By Chris Janzen
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Beth Shaeffer was numb from the neck down. She hadn't always been like this. The onset had been gradual, but had intensified greatly in the past few months. Her doctor assured her there was still hope the feeling would come back, but in the darkest corner of her mind Beth wondered if the damage was permanent. She had done every tedious thing her doctor had recommended; the exhaustive weekly sessions of therapy, relaxation techniques, and trying hard to keep a positive attitude, all to no avail. The daily regimen of pills she took to cope with her situation seemed to increase or change with every trip to the doctor.
Beth's oldest and dearest friend had been right by her side through the entire ordeal. Annie Kincaid and Beth had been friends as long as they, or anyone, could remember. No one was really sure when or how the relationship started; it had just always been there, as if they were born best friends. Annie's heart ached having to watch her friend go through such a difficult time. She loved Beth like a sister, and would truly do anything to help her.
Annie had grown up in a Christian family and her faith was an enormous part of who she was. She was active in her church, taking part in many of the activities, singing in the choir, and helping out with Sunday School and nursery duty when she could. She loved the Lord with all her heart, but was having a hard time understanding why her friend was having to suffer like this. She had always been taught that God was merciful, loving, and kind. "...Thou changest not...Thy compassions, they fail not...As Thou hast been, Thou forever will be." Annie brushed away a tear and it landed on her blue satin choir robe. Here she was in church, singing a beloved hymn about God's compassion, but all she could think about was her friend lying in bed suffering, and wonder, "Why does she have to go through this, God?"
Beth's family didn't have much use for religion. She knew her friend Annie was a Christian and over the years had attended lots Vacation Bible Schools, summer camps and hours and hours of Sunday School with her. The only thing about it that really appealed to her was the ample supply of cute boys, and spending time with her best friend. It may not have been the noblest reason to go to church, but, "Hey, it got her here!" Annie had always thought. She wanted Beth to know the peace and joy of being a Christian, and had been praying for her as long as she could remember. She cared so deeply for her friend and knew she was suffering in a way she couldn't understand, and that made her suffer too. As the choir continued singing "Great Is Thy Faithfulness...Morning by morning new mercies I see...All I have needed Thy hand hath provided...Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me..." Annie once again prayed for her friend, as she had done so many times before. "Dear Lord, Beth needs You in her life, now more than ever. You know my heart Lord, and You know how hard I have tried to lead Beth to You. Please, Father God, open the eyes of her heart and help her see that YOU are what she needs. Please heal her and help her Lord, in Jesus' name, Amen. Several more tears dropped on Annie's robe, but she brushed them away, and forcing a smile, joined back into the singing, "...Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow...Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!" Those beautiful words were especially poignant and meaningful to Annie today and she felt encouraged as she continued to sing about God's mercy, compassion, and faithfulness.
Beth lay in her bed, silent and still, feeling very sad and very sorry for herself. Why did this have to happen to me? How will I ever have a normal life again? Am I being punished for something? What about all those times I went to church with Annie? Didn't that count for something? After all, some people never go to church and things go just fine for them.
Beth thought back to all the fun times she and Annie had enjoyed over the years. Annie's family was very involved in their church and because the girls were such good friends, Beth gladly went to every church function she'd been invited to. She remembered the clumsy, misshapen bird houses they had made in 2nd grade at Vacation Bible School. She remembered the following summer at Bible camp, when they had both learned to swim, really swim, and not just splash around. She thought back to the Sunday morning when she was in 5th grade and the teacher had read John 3:16. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." The teacher explained that everyone was born with a "God shaped hole" in their heart and that Jesus was the only one who could fill it. She felt nervous and sad at the same time, wishing that her heart was whole. When the teacher prayed and asked if anyone felt like they needed to ask Jesus into their heart, Beth felt tears welling up in her eyes. What was wrong with her? She was a tough kid; an athlete and a tomboy, NOT a cry baby. She quickly wiped the tears on her shirt before any of the bowed heads were lifted and the eyes closed in prayer were opened.
As she lay there now in her bed, more memories washed over her, one after another. She remembered Annie's Pastor presenting both girls with a Bible for their high school graduation. On the dedication page he had written, "I'm so proud of you Beth. Always keep Jesus first and everything else will fall into place." He had signed his name and beneath it he had written Jeremiah 29:11. In all the years she'd had that Bible, she never once looked up that verse.
She thought back to her wedding day, and how happy she was to be getting married to the love of her life, especially here in her friend's church, where they had shared so many fun times together. Annie had given her a big hug and said, "I love you Bethie," squeezing her hand before making her way down the aisle. She was so happy Annie was her Maid of Honor. They had known each other forever and she couldn't think of anyone she'd rather have next to her as she took this giant step into adulthood. As the organist began to play the familiar chords of the wedding march, the congregation stood for the bride. With all eyes on her, Beth looked down the aisle at Jack, her high school sweetheart, standing there looking so handsome in his tux and looking as nervous as she felt. Despite her jitters, Beth's heart was so full of love and gratitude and amazement that today she would marry one of her best friends, and her best girl friend would be right there with her to share it.
As Beth emerged from her daydream the slight smile that had snuck up on her disappeared as quickly as it had come, and she snapped back to her harsh reality. During all the best and most meaningful times in her life, her friend Annie had always been right there with her. Beth's home life was far from happy and the many invitations to church-sponsored events gave her a good excuse to get out of the house. She lay in the bed thinking about all the fun they had shared and how very thankful she was to have a friend like Annie. This was a dark and difficult time for Beth and knowing Annie would always be around for support and encouragement lifted her spirits.
