Two modern-day true stories of God offering His guidance
It is not impossible but very rare that God will speak to us in audible words. One thing is for sure; God hears and answers every prayer even if we don’t always understand His answer. In responding to our prayer, God wants to offer us guidance in many and various ways. The most important thing is that we take time for prayer and are open and available to Our Lord. As Jesus tells us, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7).
Story 1 ‘Four Mysterious Visitors’ by David Waite
Last Christmas got off to a promising start. Alison and I and the children – two of our four were still at home – had picked out a tree and its lights were twinkling merrily in the living room. I had lit a fire to take the edge off our raw English air. And then-twelve-year-old Matthew hesitantly asked me a question that would have been perfectly natural in any other household: “Dad, would it be all right if I put on some Christmas music?” “Of course,” I said, too quickly. I braced myself. As strains of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” began to fill the house, a familiar gnawing sensation grew in the pit of my stomach. Not again, I thought. Christmas carols were one of the triggers that could inexplicably bring on a severe anxiety attack. I slipped out of the living room and met Ali in the hallway.
“Are you all right?” she asked. I shrugged. “Do you want to turn off the music?”
“I can’t do that,” I said. I went upstairs to my office. Work should keep my mind occupied. I tried to focus on a newspaper feature but succeeded only in staring at the impatiently blinking cursor.
I had hoped the old fears would not plague me this Christmas. All my life I had been beset with vague apprehensions and the awful depressions that followed.
The roots weren’t hard to find. Born premature, forty-nine years ago in the village of Styal near Manchester, I spent the first three months of my life fighting to survive. I had been born with a shortened and twisted right leg that, later, made walking difficult. In my first week at school a girl pointed at me. “You’re a cripple!” she said. She hobbled off in a perfect imitation of my limp that set the other kids laughing.
Being lame of body was not half as bad, though, as being crippled in spirit. My mental woes may have been inherited. My granddad suffered from free-floating fears and so did my father. Dad was so tense that he and Mum were in constant rows, yelling at each other, slamming doors, hurling crockery, then continuing the battle with silence that could last for weeks.
My first serious depression occurred in my early teens. Dad was the village bobby and on his salary we couldn’t afford psychiatric help, even if he had believed in it. Antidepressant drugs were in use by 1960, but I was wary of trying these early experimental medicines.
There were glimmers of hope. I become a Christian at eighteen, and for a while I believed this commitment might help me get better. It didn’t – not for more than thirty years. Of course I prayed about my anxieties, always in private because I was far too shy to bring up my needs at
When I married Alison I hoped I was beginning a new, healthier chapter. But along with the joy of a wife and a growing family came responsibilities that made the problem worse. Six weeks was the longest I could go without suffering an acute anxiety attack. Little things set the explosions off. A bill coming due. A Christmas carol. The family was ready to leave for church one summer day when I realized my cuff links were missing. It didn’t matter because I was
wearing a short-sleeved shirt, but I held us up until the cuff links were found.
I was spoiling things for everyone. The best I could do was keep out of the way while depressed. Soon I was spending days on end in my room, as my family waited for me to come around again.
Then on the fifteenth of December, a few days after the renewed battle with Christmas carols, I was putting my good foot, the left one, on a step when I stumbled. Searing pain shot through my leg. Within an hour I could not use the leg at all. It was just the kind of incident that usually sank me into a depressive state. Ali offered to pray not only for the leg pain but also for the funk that would almost certainly follow.
What good would prayer do? We had asked God to help us so often. But this time He was about to answer, and in a fashion I could never have anticipated.
Ali prayed for me and my leg did get better, but not the signs of oncoming depression. That evening, just ten days before Christmas, as were getting ready for bed, Ali remembered that because of the cold weather she had not opened the windows as she usually did to freshen the room. She picked up what she thought was an air-purifying spray and sent a mist all over the room. But the spray turned out to be sore-muscle balm with a dreadful menthol smell that I’ve always hated.
“Whew!” I said. “I’ll have to sleep in Daniel’s room if I want to get any rest.” Our oldest son Daniel was in London and his room was empty.
I kissed Ali goodnight, walked to Daniel’s room and turned down the spread on his narrow bed, which was right up against the wall. I climbed in, turned out the light and lay there staring into the darkness. I was unusually warm and comfortable but still fretting about sorts of things . . . bills,
a close friend in the hospital, an assignment that was due.
At first, the way you can sometimes sense a person looking at you, it seemed to me someone was in the room, focusing attention on me. I thought Alison had stepped in. “Ali?” I whispered.
There was no answer, not a rustling of clothes, not a stirring of air, and yet I knew beyond doubt I was not alone. A friendly presence was near me, at the head of the bed. Had Daniel come home unexpectedly? I whispered his name. Nothing. Maybe it was one of the younger children.
“Matthew? Caroline?” No answer.
Slowly I became aware of a second unseen being in the room, this one at the foot of the bed. It seemed to me the two creatures were facing each other. And then I knew there was a third presence too, and a fourth one, these last two facing each other on the left side of the bed . .impossible since there was no space between the bed and the wall.
I wanted to call Ali, but there was something so benevolent, so full of promise about the four lively presences that I didn’t want to do anything that might risk driving them away. I lay perfectly still, strangely warm and expectant.
And then – how did I know this, since I could not see them? – the four creatures began to move toward one another, two on each side of the bed. Their progress was slow and deliberate. They passed one another, turned and repeated the traverse three four, maybe five times. Every
time their paths crossed I felt as if I would burst with joy.
Then abruptly the room was empty. I knew it was as surely as I had known a few minutes earlier that angelic creatures were there. The room was back to normal and I was alone again, yet still filled with ineffable joy. Should I go tell Alison? But tell her what? That I had been visited by four beings I couldn’t see? Still debating, I fell into a deep sleep, the best I had had in years.
