans 8:28

Saturday, March 19, 2011

And the Lord Spoke

And the Lord came and stood: and he called as he had the other times: Samuel, Samuel. And Samuel said: Speak, Lord, for thy servant is listening.    Samuel 3: 10


I was startled from a deep sleep by a voice demanding I read Psalm 120. I sat up and looked around. My husband was asleep and no one else was in the room. It had to be a dream. I snuggled back under the covers.

The voice repeated the command, louder and more insistent. I still refused to believe I was hearing a voice. I rolled over and squeezed my eyes shut. The voice again told me to read Psalm 120 and this time the words also flashed in bright neon-yellow against my closed eye lids.

"Alright, already!" I threw the covers off and stomped into the other room where I kept my bible. Like Samuel, I finally understood what was happening, but unlike Samuel, I wasn't pleased.  How would I explain this to anyone? Hearing voices? Yeah, right. But, I obeyed.

I plopped into my chair, picked up my bible and read the Psalm. I had absolutely no idea why I was told to read it. It made no sense to me at all. 

The Lord answered me when I called in my distress: Lord, deliver me from lying lips, from treacherous tongues.

What will the Lord inflict on you, O treacherous tongue, and what more besides?


A warrior’s sharpened arrows and fiery coals of brushwood!


Alas, I was an alien in Meschech, I lived near the tents of Kedar!


Too long did I live among those who hated peace.


When I spoke of peace, they were for war.


I mulled it over on the way to work and then, against my better judgment, I shared the story with my co-worker and friend. Bev stared at me as if I were already wearing the straight jacket.

Her silence and perceived judgement were irritating. “Well?!”

“You just gave me chills. That scripture describes what Cindy has been doing behind your back. She almost had me convinced and I think Fred believes her. ”

“Believes what?”

“She’s been trying to get you fired. She has been telling Fred how unprofessional you are, that you have been making the patients angry, and that your personal life is interfering to the point you are having an emotional break down. Remember the other day when Fred found you crying in the lab?”

I felt sick to my stomach. “Yes. She had just told me I had blown the rush job and that Fred was really angry with me. He was coming in to fire me.”

"See, Fred didn't know that. And, she told me you weren't coming to my birthday party because you didn't really want to be my friend. You were just being nice."

I shook my head. "And then she came into the lab and told me since Ron had to work that day and I would have too come alone, everyone would understand if I preferred to stay home."

Bev said, “She almost pulled it off. Had you not told me about the Psalm...”

I grimaced.

Bev went on. “Now that I see what she has been doing, I think she’s jealous. Everyone respects you, professionally and personally. She wanted to bring you down anyway she could. Let's go talk to Fred.”

Although Fred refused to confront Cindy, Cindy resigned her position several days later and left without the customary two week notice.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Post Office - Remember the Lilies

Bills were due, receipts were low. I had just enough cash to buy a roll of stamps. My plan was to send out kind reminders to the past due accounts and then pray - hard - that the money would come in before my creditors cut me off.

Owning my own business was nothing like I thought it would be. I hadn't realized I would have two sets of bills to pay, personal and business. It was a tight wire act balancing the two, and too often I relied on the day's cash receipts to buy gas and groceries.  Business was good, that wasn't the issue. The shop was making money, sadly most of it was on the books, in the past due accounts.

I hated handling collections and procrastinated until I was nearly bankrupt. Either I mailed out the notices and made follow up phone calls, or lose the business. Neither choice was a pleasant prospect, but the first was definitely the better of the two.

At the Post Office, the teller asked what type of stamps I wanted: The Statue of Liberty or something else. I replied I really didn’t care, stamps were stamps. I wrote out the check and handed it to him.

He glanced at the business name. Printed below were the words, “Say It with Flowers.”

“Say It with Flowers?”

“Yes, my bank thought it a good idea since I own a flower shop.”

“Well, in that case, I think you need lilies.”

I laughed all the way back to the shop.

The mailman had come while I was out. There was not a single bill among the pile of envelopes. They were all receipts. 

