Last Thursday, I flew to Phoenix. The night before Southwest shifted me from a one-stop flight at 7:15 am to a nonstop at 6:05 am, so I arrived four hours earlier than originally planned. As a result, I got to spend a full 24-hours with friends at whose home I swam for the first time in over a year with a shoulder that works now (!), under the amazing Phoenix sun, and got licked and welcomed plenty, by their 68 pound boxer. This brief visit filled with great conversations, excellent food, and belly laughs was a gift.
The next morning, Cheryle from the retreat leadership team, picked me up in a “new to her,” white Toyota pickup and drove first to the director’s house and then we drove caravan style with three other cars to Emmanuel Pines Camp just north of Prescott.
Our drive was filled with conversation as I renewed this acquaintance. Cheryle has crocheted prayer scarves for years. She has made over 1000 and given them away to strangers and friends. She says she never can wear one out without someone admiring and asking to have it. Stories of these encounters abound.
On Sunday after the retreat was over, I was with Cheryle and the rest of the leadership team at a restaurant awaiting a table. Before we were seated, she had walked through the restaurant to use the bathroom. En route a woman caught her attention, and admired her scarf. Cheryle removed it, put it around this woman’s neck saying, “This is for you. I want you to know God loves you very much.” The woman was deeply moved and sought Cheryle out, later, to give her another hug while we still awaited our table. By this time, Cheryle had gone to the car and wore another scarf and had one in her purse “just in case.” After the hug, Cheryle pulled the scarf from her purse and put it around the woman’s neck, saying, “God has another scarf for you, however, this one is for you to give away. And remember, God loves you very much.” Tears brimmed this woman’s eyes, hugging Cheryle again, telling her she would do just that.
Such moments are remarkable to witness or experience. When I gave one of Cheryle’s scarves away to our waitress, Frieda, telling her how much God loved her, she beamed, was so touched and gave me a hug.
The Arizona Christian Ashram was meeting in person for the first time since 2019 last weekend. It was a momentous occasion.
Over the years, since my first Christian Ashram experience in 1981, I have grown to love these retreats. As Kate, the director of this event says, “Any time you can get people to take even a couple nights out of their busy lives to just be in community, centered around Jesus, change happens.” I have to agree. Even as a speaker, I get blessed every time.
I had poured myself a cup of tea, sat holding the cup in my left hand awaiting the next speaker. A thought passed through my head, “Where’s my cell phone?” As I reached with my right hand to check my backpack, the tea spilled over the hand holding the cup. As it did so, I jerked away from the hot, it splashed on the floor, my chair, more on my hand and my clothes. The crazy thing: my phone was in my pocket the whole time. “Are you okay?” a friend asked, thinking my cup had sprung a leak.
I took action to clean up and got ice on my hand for the next couple of hours, but still developed blisters where the water first hit my skin and the rest of my thumb turned the bright red of a first degree burn. The thing which struck me? It happened because of that panicked thought and a momentary disconnect. My right hand did not know what my left hand was holding! I wondered how many things occur out of hurry and distraction, like I discussed in my last week’s post. For me, this burn is a simple reminder: Slow Down.
God is the great economizer. He uses everything.
One man came to the retreat in his wheel chair. In the past couple years Bob, 75, a former Navy Seal, has suffered a heart attack, open heart surgery, a stroke, and surgery to amputate a leg due to complications of an infected wound. In addition, Bob is legally blind. He only has some peripheral vision. You’d think the man would just give up, and he wanted to. But, his wife noticed with his bow and arrow he could still hit a target which made her think if that is the case, he could probably still use his gun. So, she contacted Arizona Fish and Game and the Veterans’ Association. She got him his hunting license, and a team to help, and the weekend before I arrived Bob went out hunting. Using peripheral vision, with one shot at over 90 yards, Bob downed his first deer in decades. Bob told this story again and again.
It had birthed hope in the heart of a guy who felt worthless.
God moved in many lives during the weekend. There were healings, renewed hearts, deep insights, and the gift of connection. But the one which still astounds me was this. A woman and her husband, who had just moved from Oregon to Phoenix, came to the retreat. It was their first time at the Christian Ashram. The move was prompted by her husband’s recent diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, so he could live close to his children while he could still recognize them. A short time before the retreat, this woman’s youngest daughter, 37, had died of heart failure. She arrived hurting.
Another young woman, 37, came to the retreat. She had been abandoned by parents at an orphanage when a child, and experienced multiple points of abandonment during her life. I’ve prayed with her on more than one occasion. Many wounds had been healed. But, she arrived having recently been abandoned again.
In God’s marvelous economy these two women connected at this retreat, the one having lost a 37 year-old daughter, and the other, aged 37, who could use a mom. As they shared contact information, they realized the real miracle. Both of these women had moved in the past few months. The younger one to the only apartment she could find which would work for her and her daughter and the older woman and her husband to a house in the Phoenix area. They lived on the same street a few doors from one another.
THE SAME STREET.
In a city of over 1.7 million people, which stretches over 14,000 square miles, this just was too coincidental to be coincidence. God is the great economizer. He uses everything. He makes impossible connections.
What do you think?
How has God spoken into your life through circumstance, through coincidence, or encounters?
God’s always speaking, so keep listening.