No Day For the Faint Hearted

The coffee machine died today.

Everyone at work was strung out like nothing on earth.

No, I am not kidding.  I promise you this.  Tempers were short.  Fuses would blow over next to nothing.  People were complaining of headaches.  You could almost see Charlie Green’s eyes roll back in their sockets.

If you ever want to make a workplace dysfunctional – just kill the coffeepot.

The only sane person in the place was Angie who’s pregnant and has been off the stuff for about six months… Oh – and of course there was Gina who is on a herbal tea fad (thank goodness) but she had something under her skin anyway and was no more fun than those suffering from coffeepot withdrawal.

I spent the morning playing it safe and stuck to desk work in the office with as little human contact as possible, then just before lunch snuck out to use the photocopier… only to find Scott having a show down with the machine.  He was red in the face and yelling at the thing calling it all manner of names that I’ve never heard him use on anything alive or dead as though this was going to stir the machine into action.  He’d obviously been there for some time with something he wanted done with some urgency.  But driven mad by lack of caffeine, he’d not examined the problem carefully in the exhaustive, systematic way that Scott usually does.

How did I know that?

Because I could see exactly why the machine wasn’t working.  And so could Gina when she stopped beside me looking at Scott’s ranting and raging.

“What the…?”

“I believe he’s trying to photocopy something.”

“You reckon?” she asks sarcastically.

Both of us know how awful the morning has been.  Both of us are a little unsettled by this foul tempered Scott who seems to have taken up residence where our annoyingly goofy Scott usually resides.  Neither of us is convinced we want to see the new Scott flatly embarrassed.

“You go and distract him and I’ll get that while he’s not looking.”

“Why do I have to do the talking?  He’ll bite my head off and swallow me whole.”

“No he won’t.  Just ask him some dumb question about what next week’s Bible study is supposed to be – I can’t do that and you know it.  Go on – now!” and she pushed me out of the shelter of the doorway and into the path of the jolly green giant.

“Uh … Scott?”

“What?” he thunders back at me.

Gina sneaks in on the other side of the photocopy room.  I’m committed now.

“Um. What passage are we looking at next week before prayer meeting?  I think it’s my turn to prepare.”

Scott looks kind of shocked now.  As though I’ve hit him over the head with a club.

Gina is down on her hands and knees beside the photocopier.

“I’m not sure, I’d have to check, but it’s not your turn” he adds calmly, speaking with the old Scott’s voice, “It’s Graham’s turn next week – you’re after Graham.”

“Oh,” I say, as Gina plugs the photocopier in and switches it on at the wall, “Thanks.” she rises and scoots out of the room.  “Hey, are you okay, you look kind of strung out?”

He looks a little embarrassed here as though wondering how much I’ve seen.  I must have kept a pretty blank face though, because he just answered,

“Yeah, a bit.  But I’m okay now.  Now if I can just get this photocopier working …” and he pushed the button again, looking stunned when the machine whirred to action and started copying.  “Well what do you know?”

“Yep.  A photocopier that copies things,” I say, as though oblivious to his last few minutes.  And then I leave.  Quickly.  Before I fall over laughing like Gina is already around the corner as she greets me with the words, “Well what do you know?”

After lunch though, the internet goes down, the internal mail servers crash and the fax goes off to join the coffee machine in the great electrical circuit in the sky.

Once more our department shows that we have the best staff with the most initiative in the place though – Kylie copied the coffee preferences list from the tea room and took Gina and I down to Gloria Jeans with her to get coffees, hot chocolate and iced tea for the team.  We were the only group in the building that left feeling good today.

Gina followed me home, saying that she thought that she’d left a book she wanted at my place after her Cello lesson on Monday.  I didn’t remember seeing one around anywhere – but then I’ve barely stopped and I’ve been a bit preoccupied the last couple of days.  When we got in there were two messages on my phone so I left her to scout for her book while I went to listen to the messages and make some hot chocolate.  The first message was from Emily who sounded distressed and asked me to call her back.  The second was Hamish – which worried me more.  He clearly asked me not to call back but said that he’d call back when he had a chance.

Preoccupied, I went back out to Gina who said that she had found the book.  We talked a little over our hot chocolate, but I didn’t notice until later that she hadn’t had much to say.

I called Emily almost as soon as Gina left.  She sounded so distressed that I went around to Paul’s to talk to her.

It seems that Hamish has been forbidden to talk to Jonah anymore.  This surprised no-one but Emily who couldn’t believe that her uncle could be so hard-hearted.  Hamish had also had his Bible taken off him and was told that he was not allowed to be a Christian anymore.  This did surprise me.  I had not expected Joel to be so direct and heavy-handed.  But Emily said that Hamish had told Joel that he could not say that it was not true about Jesus when it was true and that he was not embarrassed to be a Christian no matter what he thought of him.  She asked me if I thought that was brave, to which I agreed it was and told her that God helped people to be brave for him.

Emily also told me that Jonah thought that his mother was dying.  When I asked her why he thought that, she said that all he had told her was that “this was just like it was last time”.  I will have to talk to Megan.

When I got home I found two things.  Another message from Hamish on my answering machine.  The same as the first one.  “Don’t call me back.”

