God Loves Stupid Too

She sighed and headed back to her car. Only one shark tooth in all that surf. Sure she unexpectantly got lots of conchs and olive shells she planned to paint and start hiding around town to encourage people as they slowly worked on getting their lives back together after the hurricane, but her goal every time she went to the beach was to find shark teeth. Usually she found at least three but today? One. She’d have stayed longer but the fading light of the sunset made identifying small black objects in moving water impossible.

“Well, that’s just as disappointing as this whole weekend has been,” she thought as she approached her car and began digging in her bag of shells for the smaller waterproof bag that kept her key and phone safe from splashing waves. Nothing she had done that weekend had had the result she wanted and this shortage of teeth fit right in. At least this time she wouldn’t lose the tooth like she did the last time she had gone to the beach. That time she had found six teeth, slipped them in her zippered pocket as always for safekeeping, then discovered later that the pocket had had a hole. After triple seaming that pocket, she knew the tooth in her pocket may be lonely but it wouldn’t be going anywhere.

She pulled out the key and slid it into the key hole on her car’s door. Or tried to. It wouldn’t fit. Must be upside down. She pulled it out, flipped it and tried again. Still didn’t go in. “Wait,” she thought slowly, a disturbing thought beginning to enter her weary mind. “My car key has matching sides so it doesn’t matter which way I insert it.” She looked closer at the key. Her house key! If her house key was here, then her car key would still be in the car! She must have taken the wrong one when she removed her car key from her key ring, not wanting to take the chance that the electronic key would get wet.

She stared at the key again. Now what was she going to do? The park was closing, her husband was at work about 30 minutes away. She had no spare keys hiding under her car. But, she did have her phone. And her adult son was at home. She quickly dug it out and called her son. No answer. She left a voice mail to call her back. Then she called her husband.

“I’ll try to get off work and be there as soon as I can.”

“OK,” she told him. “I’m going to walk to the front entrance where the gate is because you’re going to need the gate code to get in. Or I can just give it to you now… nooooo. The season pass with the gate code is in the car. I’ll have to walk to the front gate. Maybe there will be a ranger or someone who can give it to me.”

She hung up, put on her sandals, which just happened to be in the bag because she had uncharacteristically forgotten to leave them in the car when she had arrived hours earlier, and began walking. Fog was mixing with the growing darkness, making it even harder to see. With no street lights, she decided she might need to walk the mile to the front gate a little faster to get there before it got completely dark. Surely there would be lights at the ranger station there.

As she walked, she remembered the time she had seen an alligator on that same part of the road and wondered if there still alligators living in the swampy areas that bordered both sides of the road. She hadn’t seen one in years, but that didn’t mean there weren’t any.

Suddenly a loud grunting sound came from the swamp on her left. What was that? Gator? Her husband had once told her that gators made grunting noises. Do gators chase people? Maybe, if they were hungry enough. And maybe their food source had been impacted by the hurricane last fall as most everything else had been. Her eyes big, her chest tightening, she picked up her pace.

Another grunting sound. Then another. It seemed to be keeping up with her as she walked. Was it following her? When she heard it the next time, it seemed a bit softer, further away. Good, maybe it had given up.

Just as she began to relax, a very loud grunt came from her left making her jump. She just knew it was almost on her! Or was that a different gator? How many gators were there?

She walked even faster, wanting to get to the comparative safety of the entrance booth and hoping the grunting things didn’t see her change in speed as a challenge. The grunts kept coming and she began listening for a splash to alert her that one had left the water to come after her. No, she thought. There wouldn’t be a splash. She had seen enough TV movies to know how silent they could be when stalking. And how fast. She also knew that turning around to look always ended in disaster in those movies, but she couldn’t help it. She had to turn around. She had to know if something was crawling up behind her.

0311191047

A quick look brought relief. Nothing. But it was short lived as another grunt sounded nearby. Hurrying again, she thought God was here. God could protect her. But would He? He didn’t always intervene in natural events. And it was her fault she had locked her keys in the car. “God?” she prayed. “Will You keep me safe?” She felt no reassurance, heard no words of comfort. She wished, not for the first time, that she had more faith. She shouldn’t be worried. She should know God was in control and looking out for her. But knowing what she SHOULD be thinking didn’t help her feel better.