By the time I surfaced, the children had already left for school. “You’ll never believe what happened last night,” I said to Ali. I told her as best I could about the mysterious visitors God had sent me. Alison did believe it and was delighted at my newfound joy and peace, though perhaps
wondering, as I was, if this calm would last for more than a few days.
Our doubts were misplaced. I enjoyed every minute of the Christmas season. December was followed by a long gray January and February, two months that in the past had been times of distress but were filled with an exultation new to me. The joy even survived a devastating bout I had with the flu. Winter gave way to a spring, a summer and then an autumn of freedom.
Though I can’t be sure how long this freedom will last, I am beginning to believe the victory is permanent. It’s not that I’ve shed pressures like bills and problems at work. But today I confront these issues with a positive attitude unlike my past fearfulness.
Christmas is once again just around the corner. Thanks to my heavenly visitors, I’m anticipating another joy-filled season and I am going to make a statement to that effect. This year I have bought a present for the entire family, a small but very special gift I hope we will use a lot . . . a
CD of the world’s best-loved Christmas carols.
****From How to Listen to God by Doug Hill, published by Guideposts Magazine page 85-88. Used with permission
Story 2 ‘Prisoner of Silence’ by Shirley B. Bard
My husband and I were sitting on the couch watching television. But my mind was on something else. I grabbed my pad and pencil and scrawled a quick, pleading note: “How much longer will I have to go on like this?” After months of living with a postoperative trachea tube in my windpipe, unable to say a single word out loud, I was beginning to give in to despair. My husband, no stranger to my impatience and frustration, could only pat my hand.
It’s hard for anyone who’s never been left voiceless to realize what it means to be reduced suddenly to writing down all your thoughts and feelings, especially if you have three adolescent children who need you. You can’t use the phone. Even Terri, our little fox terrier, looked baffled when I snapped my fingers for her to come inside. I lost my sense of smell. At restaurants I was embarrassed to have to point to what I wanted on the menu. My whole life was off-center.
This was not my first go-around with a trake tube. My throat trouble began with diphtheria at age two, when my life was saved by an emergency tracheostomy. A hole was cut in my windpipe at just above the spot where a top shirt button would be, and a short metal breathing tube was inserted. Again, when I was five, complications from measles made another trake necessary. Each time the tube was removed after a few weeks. But the pain and fear of being unable to speak or breathe naturally never left me, and as I grew up through the years of hoarseness and recurring throat infections, I lived in dread of another tracheostomy. By the time I was forty-three, the scar tissue had so thickened that my breathing passage was reduced by sixty percent. And so it was that my last reconstructive surgery had been unavoidable. Now if all went well I would never need a trake again.
A few days later I was back in my surgeon’s office for a follow-up. I knew by the look in Dr. Thawley’s eyes after he’d examined me that all had not gone well.
“Shirley,” he said gently but gravely, sitting on the edge of his cluttered desk, “the surgery has not been what we’d hoped.”
My eyes widened. What did he mean? I wrote on my pad, “The trake will have to stay in longer?” underscoring “longer” and battling back tears.
“You have an infection. You’ll have to go back in the hospital for a while,” he told me. But then he went on to explain how my rebuilt trachea, made of grafted skin and bone splinters, had not healed properly. Dr. Thawley paused. “Shirley, I’m afraid you will have a trake for a long time – probably the rest of your life.”
A verse from Job shot through my mind: The thing I greatly feared has come upon me. I wanted to scream, yet no sound could come out. I was a prisoner who, expecting a reprieve, had suddenly been handed a life sentence – in a dungeon of silence.
I spent the following days and nights doing jigsaw puzzles in my hospital room, as if I were trying to fit together the scattered pieces of my life. And I prayed, but the tone of those prayers had changed. They were tinged with bitterness.
I believe prayers are more than just thoughts. I feel prayer is fully formed communication with God, and so with the trake I’d gotten into the habit of not just thinking my prayers but actually writing them down. Now I found myself writing prayers like, Lord, how could You do this to me? I thought You loved my. But You’ve taken away my voice so I can’t even praise You! Why won’t You heal me? Yet no answer came.
One night I looked up from my puzzle and watched listlessly as the other bed in my room was rolled out. Then a nurse pushed in a high-sided crib with a sleeping child in it. She explained that my new roommate was a two-year-old girl who’d had a trake put in after surgery. “You two will get along fine,” she said, smiling. “Her name’s Amy.”
I watched Amy sleeping before I drifted off myself. Her heavy, silent breathing soothed me. But it also dredged up memories of my childhood struggles with a trake. At least hers will be coming out, I thought.
The next morning Amy played forlornly with her toys. Every so often she’d stare into space. Finally she stood up in the crib, curled her small fingers around the bars and looked out at me. Big, sad tears rolled down her cheeks. Her little shoulders quaked and air sputtered through her trake tube. If ever I yearned to hear the wail of a child’s cry it was at that moment.
I slipped from my bed and went over to the crib. Reaching through the bars I put my arms around Amy and pulled her close. I wanted to tell her that she would be all right, that her trake would come out in a few days. But we were two people trapped in silence.
I began to cry. Not just for little Amy but also for myself, maybe mostly for myself. God, how could You do this to me? How? My arms fell away from Amy and my head leaned limply on the crib, as if a huge weight pushed me down. My tears splashed on Amy’s bare feet.
Suddenly I felt the gentle touch of a hand on my head. Amy. With childish awkwardness she’d reached over the crib rail to soothe me. And all at once I knew that no words could ever have conveyed such tender comfort.