Remember the Lilies - do not be solicitous for what you shall wear, what you shall drink or what you shall eat...Consider the lilies of the field, not even Solomon in all of his glory was arraigned as one of these, and if God clothes the grass that is here today and gone tomorrow, how much more you, Oh ye of little faith?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Unexpected Messenger


My devotions this morning reminded me God will never abandon us. He is with us always. It reminded of a bizarre incident that happened years ago. My third husband was in the hospital...

I stayed until way past visiting hours, leaving my husband's bedside only when the night shift insisted I go home. As I rode the elevator down to the ground floor, I fought back the tears, the fatigue, the sense of hopelessness. The cancer had spread, already encompassing one quarter of his brain.  The prognosis was six weeks.


I stepped outside into a biting wind, heavily scented with fresh snow. Maybe, with a little luck I might make it home before the storm hit, and with a little more luck I might have the dogs ran and fed too.

I groaned. We were out of dog food. The last thing I wanted to do was put on a civil face and go to the market. I wanted to go home, crawl into bed, curl up in a tight ball, cry my eyes out, and fall sleep.

The store parking lot was nearly empty. Surely that meant the check out lines would be short.

I grabbed my purse, jumped out, shut the door - and froze. The keys were still in the ignition. A sob threatened to drop me to the ground and escalate into serious crying, but tears would only complicate my situation, not solve it.

I considered my options. I had my purse and thus money and my cell phone. My parents had an extra key to the truck and were only fifteen minutes away. Fifteen minutes would give me plenty of time to make my purchase and be back out to the truck before they arrived. Since, the truck canopy was unlocked, I could put the dog food inside and sit on the dropped tailgate while I waited - if I needed to wait.  And, it hadn't  started to snow, yet...

In less than ten minutes the phone call had been made, the dog food purchased, and I was back outside, sitting on the tailgate. To entertain myself I watched the people entering and exiting the store, surprised so many others were out so late on a stormy night. Perhaps they had urgent purchases like I had.

One held my attention longer than the others. Male or female? I couldn't tell. The hair style, clothing and mannerisms could be either. The hair was a longish Pompadour. The shirt, slacks/trousers, and loafers were not definitive of either gender.

The person crossed the parking lot and then veered in my direction. I held my breath. Surely he/she did not intend on drawing me into conversation.

He/she continued his/her course right up to my tailgate. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine. I’ve locked my keys inside, but my folks are on their way with a spare.”

“It’s not very safe for you to sit here alone this time of night. I’d better stay with you.”

I thought, "God, no! Who will protect me from you?"

To my horror, the person jumped up and sat next to me on the tailgate. What followed was the oddest conversation I have ever been a part of.

“Do you remember an incident a few years back when a patient on the fourth floor of the hospital jumped out the window in a suicide attempt?”

The fourth floor was the psyche ward. I swallowed. “Vaguely.”

“Well I was that man.”

I struggled to keep my face non-responsive.

“Amazingly, I was not hurt in the fall, just bruised. It was then I realized God had a plan for my life or He would not have saved me in such a miraculous way. I needed to stick around and discover what that plan was. I continued with therapy and have since put my life back together. I have had steady employment for several years now, and I am a productive part of society again.”

“I’m glad to hear that.” Surprisingly, I meant it.

“And don’t you worry,” He told me. “God will give you the strength you need to deal with your current crises. I don’t know the details, but I know you are overwhelmed with great difficulties. I will pray for you.”

I was touched. “Thank you.”

My folks pulled in next to me.

“Looks like the Calvary is here.”

He jumped down, grabbed his cart and turned to me one more time, “I really do wish you luck.”

And with a nod he walked away.

I learned several important lessons that night. First, God sends the least likely messengers when we least expect them, and second, I needed to rely on God’s strength, not mine. He would carry me through the difficult circumstances, the infernos, and dark places. And third, all I needed was faith.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Lesson in Honesty

I was in a car accident. The other driver pulled out from a parallel park and raked the right side of my vehicle from front bumper to back. The woman then panicked, hit the accelerator instead of the break, and slammed into the back of my truck. Both cars were towed from the scene. My vehicle was totaled..

