Monday, April 07, 2008

A Story of God's Grace

This is a story about a trip to Texas, a computer, a printer, a recital a priest, an overdone steak and a flat screen TV.  It's a story about a bottle of wine, a brother, the sound of children sleeping, a dog named Pearl and a guy named Chad.  This is a story about God's boundless love and grace given in a time of need.

My story begins on Saturday when I bought a new printer.  Ostensibly Macs are "plug and play," but I couldn't get the printer to work.  It was frustrating to say the least, but little did I know that my frustration would be part of the puzzle of God's plan for my life for this past weekend, one of many pieces in a puzzle that fell into place in such a way that I would become keenly aware of God's love for me and that I am never outside of his watchful gaze.

The priest is of course my brother, who called me on Friday with a request to use my Costco membership to help get one of the best deals on the planet for a 50" plasma flat screen TV.  He sent me a link through email, but I didn't have time to order it.  He had hoped that I would order it online, and have it shipped to his house, which I would have been happy to do.  Some questions arose about taking advantage of the additional $150 rebate deal, and if I could do it in his name, so it was decided that I would go to Costco to ask in person on Saturday.  We were hoping to avoid him coming the hour and a half to my hosue.  Meanwhile, I received a text message from Steve, telling me to wait before proceeding further, since he needed to pray about the TV more.  It was a big purchase, and he wanted to make sure that God approved.  Eventually that was resolved, and Steve felt that his house could be a comfortable haven for fellow priests, friends and family.  He felt that it had God's seal of approval.  Little did he or I know how fundamentally important that TV would be for both of us, and that indeed, his purchase of that TV was ordained by God.

When I went to Costco, I found out that if the TV were to be purchased at the store, and if at the same time a contract with DirectTV was established, it would be even more of a savings.  The monkey wrench in the plans was this:  whoever would be using the DirectTV programming needed to be the one present in the store.  I called Steve back, thinking for sure that he would not be able to come, but since his Sunday afternoon and evening were free, we agreed to meet in the late afternoon.

He had commitments in the early afternoon, and I had a recital to play at.  We had planned to meet at 4:45, but the recital I played at started late, and Steve's hospice visitations went long as well.  Our time at Costco was further delayed by crossed paths, Steve filling up a gas station since he thought I would be later than I was, me heading in before him.  All in all, we were late in our schedule, and I was feeling the pressure of time, since I needed to pack for a trip to Texas that I'm on right now with my brass quintet.  It seemed that things were conspiring to make the evening last longer than it should, but we now know that was orchestrated by God.

At Costco, we discovered that the TV was too large to fit in Steve's car.  We decided that the best option was for him to order the TV online and have it shipped to his house.  I didn't see any reason why he needed to do it right away--he could certainly have waited until he got home that evening.  There was no reason for him to come to my house, but since I had already mentioned the printer debacle, and since he's a Mac devotee, he offered to come home and assist me, since I needed to print some things off for my tour.  It is important to realize that I have functioned without a usable printer for well over year--I realize now that it was no accident that I decided to purchase a printer on Saturday.  It was all ordained by God.

After we made the decision about Costco, we headed to Logan's, my favorite steak joint.  We both ordered medium rare, and Steve's steak came back like a hockey puck.  It took forever for our waitress to return for him to ask for a new one, and then quite a long time for the new steak to come back.  Meanwhile, I was feeling the time crunch even more because of my upcoming trip, and the fact that I hadn't packed at all.  It was getting late, but I was enjoying dinner with my brother and I decided that I would be packed when I was packed and just enjoyed the evening.

We finally headed home, much later than I had planned or anticipated.  My goal had been to be on the road to my brother Jim's house by 8:30 or so, and we arrived at my house at around 7:30, two and a half hours after we had met at Costco.  What we did there didn't need to take that long, but it did, and what we both realize now is that Steve was supposed to be at my house at 7:39 last night.

It was at that time that I received a text message on my phone.  There are very few people who text me, and I assumed it was someone from work.  Steve was busy ordering the TV, and I grabbed my phone to see what message had been left for me.  

This is what the message said:

"dis (sic) is Megan...I LOVE CHAD!"




Where did that come from?

I felt like I had been stabbed in the gut.  My body suddenly became hot, I felt pressure in my chest and I was instantly filled with gut wrenching pain.  I was confused and baffled and reeling from such an unexpected incursion into my life.  I tossed the phone to Steve, and asked him to read it.  He was stunned as well.

It felt like a red hot poker being thrust into my heart.  I told Steve that I knew in fact that it wasn't Megan--it wasn't her phone number, and the Megan I know would never do such a thing.  I could only imagine that this guy Chad, presumably the boyfriend of Megan, had somehow, in some bizarre chain of events, found my phone number on Meg's cellphone and decided to do something to the man who used to date his girlfriend.  Steve described it as being perverse and cruel and it was--it hurt like hell.

It didn't take too long for it to dawn on us that all of the events leading up to this moment were brought together because God loves me.  He knew that this moment would be terribly painful for me, and that I wouldn't have the grace to deal with it on my own.  There, in my room sat my brother who hasn't been in my house in four or five months, in my house, with me, at the very moment that this painful text message came into my house.

