Storied Past – 12

In the O R, medical practitioners in blue scrubs darted back and forth with efficiency and skill. At one point, the patient nearly required no more attention as his heart flat-lined, but after quick work by the med team and recent fervent prayer by Marcy, he was brought back from the brink.

Three hours and forty-five minutes later, they were able to deliver him into a room in ICU to wait for his destiny. The fifty-something year old man in the next bed inquired about who was bunking with him. The male nurse only shared that he had been in an accident and needed time to recover.

“How awful,” he thought. “I wonder if I know him. Hope he has good insurance.”

A smallish town like Maple Valley does one thing really well—gossip. By 10:30, the coffee establishment, Holy Grounds Coffee Company was buzzing with details of the accident just down the street. Few people seemed to know many facts but speculation was in abundance.

For instance, the mystery man at the center of the story was unknown but several people suggested it might have been a young man on their block. An older, farmer type gentleman even called the neighbor in question only to be told, “No, it wasn’t my boy, he’s still sleeping.”

Ed Hammberg, the truck driver in the accident, was a wreck himself. He kept telling the other employees at the beer distributorship where he worked that he, “just didn’t see him, I just didn’t see anybody! All of a sudden there he was and I couldn’t do nuthin’ but hit him. I prob’ly killed him; I’m goin’ to jail for sure this time.” His supervisor finally sent him home insisting that he take something and get some rest.

Ramona awoke as the scratchy loudspeaker intoned the imminent schedule. “Bus leaving at 8:05 for Chehalis, Centralia, Tumwater, Olympia, Lacey and points north. Please step out to the bus for your driver to check tickets. Thank you.”

A quick glance at her phone told her she had 12 minutes to get a ticket and head out to the curb. Stiff and cold from the long night on the old oak bench gave her a bit of an attitude. But gathering her thoughts and recalling why she had to sleep on the “far-cry-from-a-Beautyrest” reminded her of the sudden itinerary reversal.

She tore over to the ticket counter. Inquiring whether her destination was for sure in the 8:05 departure, the agent assured her in the affirmative that she would be back home by 1:00 p.m.

It was brisk outside, as she queued up behind two others waiting for the driver to check them on. A cast of big, billowy white and grey clouds moved with synchronous beauty against a rich, deep blue background, illuminated brightly by earth’s closest star.

Maybe her luck was finally changing. That was a shallow thought! She was taught that luck had nothing to do with our lives as Christians. Everything was either in or out of God’s will.

“Ticket please,” the driver requested.

She found a seat near the back hoping that this time she could sit alone. She didn’t want a repeat performance of her last ride! After a few minutes the bus backed out headed for the freeway. Her neighboring seat remained empty.

“Excellent,” she reckoned. “I might even recover some sleep from last night’s miserable experience. At least the seats have some padding.”

Closing her eyes, her thoughts wandered. She felt a twinge of . . . hope; a topic of thought that had been lost back there somewhere. These unusual events appeared to imply that this might be a day offering the nearest thing to hope Ramona had felt for several months.

Maybe it was the “Angel Unaware” Edith experience that caused this feeling. Maybe it was the eerily prophetic baby articles that prompted this expectant promise of near optimism. In any case, fear and anxiety for the future shrunk just a modicum allowing this strange, forgotten feeling of hope to resurface.

Another awareness crept up; this one from a place deeper inside her. Going so far away from home for the reason that had motivated her was really terribly self-centered. Actually, her whole life these last few years had been somewhat; ok, a lot self-centered. But was she only thinking of herself? What was wrong with that? Since turning thirteen or so, she knew she had become more contrary of her parents’ wishes and direction.

Not grasping that disagreement is often a typical behavior that arises from a child differentiating from parents, her sub-conscious defaulted to her religious training for answers. Obedience to the Pastor and her parents was tantamount to obedience to God. “Be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect,” scripture said and God expected perfection!

This rebellion on the outside had now borne fruit on the inside. Not only had Ramona gone out and sinned against God and everybody else, she wanted to erase that sin by running away and even murdering an unborn child. As she thought now, this had to be a completely self-centered pursuit. She could never be perfect again. She was ruined. She was doomed to hell and she knew it.