As she walked in the growing foggy dark, she racked her brain trying to think of someone else she could call. Someone closer. Someone who might know the gate code so her husband could get in when he got there. She DID NOT want to have to walk all the way back down that road to get her car. Then she remembered Connie! She lived just a few miles away and she camped there frequently so she must have the gate code. But a phone call and a text got no result. Giving up, she hurried on.

It was getting so dark now that she could barely see the road. The grunts seemed to have stopped and she thought they may have given up and gone after easier prey. But she didn’t slow her pace. She needed to get to the light at the entrance just in case a new gator got interested. The gate was a hundred yards from the swamp and she doubted a gator would go that far out of the water.

As she hurried, thoughts of falling entered her mind. What if she tripped over a crack or small branch or something? She could sprain her ankle and not be able to walk. Don’t hungry predators go after the injured? As if to answer her, another loud grunt filled the air. This one was so loud, and seemed so close, she forgot about being careful and began the fastest power walking she could. She knew her knees couldn’t handle running anymore. Neither could her lungs. She’d be out of breath within minutes! No, power walking was the best she could do.

Finally she saw the entrance light. As she left the swamp behind her and entered the light, she began relaxing. She had made it. At least she had made it this far. She still had to figure out how to get the bar blocking the entrance to rise so her husband’s car could get in when he got there. Waving at the infrared sensor didn’t work. She could partially lift it manually. That would have to do, she thought. Maybe when he got there she could force it just high enough to let his small car get through and hope she didn’t break it.

She walked around to the front of the entrance booth and was even more relieved to find two rangers still there. The park had been closed since dusk so they should have been long gone. She quickly went to the side window and knocked. Would they answer her or ignore her since it was after hours?

The second time she knocked got their attention. They told her they were just closing up but when she told them what had happened they were kind enough to take the time to write down the gate code for her. Good. She wouldn’t have to chance breaking the automatic gate bar. She also mentioned the grunts she had heard and asked if they were gators.

“No, probably not,” they answered. “They were probably deer.”

“Deer?” she questioned. “Deer make noises?”

“Yes. Just a minute,” the lady ranger at the window said as she opened her phone and tapped a few times. “Here, listen to this.”

A video of some deer came up along with a high pitched noise. “That’s a baby deer,” the ranger told her.

A slightly deeper sound came from the phone. It sounded a lot like what she had always thought were birds calls. “Nope, that’s an adult female deer.”

Then she heard the grunting. The same grunting that had chased her for almost a mile. “That’s an adult male looking for a mate.”

“Really? I had no idea deer even made sounds,” she told the ranger, feeling a little relieved that she hadn’t actually be stalked by gators. But not much, since deer can be dangerous too and deer were all around her at this park, even here at the gate.

She watched the rangers lock the booth door and drive away. She was alone. But at least she was in the light. She sat down and watched as mosquitoes began landing on her. She hoped none of them carried any of the diseases the city had warned everyone about earlier that morning. She wished she knew someone who was nearby besides Connie, who had not returned her call. She would feel better if she had company, and even better if she could wait in a car and not get eaten by mosquitoes. Then she remembered a small group of her friends who stayed busy delivering donations throughout the county. Maybe one of them was nearby. She texted them and got immediate responses. They couldn’t come but would find someone who could. Texting helped her not feel so alone and she was grateful they were so readily available but where was her husband? Was he able to get off work? Was he on his way?

And then he was there! She wasted no time punching in the code to lift the gate, getting in the car, and, settling back in the seat, finally breathing a sigh of relief. As they drove the mile back to her car, she told him about the noises and how spooky everything was. He was just as surprised to learn deer made such loud sounds and reassured her that he had prayed for her all his way there because he knew how spooky it would be for her.

Later, from the safety of her home, she contemplated her experience. She had prayed that God would keep her safe. And she had been safe. But would she have been safe even if she had not prayed? Probably. So where was God? He did not keep her from locking her key in her car. He had not flooded her with peace. He had not spoken reassuring words to her.

But He did…

… arrange for her sandals to be in her bag so she didn’t have to walk the mile barefooted.

… keep the rangers there long enough to give her the gate code

… prompt one ranger to take the time to share a video explaining the grunts

… show her the loyal support of her friends as they texted online

… gave her husband a job where family came first so he could easily get off to come rescue her

… keep her bladder quiet so she had no need to use a bathroom while she waited

“So,” she thought gratefully. “God was there all along.”

And then another thought hit her. “Oh no! How could I be so stupid! Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!”

