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My mind has been running in somewhat different tracks than Lori and Ruth’s this week. From “how do we know if we are hearing God,” discussions with friends have veered into “how do we know God listens to us.”
When someone asks if I think God truly hears and answers our prayers, I smile and nod. After all, I have first hand experience.
I didn’t date in high school. I wasn’t home every Friday night, but my group of friends generally ran about in a large herd. Some of us broke off and dated periodically, but I wasn’t one of them. There were guys I would have dated, but they weren’t the one who were interested. So I waited.
While I waited, I prayed. “Somewhere there has to be someone who would love me as more than a friend. And, while we’re discussing it, please don’t plunk him down in the middle of Pategonia or Prague. Somewhere close at hand would be best.”
I made it all the way through highschool without encountering Mr. Datable Someone. Again, it wasn’t like I was just sitting around waiting. I went out with my herd of friends. I studied. I picked out a college and a major.
At college, I even dated some but I quickly realized that I hadn’t met the right guy just yet. I made more friends – a new herd. We met in the cafeteria every day for lunch. We played cards. On weekends, we went to movies. We hung out at each other’s houses. Then I spotted a tall, quiet, oh-so-handsome guy within the group. We knew some of the same people, but I hadn’t gotten to know him yet. So I made a point of sitting near him and chatting him up. Then one afternoon he asked if I was busy on Friday. If I’d had plans, I would have cancelled them.
This August we’ll celebrate our 23rd anniversary.
Why do I credit God with our meeting? Because we hadn’t met earlier although in every likelihood we should have. The kids from his high school went to my church. And the kids from my high school? They went to his church. His grandmother lived less than two blocks from my best friend. Do we even need to discuss how much time I spent in that particular neighborhood?
We grew up less than four miles apart, frequented the same places, but had never met. It wasn’t like he’d been hanging out in Pategonia. Or Prague. But we didn’t meet until I was nineteen in spite of three or more years of constant prayers.
But God was listening. He just wasn’t acting in my time. I had to wait for His.
I know God hears my prayers. And that’s why when storms strike and people’s homes and families are threatened, I pray.
In her post this week, Lori wrote about those who believed the Rapture would occur last weekend, and I agree with her premise. No matter what you might think about such people, you have to reluctantly appreciate their total commitment to what they perceive as the truth. Still, it was painful to see the dark side of faith illustrated so vividly.
Maybe all it takes to form a religion is for someone to create a moral code and then share it with the world. Is that enough? I wonder what would happen if somebody decided to form a religion around the Jedi Knights from Star Wars. Would anybody buy it? Oh, wait! Somebody did. The “Theology of Jediism” has followers around the world, and they take it quite seriously.
So what is true? And who speaks for God?
Well, I’m still figuring that out for myself, and, as Thomas Merton said, “The fact that I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.” None of us can really know for certain that we’re on the right path, but most of us (though, this story shows, not all of us) know in our bones when we’re on the wrong one. The right path isn’t judgment and paranoia. It’s being in it for the long haul, making reasonable choices and entrusting the rest to God in prayer. Not as dramatic as light sabers and alien invaders, maybe, but sure beats hunkering down in a bunker and scanning the sky for mushroom clouds.
More importantly, what have they got that I ain’t got? Answer: Courage, or specifically, the courage of one’s convictions. Now, I like to think that I hold my beliefs pretty strongly, but this whole failed Rapture thing got me thinking. There are people, actual people, who gave up their jobs, sold their belongings, and went around the country trying to convince the rest of us that the end of the world was nigh. Sure, it sounds ridiculous now, and particularly in retrospect because, obviously, we’re all still here. But there were those who believed. Can I imagine myself ever giving up everything in my life for my beliefs? I’m not sure. I don’t know that I have that kind of courage. I’ve never been tested.
A friend of mine and I were once discussing a book that took place during the Nazi occupation of Guernsey Island. The residents were forbidden, under threat of imprisonment or death, to celebrate their faith. My friend assured me that no death threat would keep her from attending religious services; in fact, she would open her home to others to make sure Mass was still celebrated covertly. I didn’t know how to respond to this. I would never give up my faith, but to risk death to attend Mass? I don’t know. There exists the possibility that I would be too frightened. I wouldn’t want to be. I can even delude myself into thinking I would certainly be stronger than that. But maybe I wouldn’t. I can’t say with certainty.
Maybe I’m like the Cowardly Lion of Oz fame, and my courage is there, just buried under a ton of self-doubt. Or maybe I would fail the test of faith. What keeps haunting me is this: People who many considered ill-advised or just plain crazy may have demonstrated more faith than I ever will. Sure, they were wrong about the Rapture, but I can’t help respecting them anyway.
Even when my hands are busy,
help me listen.
Even when I am doing,
help me hear.
Nudge me in the direction
that You need me to go
so that I can do Your work
in the various places
that I find myself
each and every day.
I knit. Saying that you are a knitter isn’t quite the same as saying you are a preacher or a teacher, because people don’t define you by the fact that you take up needles and yarn and turn it into . . . something. But maybe they should.
The one and only time I made a pair of gloves, I had just about finished the second glove. All I had left to do was cut the yarn and work the tail back into the glove. But something made me take a second look. I got out the first glove and put them side by side. Then, I laughed. I laughed so hard that I howled. I had made not one, but two left hand gloves.
The real surprise came when I told several friends about this. “I guess I’ll rip it out tonight and start again,” I said. They shook their heads. “I’d just make two right hand gloves. I couldn’t stand to have wasted all that time.”
Time spent knitting isn’t time wasted, even when I have to pull something apart and try again. It isn’t time wasted because I love the process – the act of pulling one loop of yarn through another and coming up with something entirely different in the end.