But if that was the case why did she feel hope? Wasn’t her sin beyond hope? Could she ever be free from shame and guilt again? Wasn’t sex outside of marriage unforgivable, like divorce?

Becky finished dressing and reached for her phone.

“Hey, Jeremy.”

“Hey, Becky. Did you hear about that bad accident yesterday?”

“Yeah. In fact Marcy called me because she was there when it happened.”

“Oh, that’s awful! Is Marcy doing ok?

“Well, that’s why I was calling. I want to find her and take her with me to see the guy in the hospital; to see how he’s doing. Want to go with us?”

“Sure, let me finish a few more sentences on my blog and I will meet you.” Jeremy was a part time journalist/writer/author of Christianity and culture themed topics. “At the hospital then?”

“That works just fine. Say in an hour? I need to be at work this afternoon.”

Becky headed out to find Marcy. She was homeless but there were some predictable areas of downtown she could usually be found. Today was no exception. Becky found her engaged in animated conversation with a street friend. Marcy stopped when she saw Becky approaching.

“Morning, Marcy. I am headed to the hospital to see the young man that was in the accident. Want to tag along?”

“Yep, I sure do! I was just telling my friend Robin here all about it. Turrible accident! I’m s’prised if he din’t git kilt! I’m s’prised if he din’t. Do you think he’s dead, Becky?” She asked excitedly.

“I think we would have heard, Marcy. But I’m meeting Jeremy there in a few minutes. Let’s you and I see if we can find him.”

“Awright. But we prayed so I think he’s gonna be there. He might need to git well but he’s gonna be there, I just know.”

Finding Jeremy and the room where the young man was quartered proved fairly easy. After all, since this was a fairly small town, this was not a large facility.

She went up to the top floor to Room 314 and as she entered she started to walk past the first patient toward the back bed.

She glanced at the first bed’s occupant.

“Oh, Mr. Beckett! I wasn’t . . . I guess I didn’t think you . . . how are you feeling?”

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Storied Past – 11

This is a continuation of a fictional story I started several months ago. All episodes are available on this blog in the archives. The characters are fictional but certain events are in my own history and perhaps yours. Thank you for reading.

Ramona hurried back into the small town bus station with her suitcase and the small flowered bag that Edith had been carrying. The contents, a soft blue blanket and a box containing a baby pacifier, still left Ramona with a cautious hopefulness that somehow, some way this horrible experience could be rectified.

It was dark outside by now and the station was quiet with only a few main lights on. She checked for the next bus north and groaned when she read that no more buses were scheduled that night. What would she do? Sleep on one of these hard benches, she concluded. That didn’t sound fun at all but after finding a corner with some privacy she settled down for the long night ahead.

Wednesday night prayer meeting was well underway. Three hymns had been sung (in their entirety, except for omitting the third verse) when Pastor Marlowe got up to read the prayer requests to everyone.

“Sister Jacobs called in and requested prayer for herself. She has extreme pain in her left shoulder and really wants to be here on Sunday. Her grandson has been on her heart for weeks, too, as his parents seem to be going farther away from God. Please pray for them.”

“And don’t forget Ramona Beckett. You all know she has left the Lord and is careening down a path that will take her to certain disaster. I saw her father this week and he is so broken up over it. Pray that God will sustain him in his resolve to keep the faith. Pray that he will recover quickly from this heart attack.”

Everyone nodded with a knowing affirmation of the serious nature of Ramona’s recent failure. Several other requests were listed and then they all knelt down for the requisite time of petition and thanksgiving.

Near the back a tall, good-looking young man sat awkwardly, wondering how he could gracefully exit without drawing attention or conversation. “This is so weird,” he thought. “I sure made a mistake coming here!” No one had greeted him yet, although several young people glanced his way when they entered at the start of the service.

When he realized now that everyone had their faces buried in the pew he decided he could slip out relatively unnoticed. It did seem that they had some kind of ritualistic agenda that he didn’t understand and they weren’t about to include him anyway.

Outside on the sidewalk, Paul decided this church thing was a bad idea. Lately he had felt some strange feeling of . . . regret or something. Not guilt, mind you, just a strange uneasiness that something was missing, so he thought maybe it was church.