This was disconcerting for several reasons. First, I loved my truck. The half-ton, short bed, four-wheel-drive was perfect for hauling large orders and for getting around in our rural community. Second, and the most aggravating of all – it was paid for. However, no payments and low insurance rates equals low Blue Book value. Another vehicles meant monthly payments and higher insurance, especially commercial insurance.

Several friends advised against adding the commercial insurance on the new vehicle. They argued the chances were very slim the company would ever find out. I had used sub-contractors before, so how would the company know I hadn't continued that practice and was using the new vehicle for personal use only? I seriously thought about it – for one day.

I ran an early morning delivery to another insurance office. As I parked, a car pulled along side and the male driver got out. The man was my claim agent. The odds of my agent going into a competitor’s office the same time I was making a delivery was too high for just a coincidence. I waited until the man left, made my delivery and drove straight back to the shop. I called my insurance and arranged for commercial coverage.

Interestingly, every month I had enough money to cover the new car payment and the added insurance.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A Companion to Grow Old With – Conclusion - Africa

Original Photo - Safari Lodge
Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
A week later Peg and George invited Bill and I to dinner. On the drive over I gave God a list of demands. If I were to be in another relationship, it had to be effortless. I did not want to turn my world upside down for another man.

I should know better than to give God an ultimatum.

First, Bill was everything I had dreamed of - literally. He was tall, handsome, kind, and we had so much in common it was almost scary. We talked non-stop about art, history, books, travel. We even drank our coffee exactly the same (shades of Meet Joe Black). Half way through dinner Bill leaned close to ask a question, and I actually felt an electrical charge (another reference to Meet Joe Black - a theme?). When I was ready to leave, Bill walked me out to my vehicle.

"I'd like to see you again. Would you consider going out to dinner with me?"

"Yes."

"Well, I have odd days off, Sundays and Mondays. Would next Sunday work for you?"

"As a matter of fact, I have Sundays and Mondays off and next Sunday would be just fine." Mea culpa, Lord. You made your point - all evening! 

Whenever I was with Bill, one word kept whirling through my mind - home. It felt like I had finally come home. Our relationship was so natural, it was effortless.

As we both had been married numerous times, we wanted something different. Bill suggested Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. Since returning from his first trip to Africa he had felt it would be a magical, romantic place to be married. I agreed. Through an angel of a travel agent we arranged for a ceremony at the Safari Lodge in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, Africa.

On June 17th at three pm, we stood in the open veranda on the third floor of the lodge and repeated our vows before a magistrate and two local witnesses. Behind us was a watering hole teaming with Elephant, Kudu, Cape buffalo, Zebra and Wart hogs. Beyond that was the African bush, broken only by the gleaming waters of the Zambezi River. I felt like pinching myself, but then, if I was dreaming, I didn’t really want to wake up.

That night we sat out on the lodge's veranda and ate dinner by candlelight. A troupe of four young men serenaded our table with African love songs, finishing their performance with The Lion Sleeps Tonight. The setting sun turned the sky vivid gold and red. Lions roared somewhere out in the deepening shadows.

Bill took my hand, gently kissed it, and whispered. "I love you."  

My world was perfect - beyond anything I imagined.

From Victoria Falls we flew to Johannesburg, South Africa. We spent the night in a Bed and Breakfast and the next day went shopping. Our first stop was a Diamond Merchant where we bought my ring. Later, alone in our room, Bill pledged his love once again and placed the ring on my finger.

The next day we flew to Hoedspruit, South Africa, the gateway to Krueger National Park. We spent our honeymoon on photo safari at the Edeni Game Reserve and for five days we observed wildlife: Lions, Elephants, Buffalo, Leopard, Cheetah, Hyena and South African Wild dogs to name just a few. Then it was back to Johannesburg and home. Before the plane left the tarmac I was already wishing I could come back.

