When God Says “No” … Again Part 2: Eggs, Carrots, and Coffee Beans

Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good. – Romans 12:21

In America we don’t expect innocent people to go to jail, certainly not a good Christian mom living out her faith by loving her husband and raising six children, including two adopted. But my newest acquaintance, “C,” had been accused of child abuse and sentenced to four months in jail. It was summertime in Michigan, and instead of looking forward to taking her kids to the park or the beach, this mom was facing four months locked up and away from her family until fall. What made this outcome especially disappointing was that many, many people had been praying fervently about the situation.

When God Says “No” … Again Part I: The Nightmare

What happened? Was God taking a vacation?

Although I was as baffled as anyone, I wrote to C to try to encourage her. I shared with her a story that I had read that morning that had made me think of her:

A mother was teaching her little girl about responding to trials, using three pots of water to illustrate. In one pot the mother placed some eggs, in the second she placed some carrots, and in the last one she placed some coffee beans. Then she turned up the heat. After the pots had been boiling for a few minutes, the mom turned off the heat.

Fishing an egg out of the first pot, she showed her daughter that although on the outside it looked the same as it had before, inside it had become hardened, just as some people let troubles harden them. Next the mother took out the carrots and showed her daughter that they had become weak, soft, and mushy, like people who let hardships weaken them. Finally, the mom poured out some of the water that the coffee beans had been in and showed her daughter that the beans had actually affected the environment around them, just as in the heat of trials some Christians cause change in their world, rather than letting the world change them. These saints infuse the atmosphere around them with “the aroma of Christ.”

A few days later I got a long letter in response. C was struggling to keep her faith, as I’m sure any of us would have been in her situation. Everything we had asked for had been denied, and what we had prayed wouldn’t happen had happened, even details such as her family’s not having to see her in shackles after sentencing. But she had been led down the hall past her family and friends. Then, after another person was picked up, she was led past them a second time on her way to the jail.

C’s first five days in the jail had been spent in “quarantine” (a.k.a. solitary confinement), which I think would have had me fighting depression right from the start. C had then attended a “Bible study,” but said the leader didn’t seem to have a lesson plan, wasn’t sure what the “fruits of the Spirit” were, and didn’t know where in the Bible to find the Ten Commandments.

C had then looked for some encouragement by attending a “church service” in the jail, but the perspective was not biblical Christianity, so again she came up empty.

In spite of all these discouraging circumstances, C tried to be faithful, although a little nagging voice in her head kept asking, What’s the point? The “church service” and the Bible study, as discouraging as they had been, had offered some opportunity for discussion, and some of the other women were already asking questions of a spiritual nature that C responded to, although she felt her heart wasn’t in it. She told me she had even shared the parable of the egg, the carrot, and the coffee beans with the others in her unit.

Alluding to the parable, C expressed the desire to be a “coffee bean,” but confessed that she was more like either the hardened egg or the mushy carrot, feeling betrayed by God.

I wrote back to her, pointing out (reminding her) that what she was going through Jesus Himself had endured – falsely accused and condemned, the shame of public crucifixion, and His cry from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I tried to encourage her not to be too dependent on emotions. As I have often written, faith and obedience can come with or without emotional confirmation – although feeling it sure does help! As bad as she was feeling, she had not lost her faith – the fact that she was struggling was a sign that she still had faith, a faith worth fighting for.

It then occurred to me that C might be interested in my book BARRIERS, especially since the subtitle is “So, if prayers are so powerful, how come mine don’t get answered?” It’s a question I think all Christians ask at one time or another, even non-Christians.

Then, thinking of the women who were already being drawn to C, I wondered if any of them might want to read the book, too. I offered to send her as many copies as needed and allowed. I told her I thought she would be a good Bible study leader – and yes, BARRIERS has a study guide!

I asked if there were Bibles in the jail and offered to send some along with the books. (Everything I assert in BARRIERS I back up with Scripture, and I want my readers to see first-hand that the Bible teaches the lessons they’re reading.)

As I waited for C’s response, I tried not to let my imagination run wild with the possibilities of what the Lord could do in four months …

Prayer: Father, thank You for Your Word that promises us that all things work together for the good of those who love You and are called according to Your purpose. Thank You for calling us. May we never lose faith in Your plan, even when we don’t know what that plan is. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

When God Says “No” … Again Part I: The Nightmare

“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not …” – Daniel 3:17,18a

Without a doubt, one of the times we need “divine perspective” the most is when the answer to a fervent prayer is “No.” It is especially troubling when that answer – or non-answer – comes with no explanation. We look around us and see others getting instant answers to requests for a parking spot or something equally trivial, while our desperate pleadings seem to drift off into space, unheard.

And yet, we can be like the “bug in the rug” I wrote about in another post, daily crawling through light and dark, pleasant, unpleasant, and downright miserable. Then one day, like the bug sprouting wings and looking down on the whole rug with its colorful patterns, we can look back at all we’ve been through and see that God, the Master Designer, has been in control all along, even on those days – or especially on those days – when He seemed most distant. There is a “Big Picture” – God’s plan – and whether we see it now or not, it’s beautiful.

This past summer I was privileged to have a ringside seat for one such journey, one that began as an absolute nightmare and, in the end, showed God had a plan that could only be appreciated in hindsight.