I went home not too long after that, as did Amy. One day I was leafing through my notebooks when I came across some of the prayers I’d scrawled in the hospital. It’s one thing to cry out to God. But my angry words were actually written down on a page in black and white: “God, how could You do this to me?” I wanted to tear it up. God had heard my prayer, and answered. He’d sent a little girl who showed me that sometimes even words are inadequate to express our deepest human needs.
“Lord,” I wrote hastily, “forgive me for blaming You. I give myself to You now, trake and all.”
From then on, each day, God taught me a new language: how our marvelously expressive eyes can command attention, laugh, tease, cry, rebuke, empathize and sparkle with
love. He showed me that my voicelessness forced me to be a listener, to care about what people were saying. I wrote down my words; I measured them more carefully, more kindly. And I found that simple human touch can be the most powerfully reassuring communication of all.
One day about eight months after surgery I felt cool air in my throat. I placed my finger over the trake hole, forced air up through my vocal cords and discovered – I could speak. The next day in his office, Dr. Thawley shook his head in amazement. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said. Contrary to the doctor’s expectation, my trachea continued to heal slowly and was eventually strong enough for me to breathe without the tube. Yet I knew that an even more amazing healing had taken place deep inside my soul.
Today I no longer need my pad, pencil or trake. But certain things – my children’s eyes, my husband’s touch, my friends’ voices – all mean so much more to me now. I still write down one thing, though. My prayers. And every day I thank our loving God, who always hears us, even when we can’t speak.
From How to Listen to God by Doug Hill, published by Guideposts Magazine, pages 46-49. Used with permission
Questions to ponder:
Question 1: Underline the place/places where the person received guidance. Briefly describe how the person received guidance from God.
Question 2: How did this story affect you?
Question 3: Does it remind you of something in your own life?
Question 4: Did you find it consoling, challenging, comforting? Why?
HOW GOD REVEALS GUIDENCE TO US
Story 1 ‘A Hatful of Miracles’ by John Gleason
I had just graduated from Northwestern University and wanted to see something of the world before settling into a career. With some money saved from a summer job, I was heading for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, places that seemed romantic to me. It was October.
In New York I boarded a rusty old coal-burning freighter. At first there seemed to be just three passengers besides myself: a bright young civil engineer from Michigan; a worried-looking old man in a white linen suit; and a stately, charming woman who turned out to be Mrs. Charles Colmore, wife of the Episcopal bishop of Puerto Rico, who was returning there after a visit to relatives in the United States.
We made friends quickly, the way you do on a sea voyage. Then, two days out of New York, a young woman with dull blond hair appeared on deck for the first time. She was in her early twenties, much too thin. She looked so pale and wan that we instantly pitied her. She seemed a bit wary of the male passengers, but she accepted Mrs. Colmore’s invitation for tea in her cabin.
“It’s a strange story,” the bishop’s wife told us later. “She comes from a little town in Pennsylvania and she’s on her way to the West Indies to look for her husband. He evidently left home several months ago after a violent quarrel with her mother over his drinking and his inability to find a job and support his wife properly. She finally heard a rumor that her husband had gone to the West Indies. She still loves him, so she left her ‘old dragon’ of a mother, and now she’s on her way to find Billy – that’s her husband’s
name: Billy Simpson.”
“You mean,” I said incredulously, “she’s going to leave the ship when we get to San Juan and start looking? Why, that’s crazy! There are hundreds of islands in the Caribbean.”
“I told her that,” the bishop’s wife said, “but it didn’t seem to make any impression. She just says she’ll find him. How, I don’t know. But she seems absolutely sure of it.”
“It would take a miracle.” the old man said, thin and intense in his white tropic suit and brown wool cap.
“It would take a whole hatful of miracles,” I muttered.
“Does she have any friends where she’s going?” asked the young engineer. “Does she have any money?”
“No friends,” said the bishop’s wife. “And almost no money. Not enough to get her back to New York.”
When we heard this, the rest of us dug into our pockets and raised some money to give to this strange waif of a woman.
“This will help you find a place to stay when we get to San Juan,” the bishop’s wife said when she presented the money in front of all of us. “And I’m sure our church there will help you find enough for your return passage home.”
The woman murmured her thanks. Then she said, “But I’m not going home. I’m going to find my husband.”
“Where? How? asked the old man. He had been fired from his bookkeeping job after thirty years with the same company. Now he was moving to Puerto Rico, where he hoped his experience would outweigh his age when it came to finding another job. I couldn’t help thinking that he was seeking an answer to his own where and how as much as to the waiflike woman’s.
The young woman shrugged, and smiled a little. She had the oddest smile – sad, fateful, dreamlike. “Prayers,” she said. “My prayers. A few years ago I asked God to send me someone to love, and He did, and I married him. Now I’m asking God to help me find my husband again. That’s all. Just asking. And I’m sure He will.”
Time passed, trancelike, the way it does on shipboard, the young woman leaning against the rail watching the flying fish skitter across the cobalt sea, the engineer and I on the fantail, the old man asking the bishop’s wife for ideas about getting a job in Puerto Rico.
We docked in San Juan early one morning. I was scheduled to catch another boat that afternoon for St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, and so had a few hours to kill. The others were going to look for an inexpensive hotel where the young woman could stay while she figured out her next move, whatever that might be. The engineer and the old man needed a place to stay too. The bishop’s wife had delayed her own trip to Ponce, where the bishop was, in order to give some reassurance to the young wife. “I’ve got
to see her settled somewhere,” she said to me privately. “And then I’ll ask some people at the church to keep an eye on her.”
In the smothering heat of midday we walked all over the old city of San Juan, finding the cheap hotels – all run-down establishments infested with fleas and bedbugs. Finally, the bishop’s wife suggested that we get on a bus for the neighboring town of San Terce. She thought accommodations might be more attractive and more available there.
