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Saturday, June 27, 2015

Morning Confrontation

Having received the answer for which I’d been searching during my lakeside retreat, I put the issue of the little brothers on the back-burner of my mind. I’d already waited months; God’d bring the children who needed a home when He had everything in place. No point thinking about it night and day.

The following workweek occupied my days with the usual myriad of administrative tasks, as well as a few hospital employee issues to liven things up a bit. Still under the glow of the special weekend, neither the boredom of the routine paperwork nor the lightly heated confrontations dampened my joy.

A few days into the week, I pulled into the angled parking spot in front of the post office. Lillian had an appointment that morning, so I agreed to fetch the hospital mail on my way to work. I hadn’t noticed the little girls at first, but when I stepped up on the curb, I recognized the familiar faces.

 “Hey, there kids! Havin’ a picnic breakfast out here this mornin’?” I smiled at the two girls standing nearby, as I reached for the handle of the glass door.

Passing the open dry cereal box back and forth, the two grungy, little girls nodded, cheeks bulging like chipmunks. The condition of the neglected rag-a-muffins broke my heart every time I saw them. I stepped around them and pushed the Post Office door open wondering where their baby sister might be. I’d not seen the mother so reckoned she had the infant with her.

Both little girls turned to smile up at me as I exited the building. “My baby sister’s in the car,” the oldest girl announced, pointing to the vehicle parked at the curb 20 yards away. “Her was sleeping so Mama left her there and told us to wait outside.” The bright red hair of this darling freckle-faced four-year-old was sticky with remnants of another mealtime, some of which dotted her simple cotton shift.

Walking over to the vehicle, I found the infant filthy, asleep on the backseat of the car. A lump swelled in my throat. My gaze rested on the baby’s grimy, light brunette hair splayed across the side of her tiny face. She wore only a soggy diaper that looked squished against the seatback.

“Oh, Jesus, can’t you help these kids?” I said in a low whisper, before returning to her sisters.

“This here’s Jamie* and I’m Deni*. Her don’t talk so I talk for her,” said the older girl, pointing her thumb towards the skinny younger sister. 

Jamie, a  cute little African-American two-year-old, tipped her head up at me and smiled. Crumbs of dry cereal fell from her lips.  Tightly-kinked jet-black curls capped Jamie’s precious little head. Like her two sisters, she’d not had a bath recently.

To my shame, I was relieved that they had not reached up to shake my hand as kids here so often did. My late start that morning influenced my behavior towards the sticky fingers of the girls. I didn’t want to have to take time to wash before resuming my drive over to the office. Like that was more important than showing love and acceptance to two emotionally starved kids, right? I chided myself as I slid onto the driver’s seat.

Glancing in the rearview mirror as I rounded the corner, I saw the little girls still waving at me. My painfully burning eyes let go a deluge of tears as I pleaded with God. “Someone has got to do something, Lord! Won’t You, please, help these kids?”

I hurried past the hospital lobby, relieved that no one had stopped me. Still sniffling from my morning confrontation, I made my way up the stairs to my office, and sank into my desk chair. I couldn’t get the sight of those poor little girls out of my mind. Something had to be done to help them. Reaching for my phone, I dialed Jeanette.

Hi, John!” I said. “I’m looking for your wife, but maybe you have some idea. It’s about the Anderson* kids,” I said. I heard John’s groan before he spoke.

“Those poor little girls. Are they there at the hospital? Did one of them get hurt by one of their mother’s boyfriends or something?”

“No. No. Nothing like that. I just talked with them. They’re alone in front of the post office; the baby’s in the back seat of a car. They’re waiting for Mary*, who is probably in the attorney’s office. That’s where I found her car anyway.”

“It’s one of the saddest families. She’s likely going to leave the present man, or at least, that’s what Jeanette and I understood from Deni the other day.”

“A four-year-old told you her mother’s getting a divorce?” Such a heavy load for a little girl.

“Yes, but the children didn’t know when or if that would mean they would live in yet another house. We’re not sure they’re in the same residence now, actually. My wife and I try to keep an eye on them, but we’re not seeing them in the usual places for some reason.”

“Oh, John. Can it get any worse for these little girls?

Hanging up the phone, I thought about the two brothers the social worker had been trying to place in my home for months. Of similar ages as these three little girls, my heart broke for all of the unwanted children in our world.

