The Day I Heard God’s Voice in the Words of a Stranger

Steve almost died.

By almost, I mean he had a major heart attack and went into cardiogenic shock. His heart stopped beating and he flat-lined. So, technically he did die. But, between God and the skill of a cardiovascular surgeon, he returned to the land of the living.

Three days later, he lay in a hospital bed, on the road to recovery, and I was at a baseball field.

“What on earth am I doing here?” I thought.

It was January 14, 2006.  The sun was bright and warm – one of those picture perfect Southern California winter days.  It was also Little League sign-ups and that’s why we were there. Our son Sam talked about nothing else for weeks.  This was his first year playing baseball and he couldn’t wait to get started. I stood still and looked up at a brilliant blue sky. The smell of freshly mown grass mingled with the enticing aroma of popcorn. The chatter of voices and the laughter of children filled the air.

baseball glove, green grass

I could have asked my dad to bring him, but I was desperately trying to pretend everything was normal and maintain some semblance of control.  As far as Sam knew, dad didn’t feel well, had a problem with his heart, and was in the hospital for a few days. He and his sister Rachel hadn’t yet been told about Steve’s brush with death, so when Saturday morning rolled around, he was excited and chomping at the bit to go.

As soon as we arrived, doubts and second thoughts bombarded me. I clutched Sam’s registration forms in my hands and stood still, watching everyone rush by as my mind reeled with these thoughts.

What if Steve never recovers?

What if he has another heart attack and dies…while I’m here?

What if I’m left to do this day and all the other days on my own?

All the emotion and worry of the previous three days spilled out of me, right then and there.  My composure and confidence disappeared and I started sobbing.  Sam looked at me with concern in his eyes and tried to reassure me. “It’s all right, mom.”

It wasn’t all right.  I wasn’t all right. Steve wasn’t all right.  I didn’t know if any of us would ever be all right again.

I stood there blubbering and gasping for breath, when I felt a hand on my shoulder.  “Do you need help?  Is everything ok?” I turned to see the face of a stranger and shook my head no as a fresh wave of tears spilled out in a flood.  

He stood there quietly, with one hand resting softly on my shoulder and the other hand reaching out to Sam. I struggled to regain my composure. “I have no idea what I’m doing. Steve should be doing this. He would know what to do. He’s not here. He’s in the hospital. He should be here. I shouldn’t be here. I should be at the hospital.”  My words spilled out between gasps for air.

“It’s okay,” he said softly. “I can help. Everything’s going to be fine.”

As he introduced himself to Sam and asked him his age, he gently reached over and took the crumpled registration forms from my hands.  

I breathed deeply and brought my panic under control while he guided us over to the correct field. He took the time to introduce me to the coach and connected Sam with the other boys on his team. Sam ran off with his newfound friends. The stranger turned back to me. “Karen, can I pray with you?”

His words provoked another round of tears and I stammered out the whole story. I told him about Steve’s heart attack – the 911 call – open heart surgery – my worries about our future.  

He nodded his head as he listened. I’m sure he had somewhere else to be, but he made no attempt to leave and just stood there nodding while I blubbered and rambled.

I finally ran out of words.

He took my hands, bowed his head and prayed.  

Right there, in the middle of a baseball field, on a beautiful January day, with kids yelling and the sun shining and my boy happily playing the game he loved, and my dear husband lying in a hospital bed, he prayed for me, a perfect stranger.

He prayed for our family, for Steve, for his healing. A supernatural peace settled over me, as he petitioned God on our behalf.

He finished his prayer, squeezed my hands, smiled and walked away. I knew right then that when I needed it most, God’s hand touched mine, in the skin of a stranger and no matter what the future held, He wouldn’t let go.

To My Friend Who Had An Abortion

I remember the day you told me. The shame and anguish in your voice. The tears that flowed like a storm surge after a hurricane – unrelenting and washing over you in wave after wave of grief. Your body convulsed and your wailing pierced the air. How helpless and inept I felt in the face of such sorrow.

I think of you often these days. I’m reminded of you every time I see a post meant to heap even more shame and guilt. How is your heart holding up under the weight of it all?

We never talked of it again, you and I. I’m sorry that the only thing I offered you was a weak hug and a few tears. I long to go back and hold your face between my hands. Remind you how much you are loved and how deeply you are forgiven. I regret not praying with you. I regret not weeping with you. I regret not mourning with you or acknowledging the depths of your loss, your pain, your heartache, your shame.

If, by some twist of fate, you happen to read this, please know God’s love for you is greater than the storm surge of your grief. His forgiveness is deeper than the pit of your shame. His blood has washed away the stain of your scarlet letter.

winter-20234_1920

Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” (Is. 1:18)

I pray that your life is surrounded by grace; that your heart is immersed in love. I beg you – lay down the stones you cast at yourself. Pry open your hands and let them tumble, one by one at the Savior’s feet. Stand up and acknowledge your scars and use them to bring healing to others.

I haven’t forgotten you, dear friend. I’m thinking of you tonight and I’m reminding you of God’s grace.

You are not your past. You are a precious child of God – loved and redeemed and whole.

Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion.

Psalm 103:1-4

The Media Is Selling Fear – Why Do We Keep Buying?

The bedroom door creaked open slowly. I lay in bed, suddenly wide awake yet frozen in place. A whisper-soft footstep made its way across the room and the blood coursed through my head, a drumbeat pounding in my ears. I strained in the dark to see who was there but the black velvet of night obstructed the view. I could sense the presence of another. Fear clawed its way into my mind and wrapped its talons around my fast-beating heart.

Do you like to be scared?

I admit it. I like movies with suspense and some spine-tingling moments. Horror is too much for my taste, but I’m a sucker for nail-biting scenes that make my heart beat like a trip-hammer.