So we clambered onto a bus for San Terce, but all the hotels we found in this pleasanter suburb were too expensive. Eventually, exhausted under the hot sun, the bishop’s wife, the old man and the young woman sat down on a sidewalk bench. The engineer and I continued the search, and, amazingly, we found a pleasant, clean and inexpensive hotel within a block.
We tried to register for the group, but the clerk insisted that each person register individually. So the others lined up before the registration book. When it was the woman’s turn to sign, she picked up the pen, glanced at the page, dropped the pen – and fainted.
The clerk dashed for some water. The engineer and I put her on a couch, and the bishop’s wife bathed her forehead while the old man patted her head. She came to slowly.
“Heat too much for you?” I asked.
She shook her head. “No . . . Billy.”
“He’s in the book,” she whispered.
We jumped up to take a look. There scrawled after a date two days before, we read: “Billy Simpson.”
“What room is he in?” I asked the clerk. I couldn’t believe it.
“Simpson?” the clerk said, “Oh, he got a job. He came back after work. Not here now.”
“This can’t be,” the old man said almost angrily. “She must have had some idea that he was here!”
The bishop’s wife looked at us. “No, I’m sure she didn’t,” she said. “Otherwise she would have come directly to this hotel on her own, wouldn’t she?”
Nobody could answer that. Now, I know that in a good story the narrator does not remove himself from the scene just when the climactic episode is coming up. But this is the way it all happened. Real life doesn’t always write the script the way a good playwright would.
Anyway, I had to be on the boat that sailed to the Virgin Islands. The engineer shook my hand and wished me well. The bishop’s wife gave me a letter of introduction to the Episcopal minister on St. Thomas, a Reverend Edwards. The old man said he would come to see me off.
The boat was belching smoke, more of a ferry than a ship. As we neared the gangway, the old man spoke.
“The real reason I wanted to come along was to ask you something. Do you think that prayer really led that woman to her husband?”
“I don’t know,” I replied uneasily. “There’s always coincidence. But this is certainly a big coincidence.”
“I wonder if prayer could help me?” he said. “I don’t know much about it.”
“Neither do I,” I said. “Why don’t you ask the bishop’s wife?”
“Do you think I should? I’ve been a bit afraid to.”
“Sure,” I said. “Ask her. And if I hear of any jobs in the Virgin Islands, I’ll write you at the hotel.”
“Thanks,” he said. “Have a good trip.”
When I arrived, Revered Edwards invited me to stay with him, charging a small amount per week for room and board. Settled in, I spent my time sightseeing, chatting with natives at the docks, writing, relaxing, learning all I could about the islands. I often visited with Revered Edwards after dinner. One night I told him about the young woman on the boat and missing husband and the prayers. I’m sure my tone indicated my doubts.
The old clergyman said, “Don’t ever be afraid to believe, John. You’re too young to have a closed mind.”
With time, the woman and Billy Simpson almost slipped from memory. But one day I mentioned the incident to two new friends of mine, deaconesses who lived next door to the church.
“Why,” said one of them, “that sounds like a Mr. Simpson we had here at the clinic. He came from Antigua with a bad case of the D.T.’s. We practically had to chain him to a bed.”
“And then,” said the other, “one day he suddenly became alert and insisted on getting up. Our Danish doctor said he’d better stay with us for a time, but Mr. Simpson was adamant. He said he had to get to San Juan to see someone. When we asked who, he said he didn’t know. He just had to get to San Juan. That night he caught a small powerboat going to Puerto Rico. We gave him some money to get him there and maybe enough for a room. That’s the last we heard of him.”
We compared dates, and this Mr. Simpson would have landed in Puerto Rico three days before my group arrived. He could have reached that hotel before we had, as the register showed.
I had to find out. I wrote to the bishop’s wife, gave her my news and asked for hers. In two weeks, her answer came: “Yes, it was the right Billy Simpson. His reunion with his wife was one of the most touching things I’ve ever seen. Now, there are several events to consider, miracles possibly. One, Mr. Simpson’s sudden cure from alcoholism in St. Thomas, which he confirms; two, his strange compulsion to get San Juan, which he couldn’t understand at the time; three, the guidance that led him to that hotel;
four, his finding a good job within twenty-four hours, after not being able to get a job for months; and five, the guidance that took our group to that hotel. For me, these events add up to a hatful of miracles that can be explained in only one word: Prayer. The Simpsons are living happily in San Juan now. Not long ago they gave me some money to use for a charity, and so I am enclosing funds for your friends who helped Mr. Simpson while he was ill.”
A week later, I received a letter from the old man. He had gone to Ponce with the bishop’s wife, found a good job, joined the church and become very happy in it. He wrote: “When we were at the hotel that day, Mrs. Colmore said that maybe there was a lesson in the experience we had shared. I believe there was. For me, the lesson was that some people instinctively know the power of prayer, but others have to learn it.”
I couldn’t argue with that.
How to Listen to God by Doug Hill, pages 18-23. Used with permission
Story 2 ‘Abundant Answers’ by M. L. Carney
Our daughter Amy Jo’s moved back in with us. She enrolled in a full-time master’s program at a nearby university, but was feeling restless and unsure about the future. “You
know,” she said one night as she was setting the table, “I used to talk about going to law school. Remember?”
I did remember. She had only been about ten when she first brought it up. And while she’d mentioned it a few times during the years, it somehow had fallen by the wayside as she got a degree in communications, took a job and got married. Now it was surfacing again. “I remember,” I said, “but I’m not sure if that’s what you should do now or not.” Silently, I wondered where she would get the money. “Just pray about it…,” I said…. The words sounded frail. Wasn’t there something else she should be doing?
A few minutes later, Amy Jo came back…, beaming. She spread out the Chicago Tribune on the table and pointed to a classified ad: “Wondering if law school is right for you? Work for us and decide!” It was a large law firm in Chicago, an easy train ride from where we lived. So Amy Jo took the job, working for a year as a court runner. She loved it! Then she took her admissions test and enrolled in Valparaiso University, where she went on to law.