He couldn’t put his finger on it. Since he started high school, he had always lived life as he wanted and at full speed. A basketball star since tenth grade, he went on to lead the team as point guard, captain and then to the regional playoffs. Of course, the perks were there; keg parties, grateful adoring fans, and girls. Always girls. His charming personality seemed to get him anything he wanted, with whomever he wanted. Life was sweet; until just recently.

He ambled down the sidewalk, deep in thought. There was an empty, unfilled place somewhere inside that craved attention. For all the women he “conquered,” he should feel self-satisfied and in control. After all, didn’t he actually live the life most men can only fantasize about?

Suddenly, without warning, his consciousness snapped back to acute awareness. But it was too late! The law of physics will not allow two material bodies to occupy the same space at the same time; the truck settled any question about that.

Becky answered her phone. It was 9:30, Wednesday evening. Marcy was hysterical.

“Becky, Becky! Are you there Becky? Sumpin’ turrible bad, Becky. Come quick, sumpin’ turrible.”

“Marcy, what is it? Where are you? Are you OK?” Becky was alarmed now.

“Yeah, Becky, I’m OK but he isn’t!”

“Who isn’t? Is Jeremy OK?”

“Not Jeremy, Becky, him, some other guy. I don’t know who but he might-a got dead, Becky.”

“Well where are you, Marcy?”

“Uh . . . uh, on Main Street, just past that church what you said Ramona went to, just past.”

“Right! Wait right there; I’m going to come over. Is the ambulance there?”

“No, it just happened! It’s turrible bad, Becky. Please hurry. I’m gonna’ pray for him, OK?”

“Yes, Marcy. You pray and I’m on my way.”

Ramona drifted in and out of fitful sleep, if you could call it sleep. The bench was getting harder and less conformed to her body. She considered the possibility that even natural substances had conspired to insure that she would continue to be miserable.

Images of Edith kept floating by in her sub-consciousness coupled with sounds of snoring from some itinerant on the other side of the small station. Ramona pulled her coat more tightly around herself and over her ears to minimize the irritation.

“What” and “why” were the interrogatives that initiated her linear thinking. What did this bizarre experience mean and why had she experienced it. She had heard of visitations people have had from angels but mostly that happened to more deserving, spiritual people, not sinners like her. Edith drifted back into view, snoring with a pacifier perched precariously in her mouth, a blue blanket pulled up over her ears.

Becky ran all the way to where Marcy was. Red and blue lights flashed up the street behind her as she arrived on the scene. A light drizzle compounded the misery and drama of the late evening.

Marcy. Where was Marcy? Then she saw her; crouched on the ground next to a bloody heap, undistinguishable as a person at first glance.

Becky gasped. Surely this was the end for Mr. Whoever-he-was. As she quickly knelt down next to Marcy she could hear her simple prayers of intervention.

“Oh God, please let him live if he don’t know you. I know you so please listen right now. If he ain’t saved, don’t take him away ‘til we can get him saved. Amen!”

“Amen.” Becky echoed.

“Excuse me, folks, I need to get to him,” the paramedic interrupted.

“Oh, sure.” Becky pulled Marcy back from the near corpse. “Let’s stand back here, Marcy. We can still pray.”

“OK, Becky. He’s gonna be awright, though. God tole me. He’s gonna be OK. I don’t think he knows Jesus yet but he will ‘cause he’s gonna be OK, Becky.”

The paramedic team proved it’s proficiency by speedily and carefully loading Paul up on a field gurney and into the back of the ambulance. Minutes later he was rushed through the Emergency doors of the Hospital and into surgery.

Ramona jerked fully awake. What time was it anyway?

“Oh no, really?” she thought. It’s going to be a long night. Only 9:30! Her tummy felt really strange. No, it wasn’t the baby. She knew it would be too early for that: just a weird sensation. She would sure breathe a sigh of relief when some of this would start making sense!

Work is Calling

Do you have one of those 9-5 jobs, or midnight to 8 am jobs? Or, maybe you are subject to your employer’s whim of whenever they need you. Do you enjoy what you are paid to do? Does it satisfy your need to be creative or productive while serving others? Maybe you wonder if your career has any meaning at all, or is it something to be endured like a dentist appointment.