When she had pulled her car key from her key ring that afternoon, she had taken her house key with her on the beach, locking her car key in the car. But it never dawned on her until just this moment that attached to her house key was the electronic key for her car! She had had a key to her car all along!

She didn’t know whether to cry, scream, or laugh! That was probably one of the stupidest things she had ever done. But God still loved her and was there for her anyway.

What would her husband say when she told him? Would he be upset having to take off work? For the needless trip? Maybe it’d be best not to tell him. No. She knew she had to tell him.

“Um, you know how I locked the car key in my car and took my house key with me down to the beach?” she began.

“Yes,” he answered.

“So… attached to that house key was my electronic key…”

“So you had a key all the time?” he asked, eyebrows raised.

“Yes,” she admitted, waiting for his reaction.

And then he laughed. “That’s funny!” he said.

“But I feel so stupid.”

“It was just a mistake. I bet God is laughing too!” he said.

Tears filled her eyes as she received his warm supportive words. “He’s not mad. He doesn’t think I’m stupid. Maybe God doesn’t think I’m stupid either. Maybe He let it happen because of everything He knew He could teach me through it.”

“Yes, My daughter. You don’t always have to feel Me or hear Me to know I am with you. It’s a fact, not a feeling. I let you go through this because you needed to be reminded. Walking through the foggy darkness, thinking something is out to get you, is a lot like how you feel navigating insurance and contractors. No matter how stupid you feel about some of the things you decide, I work all things for your good. I could have just told you, and I’ve tried, but an experience like this shows you in a much more powerful, unforgettable way. And remember, just as you had the key all along, you have Me whether you realize it at the time or not.”

And she could feel His delighted laughter rising in her heart, filling her anew with His amazing love.

And That’s How It Happened

It started with a rock. Not just any rock. This one was a painted rock. Someone had painted a flower on a rock and left it near a walking trail.

And she found it while walking that trail. It made her day!

A message on the back asked that she post a picture of the rock in a Facebook group. Which she did. And when she did, she discovered that there were many, many painted rocks being hid and found all over the city.

So she began looking. But no matter how hard she looked, she couldn’t find one. Not one in an entire year. She gave up.

But then one day, when she least expected it, there was another rock near her walking trail. On it was a message that she knew came straight to her from God. She hugged it to herself and continued on her walk.

Surprise! She found another rock. With another awesome message that lightened her heart even more.

By the end of her walk, she had found four rocks!

Now she knew she was supposed to rehide those rocks somewhere else so that other people would have the joy of finding them, too. But she also knew there was no way she would give up those special rocks.

The next time she took a walk, she found several more rocks. And kept those, too. But along with the joy of finding, a little touch of guilt began to creep in. If she was finding and keeping all the rocks, then what would other people be able to find?

She could rehide them.

Nope, that wasn’t going to happen. Each time she looked at them, she felt the same joy that she had felt when she first found them. How could she give them up?

She could squash the guilt. After all, the rocks were there to be found. Right?

Only she began to feel like Scrooge hoarding his gold.

So what could she do?

She could paint her own rocks to hide! Then each time she found one, she could replace it with one of hers so she wouldn’t be stealing anyone else’s joy.

She began with simple designs such as ladybugs, the beach, hearts, and flowers. But then she discovered paint pens!

Now she could easily write messages on the rocks like those first ones she had found. Now just any messages though. She would write motivational messages to hide in her devastated town to hopefully make the finder’s day a little brighter.

0216190852

And so she began painting and writing. And hiding. And as she hid, she hunted.

And she discovered the birth of a new ministry. One of encouraging others when they least expected it. And leaving certain rocks in certain areas as she felt God leading her.

And she discovered something else. She discovered that she couldn’t out-give God. The more rocks she hid, the more rocks she began to find!

And that’s how she got involved in both a new ministry and a new hobby.

The most amazing part? It got her mind totally off the depressing devastation around her in an inexpensive, stress relieving, life giving way!

Ultimately Everyone Has to Clean Up Their Own Backyards

She hadn’t looked into her backyard for years now. She knew her dogs had been using it and so expected it to be somewhat nasty but it probably wasn’t all that bad. After all, it’s a big yard and most of her dogs were quite little.

One day she glanced that way and just knew it was time to clean it up. She called together the other four people who she provided for and talked them into helping her. It helped that she offered them ice cream and Pepsi. They ate their ice cream, drank their Pepsi, picked up the tools they would need, and disappeared through the back door. All but one that is. One found things that needed to be done in the house that kept her too busy to make it outside. She was disappointed but let it go. The other three were surely hard at work.