Last fall I was visiting my old Michigan stomping ground and staying with my friend Kelly for a few days. One of those days a young couple came by, and Kelly introduced me to them. “T” and his wife “C” were the kind of people I greatly admire but would never attempt to emulate. They had six children – four biological and two adopted. Their youngest child was an infant, and the rest were home schooled. (I got tired just thinking about what they did.) As I recall, for most of the visit Kelly, T and I talked, while C was in the yard keeping tabs on the lively kids and making sure they didn’t fall in the lake.

Not long after that day, I got a text from Kelly, asking me to pray for this family. She didn’t go into why, just that they were in a major crisis and really needed the Lord’s help.

I was later to learn that one of the adopted children had fallen down a flight of stairs. She had suffered a brain bleed and needed surgery. When she was questioned about what had happened, she had said, truthfully, that she had fallen when her mother was in the breezeway. Later, after CPS had taken her elsewhere to live, she had been questioned again and again told what had happened. But after repeated questioning she had changed her story to say C had pushed her, and so had begun for T and C a parent’s worst nightmare.

There were months of being investigated, waiting to see whether there would be charges, and the constant uncertainty of whether all of their children would be taken away from them. I prayed and enlisted the help of my church and other “prayer warriors” I knew, and we stormed heaven’s gates and waited for updates. Through Kelly I heard about the agonizing wait for court hearings, only to have them postponed time and again. When finally formal charges were filed in the spring, C learned that if she were to be found guilty by a jury, she could face up to twenty-five years in prison. For this reason, her lawyer advised her to avoid a trial by not pleading “not guilty.” If she were to plead “no contest,” she would be sentenced by a judge with a penalty anywhere from five years down to probation. As much as C knew she was not guilty, the thought of spending half of the rest of her life in prison, never seeing her children grow up, in the end she and T decided to take the lawyer’s advice; she pled “no contest.”

Next came the sentencing, and again it was an agonizing time of “wait and see.” The two adopted children had been taken and placed in another family, but the foster father soon concluded that the one child was “a habitual liar,” and was afraid to keep her, lest he end up in the same predicament as C. (As of this writing, the children are somewhere “in the system” and could no doubt use our prayers, too.)

Meanwhile, we were all praying for favor from the judge, that she would discern the truth, and that if there still had to be a sentence, it would be the minimum, so the four children who were left wouldn’t be deprived of their mother for any length of time.

When the sentencing finally came, C was given four months in jail. She and T were crushed. Although I knew it could have been much worse, that was easy for me to say, sitting in my comfortable house with loved ones within reach. One of my praying friends responded by commenting, “Paul did some of his best ministry in prison.” But I wasn’t sure how much encouragement that would be to C and T at this point.

TO BE CONTINUED

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for coming to earth and suffering for us. You understand when our own hearts cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” We know, of course, that You haven’t forsaken us. Help us to hang onto Your promises when times are dark and we see no light at the end of the tunnel. And when we have come out on the other side and can see what You had planned all along, help us to tell our stories and encourage those who are still seeking You in the darkness, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Another “First” from 2022 – Expanding My Reach

[Jesus] said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” – Mark 16:15

Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory!” – I Chronicles 4:10a

At my class reunion last May, I was visiting with a former classmate who had lost her vision a few years ago. We spent some time sharing our love for audiobooks, and she became very animated as she recommended some of her favorites. This conversation reawakened in me a dream that’s been on the “back burner” far too long.

I had discovered the wonderful world of audiobooks some years ago, when that form of book was relatively rare. But in recent years this method of “reading” has taken off, largely due to the lifestyles of people who have little time to sit and read. (I am one of them.) People today listen to books while walking, jogging, doing housework and yardwork, waiting in line, and falling asleep.

I had thought about making my own books into audiobooks for some time. Since one of the main characters in my first book, Counselor, is legally blind, it seemed only reasonable that the story should be made available to people who were blind themselves. But I had repeatedly procrastinated for one reason or another. Now, after meeting this old friend, and thinking of others not able to read my books, I decided to stop putting it off!

Back in Louisville, I did some calling around and found there were a number of recording studios in town. Most of the owners I talked to were nice enough, and having prayed about this new venture, I wondered how the Lord was going to let me know which studio was the one I should go to. This being a whole new experience, I needed someone to walk me through it.

I was also hoping that whoever I worked with would be a believer in Jesus, but I couldn’t bring myself to say, “Hello, I’m thinking of recording my book in your studio. Are you a born-again believer in Jesus Christ?” So, I just told Jesus and waited for Him to lead.

One studio owner named Jeff answered not only the questions I had, but also the ones I hadn’t thought to ask yet. As he explained the process of making an audiobook, I realized there was a lot more to it than just reading out loud and recording! And he was more than willing to explain it all to me.

Another thing that set this man apart from the others I had talked to was what seemed like genuine interest in my project. He was the first one to ask me what my book was about.

“It’s called Counselor, and it’s about a college student studying theater, whose ‘career’ is going nowhere. She meets a graduate student from the psychology department who befriends her and becomes a sort of unofficial counselor to her. He’s legally blind and has cerebral palsy …”

I’m legally blind,” the man said. Jeff already sounded like someone who was easy to work with, so when he informed me of this coincidence, I saw it as confirmation and made my decision.

I soon learned Jeff is a Christian, too. I can’t say I was surprised. It was nice to begin recording sessions with prayer.

Jeff is also a director. He would stop and make me reread a portion if he thought it could be better. I got flashbacks of being back in school, dealing with reading too fast! I found I was especially prone to this bad habit with my own writings. Knowing that what was coming up was more exciting than what I was reading at the moment, I’d be rushing, and Jeff would stop me.