Little did I know that within two days, I’d be so busy caring for children that my heart
wouldn’t have time to hurt for those outside my home.

*Name changed.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

I Need Answers: Conclusion

Crawling out of the pup tent, the early-morning chill hit my face. I drew in a quick breath, not yet awake enough to anticipate the cold air. Still, something had changed. The sky lacked the beautiful burst of morning colors I’d come to expect. I scooted on my backside, shaking my feet free of the sleeping bag. I didn’t see my dog, Nahum, in his usual place next to the tent.

“Nahum! Hey, buddy, where’d you go? Nahum?” The sound of a whimper made me turn my head towards the car.

Long white legs inched out from underneath the side of my bright-red car. I waited until the Griffon-Husky mix slid the rest of his slender body out and stood looking at me. From a few feet away, I could see nothing wrong.

“What’s the matter, Nahum? Are you sick? You don’t look like you’ve been hurt.” The dog acted funny. Usually, he came running to me, without hesitating.

A sharp clap of thunder put my worry to rest. Nahum shot back under the car before the streak of lightning broke through the overcast sky.

I walked over, kneeling by the car. “Oh poor, Nahum. I’m so glad that it’s only a storm.” I stretched out my right arm, searching for his paws under the car. I wanted to laugh, but I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. I stroked the top of his paws, speaking in a soothing voice to quiet his whimpers. Poor Nahum hated thunderstorms.

“Okay, boy. You just stay hunkered down under there. I’ll pack up the tent and our gear. I can read my Bible and pray inside the car this morning. Maybe it’ll clear, so you and I can play with your stick one last time.”

I sang while I packed things in their containers, stuffing everything in the trunk. Once finished, I opened the car door. The wind off the lake literally howled, inflating the tee shirt I wore. “Okay, Nahum. I’m ready to get in the car. Want to jump in and wait out the storm inside?”

Nahum never moved from underneath the car. I slid behind the wheel just as the downpour began. The powerful winds tossed sheets of water against the windshield, twirling and splashing streams against the other windows and doors. The heavy vehicle rocked from side to side. I couldn’t hear anything coming from under the car, but I had no doubt my poor dog would be whimpering with fright. Frankly, I gave a good gasp or two myself.

As the storm raged on, I began to calm. After all, God had created the storm, too. For the past two days, I’d enjoyed the beauty of the lake, it’s shoreline and pristine waters with the sun making the gentle ripples sparkle. Now, the waves thrashed as the violent winds tossed them in all directions. I’d not be doing my prayer walk along the shore this morning.

A quiet settled over me. I sensed that the Lord wanted to speak to me. My heart rate increased as I anticipated what God would say. I began to sing soft hymns of praise.

Reaching for my Bible, I rested it against the steering wheel in front of me. Whispering the choruses of worship, my thoughts reviewed the special time of prayer and fasting I’d experienced over the weekend. I’d come to this remote location, seeking the answer to one question. Did God want me to continue pursuing the paperwork to receive two little brothers who needed a home, or had I managed to take off on some rabbit trail and totally missed God’s will for me?

During the other times of Bible study, I’d just indiscriminately opened the Bible and began reading. I took a lot of notes to help me stay focused. I had no plan. I just read until I sensed the time had come to go for a prayer walk or grab my guitar or even play with the dog.

The thunderstorm lessened, but the rainfall continued dotting my windshield. I started to open the Bible but then hesitated. Sensing God had a particular passage He wanted me to read, I waited to hear His direction.

Soon, the rain changed to a gentle mist, blanketing me with God’s perfect peace. Read Matthew chapter eighteen, verse five, dropped into my waiting mind.

My breaths came in short burst. I felt the pounding of my heart. With uncoordinated fingers hastily flipping pages, I located the chapter in Matthew’s gospel. Tears flowed freely down my face as I read:

“And whosoever receives one such child in My name, also receives Me.”

I read the entire chapter but repeatedly returned to Matthew 18:5. The expanding warmth radiating from deep inside my heart convinced me that this verse represented God’s direct answer.

Yes, God wanted me to welcome children who needed a safe home. I would receive them in His name, and God would see that I had all I needed to care for them.

As I prayed my thanksgiving to God, the clouds parted—like in a Hollywood movie—and a bright beam of sunshine shone through. I began laughing and cheering. Nahum heard and bumped at my door.