She gathered her supplies – plastic bags that she’d use to protect her hands, garbage bags to put the poop in, trowel to pick up the stuff up with, and her basket with her ice cream and Pepsi to nourish her when she got tired – and joined the three in the backyard. As they saw her, they each began making excuses and leaving until she was alone. Alone to handle the piles of poop that lay scattered throughout the yard. There was a lot more than she expected but she knew what she had to do and got started.

She walked across the yard about ten yards and found a huge area filled with many varying sizes of poop. This is where I’ll start, she decided. She had barely begun when 013119043228229someone called for her attention. A well dressed lady and her daughter were standing on the nearby patio. She tried to answer their questions but they couldn’t understand. They began walking across the yard heading to a small shed in the corner where they would shop for homemade items. She worried about them stepping in one of the messes but again had trouble getting some sign of understanding from them. She didn’t want to be seen scooping up the piles of poop so she considered going inside. She would just continue to ignore the mess. But no, she really couldn’t. Not when her yard was open to people coming to look at the handmade stuff. She had to clean it up.

She thought about the four people who she had thought would surely help her, especially since she took care of their needs. But they evidently didn’t buy into the reciprocal nature of giving.  She looked back at the poop surrounding her and an amazingly calm resolve filled her. She would clean it up no matter who saw her or whether anyone else helped her because she knew ultimately everyone had to clean up their own backyards.

“Need some help?” whispered a Voice she knew so well. She closed her eyes and hugged that Voice as she whispered back, “Yes, please.”

She got back to work and was surprised at how fast the cleaning went with Him to keep her company. And she discovered that as she worked on some piles, other piles seemed to disappear on their own.

“Thanks,” she whispered.

“Glad to help,” He whispered back.

As they continued to work together in comfortable companionship, she thought, “Well, maybe we don’t have to clean up our backyards completely by ourselves. I may not be able to count on other people helping me when I need it. But I should have remembered there is One I can always count on.”

 

(Based on a dream, December 14, 2018)

Wait, I Think I’m Praying This All Wrong

She was tired.

Tired of looking at her messed up house.

Tired of contacting contractors.

Tired of waiting on contractors.

Tired of talking to contractors.

Tired of researching contractors.

Tired of talking about contractors.

Tired of thinking about contractors.

Tired. Tired. Tired.

“God,” she prayed over and over. “Who do I pick? There are so many scams and bad contractors around here since the hurricane, how do I know which one to pick? Please, give me wisdom.”

But no answer came.

Then, one day a thought hit her as she took her morning walk.0118190433 (3)

“Wait,” she said to herself. “I think I’m praying this all wrong!”

“God,” she prayed. “Fix my house, please.”

“Finally,” He answered her.

And immediately an enormous weight was lifted from her shoulders and her steps became lighter. It felt to her as if sunshine was breaking through the gray sky and everything began to look better. It felt so good!

“What an amazing concept!” she thought. “Letting my heavenly Father take care of my needs instead of me trying to work it all out myself!”

Malformed Pieces

“Uh oh,” she said as she picked up the next tiny plastic piece. “This one won’t fit.” She dropped it into a growing pile of malformed pieces and picked up another one. “Perfect!”

1229181622

Usually the repetitive task of fitting the tiny pieces into their places on the sticky grid gave her mind a chance to relax as it daydreamed about problems and goals. But this time as she placed the well shaped piece carefully on the grid, a thought interrupted her wandering mind.

“When you don’t let God trim off your rough edges, you won’t be able to fit into His design as well. Not only won’t you fit within your boundaries, you will bother those around you.”

1229181625

She stopped to consider that. “It’s true we all have baggage we bring into our relationship with God, things from the past we hang on to even though we no longer need them just like this tiny piece still has a piece of its manufacturing process attached to it. And I know I fight each time He wants me to let go of something. Maybe there’s a bigger picture to Him wanting to trim me. Maybe sometimes it’s not so much about me as it is about His bigger picture,” she thought, freshly determined to be more cooperative the next time He starts trimming.

She got back to work, still musing on the importance of being trimmed. Then another thought entered. What about all those other pieces in that pile of malformed pieces. There’s more than one reason a piece can’t fit correctly on the grid.

1229181625c

She picked up the black piece. Totally misshapen.