“You’re reading again,” he would admonish. (I was reading, but I was supposed to be storytelling.) So, we’d back up, and I would read that portion again, this time as if it were the most important part of the story.

It’s cringe-worthy enough for me to hear my own recorded voice, but I learned on the first day that the sensitive equipment also picked up every time I inhaled. But Jeff assured me he could go through the recording and meticulously remove every little breath when we were finished.

Even though I had been putting off this project for years, once it was started, I was very impatient to keep going! So, it frustrated me no end when I got sick and lost my voice for a week, right before a week off for Thanksgiving, and soon after that, another week off for Christmas!

But God has a way of making even the frustrations work for good, and we made the best of the situation. In one chapter the main character, Liz, catches a terrible cold/laryngitis a week before her theatrical debut, and she is in a panic. (Liz and I have a lot in common.) I came into the studio one day and read that chapter with my hoarse voice, and later recorded it again with my normal voice. Jeff then took all of sick Liz’s lines with the scratchy voice and patched them into the dialogue seamlessly.

When the whole book had been recorded, Jeff and I each listened to it separately to catch little spots where I didn’t enunciate clearly enough, said the wrong word, or where I wanted to say a line differently. (I majored in directing, so I can be picky, too.) We each made a list of “tweaks” and got back together to do the fine tuning.

Finally, Jeff walked me through the process of getting the (virtual) paperwork done to make sure everything was legit. This, more than any step, was where I know I would have dropped the ball – I’m terrible at those things.

Bottom line: The audio version of Counselor will soon be available on Audible, Amazon, and i-Tunes. I’ll keep y’all posted.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for expanding my reach and giving me ways to share the gospel that fit my personality. Thanks for using even the frustrating things to communicate Your grace. Whatever my ideas are, Yours are always better. (I love You!) Amen.

New Experiences – At MY Age?

See, I am doing a new thing! – Isaiah 43:19

So, 2023 has begun. In February I will turn 70. As in, “seventy years old.”

Seventy years old!? When did that happen? Seems like I was just getting adjusted to the idea that I am a grownup now. Even after having taught for several years, there were still times in my classroom when we were having so much fun learning that things got a little out of hand, I would think, someone should take control here, and I would suddenly remember I was the adult, so I’d better start adulting.

My adult life has been full of “firsts,” but by 2022, I wasn’t expecting many more, at least not positive ones. However, the Lord still had a few “firsts” in store for me – three that I can think of:

1.) Seeing good friends I had never met before.

I had already been surprised at how important and time-consuming blogging had become, and the number of fellow bloggers who would become friends, although I had never met them. In February, when we were spending time in Sanibel Island, Florida, I opened a blog post by “Russlings of the Spirit” to see a photo of a seashell that was very familiar. As I read the post, I realized Russell was, at that moment, about half a mile down the road from us! I let him know we were in (on?) Sanibel, too, and soon after, he, his wife Joan, and I were sitting by their pool, telling stories of our lives and God’s faithfulness.

In December I got an email from Mark Brady, letting me know he and his wife April were coming to Louisville for Christmas. He had told the family there was only one thing he insisted on doing while there, and that was to visit the church I had repeatedly (and apparently effectively) bragged about on my blog. So, on Christmas Day, I met Mark and his wife at the church visitor’s center, worshiped with them, and then talked about God and writing afterwards.

2.) FINALLY! A published song!

The 1980’s was my songwriting phase. Although I received much encouragement and support from friends, it seemed that seeing my songs published was not to be… at least not then.

But more recently, as the Christmas choir at my church was at their first practice of the year and warming up with “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus,” the director commented that he loved that song and wished that there were more than two verses. The songwriter in me was resurrected, and I thought, CHALLENGE ACCEPTED! I prayed for inspiration …

I have always loved Christmas carols that tell the whole story of the gospel, not just the part about the cute little Baby in the manger that gets put back in the closet in January and not thought of until the next Christmas season. As I thought about the meaning of “come,” I realized, we’re not waiting for Jesus to be born, that’s happened already. And we’re not waiting for Him to rise from the grave, either – that’s happened, too. Now we’re waiting for His promised return! I wrote two more verses, careful to write in the same style as the first two. I wrote verse 3 about who Jesus is, followed by mention of the Resurrection. All of verse 4 is about the Second Coming and the final destiny of “sinners saved though faith alone.”

The first Sunday in Advent, there it was! All four verses were squeezed between the lines of music, and at the bottom of the page, fine print said, “vs. 1&2 Charles Wesley, vs 3&4 Ann Aschauer.” I smiled at seeing my name right next to Charles Wesley’s. Most of the people didn’t notice, and I got a bang out of that, too. Just my little secret, hidden in plain sight. I later got a note from the pastor saying he hadn’t noticed until someone pointed it out to him. Before that, he had assumed those verses had been there for the past 200 years, like the first two. (I refrained from telling him I’d been there for the past 200 years, too.)

For anyone who’s interested, here are the third and fourth verses:

Vs 3:
Come, Thou whom the prophets promised, Thou of whom the cantors sing;
Come, Emmanuel; God, be with us, Thou, our Prophet, Priest, and King.
Jesus, Thou art all perfection, Thou whose fellowship we crave;
Thou the Life and Resurrection, Come redeem us from the grave.

vs 4:
Come, O King, and claim Thy Kingdom; With the angels split the skies!
With a shout and trumpets sounding, Bid Thy sleeping children rise.
Gather in Thine arms so tender Sinners saved through faith alone;
Lead us in Thy heav'nly splendor Unto our eternal home.

