Wednesday night prayer meeting, as usual. The customary complaints and pleading--then Blanche rises. Such a pain, her continual groaning. But this is different. . . my mind jerks to attention at the words "and then Gloria asked me how to be saved, and she asked Jesus into her heart right then and there!"
Praise God it had happened, but through Blanche, of all people. For over a year I had been praying for Gloria, ever since our fluke meeting in the parking lot. I knew immediately God was calling that old lady with her missing tooth and urgent smile, even after hearing her stories about "her own religion". I'd made special efforts to visit her, bringing baked goods or just talking as I worked to build the relationship. One day after praying, I even drove to her house armed for bear with my Bible and tracts: she wasn't home.
Then there was that chance encounter at the library, the afternoon I was preparing for the church bake sale. As I closed the oven door on two dozen caramel rolls, Randy announced that his library books were overdue. I knew if I hurried we had time to return them. But there she was at the table, sitting near the entrance surrounded by people. "Martie!" she cried when she spotted me. "Come talk with me." Gloria was nearly deaf and always bellowed.
I gave her a halfhearted hug with my tepid smile. "Hi, Gloria, how've you been?"
"Not so good. Over and over it goes through my mind. All my accidents, all my surgeries we discussed--why aren't I dead?" She faced me earnestly, clutching my hand. "There must be a reason. It must mean something, something I've missed," she shouted.
Just then Randy tugged at my sleeve. "I'm ready, Mom". I could almost smell the caramel rolls; in a minute they'd be burning.
"Can you tell me what's missing?" she pleaded, and all eyes in that room turned to me.
Sure, I thought. Here in the library, shouting. An intimate conversation about Jesus with all these eavesdroppers. And my caramel rolls smoldering--reeking by the time Steve gets home. There has to be a better time.
"What's missing? YOU'D be missing, Gloria, and we'd all be missing you," I answered lamely. "Let's talk about this next time, okay?" I steered Randy through the door and raced for home, feeling guilty.
I had prayed for opportunity, but when God offered it boxed in festive paper with purple ribbons, I shoved it back at him unopened, as if it were a ticking bomb. Next time I would do better, when I wasn't so busy. I'd take Gloria down "The Roman's Road", or perhaps through "The Four Spiritual Laws".
But there was no next time--seasons changed. Caught up in life's whirlwind I was swept back to that chilly night, and dumped like refuse in the high priest's courtyard.
I stand ashamed with Peter; we hear the cock crow as Jesus turns and looks at us. Stripped of all my excuses, my heart is frozen in that penetrating, compassionate stare. Few are perceptive enough to even notice. But the fervent prayers are stiffer now--more formal, less sincere. They ricochet off the ceiling in trite phrases: "I'll be praying for you" rich in ceremony, but poor in confidence. Fruitless in ministry, a mindless Jacuzzi churning waves that are going nowhere; I am present in body but absent in spirit, wistfully leaning on past intimacy while the everlasting arms of Jesus elude me.
He waits by a fire of coals. "Do you love me?" he is calling. "Feed my lambs."
Somewhere, Jesus waits. "Do you love me?" he sharply prods: "Tend my sheep."
By a bed of coals, Jesus waits, somewhere--poking, prodding my icy heart so carefully skewered over his consuming, purifying fire. "Do you love me, child?" he asks again. My heart sizzles; I can smell the savor. Instead of pain I feel delicious warmth as he flays me into tiny bites upon the serving platter. "Feed my sheep."
"Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation," I whisper, groveling with King David through his confession. And the waves of God's mercy roll over the shores, encompassing me in their wake.
Wednesday night prayer meeting--just the usual. Gloria's name is written in the Book of Life; the angels rejoice, Blanche shines like a star in the heavens. I weep. . . Jesus smiles.
2 Tim. 4:2; John 21:4, 9-19; Rom.12:1-2; Psalm 51