My older daughter, Sheila, had just gotten married, and I knew it was time to look for a smaller, cheaper apartment for me and my teenage daughter (Rhonda) who lived with me half time after my divorce.
Then on April 28 came the phone call from my sister, Rita. That momentous conversation set in motion seven months of intense change, which I look back on as a mind-boggling milestone in my Christian experience. I learned just how creatively God could answer prayers.
On the phone, I listened as my sister poured out her woes about various stresses in her life. Then she added, “I always feel better when I talk to you. You’re such a good listener. I sure wish you were here to talk to for extended periods, not just phone calls from 3000 miles away. Why don’t you come and spend the summer with me?”
“Let me think about it, pray about it.”
I hung up. “Yeah, right. It would never work.” And yet, I felt drawn to consider her outrageous offer.
So I prayed, “God, this is crazy. I have a job and very little money, you know.” (Does God smile when my silly prayers are always informing Him of the obvious?)
That night I couldn’t sleep as I went over the impossibility of such a trip. I got up in the night and wandered around my apartment, noticing all the stuff I would have to figure out what to do with for three months. How did I accumulate so much?!? And there was Rhonda. How could I pull her away from the familiar? Not that she was so very happy at her awkward age.
The Spirit, however, can be quite a nag and kept pressuring me the next day, the 29th. As I got ready for work, I noticed some things I could do without, sell, or give away. I realized I was not overly attached to my Goodwill décor and needed to downsize anyway to fit in a smaller place.
But how could such an enormous change ever work? I still had a job, and I didn’t dare walk away from that. Two years earlier God had nudged me to leave my freelance writing and sign up to be a counselor in a residential facility for juvenile delinquents. Now that was a major change, but it was an amazing occupation—getting paid to minister to the hurting.
I went to work tired the next morning and sat dazed in our weekly staff meeting. My mind was awhirl with Rita’s request, so I had trouble paying attention. When we got to the topic of scheduling for the week, there was a break in the conversation. I said casually, “You’ll never believe it. My sister wants me to come to Maine for the summer.”
One of the part-time workers smiled. “Hey, that would be great for me. I’ll be done with classes by then and could take your full-time job. You could have it back in September when return to grad school.”
I looked at my boss who shrugged, “Sure, I don’t see why not.”
I gulped. “I’ll get back to you. There are a hundred other details to work out. I don’t know if I can pull this off.”
I left the meeting stunned. “God, what is this about? Could this really happen? I can’t imagine how, but I guess if that’s what You have in mind, I’ll just proceed step-by-step until I hit a roadblock.”
I asked my ex-husband, “How would you feel if I took Rhonda to Maine for the summer and then you had her with you until after Thanksgiving?”
“I guess that would work.”
Then, like Gideon and his blasted fleece, I was emboldened. “And pay half her plane ticket?”
Just like that, God leveled two insurmountables. Then came April 30 when I would have to give notice. I looked around my full apartment and felt overwhelmed at the thought of downsizing and packing in only 30 days. Was this of God or was I a little crazy? It seemed to be both.
During the chaotic month of May, I learned the truth of Philippians 4:6-7—“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Anxiety was a daily, even hourly, threat. Every time it swept over me, I reminded myself of those verses. I told God I needed help and then I looked around for all the things I could be thankful for. Then it was the strangest thing. I did experience the promised peace, beyond my understanding. Thus, I discovered Philippians 4:6-7 to be a most useful formula. The month of May was one of the most stressful of my life—and one of the most peaceful!
I also discovered the liberation that comes with letting go of stuff. I had set out quite a pile of it, ready for last-minute pickup by the Salvation Army truck. Then on the final Friday in May, the Spirit nudged me to have a yard sale.
“No, you know I hate the hassle of a yard sale. And without advertising? NO!”
Reluctantly I made signs to put up on a nearby busy street. To my surprise, my signs joined those of people who had advertised in the paper and I made more money than I ever expected.
In June, I felt an additional down-the-road anxiety. I prayed, “You know, God, in September I’ll be homeless. Have you got that covered too?”
Well, yes. I ran into Kay, an old friend I hadn’t seen in a while. It turned out her husband had been diagnosed with a terminal brain illness and could only get worse. She would love to have me stay with them for three months, “for moral support if nothing else.”
Mid-June Rhonda and I flew to Maine where I found my sister in worse shape than I had imagined. There was so much I didn’t know since we had only become close friends in our thirties. She is six years older and many of her wounds happened before I was born or after I had moved away. I was clearly in over my head, but I knew how to listen.
Once again, I needed prayer to get me through. I leaned heavily on the Spirit and was grateful for all my on-the-job training in counseling. My sister grew spiritually and emotionally, and in the end, we had an intervention with someone who had hurt her deeply.
A side benefit no one could have imagined was how much Rhonda grew in confidence. At the church youth group she was assumed to be someone special since she was from exotic California, and in time she began to grow into seeing herself as just as special. She was a new gal when we flew back home.
September brought more listening as Kay and I watched her husband deteriorate physically and mentally. I was again grateful for my training, this time being able to remain calm in the face of the occasional violence brought on by his disease. While I couldn’t solve anything, I could offer encouragement and perspective in an impossible situation. So for three months we prayed often and laughed when we could.
In the middle of this, I again felt blips of anxiety about housing. Yet again, I prayed the obvious, “God, I hope you realize I’m going to need a place by December so I can resume the parenting arrangement.”
I’d barely begun to look at the rental section of the paper when my daughter Sheila called, “Hey, the people in the apartment across the hall are moving out November 30, and. . . .”
Thus ended an intense seven months of praying my way through constant change. While it was often unsettling and uncertain, it was also amazing to see God work wonders in my circumstances while also using me in the service of others.
Now whenever I face new challenges and changes, I look back on that time and know from experience that God can sort out anything with surprising creativity.