***
Eight months after we returned from Africa, Bill became ill. His doctors dismissed it as the flu, but I knew something was very wrong, something other than flu. Bill was delirious and so hot I could barely stand to touch him. Finally a specialist located the problem – a very large internal abscess.

The surgery was simple and the doctors expected Bill would be home after a few hours in recovery. That didn’t happen. Some of the toxins entered Bill's blood stream during the surgery and his fever spiked to 105 degrees. I stood outside the hospital room and listened to the frantic efforts of the medical staff.  What if I lost Bill? What if I was widowed  again - for the third time? If it was God's will to take Bill, I would survive. I had before and I would again. I thought of Abraham and Isaac. Abraham trusted God, knowing he had a promise. A promise! I too had a promise. At that moment I knew, despite all appearances, Bill would be healed - without the residual effects the doctors expected.

Three days later Bill was released from the hospital. Tests showed none of the toxins had entered his organs and against all of their predictions Bill walked away completely healed.

The next morning as I paged through my Bible I noticed a footnote I had not read before. It stated the number seven represents a great number, and when paired with the number eight, means an even greater number. It was then I fully understood His promise.

We are currently at nine years and counting....

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Companion to Grow Old With - Part Three

My sister-in-law flew out from Minnesota to assist with Shannon’s personal things. After a day of emotional ups and downs we flopped, exhausted into chairs.

“Well, Dearie, I’ve had enough melancholy for one day. There are several Noir films I have been longing to watch without interruptions from my Cherubs. Shall we?”

After a quick run for supplies at the nearest market and video store, we settled in with our refreshments and movies. Our first movie was, Double Indemnity, an old black-and-white from the 1930s. Half way through the film one character turned to another and asked another if he had ever been to my hometown. It was a small community, isolated in the southeastern part of the state. In the 1930s it would barely have been a speck on the map.

In the next, Designing Woman, circa 1960, one of the main character’s last name was Shannon. Neither of us was giggling.

“What’s up with all of these odd coincidences?” Shari asked.

“I don’t know, and I’m sure not I find it amusing.”

By the time we put in the third movie, The Thirteenth Warrior, I was mentally reviewing all the previous coincidences: Luke 1: 37, Psalm 37, the book of Tobias, the dreams and my earlier conversation with Becky. Was God really promising me a companion? Or were all of the coincidences just that, coincidences? And the dreams, were they simply my subconscious working through my grief?
My attention was jerked back to the movie. One of the characters was named Melchisedec. I had never heard the name mentioned outside of church. Jesus is referred to as a priest in the order of Melchisedec, the first priest to offer bread and wine as a sacrifice in place of animals. It seemed very odd that it was selected as a name in a secular movie. But, there was more. The next scene took place in a tavern. The main character was asked to tell a great story.

He began, “In the beginning God created the world….” Genesis – again.

I asked Shari to turn off the TV. That was enough coincidences for one night.

The next morning Genesis 2:18-25 was listed among my readings:

And the Lord God said: It is not good for man to be alone: let us make him a helpmate like unto himself.

Coincidence? I didn’t think so. Not this time.

***

Several days after Shari left, a good friend, “Peg”, asked me over for coffee. After a few minutes of small talk, I described the coincidences, the dreams, the scriptures and the interpretation Becky had offered.

“Marie, you are describing Bill. He is a sergeant with the Sheriff’s office and so, in a sense, a warrior. Besides that, he is a former Marine and a hunter. In fact he has been to Africa on Safari. On the outside he is tough, and a little hard to get to know, but once you manage to earn his trust, he is the kindest, sweetest man I have ever known.

“George and I wanted to introduce you after Ron passed away, but when we thought enough time had passed, you were seeing Shannon. Maybe it is time now, what do you think? ”
“Maybe…”

“Oh!” Peg said, “I just thought of something! If you two should marry, you would be his third wife - he has been divorced once – ugly, ugly scene - and lost two to cancer. He has been single and alone now for six years - and, he would be your fourth husband –"

My eyes opened wide. “Seven! Sara’s seven?” To be continued…..