“Okay Nahum, we can go home now. Hop in,” I said as I opened the passenger door. I’d planned to take him for a walk before leaving, but my excitement to get back and share what had happened with Carroll had wiped from memory earlier plans. Nahum didn’t seem to mind. He probably wanted to leave in case the thunder might return.

Driving away from the lake, I had not a single doubt that I’d be ready for the brothers, ages four and six; God would see to that. I’d soon discover that God had been preparing me for an entirely different emergency situation. One that didn’t involve the two boys at all. 

Saturday, June 13, 2015

I Need Answers: Part II

As the sun turned the darkness into an array of increasing bright colors, I pulled my body free of the sleeping bag. I loved the sunrise at the lake as much as the sunset. My Griffon-Husky mix, Nahum, not being a morning dog, snored away just next to the tiny pup tent. Once again, he missed the gorgeous display of God’s celestial handiwork.

As I had the previous morning, I strolled the lake-shore, praying and singing. I needed God to speak to me about taking in kids—was He asking me to provide a safe home for them or not? Fasting meant that I could hit the shoreline at the break of day with no thoughts of preparing or cleaning up after meals to distract me.

The fishermen twenty yards from my tent had yet to stir by the time I ambled back to my campsite. Their rigs sat on a slightly elevated ridge, so their raucous late-night carrying's on had delayed my slumber. Looking over at their campsite, I asked God to help me focus so the visitors’ activities wouldn’t interfere with my study and prayer.

Later that morning, Nahum sat at my feet while I read my Bible. The sound of a young voice made me lift my head. “Hey, lady! I saw you and that dog of yours playing with a stick. What’s his name?”

“Howdy! His name is Nahum. Yeah, he loves fetching the stick. It looks like you’re going fishing,” I said, pointing to the toy rod and reel in his hand.

“You betcha I am! It’s my first time ever,” he said, holding up the new fishing rod. “My uncle bought this for me and said they’d bring me with them so I could try it out.”

“Looks like a nice one. How old are you?”

“I’m five. My uncle said that’s the perfect age to learn to fish.”

“I reckon it is,” I said to the bouncing lad, so excited he couldn’t stand still. Before either of us could speak again, the sound of a man’s voice calling filled the air.

“I gotta go, lady. That’s my uncle. It’s time to fish.”

“Hope you get a big one!” I called after the youngster though I doubted that he heard.

Soon, a tall man walked past my campsite, the eager young boy kicking up dirt as his short legs worked hard to keep up. He stretched his head back, waving his new toy rod at me with a man-sized grin.

“Now, the first thing about fishing is that you have to stop talking, Buddy. It’s important that we don’t scare away the fish. Once you get that line in the water, you can’t speak at all—not one word.”

“I know, Uncle; you keep telling me that, but what if I got a question?”

“You hear that, Nahum,” I said to my dog. “This little guy’s gonna have a hard time with that first rule about fishing.” Nahum barked. Agreement?

Once the seasoned fisherman and his rookie had left my line of sight, I took up my guitar. I enjoyed quietly strumming chords and jotting down words that came to mind. This one just might make a good praise chorus if I worked it up.

Late in the afternoon, the two returned from their adventure. The muscle-bound man the boy had called Uncle, carried a big Northern Pike in one hand while responding to the constant chatter of the youngster at his side.

Approaching my campsite, the uncle spoke, “Can you believe that? I’ve got this $300 rod and a $150 high-speed, thumb-action reel attached right there, but what do I catch? Nothing!”

“You mean you didn’t catch that monster of a Northern you’re holding?” I stared at the more than three-foot long fish as I spoke.

“I caught it! I caught that fish!” said the boy, jumping up and down, and swinging his little fishing pole in the air like a champion’s trophy. “I did it all myself.”

Raising my eyebrows, I looked at the uncle. “Yeah, he did. I stood by and grabbed the Pike at the last minute. The poor little guy was about to fall into the lake. That thing probably weighs near as much as he does. He can’t hold it up ‘cuz he’s not that much taller than the Northern Pike is.”

“And, he caught that fish with his toy fishing rod and reel?” I said, totally dumbfounded at the thought.

“$2.95 at K-Mart,” the uncle said. “That includes the reel, which is attached. “

“Hmm? Sounds like you got a real deal on the winning pole then,” I said laughing so hard that tears began to fall.