When the “Old Louisville Christmas” was held, that song was again in the program, and again I got a thrill hearing the members and guests singing the words God had given me. At the last verse, when the musicians stopped playing, and 700+ people sang a cappella in 4-part harmony, I got tears in my eyes. Thank You, Jesus!

I’ve shared these verses with friends from other churches and told them the lyrics hadn’t been copyrighted, so they were free to add them to their own singing of that song, if they liked. I love the idea of “my” lyrics being sung all over the country. Maybe all over the world. So, dear readers, feel free, too.

Besides meeting two fellow bloggers face-to-face and seeing “my” lyrics in the church bulletin and hearing them sung by hundreds of people, I had another big “first” in 2022,

… which I’ll share next time.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Prayer: Lord, Thank You for coming that we might have abundant life at any age. Fifty years ago, I would not have imagined having so much fun now, but it shouldn’t surprise me that the Creator of all things always has something interesting and new. Thank You! In Jesus’ name, amen.

Mr. Walker’s Miracle (A Christmas Story) Final Chapter and Epilogue

Mr. Walker’s Miracle (A Christmas Story)

Mr. Walker’s Miracle (A Christmas Story) Part 2

Mr. Walker’s Miracle (A Christmas Story) Part 3

Mr. Walker’s Miracle, a Christmas Story, Part 4

Mr. Walker’s Miracle, a Christmas Story, Part 5

Mr. Walker’s Miracle (A Christmas Story) Part 6

And the miracles continued, Beverly Walker had requested a memorial service for her husband on what would have been his sixty-fifth birthday, Since the date fell close to Easter that year, it seemed especially fitting that the service included an encore solo from the Messiah, The Trumpet Shall Sound. Cliff Johnson was more than willing to sing in Charles Walker’s honor, but there was doubt as to whether the trumpet player the church had hired would be willing and available to return for the service.

Providentially, he was free that day and actually excited to take part in such a tribute.

As the multitude of family, friends, and admirers listened, Cliff sang:

"The trumpet shall sound ... and the dead shall be raised, 
Be raised incorruptible ..." .

A joyous atmosphere of victory filled the place. Everyone felt it, and as the trumpet player accompanied triumphantly, one could see in his expression a passion reminiscent of Mr. Walker’s.

After numerous testimonials regarding Mr. Walker’s character and his influence in people’s lives, the pastor wrapped up the service by asking if there was anyone who had postponed a relationship with Christ, for whatever reason, and invited these procrastinators to make a commitment then and there to the Lord that Mr. Walker had loved so. Several came forward and knelt at the front, and to everyone’s delight, these included the trumpet player. In an outpouring typical of the emotion of an artist, he laid his trumpet on the altar, signifying his commitment to dedicate his music to glorifying God.

Fron then on the instrument was seen every Sunday at the church, where the musician – Charles Walker’s last convert – played it faithfully every week in the worship. His name was Randy Simpson, and in time he became like another son to Beverly.

* * * * * * * * * *

The dream lasted only a moment, but it was one that Li would always remember. As the vision faded and the morning light awakened her fully, she lingered in bed, etching the picture into her memory. She smiled as a wave of peace swept over her.

“Thank You, Jesus,” she whispered.

* * * * * * * * * *

“I think I’ve seen Mr. Walker,” she told Sean over their customary cup of coffee in the church cafe.

“Really? You dreamt about him last night?”

“Well, actually this morning, right before I woke up. It was just for a few seconds, but I saw it so clearly. Two men were standing together. Their backs were to me, but I’m sure one of them was Mr. Walker. The other one was dressed very differently, like from another century, and he had lots of hair. It may have even been a wig …”

“Handel?!”

“I don’t think I ever knew what he looked like, but that was my first thought.”

“What were they doing?”

“They just had their arms around each other’s shoulders, as though they’d been best friends all their lives. They were talking. I couldn’t make out what they were saying, but they seemed to be speaking almost simultaneously, finishing each other’s sentences, that sort of thing – real kindred spirits. I heard them laugh. Then I woke up.”

Liz could tell by the look in Sean’s eyes that he had caught the vision.

“Sweet…” he sighed.

“Yeah, what a blessing. I can’t wait to tell Beverly about it.”

“Yeah, she’ll like that,” Sean agreed. There was a pause, during which Liz felt a certain lack of satisfaction, almost frustration.

“I just wish I could do more,” she said, her voice beginning to break. “Oh, Sean, I was just getting to know him, and now he’s gone!” A tear rolled down her cheek. Sean reached across the table and squeezed her hand.

“Y’know, Liz, the best thing you can do to pay tribute to Mr. Walker is to use your gift the way he encouraged you to do.”

“You mean write?”

“Yes! As he said, you’re a visionary …”

“- an eye in the Body of Christ?”

“If you wanna put it that way, yeah. I mean, think about it, Liz. You look at a special needs student and see the Wonderful Counselor. You look out the window of an airplane and see a mission field. You look at a contest and see battles raging everywhere. – You see angels on the subway!” he laughed. “And while the church is watching for God to heal an injured believer, you’re watching Him heal the Church. As Mr. Walker said, ‘write it down!'”

Liz smiled wistfully. “Sarah once told me that, too.”

“The I guess you’d better do it,” Sean announced with an air of finality.

“Sean, you know how scatterbrained I am.” Sean didn’t argue with her.

“Mm-hm.”

“And a procrastinator …”

“Yep.”

“So, you remind me and nag me, OK?”

“I’ll nag like I’ve never nagged before.”

