Angels Unaware

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For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. – Psalms 91:11

This weekend a tragic accident claimed the life of young Utah mother, Jennifer Groesbeck, after her car went into the Spanish Fork River. Miraculously, her 18 month-old daughter, Lily survived in freezing temperatures for almost 14 hours. The water was so cold that three police officers and four firefighters had to be treated for hypothermia after the rescue. Lily is expected to make a complete recovery.

Four police officers who rescued the toddler from the wreck said they all heard a woman’s desperate pleas for help coming from inside the overturned vehicle. They heroically used all their strength to right the car but when they got inside they found the mother dead and Lily alive, hanging upside down in her car seat. The mother had passed away the night before when she lost control of the car and could not possibly have called out to the men to save her child.

Officer Tyler Beddoes of the Spanish Fork Police said he laid awake for two nights trying to figure out exactly what it could be. “All I know is it was there, we all heard it,” he stated. As cries of “Help” came from the car, one of the officers said, “We’re trying. We’re trying our best to get in there.” Beddoes went on to say they just can’t grasp what we were hearing.” Christians have no trouble in saying baby Lily was saved by her guardian angel.

Christmas Eve, 1997 shaped up to be the bleakest day in my life. Almost a year before I had been hit head-on by a drunk driver who died in the accident. Later I found out it was her fifth drunk driving accident in seven years. I sustained physical injuries including a traumatic brain injury, but by far the worst trauma was emotional. I felt overwhelming guilt that the woman had died. Through physical therapy I recovered from my physical and mental injuries, but the guilt I felt could not be assuaged.

I tried for my family’s sake to take part in the Christmas festivities. I put a smile on my face, wrapped gifts and made special treats but inside I was so weighted down by the guilt I felt that all I really wanted to do was stay in bed and cry. I needed to make a run to the grocery store and I used the time alone in the car to let some tears flow and to release some of the emotion I had held in all day.

As I got close to the Catholic church in the small Maine town where I live I felt compelled to go in. It is not my church—I am not even Catholic, but the urge was so strong I pulled into the parking lot and went inside. Some people were decorating a Christmas tree in the foyer. A woman turned to me and I told her I wasn’t a member but I wondered if I could come in and pray. She told me “Of course.” and I entered the sanctuary. Knowing that I was close to breaking down I went midway down the aisle to distance myself from the others.

I sat down in a pew and shut my eyes. As I tried to pray I was overcome with wave of guilt that hurt to my core. I put my face into my hands and started to cry. Almost at once I felt a hand on my shoulder. I looked up to see a woman standing next to me. She said, “You seem upset.” I told her about the accident and how I felt guilty that the woman had died. I told her, “I just need to be forgiven.”

She smiled and said, “I want to tell you a story.” Once, two monks lived in a monastery that required silence and also forbade talking or touching women. They were going to the village and as they came to a river they found a young woman crying on the riverbank. One of the monks asked her,”What is wrong, my child?” The young woman explained that she needed to cross the river to get home and she couldn’t get across. The monk told her to get up on his back and he would carry her across. He waded through the river and set her down on the other side. They walked along for about two miles when the other monk couldn’t stand it any longer. He said “You know we are not supposed to even talk to women and you picked her up and carried her,” he admonished.

The other monk looked at his fellow traveler and calmly said, “I put her down two miles ago. Why are you still carrying her?”

When the woman said this I was overcome with a sense of relief. I realized I had been carrying this guilt and that I needed to let it go. I reached down to get a tissue from my purse at my side. I looked up to thank the woman only to discover she was gone. Stunned, I looked behind me down the aisle. No one could have walked out of my sight in the two seconds it took to get my tissue.

I gathered up my purse and made my way out of the church. No one was in the foyer and the parking lot was empty. I sat in my car for a few minutes. I couldn’t immediately process what had happened. I finally realized that I had seen an angel and that she had been sent to help rid me of my crushing survivor’s guilt. I had no other explanation for what had happened.

