Friday, November 27, 2009

Things about which I'm Thankful

It's funny how Thanksgiving rolls around and it seems there is a nation-wide urge to suddenly become grateful or, at the very least, a willingness to publicly acknowledge "an attitude of gratitude". You know what I am talking about. Politicians and celebrities get their "God voice" on and, speaking in dulcet tones, inform us how thankful they are. Then to prove it, they spend four hours of one day serving at the homeless shelter (photo op nirvana). That makes me somehow want to NOT say anything, not jump on the band wagon, so to speak. I really am overwhelmingly grateful to my Lord for his constant, pervasive generosity that I find I don't want to get mixed up with the "fair weather" thankers (does that make sense?).
I tell people all the time how God sustains CAT every single day. He really does! I was talking to one of my sister-in-laws on Thanksgiving and I was telling her how incredible it is to be in the center of a miracle. [See my blog dated 11/11/09 for the story of the Miracle]. The idea that God is literally moving in our midst, bending people, places and events for His good purpose RIGHT NOW is hard for some people to wrap their minds around. Sure God parted the Red Sea, caused Jonah to be swallowed up then vomited out of a great fish and brought Lazarus back from the dead but that was a Loooooong time ago. The truth that He is (or wants to be) every bit as involved in our lives as He was in the lives of Moses or Jonah can just make your mind explode with that notion. God wants us to know him intimately, wants us to know he is RIGHT HERE, working all things together for His good. I think most of us are kind of sceptical about God's presence. I will bet I am not the only one who has asked (sometimes not in the nicest way) for God to just write the answer to some burning question or need clearly across the sky. Am I right? You have haven't you? "God, I don't know what to do. Tell me. Write it in BIG letters in the sky". Well sometimes he does that too.
About three weeks ago I was praying about Mark's job situation. He had just been laid off from the company he had worked for for 27 years. I was, to be honest, freaking out about it. Mark and I are, for all intents and purposes, just this side of old. (Is it true that 50 is the new 30?). I was laying on my bed, staring out my window as I talked to God about Mark's lack of a job ("...and God, did you know unemployment in Riverside County is over 15%... Did you know that, God?) I looked out my window and saw this unusual cloud formation and I thought : "Those look like fingers, fingers". I grabbed my camera and went into my back yard to snap a couple of shots. I was really thinking that it looked like a huge hand - "God's hand", I thought. It wasn't until I came back into the house and downloaded the pictures on to my computer that I noticed the other cloud in the shot. If you look closely, it appears to be an open hand releasing a bird (creatively speaking). I thought how lovely of God to create that picture for me! He hears us when we pray and, glory be, writes (or "paints") it across the sky now and then! I am so thankful for the way God works in and through my life every single day.
What else? Today I talked to my dad for about 20 minutes on the phone about football, his grandsons, my pies.. Just stuff that dads and daughters like to discuss. I'm so thankful that my parents are still here even though they've got glory waiting for them. My parents are heroes to me and I love that the Lord is still using them daily for his good purpose. My folks are caring for my Auntie Carol who had a devastating stroke 15 months ago. They love her so they don't think of it as anything except a joy but it's hard work and very stressful at times. Auntie Carol is the dearest person, practically an angel, but, even still, it's a lot for someone nearly 85 like my dad and in her mid-70's like my mom. I am thankful for the example they are to me as they serve the Lord at a time when some would say, "Hey Bob and Pat, you've done enough - take it easy." Nope. They are blessing us with their generosity of heart and spirit. I pray I can be just like them when I grow up.
So thank you, Lord for your presence and for my parents: I am one grateful girl!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

She Wasn't Supposed to be There

It was a simple invitation to speak at a Christmas Tea at a church in Prescott, Arizona. Over the years I have given my Christmas talk dozens of times and I thought it would be fun to go to Prescott. I'd drive to Phoenix, pick up my mom and then the two of us would zip up to the mountains for the weekend. What a delight! Of course, when the invitation to speak came 6 months ago, I didn't know then that it would opening weekend of our fall youth production of Annie Warbucks. In fact, there was a lot I didn't know would be happening in my life and, if I had, I probably would have turned the invitation down. Turns out, that would have been a terrible mistake. You see, I was supposed to be there.
