Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Coincidence...or God?

In his first semester at Central Bible College in Springfield, Missouri, my husband, Bob, began driving school bus, first as a substitute driver, but within two weeks he had his own route. One spring morning, he picked up the last of his fifty junior high students and was driving fifty miles an hour up Route M in the Ozarks just south of Springfield, Missouri, when suddenly his right front wheel went rolling down the highway ahead of the bus!

"That's when the Lord took over as driver," Bob said.

All he could do was hang on to the steering wheel and pray as the disabled bus careened down the road into the ditch, missing a culvert pipe by a fraction of an inch. If the axle had connected with that culvert pipe, the bus would have flipped.

It had rained for a day or two before the accident, softening the earth in the ditch.The driveway over the culvert funneled the bus squarely into the soft ditch, slowing the bus, keeping it upright, and preventing the gas tanks from catching fire. The front wheel wells inverted as the dirt pushed up into the undercarriage. Bob saw that and was sure his legs would be broken, but the bus came to a stop just in time.

If you've ever ridden a bus full of junior high students, you know they are a noisy bunch. That morning, during the accident those students didn't make a sound. You could hear the proverbial pin drop. Bob quickly instructed several larger boys to open the back door and help all the students jump out. The bus was totaled, but no one was hurt.

The investigation revealed that when the bus had been serviced, the cotter pin that keeps the large nut in place that holds the wheel on had not been put back on. The wheel had gradually worked its way over until it came off.

A member of the school board and a reporter for the Springfield newspaper were driving behind the bus and saw the entire accident. Bob was commended for safely wrecking a school bus!

Later, Bob drove me along his bus route to show me where it had happened. The accident occurred on the only straight-of-way on the entire route. The rest of the way was full of hairpin curves, drop offs to rivers below, bridges on curves. If that wheel had come off at any other spot on that road, there would have been a terrible tragedy.

Coincidence, you say? I believe God was watching over my husband and that bus load of kids.  The Lord "redeems me from death" (Psalm 103:4, NLT).

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Stepping Stones

Today, let me encourage those who are seeking employment in this difficult job market.

I've written previously about how my husband, Bob, a career officer in the Army, resigned his regular commission after six years of active duty to answer God's call to full-time ministry. In January 1973, we moved from Arizona to Springfield, Missouri, where he enrolled for the spring semester at Central Bible College to prepare for the ministry.

The G.I. Bill would cover his tuition, but I would need to work full time to cover our rent and other living expenses. We had enough savings to see us through until March 1, but I had to find a job by then. After getting settled in our rental house, I began the wearying task of job hunting, praying that God would lead me to the job He had for me.

Because Springfield is a six college town, February is the most difficult time of year to find a job there. With an abundance of workers, all available positions had already been filled. I have a degree in elementary education and music, but school districts don't hire mid-term.

So, I checked out the Classified section of the newspaper and the employment office and went on a couple of interviews but was declared "overqualified." I asked my Sunday school class to pray that I'd find a job. One lady in the class told me that the Trailmobile dealership where she worked was looking for an accounts payable bookkeeper. In high school I had taken bookkeeping, so I applied and was hired on (you guessed it) March 1! The Lord is never too late, but sometimes to stretch our faith, He waits until the last minute!

Six months later, I was given two weeks notice that I was being laid off. I shed a few tears then prayed. Once again, God's timing was perfect. By the end of the first week, I was hired as a copywriter for the Advertising Department at the Assemblies of God Headquarters--with an increase in pay!

While I had good writing skills, after the trial three months, it was decided that copy writing for advertising was not my style. More tears. What would I do now? At the last moment, I was given a temporary secretarial job in the Youth Department. When that ended, the position of editorial assistant for the three youth magazines, Youth Alive, Hisway, and CAM opened up unexpectedly. I was in the right place at the right time, and again, my pay increased. The editors encouraged me to submit my own short stories and articles on a freelance basis, and several of them were published in the youth magazines as well as other in house magazines, including The Pentecostal Evangel.

Two years later, I felt the Lord leading me to transfer to the Church School Literature Department, where I wrote and edited Vacation Bible School materials. Before long, I was also writing Sunday School and Children's Church curriculum on assignment. After my husband completed seminary and we moved to Upstate New York to plant a new church, I continued writing curriculum on assignment for Gospel Publishing House for the next 25 years.Not only did my husband get his ministry degrees, but God led me into a lifelong ministry of writing that now includes two published books and another one on the way.

An old hymn says, "God leads His dear children along." That has certainly been my experience. The job changes were difficult and required stepping out in faith, but when one door closed, God opened another. The setbacks were really God's stepping stones.