In real life however, fear is not welcome. At least, that’s what I claim. In reality, time and time again, I invite fear in, pull out a chair where it can rest and pour it a cup of tea. I nurture fear’s presence and welcome it like an old and dear friend.

We are sold fear at every turn.

Books, movies and TV shows are geared toward scaring us senseless. Some of you are nodding your head yes with gleeful enthusiasm at the thought of a good fright-fest, while others are shaking your heads with disapproval. You steer clear of anything that makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck and have no appetite for fear. Or do you?

Fear creeps into our lives in other, less obvious ways. Social media and mainstream news exploit every real and imagined terror and hook us in, like fish on the line, profiting from our fears.

man in hooded coat looking over his shoulder in fear

I just scrolled through my Facebook feed and in a few minutes I found a list of things we are told to fear – dementia, guns, hurricanes, robbers, dangerous drivers, rising crime rates, failure, trans people, men, sexual assault, clowns, children being injured, war, terrorists, Islam, Sharia law, Hillary Clinton, more clowns, identity theft, the election, political correctness, climate change, more hurricanes

This election cycle has ramped up the fear like never before.

The candidates and the media are peddling it like an ice cream truck peddles Good Humor bars. They ring the bell all day long while we chase story after story, panting and hungry for more.

We’ve been told that not only do we have much to dread, we are foolish or naive if we don’t. Politics are built upon this. They present us with what we should fear, so they alone can provide a solution. Fear, they would lead us to believe, is informative.

In fact, the very opposite is true.

Fear certainly serves a purpose. It’s they way our mind and body signal imminent danger, preparing us for an immediate and real threat. But over the course of time, a steady diet of fear is debilitating.

This article from Psychology Today describes how our bodies respond to fear.

“As soon as you feel fear, the amygdala (a small almond-shaped organ in the center of your brain) sends signals to your autonomic nervous system (ANS), which then has a wide range of effects. The ANS kicks in, and suddenly, your heart rate increases, your blood pressure goes up, your breathing gets quicker, and stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are released. The blood flows away from the heart and out towards the extremities, preparing the arms and legs for action.

…bodily responses to fear can be detrimental, especially since the most important one is a negative one: the brain basically shuts down as the body prepares for action. The cerebral cortex, the brain’s center for reasoning and judgment, is the area that becomes impaired when the amygdala senses fear. The ability to think and reason decreases as time goes on, so thinking about the next best move in a crisis can be a hard thing to do. Some people even experience feelings of time slowing down, tunnel vision, or feeling like what is happening is not real. These dissociative symptoms can make it hard to stay grounded and logical in a dangerous situation. Essentially, the body’s response to fear or stress can be stressful in itself.”

Did you get that? Let me repeat it, in case you missed it the first time. “…bodily responses to fear can be detrimental, especially since the most important one is a negative one: the brain basically shuts down as the body prepares for action. The cerebral cortex, the brain’s center for reasoning and judgment, is the area that becomes impaired when the amygdala senses fear. The ability to think and reason decreases as time goes on…”

Yeah, that steady diet of fear, that constant stream of bad news, that endless worry about…everything, it clouds our judgment and hampers logical thought.

I know, I know. There are real threats in this world. But look back at that list I posted earlier. Unless you are currently living in Florida, in the path of a deadly hurricane, most of the threats listed above are not an immediate danger to you and those that you love or else they are things beyond your control. Do some of them require our thoughtful attention and action? Yes. Do they warrant our fear. Probably not.

Maybe you still object. You are clinging to that fear like Linus with his blankie. You are comfortable living in that place. You feel a sense of righteous indignation at the thought of letting it go. So, what does the Bible say about fear? 

Fear of man is a dangerous trap, but to trust in God means safety.” (Proverbs 29:25 TLB)

The Bible does not promise us a life free of pain and tragedy but God promises to be with us in the middle of it all. I love the way Isaiah states it. This is a beautiful promise for those in the path of a hurricane.

“Do not be afraid, because I’ve redeemed you. I’ve called you by name; you are mine.

When you pass through the waters, I’ll be with you; and through the rivers, they won’t sweep over you.

When you walk through fire you won’t be scorched, and the flame won’t set you ablaze.” Is. 43:1-2 ISV

Do we believe the Word of God or do we trust FOX News and The Huffington Post?

God wants us to be sober and mindful – NOT ruled by our fears. When the dust settles, when the hurricanes pass, when the election is over, what example will we leave, as people of faith, to the world around us?

“And so we should not be like cringing, fearful slaves, but we should behave like God’s very own children, adopted into the bosom of his family, and calling to him, “Father, Father.”” Rom 8:15 TLB

If we are hiding from our own shadows and quaking in the corner at every real and imagined terror, we are unable to administer aid to the wounded and bleeding lying there in the middle of the room.

Let’s refuse the package we are being sold, the one tainted by fear. Instead, let us keep our minds clear and our judgment sound, standing solid on the foundation of God’s faithfulness and mercy.

The Lord is my light and my salvation—

   so why should I be afraid?

The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger,

   so why should I tremble?

When evil people come to devour me,

   when my enemies and foes attack me,

   they will stumble and fall. 

Though a mighty army surrounds me,

   my heart will not be afraid.

Even if I am attacked,

   I will remain confident.

The one thing I ask of the Lord—

   the thing I seek most—

is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,

   delighting in the Lord’s perfections

   and meditating in his Temple.

For he will conceal me there when troubles come;

   he will hide me in his sanctuary.

   He will place me out of reach on a high rock.

Then I will hold my head high

   above my enemies who surround me.

At his sanctuary I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy,

   singing and praising the Lord with music.

Psalms 27:1-6 NLT