“Like when we refuse to let God do anything in us. We are still saved – still a piece – but pretty much useless in the design.” She thought about what she had been like when she entered her relationship with God, and she was very glad she wasn’t anything like that anymore. Transformed was a very real fact in her life, unlike that poor piece.

And the tan one?

1229181626a

“Hmmm,” she thought about the two pieces clinging to each other for a few minutes. “My relationship with Jesus is a very personal one. When I walk with Him, I have to do it alone. It’s just me and Him. He wants me to cling to Him, not anything else. He can surround me with others just like each of these pieces are surrounded by other pieces, but I cannot insist on having someone in the same place I’m in. It just doesn’t work.”

She put the malformed pieces back into their pile and picked up the next perfect tiny plastic piece. As she placed into the design, she breathed a prayer.

“God, form me to fit the spot You have chosen for me. Help me to let go of what holds me back so that I can become part of Your big, amazing design.”

And her heart swelled with peace and contentment, knowing God heard her prayer.

 

(Disclaimer:  I am not promoting this brand of diamond painting. Actually, there’s another brand that I find superior to this one, but this was the only brand that had this specific design and so I went with it.)

Devastation or Beauty:  Where Does Your Mind Dwell?

As some of you know, my town was hit by Michael, a strong category 4 hurricane, (wind speed just 2 mph less than a category 5) in October. It’s been just over 2 months and devastation is still seen everywhere. Many businesses are still not reopened, and many of those will never reopen leaving many people jobless. Long lines and completely filled parking lots plague the few department and grocery stores that have opened. Contractors and their workers’ vehicles flood the streets so making a quick trip anywhere is no longer possible. Blue tarped roofs are seen everywhere as well as downed and broken trees, debris piles taller than the cars driving past them, and a multitude of damaged buildings. Some areas of town are still without electricity and internet. Many people who lost their homes either had to move away or are living in tents because there is no housing left. Schools have to share facilities since many schools were completely destroyed. There is not one building, one lot, or one person in our town untouched. Instead of concentrating on Christmas, many are exhausted from navigating insurance and contractor paperwork while trying to avoid the many scams that pop up in situations like this, jumping through FEMA hoops, or trying to find a job they can walk to since their cars were damaged along with their homes. Very few Christmas lights can be seen, and parents are desperately trying to seek ways to get some presents to their children. The more fortunate ones compete for the toys still available at Walmart, but many more don’t have the finances and have to stand in lines for many hours to get a chance to pick out some donated toys. Even worse, a good number of people have had to resort to begging strangers for help because they don’t have the transportation or health to even get to the toy distribution sites.

On the other hand…

After most volunteers and relief agencies have left, we are still being surprised with truck loads of toys, blankets, jackets, and other supplies arriving from people living in other towns near and far. More than a few Facebook groups have been created solely for the purpose of providing help to those who need it from insurance and contractor concerns to housing and shopping question. Quite a few people both local and distant have formed networks to ensure every legitimate need is taken care of to the best of their ability. Some people have opened their yards/land to house displaced people living in tents providing them safety, meals and hot showers. Many new friendships have been created and neighbors are watching out for each other now that fences no longer separate them. And the beauty of God’s creation can still be seen from the dazzling night sky (much clearer now since we have fewer street and commercial lights) and the breathtaking sunrises/sunsets (less trees = more view of the sky) to the delicate blooming flowers and the gorgeous beaches.

As I think about the people I’ve met and the people whose Facebook posts I’ve read, I wonder why so many are depressed and angry while many others are hopeful and encouraging. I don’t think in this case the answer can be found solely in their relationship or lack of relationship with God. It’s true that for many Christians, their faith is giving them the strength to keep moving forward. Yet I know just as many strong Christians who are depressed and hurting as non-Christians who are positive and optimistic. No, I think in this situation the answer might lie more in their heads than in their hearts. Where do their minds dwell? The devastation all around that is real and not going away any time soon? Or the beauty that is also real and not going away? Each is just as valid as the other. Yet for some reason it’s way easier to dwell in the devastation than to see past it to the beauty.

Maybe when we pray for people in devastated areas – not just here in Panama City but throughout the world – we could add a short sentence before our amen. It may not seem like much, but it might just make all the difference.

“Father, open their eyes to the beauty that is still around them.”

