It was that time again. The Prayer meeting tonight at church and afterwards, supper. There was an expectation that everybody bring a plate of food but the housekeeping funds barely made it around the kids’ school needs, their clothing and some of those little extras the kids always appreciated, let alone food for anybody else; extras like an occasional bought school lunch that would at least make them feel a little bit ‘normal’ – not ‘solo mother’s kids’ but normal kids with a normal household. It was difficult making ends meet; even with the Lord… that too was another long and interesting story. Suffice here to tell just some of it.
Emma had struggled from day dot with just existing…let alone raising two kids by herself, and in a Church environment when as yet there were no other single parents at all; an environment where some wives saw her as a threat. This was the ‘reproach’ the Bible talked about that she’d felt keenly at times; much like she imagined, the notorious Rahab must have felt.
The start of her life had been difficult to say the very least…just ‘the usual’ setbacks of any kid who’d been sexually abused…setbacks that made life a long arduous climb, rather than a steady walk. It had worsened in her early teens when she’d gone on holiday with the family and was almost attacked by a guy while exploring a cave alone. Her quick thinking had caused her to run for her life but fear had plagued her after that; fear that was to shape her entire life for many years to come – until God got hold of her that is and began to breathe hope into her fast wilting spirit. Hope had been in very short supply ‘til then. There were bouts of depression, fear and hopelessness coming in waves one after the other and driving her to despair and the often overwhelming desire to end it all. She did try that at thirteen but it failed. Then there was the trail of abusive boyfriends; a very brief failed marriage and two children to raise all by herself...
Such was life until God met her and lifted her from the quicksand – setting her feet on rock solid ground. She’d been pregnant with her second child when that happened. The Church had taken her in and given her a home; they nurtured her and taught her about God, and she’d read in Psalms that ‘if she obeyed Him, every pathway He’d guide her on would be filled with His lovingkindness and truth’. That sounded good enough for her and by then it was her only option and definitely worth a try. It turned out to be more than just lovingkindness and truth however; He’d given her new hope, new dreams and a sense of life she’d never known before. He’d done the seemingly impossible and turned this ‘worm’ into the ‘sharp toothed threshing instrument’ she’d read about in Isaiah. He’d sent her off to varsity of all things! …definitely out of her league but nevertheless He’d enabled her and she eventually got a degree… and that’s the short of it. It would take quite a lot of pages to tell it all in detail.
Anyway, the plate. Sometimes when ‘plate time’ came she would make economical lettuce and marmite sandwiches with a cheap one dollar white loaf and a lettuce from her garden…or she would make scones from cheap white supermarket flour (which she’d read was not good for her or the kids, however $1.50 was a whole lot cheaper than the organic wholemeal variety for three times the price). She’d become quite adept at stretching their resources to the very limit. When her five year old son for instance had admired the ‘latest’ label clothing with BMX bikes on them, she longed in her mother heart to be able to provide even just one for him. Having learned early on in her Christian walk to pray for their needs she’d had this item on her prayer list for many a long month, impossible as it seemed – a brand new BMX sweatshirt! Then one day – presto (she’d become seasoned at waiting and watching to see how He would ‘do it’), her friend who had a job screen printing at a local factory breezed by with an armload of ‘botched’ BMX sweatshirt fronts which hadn’t printed quite right. She just ‘wondered’ if Emma could make use of them. Wow! Could she what? She set to and crafted them into ‘professional’ BMX sweatshirts, using contrasting cheap material pieces she’d picked up in the local sales. She’d never told her friend about this need – she only ever told God – after all she wouldn’t want to be seen to be dropping hints for help.
Then there were the curtains she needed for their new rental home with yellow wallpaper in the kitchen. Yet again God had clearly looked down and noticed the colour scheme because weeks after that prayer ascended heavenward (‘new curtains please Lord for the kitchen’, not ‘new YELLOW ones’ note) another friend breezed by with a load of – you guessed it – yellow curtains which ‘her brother and his wife no longer needed as they’d bought new ones.’
Interestingly, most of the miracles that came her way were provided by people who didn’t even share her faith.