Our work, our vocation, having a job to do was God’s plan from the start. It is one of the ways, if not the primary way, through which we accomplish our purpose here in the earth. I know, you probably have been taught our prime directive was to evangelize the heathens. Do you remember the first job description in history?

The LORD God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. Genesis 2:15 NLT

This charge to care for and cultivate was considered the prime role for the newly minted man. We were (and are) created with purpose, creativity and destiny. Anything that occupies our time and energy apart from pursuing and engaging with this assignment can only result in short term satisfaction at best, and long term frustration in the end. At worst, a woman or man will be conflicted about her/his reason for existence and end it all leaving only a life of self-indulgence and guilt as a legacy.

For some, a career is merely a job that provides a paycheck, healthcare, a two week vacation and a bit of retirement. We go home and forget the hard work, the overbearing boss and the never-ending tasks of each dreary day.

But, we are created with purpose and intent. Through vocation, avocation and work we live out that purpose. We contribute, through the work we do, to the greater good of culture, to our deep satisfaction and the purpose of God’s Kingdom, Shalom, by discovering the work that we are created and gifted to do and do it.

Lest you think I’m suggesting all work and no play are the only options, I truly believe play is a huge piece of a satisfying life. (Read: The Well-Played Life by Leonard Sweet) Most religions take themselves too seriously and forget that the creation story proves God himself loves a good time. Christianity has a recent history of emphasizing the seriousness of piety at the expense of richly enjoying the life God gave us.

Activity, or keeping busy, isn’t enough. Having a highly honored position or profile or being recognized by the masses isn’t the measure of faithful service, either. Festus, of Gunsmoke fame was heard to have said, “I think our national symbol should be a mule. Now the eagle is a beautiful bird and all, but I just think he should be down here on the ground where the work is bein’ did.” What he says so well is that the bird of popularity and veneration often doesn’t get as much done as an animal that is generally ignored, or worse.

Until the Reformation of the 16th century, Christianity was heavily influenced by Platonic inspired theology. Strong gnostic dualism shaped the way they looked at creation. Anything material was evil. Depriving oneself of things and being spiritually minded alone was good. Consequently, people who wanted to pursue the spiritual life denied themselves all physical possessions and pleasures in favor of poverty and prayer.

This led to monasticism being perceived as the highest form of spirituality and individual piety the highest form of worship. Unfortunately, these well-meaning individuals deserted society in order to seek personal enlightenment in solitude and temptation avoidance.

But finding rewarding work that promotes and advances the kingdom values and then pursuing that task faithfully in community is what accomplishes our calling and purpose. It is about actually making progressive strides by whatever sized increments toward Shalom in this world through divine directive. To quote Martin Luther; “God milks his cows by those farmers he has assigned to that task.”

Further, God gives us great latitude in how we participate in Kingdom bringing efforts. He has given us the capacity to dream, invent, build, mend, organize and harmonize. Our creative minds are inspired by God and energized by faith to not only be, but do!

Our doing is not ordered by rules or authoritarian constraints of our faith but is animated and freed to do whatever our creative minds and hearts dream up that serve to make disciples and a better world.

Rather than instructing godly people to flee this evil world, the gospel urges Christians to remain engaged in the world so that they might reform their various vocations for the glory of God. Heaven is a Place on Earth: Michael Wittmer

It seems that there is a wide range of human creativity in our works of faith. St. Paul gives space to those who have God inspired ideas by invoking His blessings on those works. What kind of works? Those that minds of faith have dreamed up. They are acts of creativity that promote and extend the Kingdom. Ideas that are wholesome and bring joy and service to humanity; those activities that are building relationships, healing brokenness in humanity and the earth are what the Kingdom seeks.

Because we know that this extraordinary day is just ahead, we pray for you all the time—pray that our God will make you fit for what he’s called you to be, pray that he’ll fill your good ideas and acts of faith with his own energy so that it all amounts to something. If your life honors the name of Jesus, he will honor you. Grace is behind and through all of this, our God giving himself freely, the Master, Jesus Christ, giving himself freely. (2 Thessalonians 1:11, 12 MSG)

So carry on with milking, making, marketing, mining, ministering or plowing with your ass. Do it with a renewed passion out of your calling and gifting. Do it with assurance that it is God-inspired and directed. Be creative. Be successful. Be fulfilled.