“C’mon, Uncle! We gotta show my fish to the others. Stop talkin’,” said the young champion, hopping and tugging at the shirt tales of the veteran fisherman.

Before long, the delightful scent of frying fish filled the air. The boy’s fish fed them all. Good thing, too, because he caught the only fish of the day.

Watching the sunset that evening, my thoughts turned to the wonderful day the young boy had just experienced. His joy began when his uncle bought him the fishing pole. Had he not followed-through to include the tiny boy in the men’s outing, it would have been just another toy in his room.

The desire to make a child feel that good about himself, and to have that kind of influence in his life, made my heart ache. I wanted to affect the lives of children in the same way.

“Oh Father God, will you bring those children who desperately need a home into my life, or should I be praying for someone else to receive them? Should I continue preparing for them?”

I began to feel anxiety take over, with disappointment sure to follow. Then, I thought about what I’d seen there on the lake that day.

Right after enjoying the delicious meal, the fisherman packed up and moved to another part of the lake. No doubt hoping to use that expensive equipment in a more fish-fertile spot. Did God have them camp near me to teach me a lesson?

I began to laugh. “I get it, Lord! I really do,” I said to the setting sun. “It didn’t matter that the uncle had the more expensive fishing equipment. You decided to make that little guy’s day; the plastic, toy rod and reel didn’t hinder you to work Your blessing for the boy.”

I thought about God calling that huge Northern Pike to come hook on to the youngster’s wiggling minnow. How in the world could the weight of that fish not break the thin fishing line, or snap the plastic rod in half? I had no doubt the one Who created that fish kept him hooked until the boy brought him in to shore. Nothing is impossible with God.

“If You want me to receive those children, there isn’t anything that can hinder You, God. They’ll come according to your time, and You’ll see that I’m ready. Are You asking me to receive the children or is it something of my own doing?” I said to the chilly darkness.

When I snuggled down into my sleeping bag that night, I found it hard to relax. I’d allowed three days of prayer and fasting. The next day the sun would dawn on Day Three. I’d had a terrific time studying the Bible, praying and singing, but would the Lord answer my questions or would I leave with the uncertainty with which I’d come?

Saturday, June 6, 2015

I Need Answers: Part I

Letting my imagination run wild, I pictured the faces of two little boys crawling out from under the covers on the bunks. When would the little guys come to fill those beds? I accidentally backed into the changing table, as I moved towards the door.

“Who is this baby table intended to serve, Lord? I put it here because I didn’t have anywhere to store it, but there’s probably someone whose little mother could use it, isn’t there?” As I voiced my questions, I played with the baby clothing now filling the compartments of the changing table. “Well, even if I’d been wrong to buy these things when I bought the boys’ beds, someone, somewhere, out there will need it eventually. Just show me who, Lord.”

The weeks turned into months, as I anticipated receiving two little boys who needed a home. Martha* still had no definite timetable as she waited for court-related documents to be signed. The hospital administrator’s duties filled my days, but I kept an ear out for the call that would bring the boys to fill those beds.

“Got a minute? I want to tell you about a rental that’s just now available,” my friend said. “There’s lots more room in the house and the yard. Plus, it’s cheaper than where you are now.”

The house came partly-furnished, but I’d need a refrigerator, as well as a washer/dryer to help care for the boys. I loved that it had an upright piano, and a large, round wooden dining table with chairs.

The big, old house had character. It also had a coal-burning furnace in the basement. Hmm? That’d be a new experience for me.

Almost before I knew what was happening, all of my things resided in the new, old house. I put the changing table back in the boys’ room, and the crib had been re-assembled in my bedroom once again. I just hoped I’d find the new owner of the baby things before the boys arrived.

As the months passed since that first meeting of foster parents willing to adopt, I began to entertain anxious thoughts. Had the Lord really been prompting me to prepare for kids to live in my home? Would the two little boys for whom I’d been preparing really come? Had I totally missed God’s direction, now completely off-track from that on which I should be focusing?

“I’ve decided I need to find out, Carroll,” I said over a tall glass of her sun tea. “I’m going to spend three days fasting and praying at the lake. Maybe then I’ll hear from God about this kids’ thing.”

“That’s a good idea. I’m excited for you; what better place to hear from God than out at the lake!” Carroll’s secretarial skills helped me out when I needed additional office assistance, but even more, she served as a close friend and sister-in-the-Lord. “You be sure to let me know what the Lord tells you! I can hardly wait for the weekend to end!”