And a gap in the shelf that held Gina’s books.

Her Bible was gone.

nb Hamish also posted today 

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Haunting Music

Dear God,

Thank you for a couple of days free from strange and unexpected occurrences.

I expected nothing less that to hear Gina theatricise (is that a word?) about her efforts with the computer today after yesterday’s lesson …

“…and the fingers on my right hand throbbed every time one of them hit the keyboard.  I wanted to spend the day writing things like ‘kill, kill, kill’ & ‘my polo pony’ because they only need you to use your right hand for a while …” grand sweeping gestures of the right hand working the keyboard … “but then – oh my right arm! The muscles just ached! Holding that bow just so …” again she demonstrates, “and manoeuvring it to play … Oh my ..” she stops short and looks at me, “… garden gnomes!”

And that finished me.  I laughed.

“Fine friend and teacher you are. Oh, yes – here’s the picture of sympathy!”

I keep laughing.

” You’ll live.”

But that only takes me back to yesterday ….

For the most part work was unremarkable – but then there’s always Scott.

When they were handing out patience I think Scott thought they were playing cards and decided to pass.  Seriously.  After Bible study (okay, so that was actually remarkable … but it doesn’t fit in the work box properly and I was too nervous to concentrate well) in Graham’s office Scott’s all,

“So what have you got planned for Gina for tonight?”

“A Cello lesson and dinner.”

“Yes, but, come on, an ideal situation for witnessing…”

“Scott, everyday is witnessing.  We witness by being godly and speaking when it is opportune.  But if I’m reading James correctly, if I’m not living righteously then I’m wasting my breath.”

“What’s so wrong about hitting her with the gospel while you’ve got her at your home.”

“She’s coming for a Cello lesson.  She’s invited to dinner, not an evangelistic programme.  She’s not coming for an altar call, Scott.  It’s dishonest to trick someone into a situation they don’t want – do you think it will make her open to listen?  Do you think it reflects how God wants us to come to him?  I’m not going that road.  I’m going to pray for opportunities and openings and boldness – but deception is not an option.  I’m not railroading her, Scott.  She has already said that she doesn’t want to discuss it any further than we have.”

Scott nodded and walked away looking slightly perplexed.

But it’s true.  I mean, I know that James 2 is talking about showing generosity and acting on faith in sacrifice – but its also about demonstrating by what you do that you trust God to be God and be prepared to act accordingly.

So – I will prepare myself to act, to invite, to talk, to comfort, to do whatever is needed to make her way back and be ready to make the most of opportunities, and I will continue to pray.  But I will go about doing as I have promised Gina that I would, and with God’s help I will act in a way that is godly in all I do as his witness that he is trustworthy even though she does not believe that at the moment.  To show that he is real even in the way he opens the way for the sharing of the gospel.

Gina’s lesson went well.  Her aunt’s cello is a beautiful instrument.  I can’t wait until she can play it well.  And she will – if she keeps it up, of course.  Very basic stuff today, but Gina picked up some quickly.  Apparently her Aunt was going to teach her when she was younger, but something interrupted before they got into it.  Still, she was complaining of sore fingers and having trouble holding arm in position to use the bow properly by the end.  She has a nice feel for the instrument and a good ear.  I hope she keeps it up, even if she decides to go to a different teacher after a while.

Dinner was great – as usual.  I hate cooking for just me – so I tend to pull out all stops for a visitor and enjoy myself.  There so much that’s more practical to cook for two or three than for one – even using leftovers.

Gina asked me over dinner what I’d been reading lately.  It was actually a novel that I had found among her books called  Bamboo and Lace.  Reading it now it surprised me that she’d been into that genre of book – I’d have picked her as more of a mystery lover than this book.  But then I’ve only ever met the dark, bruised Gina – not the idealist.  When I told her about the book she smiled at some memory, then let it go following it out through the window with her eyes with a distant expression on her face.

“I used to love that book.  Back when I was thinking of mission and so dedicated to Christ.  I always found the way that she was ready to give up so much of what she wanted – of what the world tells you is important – to do what she was convinced was the only righteous way to respond to her situation so inspiring.  I always hoped that I’d be able to do that if pushed.” She re-entered the room, her voice hardening, “Now look at me,” she added with a brief attempt to laugh at herself.

“Do you ever wish things were different?” I asked

She shrugs here.

“Sometimes.  I haven’t for ages.” she paused. “You can make it look real again sometimes.”

Silence.  I let her look at her own ghosts.  I’m not unsettled.  Now is a time she needs to listen to the Spirit moving moving in her – not to me.

“What?  No words of wisdom?”

“You already know anything I could say,” I grin at her. “You just want an argument so that you can talk yourself out of your thoughts.”

“You’re good.”  She smiles back at me.

“No.  God is good.  But you know that, too.  Coffee?”

Lord, please keep Gina second guessing herself.  Help her to keep questioning you again.  Father, occupy her thoughts – day and night – with your word, your truth, your gospel, your mercy, your hope.  Please bring her back to your fold.

Help me to be wise in how I act and speak, that my deeds will speak of my faith so that you may use me as your mouthpiece be it directly or indirectly.  May I bring honour to my Lord and my God in whom I pray,

Amen

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