So Friday morning, November 6th, I hopped into my rental car, made the drive to Phoenix and picked up my mom. It was already 4 o'clock AZ time when I got there and we still had the 2 hour drive north up White Spar mountain. I was a bit concerned because I hadn't spent enough time reviewing my talk for the next day. By the time we arrived at our hosts' home, had dinner with them and got settled it was after 9:00 PM and I needed some serious prep time for the 9:30 AM event.
One of the things I really love about my Christmas talk is that its funny and lighthearted. I get to sing and do some acting, share some funny memories. It's a blessing! As I was reading through the end of my talk, thinking about sharing God's plan of salvation, the Lord clearly spoke to me. Yes, he clearly spoke. He told me he wanted me to be more transparent with the women - share what is happening in my own life.
"No", I said (not out loud). "I don't want to - this is a fun, carefree day, I don't want to make it about me or bring them down" Besides, I have this patented talk I have been giving for years with a "tied up neat as a bow" salvation call and prayer at the end.
But I couldn't sleep. I kept thinking about that voice saying, "Be transparent".
You see, three weeks earlier, as I was preparing to head over to my office, my husband Mark, walked in the door. It was 9:00 in the morning.
"What are you doing home?", I asked.
"It's over", he calmly replied.
Clueless, I asked, "What's over?"
"My job. I've been laid off", he said.
After 27 years at the same company, Mark was laid off. And, even though Mark had been warning me of this possibility, I never really believed it would happen. "Devastating" was the first word that popped into my mind.
A week later, my office manager and I were looking at the completely dismal state of our current finances at CAT, my non-profit theater arts education program. This is not a good time to be non-profit, especially a Christian Theater Arts non-profit. Over the past 11 years, though, I have seen again and again the Lord work in marvelous ways to sustain CAT. It has been the greatest blessing to see his hand in everything we do. So it is embarrassing to admit that I was feeling panicked. With only a few days until the next payroll was due and all the expenses surrounding our current production, the word "bleak" leaped into my mind.
Devastating? Bleak? Those are the words I thought of first when faced with these truly difficult situations. And yet, honestly why? I hate it that its so typical of me to think that, although God has helped CAT so many times, in so many amazing ways, I am sure he MUST be thinking, "What? Again? Can't you CAT people take care of yourselves for once? There are LOTS of other things that need my immediate attention".
Then, this past Thursday, November 5th, I got a call from my son, Jordan, who is in the army. It was about 11:45 AM - very unusual for him to call in the middle of the day.
"Mom, there's something going on here at the base, something about a shooter. I'm fine, I'm locked down in my office. Could you check the news and let me know what's going on?" As my son was hunkered down in the Battalion headquarters building, right across the street an Islamic terrorist was gunning down 13 innocent soldiers and wounding 30 others. "Terrifying" seems like a good word.
I didn't want to be transparent about these things, this lack of trust in God. I wanted to be fun and perky and give these women a really enjoyable celebration of the season. But God reminded me something that happened later on Thursday night after the massacre at Ft. Hood.
I was talking to my friend, Bonnie Huckabee. Bonnie's daughter, Georgia, will soon be my new Daughter-in-law when she and Jordan marry this next June. I was sharing with Bonnie the weight of all the things going on in my life and she shared the greatest verse with me - a verse that had brought comfort when her family was facing some particularly tough times.
2 Chronicles 2:12 (not what you were expecting, right?) The situation in this chapter of 2 Chronicles is one where the Israelites, led by King Jehoshaphat, are facing a vast army bent on destroying them. Vs: 12b says: " We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you". I love that - it really hit home with me because that is exactly how I felt.
So here I was, late Friday night, trying to get to sleep but unable to because I knew God wanted me to take the risk of being transparent with the ladies at the event the next day. I got back up, rewrote the entire ending of my talk and then drifted off.
On Saturday my mom and I drove to the church - it was beautiful. The unusual aspect of the event was that I was to speak first then we'd all troop down to the fellowship center for lunch and the rest of the festivities.
I wound my way through my presentation and when I got to the end I took that God-inspired detour. I told the ladies that they might be thinking that since I was the "speaker" it must mean my life was perfect... that I didn't really know how tough things could be.
