A Different Kind of Business Call
A Word of Encouragement from Libby Handford
I admit it. When I dialed customer service, I was irritated. The phone company had told me they had a free new phone so I could use their new G3 service. But after four trips to the phone store to get it, it was still out of stock. No, they couldn't hold one for me. Just keep coming in. Then, as an afterthought, "Call 611 for customer service. They can help you."
I dialed 611. You know the routine: "This call may be monitored . . . Dial one for repairs, two for sales, three for limbo . . . to repeat this message . . . enter your code. . . .not a valid number . . .say yes or no . . . to repeat-" In frustration, I punched zero, and to my surprise a young man answered immediately and cheerfully.
Yes, he could help me. We got through the essentials of my business easily enough. Then I told the young man that I needed the account to be put in my name. "I lost my husband last year," I said, and try as hard as I could, my voice still broke on the words.
There was a long pause. The voice on the phone said, "I lost my son last year, too," and I could hear the tears in his voice.
"I'm so sorry. Did you know that God wept with you? He knows how bad it hurt, and He wants to comfort you. The Bible says, ‘In all our distress, He is distressed.'"
Another long silence. I couldn't tell if he was busy working on my account, or too broken-hearted to talk. He ventured, "He'd just been born. . . . It was so hard. . . . How long were you married?"
"Do you and your wife know how much Jesus loves you?"
"I was raised a Catholic. Then Mother started going to the Mormon church, and it was that or work all day, so I went, but really, I'm not anything."
"I'm not talking about church. I'm talking about your knowing that Jesus died on the cross so He could pay for your sins and bring to you Heaven. That's where your baby boy is, and if you trust Jesus to forgive you for your sins, you'll get to see him someday."
Another long silence. "My wife and have been listening to a Christian radio station."
"And we watched that movie ‘Courageous,' and what they said about Heaven. . . . And we've started going to church."
"That's a good movie. It's true to the Bible. Be sure to choose a church where the minister tells you what the Bible says."
Another long silence. "After the baby died, we went on a cruise. While we were on it, we found out we were pregnant. Now we have a baby girl, and she's so sweet."
"She was God's special gift to you, wasn't she?"
More silence. Then a tentative, "My wife and I-well, we thought maybe some good would come out of this. I was drinking too much, and doing bad stuff. Now I know that's not the way I want to live my life."
"Yeah. You need God to help you be the kind of Daddy your baby girl needs. . . . Say, am I keeping you from getting your work done?"
"No. I'm waiting for my supervisor to O.K. your order. I really like talking to you."
"Then let me pray with you before you have to go."
Another silence. Then, "Your phone is on its way. And thank you, Mrs. Handford, so much."
What a script of God's grace!
Me, impatient. . . . store workers, frustrated. . . . but somewhere out there, in a cubicle in a corporate office, a young man with an aching heart. . . . And a merciful God, patiently blocking phone lines, delaying product shipments, weaving together the elements so a young stranger and his wife could hear the words of everlasting life. Imagine serving a great God like that!
My new phone arrived two days later.
Light Words Lightly Tossed But Landing Heavily
A Word of Encouragement from Libby Handford
When I was a little girl, I knew the chant, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me" couldn't possibly be true. I knew better than that, from personal experience! Of course words can hurt. Sometimes they can leave wounds more difficult to heal than any physical blow.
The other day my daughter reminded me of some words lightly tossed when she was a child that fifty years later they still haunt her in nightmares.
December of 1964 was a difficult time in the life of the Handford family. Daddy had accepted a call to pastor a church nearly 800 miles away from our house in Illinois. We were leaving the home where Ruth had lived all her young life. We were leaving familiar faces to go to a strange and alien place she'd never heard of. All the furniture and toys and familiar things had been shipped to that odd country of South Carolina. Who even knew where that was? We'd celebrated Christmas day by eating at McDonalds, since the house was empty. Then, for that last night in Wheaton, all seven children had been taken in by different church members whom they knew well.
There was an added tension to the move. The final adoption of little brother Paul had not been completed because of technical difficulties, though he'd lived with us for six years. That last afternoon in Wheaton Mother and Daddy were to go to court to ask the judge to let Paul be ours forever. All seven of our children knew they'd been adopted, and they all seemed to be very comfortable with the idea. But the shadow of Paul's situation made all of us uneasy.
Paul was very proud of his little suit, with his poke-a-dot bow tie, but when the judge looked at him so solemnly he wondered if maybe he didn't like his poke-a-dot tie! The judge was a kindly man, and looked into our faces, one by one, knowing how very important the decision was that he was about to make. The reports from all the people concerned were affirming and positive, and Walt and I watched with a sigh of gratefulness as the judge signed the decree that made Paul ours.
But once out of the courtroom, a clerk bustled toward us. "Dr. Handford, Mr. Jones phoned and asked you to come to pick up Debbie and Ruth right away. The girls are hysterical and he can't quiet them. You need to go immediately."
The sun was already setting as we hurried to the car. Dusk comes early in December in those northern latitudes. We raced to the Jones's door, and Walt and I gathered our two little girls in our arms. They were sobbing wildly.
"What happened, honey? Tell Mother."
"He told us you'd forgotten us, that you'd gone off to South Carolina and left us!" they hiccuped. "We thought you didn't love us anymore."
"Oh, darlings, no! Never! Who told you a silly thing like that?"