I’ve always believed in answered prayer. But these days I’m looking for those answers in lots of places. My Bible, of course. But also in the “thought for the day” that appears on my email. Or in the overheard wisdom of an older woman in line at the grocery talking – on a cell phone – to her daughter. And, yes, maybe even in the newspaper. As for the financial problem of law school – Amy Jo is on full scholarship, which is something we both prayed about!
How to Listen to God by Doug Hill, pages 6-7. Used with permission
Story 1 ‘Feeding the Angels’ by Keith Miller
A friend of mine seemed so serene in the face of dragons (the problems and pains) of life. “I quit feeding them!” she told me. “I quit nursing the lizards (my doubts and fears) while they’re small and it keeps them from becoming those huge, fierce dragons.”
I made a conscious effort to do the same, and it helped. But from time to time an emotional lizard would appear that I couldn’t seem to avoid feeding. Finally, one sleepless night, I cried out to God, and a memory came into my mind. I was a boy, and my mother was telling me, “What you put in your mind on a regular basis is what you will become in a few years, or even a few months.”
So I began to memorize Bible passages that would, if I really lived them, change me into a strong, confident man of God. One was Paul’s admonition from Philippians 4:8. I added the Twenty-third Psalm, the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians, the Beatitudes and others.
Yesterday someone in our prayer group asked me, “What are you feeding the lizards these days?”
I smiled and said, “You’ll never believe it, but the ‘food’ I’m putting in my mind now is the Word of God.”
“Do the lizards eat it?”
“Gosh, no, they hate it.”
My friend smiled and asked, “Then to whom are you feeding the Word?”
“Um, “I said, thinking about that, “I guess I’m feeding the angels God sent to free me from my fears.”
How to Listen to God by Doug Hill, page 27. Used with permission
Story 2 ‘Bless Them That Curse You’ by Louise Majors
During the summer, before our children went off to elementary school, I started looking for a job. I pounded the pavement unsuccessfully for weeks. Then I answered an ad placed in the Los Angeles Times by the California Institute of Technology.
The opening turned out to be for an accounting clerk at the Cooperative Wind Tunnel facility, which tested aircraft parts for strength and wind resistance. Carl Jorgensen, who headed the finance department, was a matter-of-fact man who peered kindly through his black-rimmed eyeglasses and said, “Louise, you have excellent qualification. If you are willing to start at minimum wage, a dollar and nineteen cents an hour, you can begin next Monday.”
I gulped. In my previous job, before I took years off to rear our children to school age, I’d made in a day almost as much as he was offering for a week. But I’d already been turned down for six other jobs. “Thank you, Mr. Jorgensen,” I replied. “I want the job very much.”
Come Monday morning I went directly to Carl Jorgensen’s office. His cheeriness put me at ease, and I followed him as he introduced me to the office staff. “Everyone here goes by first names,” he said. He stopped at the first desk. “Hildur is our payroll clerk. Hildur, this is Louise, our new accounting clerk.”
I smiled, “I’m glad to meet you Hildur.”
She was grandmotherly with soft, wavy white hair, rimless eyeglasses, smooth fair complexion-pleasant looking. She looked me up and down, then her expression changed. Getting up, she railed, “We don’t need an accounting clerk. I don’t know why you were hired!” She slammed shut the record book she’d been posting, snatched up her purse and stomped out the door.
Everyone’s mouth dropped open. I stood stupefied, feeling the blood surge to my neck and face. This was awful!
Carl Jorgensen was quick to regain his composure and started more introductions: “Bernice, Manna and Esther, the last desk on the right, are members of the steno pool. Joy is our mail clerk and relief switchboard-operator. Please welcome Louise.”
It didn’t take long to be welcomed. The “girls” (as even we called ourselves back in the forties and fifties) were very kind and helpful, and they asked me to have lunch with them later.
I’d just returned from Carl’s office with my first assignment when Hildur appeared. She ignored everyone, slammed drawers, and was testy on the telephone and to people stopping at her desk. There was no conversation in the office until shortly before noon.
“Did you bring your lunch today, Hildur?” Bernice asked.
Hildur looked up warily. “Is she going to lunch with you?”
“I’m working.” Hildur snapped.”
I liked the “girls”; they were relaxed and friendly. But I was troubled by Hildur. On the way back to the office I mentioned I was going to bring my lunch and study in my car, starting tomorrow. I didn’t want to be the reason for Hildur not eating with the others. She would soften up after a bit, I reckoned.
Meantime, I was enjoying the bustle of the Wind Tunnel facility – the Tunnel” as we called it. Four or five times a day the warning bells would go off, and we’d hear the high whine of the turbines that generated the air flow in the test chamber. I loved the family atmosphere in the halls and offices. No matter whether you were greeting a hard hat or a world-famous scientist, it was “Hi, Ted” or “Hi, Fred,” with a genuine friendliness and a shared sense of mission.
Yet Hildur didn’t mellow. Weeks passed, and the tension only worsened. When I was out of the office, the other women said Hildur was congenial and talkative. The minute I walked in, she fell glaringly silent. Each morning she would ignore my cheery greeting.
I searched the Bible and ended up by pasting my mother’s favorite Scripture in my middle desk drawer. As Hildur rebuffed each of my advances, I referred to it: “Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you” (Matthew 5:44, KJV). I nearly wore out that drawer as the weeks went by.
A couple of months passed. One of the women I’d come to know in the next of fice was retiring. We all chipped in for a little afternoon send-off party that I looked forward to. Maybe I could get an opportunity to talk with Hildur in this kind of a setting.