I have had people ask me what she looked like. All I can remember is that she had medium length brown hair and that she just looked “average”. Romans 8:26 says, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” I truly believe the Holy Spirit intervened for me that day. I was so weighted down in misplaced grief that I could not see a way out.

I was able to go back home with a sense of peace. I had sought forgiveness from God, but what I had really needed was to forgive myself. Survivor’s guilt is real and is felt by many people who survive traumatic events. The fact that you had no personal responsiblity does not lessen the feeling. Thoughout the years when I start to beat myself up about something I have no control over, I smile and remember when God sent me an angel to comfort me and remind me that I am a child of God and that I deserve to be happy.

Pray Without Ceasing

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For prayer is nothing else than being on terms of friendship with God. – Saint Teresa of Avila

This week presidential maybe Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker had his Christian faith mocked by the liberal blog, Political Wire, published by Taegan Goddard. Under a snarky headline “Walker Has Not Communicated with God,” Goddard wrote:

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) frequently says he’s waiting for “God’s calling” to run for President, so he was recently asked under public records laws to provide “A copy/transcript of all communications with God, the Lord, Christ, Jesus or any form of deity.”

Walker’s office responded that no such records exist. Goddard then promoted his story in social media with this tweet:

Gov. Scott Walker’s office was unable to provide any transcripts of his conversations with God.

These comments brought a firestorm on Goddard and he eventually deleted his mocking tweets from Twitter and betrayed his ignorance of basic Christian beliefs when he seemed genuinely confused that Walker believed prayer could be used to communicate with God. He simply did not know how prayer works. Hard to believe that anyone, even an atheist, would not understand the concept of prayer.

From the earliest recorded times mankind has lifted up its eyes and understood that there is a higher power and communicated devotion in some way. Every religion recognizes prayer as a way to commune with God. There are 650 prayers listed in the Bible with about 450 recorded answers to prayer. Christians like Gov. Walker understand the principle of discernment–-the process of determining God’s desire for the direction of our lives.

At first I was outraged by Mr. Goddard’s mockery of one of the basic tenets of the Christian faith but then I began to feel pity for him. I personally cannot imagine my life without prayer. All my life I have had so many prayers answered. Sometimes the answer has been no and it might be years before I can see the reason why and the longer I live the more I see a pattern for my life– pain, sorrow, joy, love—all interwoven with a complexity that is awe inspiring. To me prayer brings peace. It brings forgiveness. To be without prayer would be a living death devoid of hope.

Sen. John McCain relates how he and his fellow POWs had “church” every Sunday while in captivity in Vietnam. After the midday meal and after the guards had departed, the senior officer would signal it was time to pray together by coughing in a way that signaled the letter “c” for church. Orson Swindle, a fellow prisoner said it was a solid stream of thought among those there. They would silently say the Pledge of Allegiance, the 23rd Psalm and the Lord’s Prayer and anything else they’d want to say to get them some help. All of this was done in silence because if the guards heard them talking they would come in and start torturing them. Prayer was the way they shared Christian fellowship and it gave them the strength to survive until they were released.

I’ve always admired people who could pray eloquently, but prayer doesn’t have to be eloquent. It doesn’t have to be long. It just has to be sincere. The Bible tells us to pray without ceasing and I believe the simple prayers that I utter throughout the day are heard and acknowledged. The Bible also tells us that the Holy Spirit will intercede and pray for us when we are too overcome to pray for ourselves.

Every day we see ISIS capturing and killing Christians. It is monstrous to think that a group of people have perverted one religion to justify destroying people of another religion. I am heartsick as I pray for these martyrs daily but I am comforted by Romans 8:38-39 For I am sure that neither death nor life nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. I know each Christian who is killed is in the arms of God.

So instead of being angry with Mr. Goddard I am going to pray for him. I am going to pray that God will open his eyes and reveal his greatness and love so that he can also know the power and beauty of prayer. I am going to end this blog with my favorite prayer – the 23rd Psalm.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. Amen.