* * * * * * * * * *

So, from that day on, whenever Liz had a revelation, a dream, and adventure, or an answered prayer, as soon as she had finished telling Sean about it, he would rejoice with her, and then he would repeat the familiar admonition – “Now write it down!” And she would … usually.

Of course, things to write about far outnumbered the opportunities to write, and Liz soon realized what the apostle John meant when he wrote, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”

Liz imagined herself in her old age, when all the adventures had died down, writing and writing about what she had seen the Lord do in her lifetime; she hoped her memory would be good enough to do so. If it wasn’t, or if the adventures never died down (a definite possibility), she’d wait until she got to heaven and tell these stories for all eternity to anyone who wanted to hear.

* * * * * * * * * *

Fellow bloggers and other readers, for those of you who stuck it out and read this story to its conclusion, God bless you! I hope your Christmas is filled with the wonder of the Incarnation – that God Himself loved us enough to come to this messed-up world as one of us, and to give Himself to save us from our sin and death. Jesus is the best gift ever!

Mr. Walker’s Miracle (A Christmas Story) Part 7: The REAL Miracle

Mr. Walker’s Miracle (A Christmas Story)

Mr. Walker’s Miracle (A Christmas Story) Part 2

Mr. Walker’s Miracle (A Christmas Story) Part 3

Mr. Walker’s Miracle, a Christmas Story, Part 4

Mr. Walker’s Miracle, a Christmas Story, Part 5

Mr. Walker’s Miracle (A Christmas Story) Part 6

In a way everyone had been right, and everyone had been wrong. God had proven without a doubt that He was perfectly capable of performing a miracle of healing any time He chose. And the time He had chosen had been one when many, many witnesses could experience a glimpse of His glory that they could not deny, and that they would never forget.

At the same time, He had also made it very clear that He was in charge of the lives of His people. If He wanted a man to live, that man would live until his work was complete. If He wanted to call that man home, no one could keep him in this world – nor should anyone want to. “Let God be God” was to become the unofficial motto of the choir, if not the whole church.

God had also proven that there were worse things than physical problems, and there were better things than instant healing. During the Walkers’ tribulations, the church had undergone a transformation. Whereas before there had been no lack of opinions (and opinionated persons to express them), there were now honest questions and open minds. More importantly, there were open hearts.

Mr. Walker had told the youth group once that when he was a teenager, he had had all the answers but had somehow grown more ignorant since then. Recognizing his wisdom, the teens had realized that sometimes it’s better to have sincere questions than too many answers, and that God is much more concerned with a person’s character and relationship with Him than He is concerned that a person get everything “right.” Even if such a thing were possible, “getting it all right” would inevitably lead to pride and self-sufficiency, the first stage in the downfall of a church.

And so, in the months following Mr. Walker’s accident, Faith Chapel had become a place where there were many more questions than answers, but where the questions did not seem to bother people as much as they had before. There was the peace of knowing that a loving God knew everything, and that if and when they needed an answer, it would be there for them. Meanwhile, the questions and mysteries were marvelous opportunities to exercise faith. And of course, in the Christian life faith is what it was all about.

Thus Faith Chapel, in spite of its tremendous success and every human reason to become arrogant, was actually a kinder, more compassionate church, one in which members bore one another’s burdens and differences of opinion with patience and love enough to puzzle any outside observer. What was even more puzzling was the fact that most people had very little awareness of the change that had taken place. Maybe it was because they were embarrassed and reluctant to think about past destructive attitudes that had been so hurtful to the cause of Christ, or maybe it was because they were too busy planning a bright future to analyze what had happened in the recent past. Or maybe it was that they were simply too close to the situation, and it took someone from the outside such as Liz to see that the real miracle was not what had happened to Mr. Walker but what had happened to the church. Liz wrote in her journal about it in the quiet moments that brought such insights, but she shared these thoughts only with Sean, who marveled with her at the new attitudes they were witnessing. In such a large group of extremely diverse personalities, attitudes like those were nothing short of a miracle.

And the miracles continued…

(Final installment tomorrow – promise!)

Mr. Walker’s Miracle (A Christmas Story) Part 6

Mr. Walker’s Miracle (A Christmas Story)

Mr. Walker’s Miracle (A Christmas Story) Part 2

Mr. Walker’s Miracle (A Christmas Story) Part 3

Mr. Walker’s Miracle, a Christmas Story, Part 4

Mr. Walker’s Miracle, a Christmas Story, Part 5

King of kings! – Forever and ever! And Lord of lords! – Halleluia! Halleluia!

(“Let God be God!”)

And He shall reign forever and ever!”

(“If I die tonight, I’m a blessed man.”)

NO! Liz cried in her heart, even as she sang “Halleluia! Halleluia!” Lord You can’t take him now! Please ! Not now!

“King of kings! And Lord of lords!!”

(“Let God be God.”)

“King of kings! And Lord of lords!”

(“If I die tonight …”)

No, Jesus! Please – !

“And He shall reign forever and ever!”

(“If I die tonight, let God be God.”)

Liz was singing as if Mr. Walker’s life depended on it, and it seemed the rest of the choir was doing the same. As the final “halleluia’s” rang out, Liz saw to her horror that Mr. Walker was starting to shake again. His eyes had a look of utter disbelief, and as the choir stopped for the dramatic pause before the final “halleluia,” that pause seemed like an eternity in which the words echoed, “If I die tonight, let God be God.”

The choir was holding its collective breath, waiting for the signal for the closing line, and the audience appeared to be doing the same. The something happened that was totally unexpected.