I was just getting ready to go when Bernice called over to Hildur, “Aren’t you going to the party?”
Hildur glared over at me, then at Bernice. “Is she going?”
“Well, of course,” Bernice said, “we’re all going.”
“Then I’m not.”
I gritted my teeth and then said as evenly as I could, “Oh Bernice, you all go on without me. I’ve some catching up to do. Maybe I’ll come in later.”
But after they’d gone, I brooded. I pulled open my drawer, and there was the message. “Do good to them that hate you,” I read aloud. Then I said, “Lord, You know I’m doing that. My question is: How long must this go on?”
As if by answer, I recalled a scene of twenty years before, when I’d had a falling-out with an adolescent friend. I was back in Mother’s kitchen and she was telling me, “Seventy times seven, that’s how often Jesus told us to forgive. Remember, Louise, the only way to destroy an enemy is to make a friend of him.”
I shut my drawer gently. “Thank You, Lord,” I whispered.
A couple of months later, on a windy March day, we had a torrential rainstorm. Creeping along in our old green Pontiac coupe on my way home, windshield wipers batting furiously, I spotted Hildur standing at a bus stop, huddled under an umbrella. I stopped and flipped open the passenger door.
As kindly and as firmly as I could, I said, “Hildur, get in.” She hesitated a second and then lowered her umbrella and scrambled in. Water dripped from her hair and she looked soaked through. I turned up the heat. “Hildur, please give me directions as we go,” I asked.
Except for directions, she was silent all the way to her apartment in East Pasadena. Before dropping her off, I asked her if here was anything I could do. She said, “No, but thank you very much.”
After I had watched her disappear into her apartment, I exulted, “Well, praise the Lord, at least she talked to me!” All the way home I felt elated, singing the old hymn “Love Lifted Me.” Hildur may not have changed, but at last I felt better.
The next morning was bright, crisp and clear. “Good morning, Hildur!” I said when I got to the office.
“Good morning, Louise,” Hildur said with a shy smile. The whole office seemed to give a collective sigh of relief. The harmony was instant; it was as if someone had let the sunshine and singing birds right into the office.
That Friday Hildur and I went out to lunch. She admitted her job was her love, and that she had felt threatened when I was hired. She thought management intended to replace her with me. But over lunch we became friends.
On the way home from work I stopped in Pasadena, had my hair cut and styled, bought a geranium-red dress, patent leather shoes with a pocketbook that matched, and a nifty widebrimmed straw hat. Mac and the kids went into shock when the “new me” walked in that night. “Wow,” Mac said, “I thought your job was getting you down!”
“That was last week,” I said. “Now it’s getting me up!”
And it stayed that way. Making a friend of Hildur was one of the hardest things I ever did, yet one of the most rewarding. It was wonderful to have her as a friend, and I have Jesus to thank for that.
How to Listen to God by Doug Hill, pages 38-42. Used with permission
True, modern-day stories illustrating how God provided guidance through other people
Here is a reflection of Mother Teresa by one person who was fortunate enough to have known her personally, in some small but significant way. He affirms that, despite fame and the scope of her accomplishments, Mother Teresa still managed to touch people directly; heart to heart. That seems to have been one of the signs of her greatness.
Story 1 ‘Do Small Things With Great Love’ -- by Vance Thurston
She’ll probably never get the letter anyway, I reasoned. I had resisted the idea for three months. But I was home with the flu and the insistent urging wouldn’t let up: Write to Mother Teresa.
Three years earlier, I had parked in front of a small gift store called the Serenity Shop and looked inside. The owner had been easy to visit with, and I had surprised myself by confiding in her that I was so wrapped up with work I didn’t feel I was being much of service to God. She’d smiled, then recommended a video entitled Mother Teresa.
Back home, I found myself drawn into scenes of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity feeding starving children and caring for the sick and dying. A service was shown in an ancient church, where a young Indian novice in a blue-and-white sari stepped up to the altar. With quiet resolve she said, “I, Sister Mary, vow for life, chastity, poverty, obedience and wholehearted and free service to the poorest of the poor.” The intensity of my feelings took me by surprise.
I had viewed the tape many times since, and could no longer ignore my urge to write. I told Mother Teresa how much her work moved me, and said that I had been many things – ranch hand, mechanic, carpenter and songwriter, but I wondered how I could serve God better.
When I recovered from the flu I took the letter to the post office. I had second thoughts as the clerk examined the incomplete address. “Let’s go ahead and send this,” he said. “I’m sure in Calcutta they know where Mother Teresa lives.”
Spring came and went. Occasionally I wondered if Mother Teresa got my letter. Though I nurtured a secret hope she would write back, I knew Mother Teresa had bigger concerns than a carpenter in Montana.
In early August a simple envelope postmarked “Calcutta” arrived in the mail. I carefully opened the letter, took a deep breath and unfolded the sheet of rough paper. The words appeared to have been typed by an ancient typewriter. After a few kind personal references to my letter, she wrote, “Whatever you do – whether to carve a door or write a song that God inspires you to write – do it all for His glory and the good of His people. Always do small things with great love, and be ready to take whatever He gives and give whatever He takes with a big smile. Let us pray.” The letter was signed in blue ink, “God bless you, Mother Teresa.”
Do small things with great love. What could have been a better demonstration of that belief than her letter? I had asked what I could do to serve God better and she had shown me.
Four weeks later I watched Mother Teresa’s funeral on television. She had not tried to do great things. She did small things with such great love that it touched the hearts of millions. The gift of her letter might have seemed a small thing to Mother Teresa, but the love she shared has changed my life.