How has God led you?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Careening into Blackness

What do you do when a Pontiac GTO going 60 miles per hour suddenly plows into the back of your stopped Volkswagen square back, sending you careening into blackness?

My husband was in Vietnam in 1969. It was the end of the Labor Day weekend, and I was driving back to my home in Anchorage, Alaska, after visiting my folks in Valdez. A friend rode along on the six-hour drive each way. It was dark when, nine miles from home, I rounded a bend in the two-lane highway to find two moose skittering down the frosty road.

No one wants a ton of moose landing on their hood, let alone two of them, especially when the engine is in the rear of a Volkswagen. Since no one was immediately behind me, I stopped. The moose wandered to the side of the road as I downshifted to go on. At that moment, two cars appeared around the bend and passed me. I honked my horn to warn them. Then, WHAM!

A blinding jolt! I screamed, "Oh, Jesus, help us!" I blacked out momentarily then hung on for the ride of my life. Scared I would hit a tree, I pushed my foot on the brake as hard as I could, laying down 32 feet of rubber on the roadway before veering off and rolling over and over as though in slow motion. It seemed to take forever before my car finally came to rest on its right side.

The windshield had popped out. I was hanging in the seat belt above my passenger, my head lolling from side to side. Was my neck was broken?

Almost immediately, people appeared. I didn't want them to move me, but they convinced me it was necessary. They laid us gently on the cold ground. All I could think about was my husband, who was in a war zone, thinking I was safe at home. What if I was paralyzed? What if I died?

An ambulance soon arrived. Without stabilizing my neck, the attendants picked me up to put me on the stretcher. In the darkness, one of them stepped on my long hair, yanking my head back. Certain they would paralyze me, I screamed for them to stop. They laid me back down, and I reached up to smooth my hair under my head so they could pick me up.

Thank God, X-rays showed my neck was not broken. The force of the impact broke the back of my seat, which fell flat just as the engine cover flew up and hit me across the bony point at the base of my skull. If it had hit any lower, it would have taken my head off. Instead, it gave me a five-inch gash, which bled profusely and required eight stitches, and a severe whiplash. Later medical technology revealed two herniated disks that I still suffer the effects of, but I'm alive and I'm not paralyzed.

Amazingly, no one else was seriously hurt. My passenger had a cracked rib from the seat belt. The driver of the GTO was uninjured, although his car was totaled too. He had had a few beers and was following too closely to the cars in front of him so he didn't realize I was stopped.

Isn't it amazing that the God by whom all things were created and are held together hears our cry in the time of trouble and is there to help us? When danger smacks you in the face (or back!), do you cry out to God? I know firsthand that He is "a very present help in trouble" (Psalm 46:1). How about you?

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Beauty from Brokenness

In 1984, a landslide roared down Thunder Mountain just outside of Juneau, Alaska. The tremendous force uprooted everything in its path and wiped out a beautiful stream. Many acres of the mountainside had been stripped bare except for branchless trees like giant toothpicks sticking out of mud and rocks. An ugly scar marred the former beauty.

Ten years later, Steve and Cindy Bowhay purchased the land to reclaim the once-beautiful stream. They planned ponds with flowers, waterfalls cascading from pool to pool down the mountainside, and a nature trail that would be easy to negotiate by foot or by motorized carts for an interactive view of a pristine Alaskan rain forest. The trail would end with a scenic vista of Gastineau Channel and Lynn Canal from the 580-foot level. They named it Glacier Gardens.

To begin the project, Steve rented an excavator for 30 days. On the last day, after no mishaps, he found a beautiful 6-foot-wide flat rock weighing 4,000 pounds that would be perfect for the waterfall. In the process of getting it, the excavator backed into an uprooted tree, spinning the machine sideways. A log jammed through the engine cowling and caused several thousand dollars worth of damage.

Frustrated and angry at himself, Steve calmly placed the rock where he wanted it then picked up the tall tree stump, raised it as high as the excavator arm would go, and rammed the stump into the ground upside down. His anger appropriately vented, he glanced at the upside down tree and had a sudden inspiration. Why not make a hanging garden in the sprawling root system now high above his head? He could nestle flowerbeds in the roots and plant a myriad of colorful petunias and other flowers that would cascade down. He selected 30 more of the numerous uprooted trees, plunged them into the earth in the same way, and created a forest of the most unique flower towers you'll ever see.

When I visited Glaciers Gardens in 2002, I was quite taken with them. This story brought tears to my eyes. Having recently come through a devastating experience that I thought had permanently scarred my life, I was reminded of how God takes our mistakes, our suffering, the ashes of our lives, and creates something stunningly beautiful when we turn everything over to Him. I began to hum the Gaither song, "All I had to offer Him was brokenness and strife,/ But He made something beautiful of my life."