THE WONDER OF GOD SPEAKING THROUGH US
It was Sunday, a gorgeous, crisp autumn day. What the afternoon had in store for me would be overwhelming, so much that, after my encounter with a stranger I would quiver in awe.
My morning had been busy tending to issues at home and I missed all three church services. Still, I was determined to get out and enjoy a few hours of that lovely day.
At 2 pm I headed into town. My first thoughts were to stop by Oakhurst Giftworks, but I talked myself out of going even though this is one of my favorite stores. So what else is open on a Sunday in Oakhurst? Not much! I wandered through CVS, then Rite Aid, all the while dismissing thoughts of going to Giftworks.
I drove past Giftworks and headed north on the highway, knowing that even fewer shops were open in that direction. Killing time, I talked with a few boutique owners until noticing it was 4pm. I decided enough dilly-dallying was done and decided to drive home, still fighting thoughts of stopping by Giftworks.
As I headed home, I finally gave into the urge to drop by the store I had been avoiding. I walked into Giftworks and noticed the proprietor (I will call her Sara) was talking with her children in the back. We proceeded to exchange hellos and hugs since we are good friends. No one else was in the store.
Literally, 45 seconds later, a woman in her mid 40’s entered the store and began looking at cards. She noticed us, smiled and said “hello”, then quickly left the area and headed into another room.
My friend, the proprietor, excused herself and followed this customer to offer some assistance. Maybe 1 minute passed…I heard Sara calling for me, twice. Her tone indicated urgency. I jumped to my feet and headed towards her voice. When I found her, she was embracing the stranger, now sobbing in her arms. Sara motioned for me to join them and mouthed the words, without making a sound, “she just lost her husband this morning.”
My heart sank with sadness for this woman. Sara then left us as I began speaking softly and slowly to this grieving widow. She introduced herself as “Kari.” Through numerous, fragmented sentences broken by her anguish and tears, I was able to piece together what happened earlier that day.
Kari stated, “I don’t know why I’m here. My husband died this morning in bed; maybe due to a heart attack. I’m washing our bedding and blankets at the Laundromat up the street.” (Ironically, the one I just drove by minutes ago!) She continued, “I’ve never been in this store but drive past it all the time. I am looking for a card for my mother-in-law and thought of coming here.” I noticed Kari holding a sympathy card in her hand.
Kari indicated she did not have a church family, but I understood that she was a believer. She explained her Catholic background and stated her husband was also Catholic but not a church goer. Not only was Kari grieving the loss of her husband, she was worried about his soul! I then realized that the Holy Spirit was urging me all afternoon to go into this store. I thought I knew why, but I still did not have the complete picture yet. This hurting woman went on to explain how much she wanted to go inside a church, sit in a pew and pray. She tried entering several churches earlier that day; however, all their doors were locked. Kari said she felt so alone and separated from God. How she desperately wanted to be in a house of worship to pray (because certainly God would hear her prayers in church!)
That’s when it hit me. My knees buckled and tears welled up in my eyes. I was taken by complete surprise. It was 31 years earlier, in the month of November 1981, when I had the very same experience. I was driving home from a surgeon’s office after receiving frightening news. I was alone, navigating through the congested streets of southern California during rush hour traffic. I was heading home to my husband and 6 month old baby boy; all the family I had in California. I was crying and my ears would not stop ringing. I worried about the lump in my breast and my surgeon’s expressed urgency to have surgery the next day! Overwhelmed and in shock, I feared the worst. Thoughts exploded within me: What if this is cancer? If it is, will I live through this? If I die, who will love and care for my son and husband? A thousand terrifying thoughts bombarded me.
Instinctively, I wanted to find a church, get away from all the noise and sit in God’s house to pray. I, too, was raised Catholic and believed I could pray to God anywhere. However, I was taught to go inside a church and pray if my problem was serious. (Certainly God would be with me in church; He would hear my prayers there!) I stopped by several churches on my way home that afternoon but all doors were locked, no one around! I felt all alone and distanced from God. (At that time in my pain and despair, I did not realize that God was already with me, all around me, in the surgeon’s office, in the parking garage, in my car! God felt my fear. He was holding me, guiding me, loving me, and certainly He was driving my car for me because I was too much of a mess to do so!)
Now 31 years later it all came together. Almighty God predestined a Divine Appointment for me! My encounter with a stranger was strategically orchestrated. When I finally obliged the Holy Spirit’s promptings, I met a grieving widow who described the very same experience and feelings I had decades earlier. Within an instant, I knew exactly how Kari felt and I knew what to do…PRAY. We put our arms around each other, held each other up and we prayed!
Rarely did I think of my experience 31 years prior…driving around looking for God.
I stuffed that memory down too deep to resurface. Nor did I ever discuss what I experienced that afternoon with anyone. NEVER. What transpired was only known by me and God.
And I never expected the anguish and fear that I experienced so long ago could ever be useable in my life, the desperation of trying to find a house of worship to pray in, the deep feelings of loneliness, despair, separation from God. But God knows better!
* He is always with us — Heb 13:5 “God has said, Never will I leave you, Never will I forsake you!“
* God never wastes a hurt — 2nd Cor 1:4 “He comforts us in all our troubles so that we
can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”