Once again, her mind went back to that day in the 5th grade Sunday School class. The teacher read another scripture. "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. Revelation 3:20." Beth had felt God tugging on her heart that day and many other times since, but had never given in to it.
Annie could not stop thinking of her friend and decided she would go and check on her right after church. Again she prayed, "Help Beth, Lord, please help her. She needs you now more than ever."
As Beth replayed the different scenes in her mind, her heart felt very heavy, weighed down with a burden she couldn't possibly bear. It was already a heavy heart from years of indifference and family discord. Now, here she was a widow at 23 years old. Jack had been killed in a car accident several months before. She was also expecting their first child, which had been overwhelming enough, even though she had known she would have Jack there to help her...or so she had thought. That all changed when Jack's car spun out of control on the ice and he crashed into a tree, killing him instantly, along with all of Beth's hopes and dreams for the future. For the first time in a long while Beth finally felt SOMEthing, and even though what she was feeling was painful, she was glad to be feeling anything. She had been numb for so long she had forgotten what it was like to feel. Beth was paralyzed with fear, grief, confusion, and anger. She cried out to God, "It's too much Lord! Why? Why did this have to happen? How am I going to manage without my husband? Oh Lord, I miss him so much." The tears began to flow as Beth poured out her heart to God. Years of holding in her feelings, of being the tough girl and the strong girl gave way, and she shared all her anger and sadness and fears with God.
Once more Beth recalled what the Sunday School teacher had read from the Bible that day back in 5th grade. "Behold I stand at the door and knock..." Beth knew it was finally time. She felt a pang of regret that she had not invited Jesus into her heart all those many years ago when she first heard Him knocking. She dropped to her knees and cried out to God. At that moment, the lifelong friends were both praying. Annie was in church, praying for Jesus to heal her friend, and Beth was pouring her heart out to God and asking him for help and healing.
The sweetest peace washed over both of them as Beth prayed, "Dear Jesus, I know I should have done this a long time ago and I'm sorry I waited so long, but I know now how much I need you, Lord. Please come into my heart and take this mess of a life and do what only You can do to fix it. I feel so lost, Lord, please help me." Immediately the crushing burden was lifted from Beth's heart. She raised her hands high and soaked in the love of Jesus that she had been so desperately craving. Finally she understood what love was. Love was Annie taking her friend to church, leading by example, and doing all she could to point her to Jesus. The strain and pain that had been so ever present left Beth's face and she began to smile, even to laugh with joy. She felt an inexplicable relief and sense of fulfillment and peace. She had been carrying the weight of the world for so long, and now her heart felt so light and happy. She was filled with inconceivable joy. Her “paralysis” was healed at that moment in the instant she invited Jesus into her heart and life. It wasn't a physical numbness she had been experiencing, but a spiritual and an emotional one. She was overjoyed to be able to feel, really feel, again for the first time in such a long time. She sensed the voice of God telling her, "Everything will be okay. You have ME now. I'm on your side."
Beth picked up the Bible she had received for graduation and opened it to Jeremiah 29:11. "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." ...Hope and a future..." Beth read again, two things Beth didn't think she would ever have again, were now hers. With a heart overflowing with gratitude and joy she said, "Thank you Jesus," and rested her hand on her protuberant belly. She now knew without a doubt that she and her baby would be okay. God would take care of them. As she dabbed the tear from her eyes she heard a knock at the door. She sprang up from the floor where she had been kneeling, and ran to the door with a lightness in her step she hadn't had in a long time. She opened the door to find Annie; dear, precious Annie waiting there.
"Hey pal, she said, I just got out of church and thought you might want to get some lunch. There's something I need to talk to you about.
Beth hugged her friend and told her all about her encounter with Jesus. Annie could see that the pain had lifted from Beth's eyes and was now replaced with joy and peace. She had been so concerned about her friend as she had slowly watched her spiral deeper and deeper into despair and hopelessness.
"Oh Bethie! That is SO wonderful! I'm SO happy for you!"
"Look at this, Ann, she said, smiling, and reopened her Bible to Jeremiah 29:11. "I know now everything is gonna be all right Annie! I don't know HOW, but it doesn't matter, because I KNOW that God is going to take care of me and the baby."
"That's what I wanted to talk to you about," Annie said, brushing way more tears. "Why don't you come and move in with ME?" It'll get you out of this little apartment you shared with Jack and give you a fresh start." Beth beamed with enthusiasm. Annie thought how wonderful it was to see her smile again.
"Are you sure Annie?"
"Absolutely! We'll be great room mates. It'll be just like summer camp again! AND I'll get to spend all the time I want with that precious baby! Plus I can help you. C'mon, it'll be great!"
Beth believed her, it really would be great. The two friends hugged for like the thousandth time that day, both relieved, joyful, and filled with peace and hope for the future.
"C'mon!" Annie said, "Let’s get some lunch, I'm starving!"
"Just let me get my shoes on and brush my hair real quick." Then Beth grabbed Annie's wheelchair and rolled her out to the van waiting outside. She squeezed Annie's hand as the driver secured the many belts and buckles that held Annie's chair in place. Annie's spinal cord had been injured a few years earlier and she was paralyzed from the waist down. "It's gonna be great," Beth said with a grin.
"Totally," Annie said, "like summer camp ALL the time!" Beth took her seat up front in the van as the driver took them to their favorite restaurant. They laughed and reminisced as they made plans for Beth to move in. They talked all about how they could paint and decorate the room that Beth and her new baby would share. Neither had been so happy in a long time. God touched them both that day and wonderfully fulfilled His promise to give them "...hope and a future."
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