O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. – Psalm 139:1-3
And this was the prayer that went with it:
All-powerful God, we pray that you might send us your Holy Spirit. May that Holy Spirit help us to model a pace of life that strives to keep in step with the movement of the Spirit. May the comfortable be discomforted by Your Spirit. May the afflicted find rest in your Spirit. God, help us walk together in our journey here on earth. Amen.
So many days these verses and prayers cut right to the center of what is on my mind and heart for that day. It can be a bit unnerving to think that others know what I need prayer for! But it happens so often.
Today’s were no different, but I didn’t really give them too much thought until Julia Ann walked into the office.
She was elderly, with a great head of short white hair that in my current state of active alopecia – handfuls comb out of my head every morning – made me a bit envious. It’s quiet here today because most of our staff are out at a conference. The day-to-day office worker bees were here though: the support staff! I happened to be walking through the copy room for something and she came in through the other door. I asked if I could help her and she said she came to look at our church because an old friend had invited her to a class and she wanted to know where she would be going. I smiled and said “That’s great!” (I was also thinking what a good friend she has and wouldn’t our pastor be glad to know that our people are inviting others in!) And then it got interesting…
I asked her the name of her friend. The poor woman searched her brain and it came up empty. She was so embarrassed that this blankness came over her and she just couldn’t come up with it. We both laughed and she said, “Don’t tell her I forgot her name!” I said, “Don’t worry. I can’t tell her if I don’t know it either!” It was just so funny. She couldn’t think of the name of the class or the name of the friend or the friend’s husband and out of that came the most interesting conversation.
In trying to come up with the name of the friend, she went through how they knew each other from years ago and then lost touch. Not too long ago their paths crossed again and they were talking about church which prompted the invitation. But then she went on to tell me about how her dad died when she was little and her mom worked all day, every day. She was of that generation when days off and five-day workweeks weren’t the norm. A teacher of hers would take her to Sunday school and teach her the bible stories we all know. She taught her about Jesus. She was given a bible with her name engraved on it. She raised her own children in the church and they were baptized. She was widowed about five years ago. It was a long conversation we had, about thirty minutes. And all the time she was so befuddled, trying to remember the name of her friend.
She told me her name was Peg and I introduced myself, Julie. She said, “That’s my name too! Julia, but everyone calls me ‘Peg.'” I said my middle name was Ann with no “e” on the end, and she said hers too! It was just such a weird thing. And again, she kept trying to pull the name of her friend who had invited her to West Hills out of her brain, but it just wouldn’t come.
She went on to tell me that after her husband died, she remembered that little bible she had received as a child and wondered where it had gone in all the moves of their life. As she was going through her husband’s things to give away to family or to donate to Goodwill, she discovered a small box in his desk. Inside the box were several small things, including her childhood bible. Her husband had an eye for the valuable, not just monetarily, but for the memories and meanings attached to things. She took this as a message from him to hold on to that word and its promises. Again, all this was very befuddled and hesitantly offered and she kept trying to remember the name of that friend.
And then she told me about how she had refused counseling after her husband died because she knew she herself could get through the grief and come out on the other side without help…until she couldn’t. She spent one hour with a counselor who just listened; that amazing gift of presence is so important!! And at the end of the hour that counselor wanted to tell her one thing. She said, “Peg, there is nothing you can do about this now. God owns it. He will make all things right in their time and your time here is not done yet. Let God have this grief because he knows what to do with it. It’s his. Let him have it.”
She thanked the counselor and they never met again. But Peg would put her head down on the kitchen counter every morning after that for a year and just thank God for what was his and not hers. And daily she would start to feel different from the day before, until one day God spoke to her and said: “I have given you a new heart.” And she believed it.
And then she looked right at me and said, “He will give you a new heart because you have thanked him for it over and over again.” And she was standing there, speaking clearly, not befuddled, not struggling to come up with a name, clear-eyed, clear-minded and all I could see was Jesus. It wasn’t Peg after all. It was all I could do to keep the tears from streaming down. She was there to comfort me.
And then Peg was back, reaching for the handle of the door. “I am so sorry to have taken so much of your time. You have work to do.” And I reached over and hugged her – probably scared her! – and I said, “I know why you came here today. You came just for me.”
Oh Lord, you searched me and you knew me. You discern my thoughts from far away.
God, help us walk together in our journey here on earth.
I know it was Jesus. And her name was Julia Ann but people call her Peg. And in my grief over so much, he sees it, he knows it, he owns it. And he’s giving me a new heart.