I was reeling with the shock of it, talking it through with Steve, and soon our talk turned towards suffering.  I have learned about suffering in this year and a half, and especially these past six months, and this is part of my continuing eduction.  As my brother said to me, suffering is an invitation to enter into the suffering of the cross.  I am a better man for Meg's rejection of me.  I have reached a point where I view my loneliness, and the pain of her rejection as gifts from God that allow me to offer all of that up on behalf of Megan.  As I sat there with Steve by my side, what I saw in the midst of the pain of that unwanted text message was an opportunity to enter deeper into service of Meg, to work towards what I care more about than anything in the world:  that Meg would know God's grace and love for her, and that she would be redeemed.  I could honestly say that the pain of that text message from this guy Chad was a severe mercy to me.  I am beginning to feel like Paul, that I can consider it a joy to be able to suffer on behalf of Meg.

In moments of grace, in those clear moments where I have come to firmly believe that any pain I feel of rejection or loneliness can be offered up on behalf of Meg, I have found myself praying, asking God to heap pain and loneliness on me.  I love Meg so, so much, and I want to be the kind of man that would be willing to suffer whatever pain it takes to bring her to Christ.  Yesterday, in a very harsh and bitter way, God answered that prayer.  But what I am left with, in the very heart of that tremendous pain, is a keen awareness of how much God truly loves me.  My brother was there.  My brother was THERE, by my side, in that moment of extreme pain, pain that I'm still feeling today.  My brother was there to come alongside me, to encourage me to choose the path of love, to choose to enter into the suffering, and to embrace it and to offer it up on behalf of Megan.  As he said so clearly, the path of suffering is a choice:  we either choose bitterness or we choose to love.  He was there to help encourage me to choose the latter.

That is my prayer, and I'd ask that those of you who read this would pray that I am courageous enough to choose that path.  Megan is so worthy of a love that would offer up everything to find for her salvation and peace, and I am beginning to feel that offering up all of my hopes and dreams for companionship on behalf of Megan is my vocation right now.  Salvation is a costly thing, and a life spent on behalf of someone's salvation is a life well lived.

In one of my moments of anguish over Meg's rejection of me, I asked God to reveal to me why he hadn't brought me to my wife instead of to Meg.  The answer was quick and clear.  God said to me, "I did this so that you would pray for Meg."  In that moment I wondered if all of those years of singleness, of yearning for that one with whom I would share my life were there to bring me to a relationship with Meg.  Someone who isn't a believer I think would find this all a bit melodramatic, but I think this is how God works.  His ways are not our ways!  I truly believe that my calling right now in life is to pray and suffer on behalf of Meg.  I tell you, my brothers and sisters, I gladly embrace that calling, and pray for me that I can be faithful to it!

I fear I will be lonely a long time, but I am more convinced of this than ever:  every moment of walking into my empty house, or seeing happily married couples, or attending a wedding, or pining simply to have someone to have dinner with--those are all moments I will live through on behalf of Megan.

Little did Chad know that his biting and perverse text message to me was a gift, a cruel thing transformed by the boundless grace of God into a tool more powerful than he can imagine on behalf of the one he purports to love.  It was a eucatastrophe, and all I can say is praise be to God!

Steve and I said our farewells, with many a hug, both of us floored by God's involvement in our lives yesterday.  I was still in pain, but what I will remember more than anything is God's orchestration of our lives that day, and that in his mercy he ordained my brother to be there.  As Steve left, we declared this TV to clearly have God's seal of approval, and blessing, and I look forward even more now to watching this TV!   

I had a lot of packing to do, and I contemplated the day and the text message, baffled and confused at the turn of events that led to the text message being sent.  It's a ripple from a life that is no longer shared with mine, an echo of the woman I love still.  I don't understand what motivated the message, but now I know that it was used by God, and for that I'm thankful.

I looked forward to getting out of the house however, and heading to my brother Jim's place.  He was taking me to the airport this morning, and I looked forward to sleeping under his roof.  I arrived after midnight, and he and his two oldest sons were up.  He had cracked open a bottle of wine and we talked into the wee hours of the morning, talking about the text message, about suffering, about God's will for our lives, and how God transforms things meant for evil into good.  We went to bed far too late, but it was good for my soul to have time like that with another brother.  

I brushed my teeth, and then went upstairs to my nephews' room where I always spend the night.  All three of them were fast asleep, and on my bed lay Pearl, their family's beloved golden retriever.  The ceiling fan was whirring gently in the background, and as I pulled back the covers, Pearl lifted her head and wagged her tail in greeting.  I pushed her over and found the bed warm where she had been lying and gladly snuggled in.  As I listened quietly, I heard the soft regular breathing of my nephew Zach, the occasional cough of little John, and a random snore or two from Josh.  I reached down and patted Pearl who inched ever so slightly forward to meet my hand and I quietly thanked God for my family, and for his grace and love.  I lay awake for a long time, listening to the comforting sounds of my nephews and finally drifted off to sleep.


Scott Lyons said...

Thanks for posting this, Dan. I'm sorry for the pain you felt/are feeling, but I'm also grateful for the hope you express. It was a needed encouragement.

Dan said...

I'm glad it was an encouragement, since I feared more than anything it would be depressing post, though I do feel hope in the midst of all of this, and perhaps most importantly of all, I feel peace. I feel like what I'm supposed to do, what my calling is right now is indeed to pray on behalf of Meg, and that brings me joy, joy that can be found in this single life I desperately desire to leave. I truly have found through this choice joy in the midst of something that I want to change more than anything. It's kind of cool, if you ask me.

I did think about the very real possibility that this text message was a bizarre fluke, a case of a misdial, from someone who had a relationship with a woman named Megan, (without an 'h'). If that's the case, then it is without question a case of spiritual attack, which in and of itself is a good sign--some work must be getting done on behalf of Meg's salvation, which is all the more exciting. So I say bring it on!