Favor Flavor

There is an aspect of grace that I haven’t thought much about. When the phrase unmerited favor is the definition, my mind usually fixates with the unworthy, unmerited, I can’t earn it part. That is, I focus on the fact that it is not about working to be good enough for God’s love. I think I get that piece, and it is very important, but I want to explore the other word. What about the object of that statement; the favor part?

Maybe you were the favorite child, the one who got the new clothes and toys while your siblings got your hand-them-downs. Or perhaps you weren’t the favorite and you got the cast offs from your brother (even if you were the sister). I was the favorite one on which setting the benchmark of discipline was exercised because I am the oldest. I was the guinea pig, the test case. Talk about undesired favoritism!

Favor can apparently be institutionalized. There are world organizations that confer “most favored nation status” on those nations whom the organization wants to honor (or pander to). Politicians do the same with certain PACs or demographics for the purpose of getting re-elected and maintaining power.

We know some folks who are party favors (gifts and trinkets given to us when we attend an event) who we love to be around because they make us laugh and keep things exciting. We hang around them because we feel good about ourselves and forget about the stresses of everyday life. In this context they are a gift to us, a favor we don’t earn but enjoy above our regularly scheduled life.

Speaking of regular life, there are some folks who don’t seem to have favor or blessings of any kind. They talk about never getting a break. They have a poverty spirit; always struggling for their needs while “spending money they don’t have for things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like.”

Not all who possess little are like this and I want to steer away from measuring favor as the amount of material goods one has. Neither do I want to infer that these people are not followers of Jesus. But we probably wouldn’t consider favoring another if they lived like jerks or lived selfishly or stupidly. Nor do we care to be around them.

There are also those who have a great deal of stuff you wouldn’t care to hang with. They are selfish. They disdain others who are “out of their league” and use power and influence to manipulate and control others. If you are this way, the stuff you have may attract those who are covetous but don’t really favor you. You may have influence or power and others will want to be around you for what you can give them or do for them.

Why do we instinctively pull away from these types of people? Isn’t it because we don’t want to be around them or their ilk? This natural revulsion might clue us in that we were not created to be or live in such a manner?

You’ve met people with favor. You and others want to be around them; perhaps hoping some of their blessing might rub off on you. They are people who are enjoyable, who make you feel valued; people who are wise and discerning, who care, who are generous. Their character and actions are just and gracious, kind and benevolent. But it seems that not all followers of Jesus have this favor.

God loves us all the same but some people have more favor than others.
– Bill Johnson

Jesus’ mother, Mary, was highly favored by God. She had his favor. Take a look again at that wedding where Jesus made some excellent wine from ordinary H2O. When Jesus said that his time had not yet come, the plans were changed. Why? Because of Mary. Mary was so favored by God that the time of Jesus’ miracle working days were started early.

Another story; this from the early church:

And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. Acts 4:33 ESV

I believe the apostles were favored with grace because even though they had just been released from prison, they had such integrity of character that they didn’t allow circumstances to bring resentment, fear or intimidation. They didn’t withdraw to some addiction to find solace or comfort. They didn’t even seek justice for being mistreated.

What they did do was ask God for strength and power to resume ministering just like they had been doing–only ramped up a bit. God favored (graced) them with a fresh dose of Holy Spirit, unity, miracles and community support.

So how does one live so that favor is upon that one? Let me bring it closer to home. How do you and I live so as to have favor with God and humanity?

Divine favor is a unique quality. It is about who you are, not your stuff. People want to be around you because there is something you are that they respect and honor (honor is closely associated with favor; they often seem to be present together).

There may be a time you need something to happen but the facts or the rules or history may be against it coming to pass, yet it happens because someone, perhaps not even intentionally, will arrange it so. There seems to be components of character that invite favor.

Other times, because of who you are, your integrity, your character or reputation, people of influence will honor you with favor when others would not have been able to achieve a solution, success or position.

When we are favored by God, doors will open in front of us. Pathways ahead will be groomed clean and resources will be provided without struggle on our part. People, prompted by something they don’t even understand, will choose you, have favor toward you, call you to a greater position, give you material blessings and honor you because of your character and the favor of God. Sounds like a party I’d want to attend!