“I will. I’ll drive out tomorrow morning and be back on Sunday evening. Pray for me, please?”

Laughing, Carroll said, “Oh, you know I will! So, will you just toss your sleeping bag on the ground—“

Actually, I have a pup tent. I’ll use that. Nahum and I will occupy the pup tent made for two.”

“Uh-huh, that should be interesting.”

Both of us chuckled at the image of my newly-acquired, adult-sized long-haired, Husky-Griffon mix squeezed in next to me in a pup tent.

Nahum came to live with me when dear friends on the other side of the State moved to a home that didn’t allow dogs. I’d just moved to the new location when Dana and Doug made Nahum’s need for a home known. Perfect timing; I’d not have been able to have a dog in the duplex. 

Nahum’s slender, regal stature came from the Griffon, the long white hair from the Husky, but the gentle character of this loving dog made him a perfect pet for people of all ages. I loved Nahum to bits, but I did have some doubt about how he’d fare inside the closed space.

Nahum curled himself into a tight ball of fur, managing not to notice the rugged terrain as I drove the two of us out to the lake. Had I not heard the occasional changes in breathing, I’d not have remembered he slept in the footwell of the passenger seat next to me. The dog awoke only when I turned off the ignition and opened my car door. Nahum bounded out like a coil released from a spring-lock. Oh, if only I had the agility of that critter.

I set up our little camp, leaving the cooler with cold water inside the car. Nahum hung around, watching me with curiosity in those doggy-eyes. “I know, Nahum. Why bother wasting time setting this up now; the water and beach await? I’ll be with you in a minute, but feel free to explore on your own.”

No deal; he slumped to the ground with his head on his outstretched paws. Can dogs groan? Nahum wordlessly issued his opinion of my sluggish setting up ability.

Finally, I straightened up and rubbed my hands together to get rid of the clinging dirt. Nahum barked, swung his head towards the shoreline, and took what looked like a hop forward. “Okay, I get it! Let’s go!”

My dog and I walked up and down the shoreline; he barked while I prayed out loud. Hmm? Maybe he had his own way to pray? In any case, we spent an hour enjoying the solitude and praising God at the top of our lungs.

When Nahum slipped over for a nap in the shade of the tent, I grabbed my Bible, notebook, and pen. I relished the serenity of the beautiful location.

For the next couple of hours, I studied the Word, and Nahum alternated between napping, edging over to the lake to check the temperature of the water and returning to sit at my side. When I felt the weight of the patient dog’s snout on my knee, I reached down to scratch his head.

“Beautiful but boring for a dog, huh? How about we play toss-the-stick?” Of course, I’d have to find a stick, but Nahum’s barking let me know he understood what I’d asked him.

The two of us played hard for about forty-five minutes. Then, Nahum lapped the lake water and found another bit of shade. Time for another doggy nap, freeing me to return to my study.

I’d packed my guitar so I could sing; Nahum loved to make it a duet. Good thing it was a secluded spot.

Shortly before sunset, a camper truck interrupted our quiet. A sedan followed. The evening silence dissolved into raucous laughter as the fishermen and their ladies livened up the spot about twenty yards away.

When I heard the popping tops of beer cans, I asked the Lord to protect Nahum and me from any drunken wanderings. I also asked God to keep Nahum calm as the gentle giant could put out the defender’s growl when engaged in that role. I feared the men would hurt him, more than the reverse.

“Okay, God, You know I came out here to hear from You. If You’ve allowed these folks to camp this close to us, You have Your reasons. I choose to focus on You and not to be distracted by the surroundings. Help me, and thanks for protecting us.”

Nahum refused to sleep in the tent with me. I didn’t mind as the two-person pup tent must have been made to sleep two mini-people or one full-grown adult. The fishermen’s party filled the night for hours after I crawled into my sleeping bag.

After a fitful rest, I awoke to find a gorgeous sunrise just outside the tent. I began to walk and pray, knowing Nahum would stay asleep by the tent for another hour. Strolling the length of the shoreline, I sang quietly between my pleading prayers and ebullient bursts of praise.

I knew God had given me this special day, and I rejoiced in it. I had no idea the profound lesson the Lord had planned for me; taught by the very people I’d seen as intruders in my personal retreat.

*Name changed