1224180824a (2)
Devastated pavilion surrounded by the beauty of God’s creation at St. Andrews State Park, Panama City Beach, FL, taken on 12/24/18 by Linda Schnepel

 

 

 

Dear Determined One (from Someone Who Loves You series)

Dear Determined One,

I see you there, no longer content with the limited view allowed by lying in your bed. I see you there, working so hard to sit up so that you can see a much larger part of your world.  You have learned that there is more in life than what you had once thought and you want to see it all. So you work on it day after day, never giving up even though you see little progress. What you don’t realize is that the progress happens inside first, hidden from everyone, even from yourself.  As you exercise, little by little, your inner self is strengthened and built up until one day you make it to that sitting position that you were so determined to achieve. And I will be there with everyone else celebrating your victory! Don’t give up, sweet girl. When it’s time, it will happen.

Always,

Someone who loves you

 

1 Timothy 4:8 Amplified Bible (AMP)

For physical training is of some value, but godliness (spiritual training) is of value in everything and in every way, since it holds promise for the present life and for the life to come.

 

Do you hear God speaking to you in these letters? If so, it’s no coincidence.  As I write to my new granddaughter, I can hear God speaking to me. And my prayer is that you can also hear Him speaking to you for He loves us even more than I love my granddaughter.

 

The Guys in the Yellow Shirts

She walked outside early that day to get a head start on the heat. There was a lot to do – way more than she or her husband was capable of doing in a day. And before long the temperature would be in the high 80’s making it even harder to work.

She looked at her yard.

 

Several large trees had been blown down, roots pulled up out of the ground leaving large holes. Other trees with broken trunks were lying across the sidewalk. A set of bare trees with broken branches were leaning towards their neighbor’s house. There were many large branches, wooden fence boards, and shingles scattered across the yard. And leaves everywhere!

She looked at her tools. One hand saw. One large pair of shears. One smaller hand shears for pruning. One wheelbarrow. A rake. And a shovel.

How in the world would these simple tools help them clear the huge mess? Sighing with resolve, she knew if she didn’t get started, the mess would only get worse as the grass grew to cover shingles and nails and other potentially dangerous things. She decided to start with the fence boards. They wouldn’t need any tools and she could drag them to the street. At least most of them. Some were still attached in large sections and would need to be cut into smaller pieces before she could move them.

As she dragged the fence pieces, her husband got the hand saw and began sawing the fallen branches into more manageable sizes, pulling them to the street and tossing them into a separate pile to cooperate with the city’s request to keep the debris sorted for easier removal later.

They worked in silence for about an hour, then her husband called to her. “Can you come help?”

“What do you need?” she called back as she stopped dragging a board to wipe the sweat from her face.

“Help me get the rest of this branch to the street.”

She carefully walked over to him, looked at the branch,

“You think we can move this?”

“I think so.”

“OK. Let’s try.”

They each got a good hand hold on the branch and began dragging it. Or at least attempted to. The branch was heavier than they thought and no matter how hard they strained, they could only move it an inch or two at a time.

“Could you use some help?” came a man’s voice from the direction of the street.

They looked up, startled, to see a man in a yellow shirt standing outside a car parked next to their growing pile of debris, smiling at them. On his shirt were the words “Helping Hands”.

“We sure could,” answered her husband. “Do you have a chain saw?”

“We have lots of chain saws.”

“We?”

“Yeah,” the man answered, pointing to a long line of cars behind his. “We’re all from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and we’re here to help.”

She stared in disbelief. There must have been at least half a dozen cars and trucks, all filled with people in yellow shirts who were jumping out, picking up a variety of tools, and heading for her yard.

They quickly got to work sawing and dragging and chopping. She watched for a little while then went inside to hide her tears but continued to watch them work from an upstairs window. She was awed at their efficiency and cheerfulness as they worked.

IMG_20181021_095627110

After awhile she rejoined her husband in the yard.

“This is a miracle,” he told her. “This is nothing short of a real miracle.”

She nodded agreement as the leader of the group brought over a slice of a tree.

 

“We like to leave a little something to the people we help,” he said as he handed them a slice of the large uprooted oak tree that used to stand in the middle of the yard.

Tears in their eyes, she and her husband explained how they had bought this oak tree when it was tiny and half dead from a hardware store and had enjoyed watching it grow over the years. She was surprised at how much comfort holding this small slice of the tree brought her.

Within an hour, her yard was clear of all the fences, branches and tree trunks they could manage. The leader approached them again. “Sorry we couldn’t do the set of leaning trees or the broken giant pine tree. You’ll probably need to hire a licensed contractor for those,” he apologized.

“No, no, no!” they said. “You don’t need to apologize! You’ve done enough! More than enough!”