They pointed at Mr. Jones accusingly. He had the grace to blush. "I was just teasing. I thought they knew I was just teasing." But we thought it an odd kind of teasing to tell an adopted child, who was already concerned about the possible loss of another child in the family, that the only Mother and Daddy they'd ever known had forgotten them and moved a million miles away. Hard enough on a child born into a family; harder yet perhaps for an adopted child.
Light words, lightly tossed. No harm meant. Meaningless banter. . . but a terrible, heavy effect. Proverbs 18:21 says, "Death and life are in the power of the tongue." No wonder King David prayed,
Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.
Incline not my heart to any evil thing.
Reflections on September 11, 2001
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford
It's been fifteen years since that September 11 when the World Trade buildings fell, but somehow the anguish doesn't diminish. It was a loss of a magnitude impossible to calculate. And today's papers warn that our country is more vulnerable now than ever before to terrorist attacks.
O, I know this land of ours doesn't deserve God's mercy. Too many of our leaders are venal. Too many of our corporations are greedy. Too many of our children languish for lack of stable mothers and fathers. Our jails are too full. Our abortion clinics are too busy. Our streets are too full of menace. God's great heart must be broken by our sin.
And yet! There are millions of Americans who do love God, who do what is right, who inconvenience themselves to help those in trouble, who deal fairly with others, who live quiet and virtuous lives. God certainly knows all this.
All of these tumultuous thoughts crowded my mind this morning when I took up my Bible to hear God's voice speak to me. The scheduled passage was in Isaiah, and this is what I read:
The LORD has said to me in the strongest terms:
"Do not think like everyone else does.
Do not be afraid that some plan conceived behind closed doors
will be the end of you.
Do not fear anything except the LORD Almighty.
He alone is the Holy One.
If you fear him, you need fear nothing else.
He will keep you safe.
If I fear only God Almighty, I don't need to be afraid of anything else!
But the best part of the Scriptures I read this morning came just a little later, and they told me why we don't have to "think like everyone else does" about the future.
For a Child is born to us,
A Son is given to us.
And the government will rest on his shoulders.
These will be his royal titles:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His ever expanding, peaceful government will never end.
He will rule forever with fairness and justice
from the throne of his ancestor David.
The passionate commitment of the LORD Almighty will guarantee this!
Yes, this world is in terrible shape, and it will only get worse. But some wonderful day, thank God, the Lord Jesus Christ will be in charge, and He will rule forever with fairness and justice. We can trust God: He is good enough; He is strong enough; He is wise enough to know exactly what we need-and He is passionately committed to redeeming His creation. He guarantees it!
So today I will grieve for the losses our country has endured, but I will trust the Lord God Almighty for our future.
Curfews and Other Suffocating Rules
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford
Susan (not her real name, of course) was a beautiful girl, with dark hair and dark, smouldering eyes. She was fourteen years old, not doing well in high school. Her mother was a single mom, struggling to support two teenagers. She was a godly woman who yearned for her children to grow up to be happy and productive human beings. I was their pastor's wife, anxious to find ways to help her.
But Susan blamed her mother for her parents' divorce. She seemed to find proof in every decision her mother made that she was mean and unloving, and worse, incompetent. This broke her mother's heart, and so she would ease up on her standards, only to find Susan pushing for more freedom.
Through a long period of time, I had gained Susan's trust, and so one day, when she called me in tears, saying she needed me, I hurried to their house. Susan was there with a friend, trembling, holding out to me a high-powered rifle. The two girls had been playing with the gun when it discharged. The bullet narrowly missed Susan's friend, went through an empty corner of the box of cartridges on the dresser, through the wall to the kitchen, through the cast iron kitchen sink and into the refrigerator beyond. It could have been lethal. Susan was horrified.
After that brush with death, Susan's rebellion eased for a while, until her terror lessened, and then she was again defiantly challenging her mother's rules.
One morning her mother phoned. Susan had run away during the night. She'd left no notes, told no one anything, simply disappeared, apparently with no money and no plan. She was out in that hostile, pestilential world, naive and so vulnerable! We prayed constantly, but of course, went to the authorities immediately, and asked their help.
The police found her a few days later, in a town 300 miles away. She'd been rescued by a prostitute, taken to a brothel, but not harmed in any way. With Susan's consent, and her mother's, the police brought her back to our home.
We had other children in the home, so Susan had to keep all the rules, curfews and all, that our children kept. She obeyed the rules, unprotesting, went to classes, came home and did her homework and household chores, but she never confided in me, never opened her heart.
One morning, when I went in to awaken her for the day, she was unusually sullen. She seemed to be angry at me because I had awakened her. I said quietly, "Susan, I know you aren't happy, and I'm sorry. But I don't deserve for you to be mad at me because I wake you up. Tell me, why are you so unhappy? Is it because of our rules?"
I was astonished when she sat up in bed, looked at me and said plainly, "No, I really like the rules. I do. They show me how much you care. I need the rules. I just don't want this time with your family to end, and I know it will."
I assured her that she didn't need to go home until she wanted to. It wasn't long until she ready to put herself back under her mother's authority. She went home, finished high school, and from there went to a Christian college. She married a fine young man and went to the mission field with him.
Those onerous rules? They were meant to protect her, to keep her safe, not to hurt her. Our standards of conduct? They were designed not to punish her, but to prepare her for a lifetime of happy usefulness. Those daily schedules? They were planned, not to bore the child, but to get routine things quickly and out of the way, so the proper business of life could be attended to.
The way of the LORD is a refuge for the righteous,
but it is the ruin of those who do evil.
Maybe a curfew's not so bad after all, for a teenager. Curfews, perhaps of a different sort, aren't so bad for grown-ups, either.