Mr. Walker’s trembling hands suddenly grasped the armrests as if to steady himself and stop the shaking, and slowly, with a look of intense determination …

He stood up.

The with a look of complete incredulity, he raised his hands in triumph.

Two miracles occurred that night. The first was that Mr. Walker stood before his choir, completely healed. The second was that in their state of shock the choir still managed to sing the final “HALLE – – LU – -IA!” as he directed them.

Since the whole audience was standing, most were unaware at first of what they were witnessing, except those in the first few rows and those in the balcony. Members of the church who knew Mr. Walker’s story were awestruck. Strangers were puzzled, and a few cynics thought it was in poor taste for such a prominent church to resort to such a corny publicity stunt.

Beverly, of course, knew better. She stood reverently as the applause thundered, tears glistening on her cheeks. Her husband was gazing beyond the audience, oblivious to the ovation.

Ordinarily at that point the orchestra, choir, and soloists would each take a turn at accepting the applause, but somehow individual bows seemed out of place that night. The only One worthy of praise was receiving it all.

No one wanted to go home that night. Why would anyone who had tasted heaven want to return to earth? Liz, of course, responded as she did to any profound event in her life; she cried profusely. Sean wrapped his arms around her and shook his head in affectionate amusement, but his eyes were glistening, too. All around there were tears and hugs, and one of Mr. Walker’s grandchildren expressed the feelings of most as she jumped up and down with glee, clapping her chubby hands and squealing with delight. Seeing her, “Grampa Chuck” crouched down and opened his arm wide. The toddler ran to him and was lifted, giggling into the air. “Gamma Bebberly” looked on, her face beaming with pleasure.

* * * * * * * *

The following day, Christmas Day, the church received word that Charles Walker has gone to be with his Lord, sometime after midnight Christmas Eve. He had slipped away quietly in his sleep, leaving this life the same way in which he had walked it, with a look of profound joy on his face.

* * * * * * * *

(to be continued …)

Mr. Walker’s Miracle, a Christmas Story, Part 5

Mr. Walker’s Miracle (A Christmas Story)

Mr. Walker’s Miracle (A Christmas Story) Part 2

Mr. Walker’s Miracle (A Christmas Story) Part 3

Mr. Walker’s Miracle, a Christmas Story, Part 4

The sights and sounds of the sanctuary were exciting and new, yet somehow familiar to Liz: the noise of the growing crowd, the butterflies in the stomach, the impatience to get started. Sean had been right in predicting a packed house; with the believers who had come to worship, the music lovers that had come to hear Handel, and the curious who had come to see the new sanctuary, it was obvious that every seat would be taken. The excited conversation, blended with the orchestra’s tuning up, gave an air of expectancy. In the dim light a myriad of candles flickered. The smell of wax mingled with that of fresh pine and perfume. Spruced up youth, some in their fathers’ suits and ties, stood at each doorway, giving out programs, searching the balcony for empty seats, and asking parties if they could please move down to make room for a few more.

As the choir came in single file and began filling the platform, voices were hushed, and houselights faded. Orchestra members ceased their warmups, and a few audience members cleared their throats. Beverly wheeled her husband to the music stand at the front, and a low murmur rippled through the crowd. As she positioned the wheelchair, something seemed to make her hesitate. For a moment the two of them looked into each other’s eyes, smiling as if to say, “We made it!” There was visible love between them that made them almost enviable, in spite of the obvious troubles they had been through. Before taking her place with the coir, Beverly kissed her husband, and though it wasn’t a long, drawn-out kiss, it seemed somehow sacred, like the culmination of a wedding ceremony. Liz felt a twinge of fear. Was she kissing him good-bye?

From the first note there was something about the way Mr. Walker conducted that night that was different. The fire and passion was still there, and he seemed to be drinking in every moment as though savoring a rare delicacy. This was to be expected, of course. Everyone involved felt the same way; how much more the one for whom it had been a life-long dream?

Yet there was something else about him that Liz noticed, and she wondered whether anyone else could see it. Mr. Walker seemed to know something that the others didn’t, and Liz didn’t want to think about what that might be.

Gordon’s Comfort Ye My People was more exquisite than ever, and though half the choir held its breath, nothing went awry this time.

For Unto Us a Child is Born was for Liz was like finding the door of heaven ajar and peering in.

And His name shall be called … Wonderful … Counselor … The Might God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace!”

She felt as if she had sprouted wings and could take off at any moment. Mr. Walker’s face reflected the same ecstasy; his eyes seemed to behold some unspoken wonders, and at times they had an unexplained intensity.

When Beverly sang I Know that My Redeemer Liveth, there a profound sense of peace and sacredness that was felt by every soul in the place. Liz marveled that Beverly could continue to sing with such a steady, clear voice; she knew that had she herself been the one singing, she would have been blubbering through most of it.

A few songs later, Liz felt a thrill rush through her as she realized the Hallelujah Chorus was next. This was the part where the composer had seen “all of Heaven … and the great God!” She had no doubt that it was possible for that entire congregation of thousands – believer and unbeliever alike – to gaze upon God’s face if He willed it. And why wouldn’t He?

She was almost too breathless to sing when the orchestra began the famous melody, and the mass of people stood to their feet according to the royal tradition. It seemed cruelly ironic that the only one not standing was the one for whom it meant the most.

The choir had never sounded so magnificent; they were singing their hearts out for their Messiah, and for Mr. Walker. They were giving him his Christmas gift, and one could tell by his face that it was the finest he had ever received.