Here's my reality I said.... then I shared about Mark losing his job, Jordan's brush with terror and the current state of finances for CAT, the fact that I did not know how I was going to make payroll in 8 days and I did not know what to do.. but my eyes were on the Lord (citing 2 Chronicles).
I went on to share how the only gift that really mattered this season was Jesus and his salvation. "Do you really know how much our God loves us?", I asked. Ephesians 1: 7 & 8 tell us that "in Christ Jesus, we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins in accordance with the riches of God's Grace that he LAVISHED on us with all wisdom and understanding". He has lavished us with his grace. Astounding truth. I may not know what to do but my eyes are on God who has Lavished his grace on me with all wisdom and understanding.
It was so freeing to share it all with these women. I mean, I was preachin' it and loving every minute because I was being obedient to my Lord - even if it was hard to be that transparent.
After I finished I had a wonderful opportunity to give and receive lots of encouragement. I knew I had made the right decision to make the trip - I knew I was supposed to be there.
As we all settled down for lunch, a beautiful young woman slipped into the seat next to me and asked me if she could speak to me privately outside. I had never seen her before and, since I was not wearing my glasses, I could only read her first name on her name tag: Angela.
We stepped outside into the hallway. I think the first thing she said to me was, "I was not supposed to be here."
She went on to explain that she hadn't bought a ticket to the sold-out event but the pastor's wife had called her that morning and said a ticket had been turned back in - would she like to come?
She went on to ask me a couple of questions about CAT and then she said, "I think I can help you".
I promptly burst into tears.
Angela explained that she and her husband had inherited some money. They had purposed to set aside a portion as a tithe and were waiting for the Lord to let them know what to do with the money.
Again Angela said to me, "I was not even supposed to be here but when I heard you share about your non-profit, the Lord spoke to me and said - this is it,this is who I want you to help."
I couldn't believe my ears. I thought I was going to faint. Then Angela asked, "How much money do you need?"
That brought me up straight. What a difficult question. Do I tell her the true amount? Will that make her think - WOW! If they need that much, I don't want to waste my money"? Do I make up a number? Do I tell her a low amount that I am pretty sure she will be able to give? I literally closed my eyes, prayed for God to say the number and the words, "$15,000" came out of my mouth. Angela's eyes flew open very wide and she actually took a step back. I grabbed her arm and with every ounce of true sincerity I had, I told her that ANY amount would be amazing and I would be very, very grateful.
Angela told me she needed to talk to her husband and she would get back to me.
I returned to the luncheon and didn't say a word to anyone. My mind was reeling at first and then, you know what, I just let it go. I relaxed and enjoyed myself.
About the time the dessert was being served, I glanced up and there was Angela, standing in the doorway back out to the hall way. She was gesturing to me to come and join her.
She started out, "Well, I called my husband." Let me say, I didn't realize she meant she was going to call her husband RIGHT THEN. She went on, "He was in complete agreement with me"
Then Angela reached out her hand and laid a check for $15,000 in my hand. $15,000. I didn't even know her last name. She knew virtually nothing about CAT. As I was stammering and blabbering "thank you" in every way I could, she said that sentence again, "I wasn't even supposed to be here."
But she was. She followed God's call to come to a Christmas Tea for no apparent reason.
I thought I shouldn't have come either. But I did. And I followed God's call to be obedient by sharing my own struggles with those women.
I asked Angela's permission to share with the ladies what had just transpired and she reluctantly agreed. As I was called up to close the event in a word of prayer, I asked the women to give me just three more minutes, to (as Paul Harvey would say) tell them the"rest of the story".
There was great cheering and applause as I shared how Angela's gift met all our needs for days ahead. Just enough.
As you read this, I hope you see how clearly impossible this whole story is. That only a Loving God could orchestrate it, knowing the outcome would be wholly glorifying to him. There is NO way this could have happened outside of God.
I really pray that you are touched in some way by this story: If you are in a dark place, trust that God is walking through it with you. If you don't know him, Oh, more than anything I hope this will entice you to seek a personal relationship with him. He wants to LAVISH you with the riches of his Grace with all wisdom and understanding.
I'm so glad I found myself in that place with Angela. We were both supposed to be there.
Post Script: Today, November 11, 2009, my husband Mark began his new full-time job with a company here in Corona. God is faithful beyond all measure!