God Numbers Our Days

When he was ten years old, my husband contracted strep throat.  With no money to pay for a doctor, his parents let the virus run its course. Instead of improvement, the disease spiraled, and his fever climbed.  The desperate parents finally sought the help of a physician. When the doctor saw how ill the child was and diagnosed him with rheumatic fever, he ordered a taxi for the family and sent them immediately to the hospital. The child received penicillin and sulfa drugs, but the disease was so far advanced his heart began to swell. The doctor tried an injection of cortisone, which for the early 1950’s remained an untested new treatment.  Finally, when the heart reached the point where more swelling would cause it to burst, the doctor told the mother that he had done all he knew to do. He told her to prepare herself because the next phone call would probably tell her the boy had died.

His mother, afraid for her child’s life, began calling everyone she knew, asking them to pray for her son. The prayer requests spread from phone to phone, each prayer warrior passing on the information to another whom they knew would go to his or her knees and beseech the throne of grace on behalf of the sick child. Satisfied that she’d done all she could, nothing remained for the mother to do but wait.

The night passed and the heart hovered where it was. Twenty-four hours after the first phone call, the heart began to shrink. People continued to pray. Within a couple of days the child had passed out of danger. The damage to his heart was unknown, so the doctor kept him in the hospital for another two months. When the boy was released, the physician’s orders were for the child to spend the next year in bed.  The following year he used a wheelchair.  When that year was up he was not to run or work at anything physical. He couldn’t participate in sports at school. He would recover, the doctor said, and would probably live a reasonably long life. The swollen heart, though, would cause the heart to fail suddenly and his life would be over.  He believed the boy’s life would be shortened by several years, probably ending somewhere in his early fifties.

A few years later, my husband’s father passed away, leaving his nineteen-year-old son to care for his widowed mother, a younger sister and the remaining hospital bills that the boy had run up during his illness. The family had no insurance and had worked out a payment plan with the hospital that would last well into the man’s early thirties. The young man decided that he would do physical work, whatever he could find, and if the labor killed him, so be it. He’d had eight years being careful of his health; he was ready to move on.

He worked on the green chain at a local plywood mill, a job that would tax the healthiest men among him.  Then he worked for a logging company, setting chokers on steep hillsides.  Not used to this kind of physical activity, the young man would return home every night exhausted, but the day-to-day grind increased his endurance and built his strength.

When we met ten years later, my husband had rippling muscles in his biceps and a physique that spoke of a well disciplined lifestyle. He lifted weights at home and ran up and down the bleachers at a local football stadium.  I would never have guessed that he had endured a sickly childhood and an adolescence of limited activity.

When he proposed marriage, he told me what the doctor had said, that we might only get another twenty years together.  I hesitated with my answer, knowing that his health would leave me alone early in my life, probably with under aged children if we had any. My parents’ marriage ended when my father contracted a rare spinal disorder and died at 49. He left behind three children ages 20, 18, and 16.  My own experience told me there were no guarantees, and I knew I loved him, so I said yes.

Now, thirty-five years later, our two children are grown and we are still together.  My husband loves his job and though he will be seventy in November, still insists on working what many would consider tough, physical labor. He often says he wishes the doctor who made the original diagnosis were still alive today to see him. My husband knows the doctor would be surprised at how well he lived the rest of his life.

The Bible says our days are numbered by the Lord.  He alone is the only one who can say how many years, months, days and hours we will get.  Each day is to be lived to its fullest because we aren’t promised tomorrow.  My husband decided to do just that. God has honored him with a rich, full life in return.

 We can’t know what our heavenly father has in store for us, we only know He is in every facet of our lives—even the illnesses that appear to steal our time. So we should begin each new day with thanksgiving, knowing that this twenty-four hours has been given to us for a reason and we aren’t promised any more.  We should not waste our time. Every minute is precious.

Hummingbirds Testify to a Greater Power

Every summer, outside my kitchen window, I hang several fuchsia baskets along the back of the garage. The fuchsias get enough light there to thrive and not so much sun they perish. They form a line of color that borders a larger patio area, a garden-like gathering place in my yard that features a sitting bench, a cherub that pours water into a pool, and flower beds that grow shade-loving plants. Several of the fuchsia I have wintered over, three or four of them more than once. I greet each spring with eagerness, hopeful that the plants with my favorite colors survived to bloom another season.

One of the bonuses that come with growing the fuchsias is that they attract hummingbirds. From my window I can watch the little green-jeweled birds dart from blossom to blossom, extracting whatever it is they find to drink in the flowers. Every day, all summer long, the bird visits, usually at the same time every day, and in the same order.  First a pink blossom, then a purple, a red and finally a blue. Once the hummer completes the lineup, she hovers for a second and then like a spaceship in liftoff, disappears up and over the fence, the action so quick she seems to vanish.

With the advent of autumn and the inevitable cold weather that follows, I prepare the fuchsias for a winter inside the garage.  When I mentioned to my husband we needed to take them inside, I voiced my concern for the little birds.  Do they winter over?  What do they eat?  Being a tenderhearted animal lover himself, he immediately went out and purchased a hummingbird feeder.  Any hummingbird that planned to stay the season would be welcome at our station.