HAA -- LLELUIA! HAA -- LELUIA!!
HALLELUIA! HALLELUIA! HALLE -- LUIA!"

The words echoed like a blessing on the new sanctuary and everyone in it.

"For the Lord God Ominpotent reigneth!"

The words seemed to echo Mr. Walker’s words, “Let God be God!” And the “Halleluiah’s” that followed thundered through the hall, the kettledrums booming for emphasis. The intensity in Mr. Walker’s face increased, and he conducted as though fighting some kind of battle that raged within him. Liz couldn’t tell whether he was winning or losing. When they sang

“And He shall reign forever and ever!”

there was a look of victory on his face, and the words “Let God be God” echoed in her heart. Liz was so busy watching Mr. Walker’s expressions that she nearly forgot to turn the pages of her score, and she found it difficult to keep up.

Mr. Walker didn’t have to try to keep up; he didn’t need a score. The music was in his blood, and he pursued it relentlessly, with a look of fervent determination on his face.

As the song built to its climax, there was suddenly something different about his expression. It had a wide-eyed quality about it, a look of acute surprise that seemed to overwhelm him. Liz couldn’t tell if it was a good surprise or a bad one, and that frightened her, especially considering the man’s words to his singers earlier.

(to be continued…)

Mr. Walker’s Miracle, a Christmas Story, Part 4

Mr. Walker’s Miracle (A Christmas Story)

Mr. Walker’s Miracle (A Christmas Story) Part 2

Mr. Walker’s Miracle (A Christmas Story) Part 3

On December 24, the youth group gathered in the new sanctuary in their work clothes, amid stepladders, strings of lights, garlands, and massive rolls of velvet ribbon. For the next few hours, the church reverberated with laughter, chatter, and boom boxes between Christmas carols and “contemporary” music that caused the floorboards to vibrate with the beat. The youth transformed the newly built sanctuary into a Christmas spectacle that was festive without being frivolous. Liz was struck by how enormous the place was and tried to imagine it filled with people.

“Do you really think it’ll be a full house tomorrow night?” she asked Sean as she rolled up the remainder of the ribbon. Sean was sweeping pine needles into a dustpan.

“I wouldn’t be at all surprised,” he replied. “We get over thousand people every week anyway, and it’s been well publicized.”

“True,” said Liz. How well she remembered the stacks of posters they had run off in the office and seeing them all over town the next day; the youth had done their job admirably. They had been sure to post the announcements in the music departments of the local colleges and universities, so that not only the faithful but also classical music enthusiasts would know about the concert. She felt an excitement similar to what she had felt before the musical production of The Sound of Music at the U. of I., where she had played a major role. Yet there was a difference this time. It was less fear, more thrill. Liz had no solos, no dances, no spotlight on herself to anticipate, yet she was no less excited. It had more the feeling of being enormously privileged to be a part – even a small part – of something so magnificent. When the curtain had gone down on the last performance of The Sound of Music, it had been over and done with, leaving an empty space of sorts in her heart and life. But this – this was timeless, eternal, and who could tell? There could very well be eternal results. God could bring anyone through that door, and who could hear the Messiah without being moved in one way or another, especially with someone like Mr. Walker at the helm?

Christmas Eve, an hour before the service was to start, the choir and orchestra members assembled in the choir room. The soloists were walking about in separate corners, doing vocal warm-ups. A few women still had random curlers in their hair. The chatter was low in volume, high in excitement. But all the noise died down altogether when Beverly appeared with her husband. There was a reverent hush throughout the room as she wheeled him down the aisle to the front of the room, and all members of the company gravitated toward them.

Mr. Walker gazed affectionately over the gathering with moist eyes that had the look of one seeing beyond this world into another dimension. For a moment he said nothing, Then he began.

“Thank you. Thank you all for coming. As you know, this is the fulfillment of a life-long dream of mine to perform the complete Messiah. And you have helped make it possible – this magnificent work, dedicated to a magnificent God,” (His face fairly glowed.) “with such people,” he added, smiling appreciatively. “Every one of you has a gift – is a gift from God.” For a moment his eyes met those of Liz, the youngest and newest member of the choir. “Every one of you. Don’t ever forget that.” He winked, and Liz felt as though she had been personally commended by a king. Was it wrong to feel pride at such a moment?

Mr. Walker’s voice grew a little stronger as he went on addressing the company.

“I want you to know how much I appreciate your kind words, your concern, the help you’ve given my wife …” He reached up and patted her hand; Beverly never took her eyes off her husband as he spoke. “And most of all, your prayers. Prayer is so important, even if we don’t know how or what to pray … and so often we don’t. It’s not so much what we pray, prayer is in the heart. Prayer changes us. It may or may not change the situation, but it changes us. It’s letting God be God.”

He paused, then went on, softly yet passionately, “Let God be God. He has blessed us – blessed me – so much …

“If I had only my salvation, I’d be a blessed man, but He’s given me more, so much more. A dear wife and soulmate … ” He squeezed Beverly’s hand, and her eyes glowed with love. ” …beautiful children and grandchildren who love Him and are here tonight. And now … ” (His face broke into a broad smile.) ” … the fulfillment of a dream. If I die tonight, I would still be of all men most blessed.”

Liz was troubled by this last statement. She wished he wouldn’t talk that way! But Mr. Walker and his wife both had a look about them that was not of this world, and they seemed untouched by fear or trouble.

“We don’t know what the future holds,” he added with a confident smile, “but we know Who holds the future. I never would have guessed two months ago, out walking with my wife …” His voice trailed off, and a few choir members awkwardly looked at the floor.