From How to Listen to God by Doug Hill, pages 65. Used with permission
Story 2 How do I know if this is the right decision? -- By Ann Lankford
Small towns are great places to live. This was one of the reasons that I moved to Schulyer, Nebraska after completing a master’s degree in Catechetics and Christian Ministry at Franciscan University of Steubenville. The position was to direct the Faith Formation Program for two Catholic Parishes. Interestingly enough, the two beautiful Churches were three blocks apart. We had over 500 youth who participated and most were either farm kids or Hispanics.
I greatly enjoyed working with the two priests and all the families from the area. Another great perk was that I developed one of the best friendships of my life. Jill was married to a local doctor and I got to know her when she and her husband attended the RCIA process, which I directed. The RCIA is a process of conversion which helps people to enter into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ through committed daily prayer and study for preparation to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church. Jill’s husband was Catholic and she was Lutheran and they were raising their children in the Catholic Faith. Jill wanted to learn more about the depth of prayer in the Catholic Church and come to understand what her children were being taught about faith in Jesus Christ. Jill greatly appreciated the RCIA process and how her relationship with Our Lord was deepening as she became nore committed to prayer. She and her husband began praying together and praying with their children on a daily basis, which brought a great deal of forgiveness, healing and more peace in their marriage.
A few months after Jill entered the Church at Easter, she gave birth to their fourth child. Several months later, to the shock of the entire town, her husband collapsed on the tread mill and died instantly as he was working out in the lower level of their home. One of the priests that I worked for came up after morning Mass and told me. He said that I needed to be with Jill at this time. This was difficult for me as my grandparents had died when I was very young and so an up close experience with death was foreign and carried a lot of fear for me, even as an adult. It was only in response to the priest, whom I greatly respected, that I went to Jill’s house.
When I greeted her, Jill started talking about the RCIA process and, all I could think about was, your husband just died and you are thinking about RCIA? Jill purposely stated that God knew this was going to happen and He drew her to the RCIA process so that she could really learn to pray and grow in her trust of Jesus for this difficult time. The more she talked, the more I cried.
At the funeral, Jill kept asking what she and the children should do, as this was the first Catholic funeral she had attended. After the luncheon, as Jill and her children were leaving, God put something on my heart. I told Jill that, when she was ready, I would come once a week to watch the children so that she could spend a Holy Hour with Jesus in adoration. In the back of my mind, even though the words were coming out of my mouth, I figured that I would never hear from her. Interestingly enough, she called me two weeks later.
I started watching her three girls and one boy the next Friday. Since Jill was dealing with grief, I became very close to the children and I think that the tiny baby thought that I was her mother. After a few months, Jill said that the two of us needed to start going out to dinner after she prayed her Holy Hour. This was the beginning of our deep friendship. Over the next two years, I was pretty much with Jill and her four children just about every weekend. Jill spoke about Jim’s death quite freely and all the ways that God supported her through the traumatic days and months. Not only were these discussions about death beneficial, but her sharing her family with me became a great blessing. These two components were what established this as a life-long friendship.
During my fourth year in Schuyler, it seemed like there was a nudge from God that it was time for me to move on. However, as I pursued various positions, it seemed that doors kept closing on me. I related the situation to a priest and then said I would stay and coast this next year. Father Whelan said, “Do you really think God wants you to coast?” At that point, I simply said to God in prayer; “If you want me to leave, then help me to know how to move forward.”
The best time to leave would have been over the summer, so that a new person would have the time to organize the Program for the next year. However, in in the early fall, a situation opened up in which my sister heard from then Bishop Burke of the Diocese of La Crosse about an open position. I called soon thereafter and went for the interview. Everything went well and I really liked the City of La Crosse. However, after returning to Schuyler, I started doubting, primarily because I understood it can be difficult and takes time to establish good and lasting friendships.
In feeling unsettled with the idea of staying in Schuyler and being uncomfortable with the idea of moving to La Crosse, I prayed and asked Jesus to give me a sign about this decision; and I had some qualifiers. If the Lord wanted me to go to La Crosse, then I needed a sign that there would be a woman that would be a good friend and who would share her family with me. A few days later, I received a phone call from Chris Stefanick who was driving on the freeway in Los Angeles. I had been in school at the same time with he and his wife, Natalie, four years prior and she had become a friend as we were part of the RCIA process on campus. Chris said that he had just accepted a position in La Crosse and heard that I had interviewed there also. I told him that I had cold feet about accepting the position. But when I asked how many children they had, his reply really caught me off guard. Natalie had just given birth to their third child. This phone call felt like an answer to my prayer. I moved forward in the process with an open heart, seeking additional guidance from God and, having received that, ultimately I accepted the position.
As of 2020, I am now in my 18th year of working for the Diocese of La Crosse. It has been a very good fit for me and yet not without difficulties and challenges. This whole experience keeps me depending heavily on the Lord, and in the process, gives me opportunities for personal growth. I do periodically think back to God’s guidance to accept this position – remembering the deep experience of peace that God gave me at that time of decision-making. This reminds me that I am where God wants me now, and that He will continually equip me to do the work.
Two, modern-day true stories
Illustrating how God provided guidance through angels
Story 1 -- The following story by Elizabeth Sherrill tells of a healing experience by Brother Andrew, a Dutchman who spent much of his life smuggling Bibles behind the Iron Curtain. Despite all the good he had done, Brother Andrew couldn’t shake the shame he felt his part in having been among the Dutch soldiers sent to fight the people in Indonesia. It took an encounter with an angel to free him from that burden.
‘A Hand of Forgiveness’ By Elizabeth Sherrill about Brother Andrew
When the Cold War ended, Brother Andrew decided to return to now-independent Indonesia to assist the people he had once fought. Nothing he did for them, however, served to ease his conscience. The place he most dreaded revisiting was the town of Ungaran, where his army unit had been headquartered.