A group photo was taken, hugs were exchanged, and then just as quickly as they had arrived, the group of yellow shirted angels left to look for another family to help.

There was still a lot of work to do such as picking up the shingles, searching for nails hidden in the grass, moving landscaping rocks and potted plants away from damaged gardens, and digging up few fence posts that had survived but without all the branches to work around, it would be so much easier and faster to get it done.

Tears slipping down her face, she thanked God for His love and care. She hadn’t asked Him for help with the yard, but He knew what they needed and provided it anyway.

What an amazing group of people!

What an amazing God!

The Unicorn on the Ceiling Fan

She sat back in the recliner thoroughly enjoying the chance to relax in the silence of her daughter’s almost empty house.

She thought about her life the past month – the devastation to her whole town by the strong almost category 5 hurricane, the maze of insurance claims she and her husband were having to navigate, the abundance of contractors wanting them to sign away their benefits, the multitude of needs being posted each day by desperate people, the crowds and long lines at the few stores that had managed to reopen, the mountains of debris along every street, the power lines still laying on the ground in areas where linemen have not yet had a chance to work, the horrendous traffic as residents and volunteers and contractors try to get from place to another, and her growing need to be in more than one place at a time. She wanted to be at home helping her husband deal with all the decisions that had to be made and working towards restoring their home. But just as much she wanted to be here with her daughter with her new baby while her son-in-law was working out of town.

As she thought, her eyes wandered around the room, taking in the drawn shades providing privacy, the assortment of baby furniture, the black and tan dog energetically chewing on a rawhide bone, the small porcelain unicorn sitting on the ceiling fan, the beautiful new teal area rug, the…

WAIT!  Was that what she thought it was?

She looked back at the ceiling fan.

IMG_20181107_162442271

Sure enough, there was a small unicorn sitting right up there just above the revolving blades.

IMG_20181107_162359724

She stared up at it. What was it doing up there? Who would have put it up there? It’s so out of place it was hard to believe that it was actually there. It should be on a shelf, or on a dresser, or even on a window sill. Certainly NOT on a ceiling fan!

And then she thought how much that little unicorn was like answered prayers. We think we know where the answers should be, but many times we will find them in completely startling and unexpected places, often surprising us with God’s sense of humor.

She chuckled to herself as she thought about how amazing her God continued to be. No matter what struggles and decisions she was facing, no matter how bad things looked around her, He always managed to find a way to make her smile. And frequently in the most unlikely places – just like that unicorn on the ceiling fan!

IMG_20181107_162701

God, Why Don’t You Answer?

“There’s a disturbance down south,” they said.

No problem. There’re always disturbances in the tropics, she thought as she went about her normal, everyday activities.

“The disturbance is now a depression,” they said.

That’s fine, she thought. Depressions are nothing. And besides, it’ll probably go towards Texas like so many others. Not likely to come here to Panama City.

“The depression is now a storm named Michael, and will probably hit Northwest Florida as a possible category 1 hurricane. Not too likely, but it might happen,” they said.

Okaaaay, not really a threat, but something to watch, she thought as she took her daily walk around her neighborhood.

“The storm is intensifying. It will hit Northwest Florida as a category 1 hurricane in a few days. Start preparing now,” they said.

Hmmm, she thought. I guess I should pick up loose objects outside to keep them from blowing away. But still no big deal. We’ll probably only get a little bit of wind and some rain, like all those other hurricanes that have come this way.

“Michael is now category 1 with signs of strengthening. Everyone in Northwest Florida should be preparing now. Watch for updates and start making plans in case you need to evacuate,” they said.

Evacuate? No, not for a cat 1 storm. But what if it gets to cat 2 before it gets here? “Lord, should we leave?” she prayed but got no answer.

IMG_20181016_144129502

“Michael is now category 2. Its pressure is dropping signifying that it might possibly strengthen to a category 3 before making landfall somewhere between Pensacola and Apalachicola.  Storm surge will be 4-6 feet. Find out your zone now and listen for mandatory evacuation orders,” they said.

This is getting serious, she thought. Maybe we should leave. “Lord,” she prayed again, “what should we do?” She thought she heard, “leave”, but she wasn’t sure so she asked God to tell her husband the same thing. Her husband, watching the latest update, said, “We’re going to stay. Our house is built to hurricane code. We’ll be fine.” OK, she thought. It wasn’t God.