He took a deep breath and added with finality, “But let God be God. ‘ All things work together for good for them that love God.’ So, love God and let Him be God. He knows best. If I live another fifty years, if I die tonight, I’m a blessed man.” He looked up into the face of his wife, who smiled back with the same serene joy. “I’m a blessed man,” he whispered fervently, his eyes gazing into hers.

(to be continued …)

Mr. Walker’s Miracle (A Christmas Story) Part 3

The saga of Mr. Walker continues. In case you missed parts 1 and 2, here they are:

Mr. Walker’s Miracle (A Christmas Story)

Mr. Walker’s Miracle, a Christmas Story, Part 2

There was much rejoicing when four weeks later Mr. Walker showed up for rehearsal. He was in a wheelchair and looked pale and haggard, but his spirit shone through. And though some members boldly insisted that “God’s not finished yet!” he was deeply grateful for the use of his arms and declared that, God willing, he would be conducting the Messiah on Christmas Eve. The announcement brought a standing ovation, whether for Mr. Walker, God, or both, and among the sopranos there were a few tears shed.

He proceeded to carry on the rehearsal as though he had never been away, and soon Liz could see the fire in his eyes as he led them in Handel’s magnificent tribute to his God. She could imagine the composer smiling to see such dedication and oneness with his music. There were moments when it seemed the director would rise right out of the wheelchair -indeed, everyone hoped that he would – yet the conducting continued from the humble position of the paraplegic, and to Liz, the chair seemed to mock his name.

Rehearsals with full orchestra began in mid-December, and the choir was treated to the solos that had been practiced separately up to that point. Undoubtedly Beverly’s was the most moving. Although she had a score in front of her, she never so much as glanced at the notes; likewise, her husband conducted by heart, sometimes with eyes closed in near ecstasy, other times looking deeply and passionately into his wife’s eyes as she sang:

“I know that my Redeemer liveth…”

Their faces reflected the peace of undaunted faith. To watch and listen to this couple was an inspiration. One could sense the many years they had spent growing together in knowledge and trust of God, and that they fully expected to continue doing so right into eternity.

I hope Sean and I will be like them someday, Liz thought.

When Beverly finished her solo, the silence that followed was profound. Every soul in the room had been elevated to a higher level. Such is the effect of true faith on those around it.

Almost equally moving was Gordon Mayfield’s singing of “Comfort Ye My People.” The young man had an excellent, well-trained voice, and of course the solo exuded peace, a rare commodity as the Christmas season approached with all the secular distractions the world had created to pollute it. With the added stress of the recent accident, a moment of serenity was a welcome relief.

It was during the second rehearsal after Mr. Walker had returned that Liz was enjoying Gordon’s singing with her eyes closed and a peaceful smile on her face.

Suddenly she was startled out of her reverie by the sound of a collective gasp from the other choir members. Gordon stopped singing, and Liz opened her eyes to see a disturbing sight.

Mr. Walker was slumped back in his chair, his body shaking convulsively, his eyes rolling back in his head. Dr. Peterson had already leapt off the platform and ordered for someone to call 911. Beverly flew to her husband’s side, musicians began moving their instruments to clear a space, and most of the choir sat in shocked silence. Liz felt as though she were going to be sick.

The next few moments were a blur; Dr. Peterson’s orders were mingled with Beverly’s soothing words of encouragement, others’ sobs, and eventually the wail of sirens. In spite of the rapid dialogue between the doctor and the paramedics, everything seemed to be moving in slow motion, until Mr. Walker was finally taken away, with Beverly and a few close friends following. As the flashing lights of the ambulance flickered through the windows, and the siren’s melancholy cry faded into the night, Liz dreaded the heated controversy that she expected to follow.

But there was no theological debate, no arguing, no proud declarations. There were prayers, and there were tears, and people who had recently barely spoken to one another now sat quietly, nonjudgmental, heads bowed and hands clasped in unity. Beside the cluster of music stands, a group of musicians stood in a huddle, arms around one another, and one was softly leading in a prayer. A few others pretended to busy themselves with cleaning and putting away their instruments, but Liz noticed the awkward looks on their faces. These were people she did not recognize; they were not members of the church, but professional musicians that had been hired to fill in the gaps. Liz couldn’t help wondering what was going on in their minds. Did they know the Lord at all? If not, what opinions were they forming about how He took care of His own? She found that she herself was unsure what she believed, and sitting in the midst of the emotional chaos, she suddenly felt confused and vulnerable. Looking down, she fidgeted with the pages of the musical score in her lap. One large tear splashed onto the cover. A moment later she felt a strong, warm hand on her shoulder, and a familiar voice gently asked, “You OK, Liz?”

“…I’m not sure …” she stammered in a choked voice, not looking up. Sean knelt beside her chair, lifted her chin, and looked into her eyes.

“He’s going to be OK … either way. We know that, don’t we?”

Liz nodded, then gratefully accepted her fiancĂ©’s embrace and sobbed on his shoulder.

* * * * * * * * * *

For the next few days the prayer chain kept the phone lines busy, keeping one another updated on Mr. Walker’s progress. After just two days in the hospital, he was sent home with medication to control the seizures, Although there were those who believed that “perfect healing” was on its way and that medication was an unnecessary distraction, they had the decency not to be too vocal in their opinions, and most were grateful for any kind of answer to their prayers.

It looked as though Mr. Walker would be conducting the Christmas Eve service after all.

(to be continued …)