“At last,” he said, “I forced myself to go back there.” He made himself walk up the single main road, past the mosque, to the big U-shaped school building the Dutch had used as a barracks. The building had been turned back into a school; on the former drill ground inside the U, some children in ragged clothing were playing.
As Andrew stood watching, a little girl, maybe eight years old, suddenly broke away from her playmates and ran toward me. The other children stopped their game and stared after her, clearly puzzled. The child ran straight up to Andrew, put her small hand in his, looked up into his eyes and smiled. Then she ran back to join her companions.
Andrew stood where he was, tears running down his face. “I knew Who it was Who’d come to me. It was Jesus through an angel. Jesus telling me, ‘I forgive you, Andrew. Now forgive yourself and serve these beautiful people with joy.’”
From How to Listen to God by Doug Hill, pages 83-84. Used with permission
Story 2 -- ‘Only For Me’ by Lindsay Thomas
Like most high school juniors, I couldn’t wait to be a senior. Early in the year I was already daydreaming about the big prom and our graduation. But it wasn’t long before I had to wake up from my dream. In the spring of junior year I got pregnant.
My boyfriend and I were just too young to make our relationship work. We finally broke up. Problem was, I didn’t have anyone else to talk to about this. I was afraid of what my parents might say. Even my friends. So I kept it to myself. Somehow I kept the pregnancy secret. I gained weight, but I was athletic and I carried it well. I wore sweatpants and oversized T-shirts. Nobody noticed my growing belly. And nobody noticed that I was crumbling inside.
In September, before school started, Mom wanted to take me shopping at the mall. “You’re going to need some special outfits for senior year,” she said.
“Okay, Mom,” I muttered. “Whatever.” My total lack of excitement gave everything away.
“Lindsey?” she said. “What’s wrong?”
My secret tumbled out. It was such a relief. “I’m six months pregnant,” I confessed.
“All this time,” Mom said, “and you’ve held it all in.”
I was so ashamed, I just wanted to hide. Even from God. “I want to go someplace where no one knows me,” I said.
Mom understood and found a home for single mothers in a city a couple of hours away. The facility was next to a hospital. I could stay there, have my baby and arrange for an adoption. I could continue my education.
The staff at the maternity home was nice enough, but being with so many other pregnant teens just made me feel worse. Each of us lived with another girl, and we shared a bath with our neighbors. The shower stall was so small you couldn’t turn without bumping your belly. We could sign out and go into town if we wanted—see a movie, get our nails done, that kind of stuff. But I threw myself into schoolwork. This was far from my dream of senior year. No prom. No dates. No graduation ceremony.
I was cordial to the other girls, but I didn’t really want to make friends. I couldn’t wait for weekends, when Mom came to get me and we returned to Burlington. “It’s so good to be home,” I said, hugging her every chance I got. But Sunday night always came, and all too soon I was back in my lonely room. There were counseling sessions every couple of days, and we talked a lot about self – image. I knew what I thought of myself, and it wasn’t good. What must God think of me? I wondered.
One day I saw a notice on the bulletin board. “Bible Study,” it read. I’d loved Bible stories and church camp as a kid, but I kind of put my faith on the back burner once I hit high school. I worried what my friends would think if I acted too religious. Here, who cared? I wrote my name at the top of the sheet, the first one to sign up. The meetings would be held on Wednesdays at four o’clock in a conference room.
That first Wednesday, I opened the door, feeling kind of shy. Choir music played in the background. When I saw the teacher, I relaxed a little. She was a beautiful black woman, maybe in her forties, and her face seemed to glow. “I’m Dorothy,” she said, “and it looks like you have me all to yourself. Welcome.”
Welcome was how I felt each Wednesday when I spent an hour with Dorothy. None of the other girls ever came to the class. It was always just Dorothy and me. She seemed to sense exactly what was on my mind on any given day. One afternoon she took my hand. “You’re afraid, aren’t you?” she said. I nodded. I was afraid of what I’d done, afraid of giving birth, afraid of what my friends would say if they ever found out. I didn’t know how to face life anymore.
Dorothy opened her Bible, and started reading from Philippians 4. “Do not be anxious,” she read. “The God of peace will be with you.”
“I’d like to believe that,” I said. Dorothy traced her finger down the page. “Remember this,” she said, pointing to Philippians 4:13. “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.”
In our sessions we talked and laughed and cried, and I learned why Dorothy had that glow about her. “I love the Lord,” she said. Right before Thanksgiving she gave me a book of Scripture passages called God’s Promises. “If you have questions and I’m not here,” she said, “you can find answers in this book.” Then she put her arms around me. “Your baby will be beautiful.” That was the last time I saw her.
My November 27 due date came and went, and by December I wasn’t doing well. God of peace, be with me, I prayed. The doctors induced labor when I was a good two weeks overdue. My newborn son was beautiful, just like Dorothy said. Saying good-bye to him seemed impossible, but I was thankful for the loving family who adopted him. Over and over I asked God to give me strength. I had to keep reminding myself that I’d done what was best for my baby.
I returned home a few days before Christmas. Somehow I got through the next several months. I read and reread God’s Promises. It wasn’t easy to think about the past, but I often thought about Dorothy. I told Mom how important she’d been to me.
Eventually I called the maternity home to get Dorothy’s telephone number and address. I couldn’t believe what I was told. The nurse who answered said that there was no Dorothy at the home. And no one had ever conducted a Bible study there. After I hung up the phone, I could barely speak. “Dorothy must have been there only for me,” I said to Mom. We talked about it and decided God had sent an angel to show me that He loved me, no matter what.
My son is now seven, and with the blessings of his adoptive parents, we talk almost every day. I’m married now, and my husband and I have a child of our own. Glancing through a book of baby names, I decided to look up Dorothy. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Her name means “Gift of God.”
From How to Listen to God by Doug Hill, pages 70 - 72. Used with permission