Unexpected Encounters

Dear God,

Today started normally …

Was sitting on the bus as usual when James-the-Labrador-pup comes bounding down the bus – you can hear him before you see him – and that’s saying something because he is tall.  But today, he stops.  He tilts his head – like dogs do when they’re checking out an unfamiliar person – and get this:  he pauses.

I look slightly behind me to see a woman standing at the end of my seat holding the rail, looking at me as though she should recognise me.  But I don’t know her.  She looks at James intently also – he shuffles his feet, then somehow his whole self.  Finally, she looks at the empty seat.

Yep.  That’s where the elephant’s sitting today.  Filling the bus.  Not sure how.  But that’s how elephants work.

The woman finally finds her voice.

“Excuse me,” she looks and sounds nervous and like she feels a bit silly,  “but is there usually a lady who sits with you here …? ”

I look up at her.  What she sees obviously encourages her because she sounds more certain now …

“… asks you questions about God?”

“Yes!  Do you know her?  Is she alright?”  I ask.

“Yes.  She’s my mother.  She’s in hospital.  She’s fine now, but she broke her hip.  But she’s been refusing to rest until someone came to tell you.  She said you’d be worried.  She was right.  I can see it.”

“I’m just glad she’s okay now.  Do you think she’d mind a visit?  Which hospital is she at?”

Anyway, Grace – Mrs Hedge – it turns out has been talking with the hospital chaplain and mostly wanted to make sure that I knew that she was a believer now.  Her daughter, Carol, and I exchanged details.  I’ll visit Mrs Hedge tomorrow before the girls come to stay in the afternoon.  Carol said that she was keen to hear more about what her mother was learning too.

I wish James had a tail.  I’d have enjoyed watching it wag as he listened.

It only took me 2 buses to get back to work this time.

When I do get in there’s a box on my desk.  A big one.  Curious, I open the lid and there’s a bunch of books.  Commentaries.  Training manuals.  Gospel sharing programmes.  Sermon recordings.  Wow!  Who’s is all this stuff?  Where’d it come from?  What’s it doing on my desk?  Surely God didn’t answer last nights prayer by sending a bunch of angels down from heaven with a selection from his personal library …

I pick up an introduction to the New Testament and see inside it Gina’s name and suddenly feel like someone has grabbed hold of my stomach and tugged sharply.

Good job there’s nothing in there yet.

Gina comes in as I’m replacing the book and putting the box on the floor, trying to decide how to respond.

“You found the box? Great.  There’s another down in my car, but I remembered when I got up here that you catch the bus to work, don’t you?”

I nod dumbly and prepare to speak. Gina waves a finger in front of me.

“No! Don’t say it.  Yes I do know what you want to say and I am going to say this in reply.  I am not going to use any of this again, but I didn’t want to throw it out.  I’d rather you have it than anybody else and its been sitting in boxes at my place for the best part of three years.”

I go to speak.

“Don’t argue, please.  You don’t need to cart it on the bus.  If you like I can give you a lift home today since I’m leaving early too.”

“Can I speak now?”

She nods.

“Thank you.  I’d appreciate the lift.  Do you want to stay and hang out with some DVDs and I’ll make some dinner afterwards?”

“Sounds good.”

Movie was so-so.  Food was fantastic – even if I do say so myself (Gina agreed)

Father, its a strange world.  Here I am praying that my family will become Christians, whereas Gina grew up in a Christian family.  But her story is so sad.  Her Mum died just last year and her Dad was killed in a car accident 10 years ago.  Her brother and his family sound really great Lord, but the stories she tells about how her sisters have treated her over the last couple of years makes me want to cry.

It’s hard to believe that the Gina that I have met is the same person who made a conscious decision to pray for salvation at the age of eight and to reaffirm it publicly and be baptised at fifteen.  To think that this was someone who worked throughout their teens towards the goal of becoming a missionary, asking God to teach her to persevere all things and to help her be single minded when it came to serving and honouring him.  Someone known as a Jesus freak at school.  Someone who led groups to teach peers about you.  Someone who chose her uni studies around areas that she felt would be useful on the mission field.  Father its hard to believe that this is someone who has done twelve months short term mission to some country that I can’t even pronounce.

Lord, even the idea that Gina has been engaged to someone is strange – even after she had that live in partnership last year.  She was going to make promises in your sight at a time when that meant something to her.  Until she questioned whether she was being faithful to her calling or abandoning her priorities, and instead of being supportive – in his hurt, her fiance lashed out at her and told her that she was a double minded woman who couldn’t decide what her priorities were and that she was not good enough for either Christ or men if she was going to mess them around that way.  And rather than slowing down the freight train like pace of the wedding preparations as she’d asked, he broke off the engagement.

And then he left town and she hasn’t seen him since.

He left her behind in an incredible mess.  She’d decided that she didn’t want him anyway if he were going to act like that.  But somewhere in there she questioned if he weren’t right about her not being good enough for Christ, nor fit for his salvation and then hardened her heart and, she said, came to the conclusion that God wasn’t there.

I’m not sure that my heart didn’t break a little tonight.  The story of a hardening heart always makes mine crack a bit.

At the end of the evening I said thanks to Gina for the books etc.  I also told her that I would be giving thanks for them because I had only the night before been praying for wisdom.  I told her that I would be keeping them on a separate shelf in case she ever did decide she wanted them back – and then they would be hers again.

“Okay,” she says, “If you like.  I can’t tell you how to arrange your books.  But I can tell you now, they’ll be staying on that shelf.”

Father, thanks for the wisdom that people have shared in the books and talks and resources that Gina has given me to use.  Please bring her back to her former single minded focus for you.  Please, Lord, build me up so that in the face of opposition and trials I will turn to you and persevere.  And Lord, thank you for the freedom of singleness where I am free of complications and arguments that cause turmoil and divide relationships or hurt partners when life choices need to be made.  Help me not to be tempted by the riches of this world, but to persevere until the end in love of you.

Amen

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