“Michael is now category 3. There’s nothing out there to slow its growth. Storm surge is now forecasted to be 6-8 feet. Zones A, B, and C are under mandatory evacuation notice. Do not delay. This storm is dangerous. Get out now,” they said.

She quickly looked up her zone. Zone D, but so close to C that part of her backyard was actually in Zone C. Should they leave? Could their house flood? “No, it didn’t flood during the last cat 3 storm, it won’t flood now We’re fine,” her husband said. “God, should we leave?” she prayed again. Again she heard, “Leave” but this time a sense of panic accompanied it. That’s not God, she thought. God doesn’t panic. Besides, if that was really God, why wasn’t her husband getting the same message?

“Michael is approaching category 4. If you can evacuate, you should leave now. The storm surge can kill you. The winds will make catastrophic damage and might kill you,” they said.

“Are you leaving?” her daughter texted from two states away.

“No, we’re staying,” she texted back.

“ARE YOU CRAZY???”

“We’ll be fine. We’ll stay in the under-the-stairs closet when it gets bad. Our house is well built.”

“I’ll be a nervous wreck all day,” her daughter texted back. “Be safe!”

“Are you leaving?” her siblings wanted to know.

“No, we’re staying. We’re not in a flood zone and besides, who would take us in with our 3 small not-housebroken dogs, a larger senior dog who can’t get around well, a grown son with stitches in his leg and his large dog who eats smaller dogs.”

“We’ll take you in,” her brother immediately texted back.

She went to talk to her husband. “Should we leave?” They prayed together, but neither got an answer. Why isn’t God answering us? She couldn’t understand. “God why don’t You answer when we really need to hear from you?”

“We’ll stay,” her husband said. “We’ll be OK.”

She felt at peace about that decision. Peace is of God, she thought, so maybe that’s His answer. She was more relieved than apprehensive because she really didn’t want to leave. Also, once they left town, it might be days if not weeks before the roads were cleared and opened for them to be able to return.

She went to bed and fell asleep quickly but was jarred awake around 1 AM with the shrill alert sound on her phone. She got up and checked the forecast.

“It’s a strong category 4 and will probably be a 4 when it makes landfall. But there is a small chance it can increase to a 5 by landfall,” they said.

Ok, she thought. We might weather a 3 or even a weak 4. But a strong 4/5?? But we decided God said it was OK to stay. Did we get that wrong? Or was that just us because we want to stay?

“I’m leaving,” her son told them as he packed his electronics and dog. “Let me know what you decide.”

Her son leaving? He never panics! And he was so sure just a few hours earlier that staying home would be safer than being on the road with all those other evacuees. Should we go, she and her husband wondered. They prayed again together. Still no answer.

“God, I wish I could just hear your answer clearly. Only You know what will happen to our house.”

In spite of the peace they felt about staying, they decided to leave. They scurried around packing the most important things, not knowing if anything would be left when they returned. As she looked around her house, overwhelmed with the decision of what to take and what would be OK to lose, she ended up taking very little.

Tears streaming down her face, not wanting to leave, she drove north on the now empty road. Beside her were her smallest dog, some blankets and pillows, and her computer. Behind her was her husband with the other two small dogs and the larger senior dog, along with tubs and boxes of important papers, clothing, dog supplies, medicines, and other essential items. Before long the senior dog had a seizure, due to stress, they thought, and she was tempted to turn around. But she didn’t and several hours later they arrived at her brother’s house.

Several hours after that, Hurricane Michael slammed into her home town, with winds just two miles an hour under a Category 5 hurricane.

The following day, she read every Facebook post, watched every hurricane update, trying to get some news on the condition of her neighborhood, especially her home. Was it still standing? So many houses were not. The stress of not knowing was worse than finding out her house was gone, she thought. “God, is our house still standing?” she asked. Again, no answer. Why isn’t He talking to me, she wondered.

The day after that, someone posted a photo of the flood in her neighborhood. As she studied the photo, she stopped. What was that in the background?  She looked closer. It was her house! And it was still standing! Relief flooded her, replacing the stress that had just minutes before filled her. This photo was a gift from God, reminding her that God was always listening even when she couldn’t hear any answers.

Three days after the hurricane hit, she was able to return home. Her house was not only standing, but there was no severe damage and no flooding. If she had stayed, she’d have been fine. So maybe that peace was God’s answer all along, only we didn’t recognize it, she thought. Maybe by not answering, He was allowing us to make the choice, knowing we’d be safe no matter which choice we made.