We stashed all but two of the fuchsias in the garage with the plants left behind serving as beacons to draw the hummers to the new feeder. My husband carefully hung the red and yellow tube filled with sucrose between the remaining fuchsias in the hope that the birds would transfer their search for flowers to the nectar-filled tube.

I watched from my window the next morning, knowing the time the first hummer usually appeared.  Sure enough, at almost the exact hour, the little bird fluttered into the fuchsias, imploring each of the flowers to give her what she wanted. When she finished the first plant, she curiously moved to the feeder and drank her fill.  I could see the bubbles rise in the tube as she emptied the yellow disk that dispensed the nectar.  Then, as if she couldn’t break her stride, she moved to the other fuchsia and perused the flowers.

Satisfied that the bird would not starve we moved the remaining plants into the garage.  My husband hung the feeder closer to the window. We enjoyed the bird’s frequent visits to our yard. To our surprise we noticed that the bird kept changing color which meant we were feeding more than one. Delighted, we tried to count the numbers of hummers we served.  One came dressed in green-jeweled feathers; another appeared to be gray with white along its tail.  We never figured out exactly how many hummers we were feeding, but we guessed the number to be at least three.

Watching the hummingbirds in action compelled me to stop and give credit to the Great Designer who gave life to such a delicate creature.   The God of the universe, who put the oceans in place, secured the planets in the sky, and inhabited the land with giants like blue whales and elephants, still stopped long enough to give flight to the tiny hummingbird.  This was no chance encounter but an act of divine will. And if He cares for such a tiny creature, how much more does He care for you and for me—people created, the Bible says, in His own likeness?

With spring headed our way, I wait for the temperatures outside to rise so I can get my fuchsia baskets growing again. I anticipate the hummingbirds making the switch from the feeder to feast on the flowers I grow.  I still marvel the birds are programmed to feed at the same time each day.  I am awed these tiny beings thrive in a world where nearly everything is bigger than they are.

The Bible says, “Be still and know that I am God.”  Anyone who has watched a hummingbird in flight can’t help but know that stillness and sense that God.

When A Marriage Dies

I received a Christmas letter about two weeks after the holiday.  I knew the writer immediately.  She and I had been friends for almost forty years.  She’d raised four sons and every Christmas her greeting would arrive late. Her news would always giggle off the page, her letters filled with stories of the antics of her boys as they grew. Now with the guys grown, her letters glowed with their marriages, their jobs, and the grandchildren they gave her.  I savored opening the letter, knowing what I would find inside.

This letter, though, didn’t read like the others.  The first line revealed three deaths in her family—her mother, a great grandmother and her oldest son’s marriage.  She’d handwritten me a note on the edge of the copy that said she’d almost decided not to send her letter this year, but she knew I would want to know all the letter contained.  I swallowed hard.  Maybe not.

Her pain bled off the page as she recounted the funeral for her mother with her grandson in tow.  At four, she said he understood that Grandma had gone to be with Jesus and they would see her again.  What he didn’t understand was why his family was also dying.  Why his dad now lived in a duplex.  Why his mommy no longer loved his father.

I ached for her loss.  She had raised her family with the principles God ordained for the family. She and her husband had celebrated forty years of faithfulness.  Now the enemy of divorce had claimed one of her children. Her heart lay bleeding, the knife of despair having carved it from her.

I struggled to understand, careful not to lay blame.  Anyone who has been married knows it takes two to tangle.  Every marriage has its ups and downs, its struggles and its triumphs, the pain of hurts and the healing of forgiveness.  What had happened to this young couple? Both of them had the teaching from God’s word.  What part did they not understand?

I thought of the witnesses at their wedding.  Though I didn’t attend the ceremony, I knew that the guest list read like a Who’s Who from the main church in town.  Where were those people before whom this couple vowed to love, honor and cherish each other?  A friend once reminded me that the responsibility of a witness to a marriage goes beyond eating the cake and sucking the butter mints.  They are there to hold the couple accountable to their promises. As married elders who have lived before the bride and groom, the witnesses attest to the fact that marriage is an institution ordained by God between a man and a woman for as long as they both shall live.

I grieved for the children.  A boy not quite five and a girl just turned two, these little darlings have forever had their world twisted for them.  Their ability to trust has been violated, their security has been shattered, and the way they will approach the world will be forever damaged in the wake of their parents’ divorce. Statistics show that children often carry the blame for the breakup on themselves. They become the punching bags between two adults who should know better.  And they have learned, at a too early age, that when the going gets tough, the best answer is to split.  Staying the course will never be real to them. Many of them will grow up to view divorce as a viable option, vows of fidelity will mean nothing.

And so, today, I grieve for my friend. The funeral she will now attend for this death of her son’s family will go on for years.  She will watch helplessly as her grandchildren grope for some sense of security in a turbulent world.  She will feel the pain of her grown son as he struggles with the collapse of his relationship with his wife.

And I will pray.  I know that God takes everything in our lives and uses it for good to make us better people for Him.  I can only wonder how He will turn this tragedy into something beautiful.  But I know from experience that He is still the same loving creator He has always been.  That reality will sustain me. And for all the players in this particular theater of life, He will have the last say.  To God be the glory. 

 And to my friend, I’m so sorry.