Yet, it is more than that. To me, knitting is relaxation. If I sit on our bench outside and knit, I can listen to the sounds of wind and birds and children. If I am too worked up to pray, I knit and purl and purl and knit. As I busy my hands, the task of knitting takes up a certain amount of mental power. Apparently, it takes up just enough brain space to keep my mind busy while simultaneously freeing me from the clutter of scattered thoughts. Because of this, knitting is one of those times that I can hear that still, small voice.
Having to re-knit a glove or a sock or even part of a sweater isn’t a catastrophe. It is simply time to sit quietly and hear what needs to be heard.
When I define myself as a knitter, I’m saying much more than “I make things out of yarn.” I am also saying, “I listen and, sometimes, I hear.”
I entered the garden, my head stuffed with thoughts. (I’m so busy, but I’m not making enough money. When will my “next big thing” arrive? Am I on the wrong path?) It was my husband’s idea, getting year-round passes to our city’s botanical gardens. “We’ll always have something to do on the weekend,” he said. Now (What on earth prompted me to say what I said to our pastor last night? Do I need to bring dessert to the barbecue tonight?) we were there, and my head just would not shut up. Words clanged inside my brain. (Whatwherewhowhenwhatififnotthenwhynot?)
But then something funny happened. God took over. He hit me with smells and textures and green, leafy things. Tea roses in yellow, pink and peach. Strawberry-and-cream pansies. Phlox and flares, lupins and live-4-evers. Orange poppies blooming big as my outstretched hand. Thyme, lavender, lemon verbena. I was knocked out flat.
And suddenly, all I could hear was the wind and the birds and my mind crooning rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice. Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice. Rejoice! Rejoice! Again I say rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice! Again I say rejoice!
I takes a lot to shut off my brain. Fortunately for me, God knew where to send me to make it happen.
“When I look at the galaxies on a clear night – when I look at the incredible brilliance of creation, and think that this is what God is like, then instead of feeling intimidated and diminished by it, I am enlarged…. I rejoice that I am a part of it.”
It was quiet in my local sandwich shop yesterday, and the clerk was sitting at a table finishing his own lunch as I walked in. He grumbled and headed to the other side of the counter.
In the course of his preparing my BLT, I found out that the cranky clerk was actually a fairly decent sort, just fed up with his job. He’d only been there a short time, but you could see it all over his face.
I asked what the staff did on off-hours like this, and he said, “We sit alone with our thoughts. We ruminate.” He smiled at that word, as if to say, look, I’m smart. He told me he was in law school, and had only a year and a half to go before he’d be practicing law.
“What type of law?” I asked. “Financial law,” he replied. “I hear there’s a lot of money in that,” I said, pleased at the unintentional double entendre. He said, soon he wouldn’t have to “Work in a place like this…. making sandwiches.”
As difficult as it was, I kept myself from bursting his bubble. I didn’t want to tell him that even lawyers have to deal with tedium, menial tasks, and Heaven forbid, customers. You may call them “clients” as an attorney, but this little sandwich shop job is the best training anyone could ever ask for.
What happens when your boss gives you a job poring through files, stockpiling figures and cross referencing data for weeks on end? How about when you get a difficult client that thinks your time is less valuable than his?
I wanted to say, I hate to tell you, son, but every job has its moments. The difference is the attitude. At a time when the unemployment rate is sky-high and most of us can’t afford to send our kids to college, much less law school, you’ve got the whole world in front of you, but all you see is the cold cuts and condiments.
Perspective and a positive attitude can transform a dead-end job into a chance to learn life-skills and build character. Whether you’re wearing an apron or a suit to work, you’ll always be working for somebody. You might as well learn how to do it, right where you are.
So many things
are piling up around me.
Let me see the path
that will free me
from all this worry.
Help me feel Your hand
guiding me along the way,
a comforting presence
throughout my day.
When the phone rang on Easter Eve, my husband answered it and then relayed the message. “Cancelled? You can’t cancel Easter at 9:15 the night before,” I said. What was my sister thinking? They’d had no power since Friday night’s storm and she waited over 24 hours to mention it? In my saner moments, I know that she was waiting and hoping. Waiting for the power to come back on. Hoping she could do Easter as planned.
But the fact of the matter is that we Bradford girls are a bit goal oriented. There may be upsides to this trait, but the downside is that we don’t change direction gracefully. We’re more than a tiny bit controlling when it comes to our goals. Re-aiming us is like steering the Titanic. Or a planet.
My goals for Easter had not included having everyone over with so little notice, but I was gamely switching gears, considering the possibilities. What did I have in the freezer? Chicken nuggets? Hash browns? This was not going to be pretty.
While I panicked, my husband got his car keys. “I’ll see if I can get a ham and some kind of cheesecake thing.” And with no more plan than that, he headed to the store. Me? I panicked for a while longer then called a girl friend and whined.
When he returned, the bags yielded a ham, salad fixings, fresh grapes, the last frozen cheesecake in the store, macaroni (for my sister the vegetarian), and cheese to make said mac and cheese. The fresh green beans I hadn’t made earlier in the week would round out the meal and with no more planning than that, we had a solution. But I had to admit, it was more his solution than mine. Left to my own devices, I’d still have been whining.
This whole situation has made me wonder – how often, when a situation seems hopeless, is the problem my focus? What if I could just shift my gaze to God? To the help He’s already sent my way? What if, instead of whining, my prayers were simply to turn the problem, and the solution, over to Him? What if I simply trusted Him to send the help I need as He so often does? Clearly, He knew which of us would best handle the Easter Eve phone call.