Her biggest most amazing answer to prayer had been the automatic washing machine. This was in the days when autos were fairly new and the agitator kind was still in existence in some laundries around the neighbourhood. It was also in the days prior to credit cards and the ‘buy now with no deposit and no payments for two years’ option that robbed God of the opportunity to show His faithfulness. For a whole year she’d prayed for one of these when out of the blue one day a ‘friend of a friend’ who happened to be a fixer of washing machines, just happened to mention to his friend that he was throwing out his old ‘Simpson’. It wasn’t that great he’d said but it would go a bit longer. Well go it did – in fact it went for another ten years (in spite of all the clattering and shuddering when it spun) and would’ve been the most celebrated washing machine in history. When it arrived Emma had danced around the kitchen screaming with delight at this awesome answer to prayer. You’d have thought she’d been given the crown jewels but this was just as precious nevertheless given it had come from the very throne room of the King Himself!
Early on she’d read of the widow’s mite and knew about tithing –enough to practice it and see if it worked – and it did. Faithfully each week a tenth of her meagre income had gone ‘to the church’ (well God anyway as she saw it); much to the criticism of all in sundry who just ‘knew’ that ‘the church would take all your money and leave you broke’. The trouble was it did look like that sometimes so she had to put on a brave face when things weren’t looking too good and trust God anyway.
But He always came through and they had never ever starved. They may have had to eat simple sometimes but no, they’d never starved. If there was one thing now fixed firmly in her mind it was this; God is faithful. He would never let her down.
One time they were offered a free holiday by a local charity organization for single parents. This was not a time for pride (which would’ve been a sin anyway) and she gratefully accepted then set about ‘believing’ God for all the food she’d need to take and the petrol to go in the car. It was a whole hour and a half’s drive away and they only had an old Morrie Thousand that’d never travelled further than thirty minutes north to the children’s grandparents and occasionally a bit further for a day in ‘town’ at the nearest big city. The kids hated this car (some of the kids at church whose families had flash cars would tease them) …and they’d bob down under the dash if they saw their friends passing, insisting Emma not use it to pick them up from school. Anyway, that week was a treat and she watched in awe as all the provisions came in. Some foods she never could have bought herself showed up; a bag of apricots from the neighbours’ tree; a bag of potatoes and home made chocolate chip biscuits from the elderly widow down the street whom they picked up every week for church; a petrol voucher from a family member and of all things - bacon! A whole new packet! They had a wonderful holiday and went every year after that on the same invitation, and with the same miraculous provision. And a few years later after much prayer of course, they were blessed with a shiny flash Toyota Corona that produced almost the same amount of excitement as the new washing machine – almost but not quite. Probably because of all the work the washing machine saved her. Parenting alone is hard work.
Such had been the growth of Emma’s faith throughout those years; the years God was faithful and showed her how wonderfully kind He was, how very much He could be depended upon and how very much He cared for the orphans and the widows. Some church folk she’d learned, didn’t include ‘solo parents’ on the widows’ list (‘solo parent’ by then was the ‘official’ name for unmarried mothers, and the ‘list’ was the scriptural qualification of those whom the church deemed ‘deserving’ of help), after all, they reasoned, they’d gotten themselves into their mess, presumably they could get themselves out of it. When she’d given birth to her new little son the Church had kindly sent her flowers and she could ‘read’ the awkwardness it produced at the time. How do you congratulate an ‘out of wedlock’ birth? ‘Would the Church be condoning sin?’ However Emma knew in her own heart that God cared. Why wouldn’t He care for the children He’d given breath to? And why else was He being so very kind to her and the kids?
Now, back to the plate – she was out running with her friend that evening when the plate first came to mind. She’d been running most week nights before dark to get fit plus she enjoyed the company of her friend; and it was a breather from the house...
As the thought ‘plate’ dropped into her mind she thought – if only I had two dollars I could go and buy a packet of….and with that, looking down as she ran, her eyes fell upon a two dollar note just off the concrete path, folded and lying on the grass! Wow! So it was biscuits that evening – not lettuce and marmite sammies, OR scones; real, shop bought biscuits. Who says God doesn’t care for the unmarried mothers? Or their babies for that matter?