Saturday, November 10, 2012

Phoenix Story

I'm not usually one to introduce myself to total strangers in public restrooms. And end up exchanging emails with them for that matter. But let me start at the beginning.

I mentioned in a prior post that my family has a history of going to a family camp / conference center in the Adirondacks called Camp Of The Woods. COTW is full of happy memories for my family, as Janie & I would, for several summers in a row, load the kids into the car and head there to spend a week with Janie's sisters and their respective families. The place was full of relaxation and cousin-ish fun and we adults would be able to hear daily chapel messages, so our souls were refreshed as well.

We did this for many summers until Janie's diagnosis of breast cancer back in 2004. Even after the surgery and treatments that would continue off and on for the next six years, Janie never felt up to going back to Camp. And frankly, after she died in May of 20120, I didn't really have the heart to spend a week there either. 

me on the left
Fast forward to this past summer, 2012. Becca had taken a full-time staff position at none other than Camp of the Woods for her summer break, so I knew this would be the year that I would try to stay for a few days for a visit. I should mention that I had been to COTW in the early 70's when I was little, so between my early childhood memories and my own family's history there, for me, Camp is a place soaked in memory and nostalgia. 

Now I had heard that Charles Price, whom I had known as a teen, (read what I said about him here) was going to be the speaker during a particular week in August, so I arranged a couple of days for Carly, Daniel and I to stay at a little cabin called Mohawk. Mohawk is, I think, the very last property at Camp still left un-renovated, so it still has the crooked, creaky floors and the tacky 1960's-ish lamps and furnishings and a certain musty-woody smell that easily transports me right back to 1971. It's wonderful and in a way I regret that Camp is renovating at all, though I understand that
time marches on and they can't keep everything the same, no matter how much Chris likes the ugly carpets and sticking doors. 

I spent time with the kids - we mini-golfed and played ping-pong and whatnot - but I also spent time alone with God each morning in the early morning hours while the kids slept. It's a unique time of day at Camp, and I have always cherished it. I like to walk around the grounds and be rejuvenated by the sounds of birds and lapping water, and the smells of earth and pine and the general sense of peace there. But I eventually wended my way back to our little Mohawk cabin, and sat on the porch with my bible. And as the minutes ticked away and Camp woke up, I could see folks in their suitcase-wrinkled clothes finding their way to the dining hall. 

One couple caught my attention that first morning as they went by: they were an older couple and they were chatting and laughing softly as they walked hand in hand, unhurried, along the path. I watched silently as they steadied each other to step over the roots that cut across the dirt path, eventually disappearing toward their waiting breakfasts. And I thought to myself a few thoughts. I thought, "how wonderful to be together into old age...and they seem so in love and devoted after all those years." And I of course thought to myself, "...and I've been robbed of that by cancer." This was not an angry thought, just a pensive one after having spent a great early morning with God in this peaceful setting. It was perhaps a bittersweet moment as I noted the contrast: me without Janie and this couple still having each other, cheerily making their way along The Path, metaphor intended. Let me reiterate: I was not angry; in fact I took a great delight in watching this lovely older couple.

The next morning, the very same thing happened again. This same couple appeared out of the morning mist, stepping along and chatting quietly, and disappearing toward their breakfasts. And the next morning, our last at camp, it happened again. 

Let me mention here that the speaker, Charles Price, had planned for that very day to speak about, of all things, God's Use For Bitterness. Not bitter attitudes, but bitter circumstances. And it was wonderful for us to hear of God's faithfulness and providential planning on giving us bitter trials and that those trials are for our Good. 

So the kids and I went to the chapel service, hearing Dr. Price on bitterness in life and God's use of it. We came out of the auditorium and walked across the way for a little birthday party (yes it was my birthday) in the TeePee snack shop, but I needed to use the men's 'Necessary Room' first. And as I stepped to the sink, there was the old gent, the hand-holding, root-stepping, wife-doting older gent, washing his hands right next to me. Almost in unison, we crossed to the paper towel dispenser. And from out of nowhere, I heard myself speak up: "Excuse me. You don't know me, but I wonder if I could trouble you for a word outside." A bit confused, he obliged, and, once outside, I introduced myself to him, adding that for these past three mornings I had watched him and his wife pass by my little cabin porch and I felt so blessed to have seen the two of them walking hand-in-hand and that, "after all these years, in today's world, that is really something!" 

He smiled and at this point his wife walked up, so he introduced us. He said, "Rose, this is Chris. Chris saw us walking hand-in-hand these past three mornings and he likes it that we are so devoted after so much time together." Rose smiled sweetly and with a twinkle in her eye, she leaned toward Jerry and said, "did  you tell him?" I said, "tell me what?" And with a another twinkle in her eye, she announced: "Chris, we're newlyweds!"


Jerry and Rose had been married only 1 1/2 years. Previous to their marriage, Rose had been married to Bob for 39 years, and she had been a widow for 12. Jerry had been married to Shirley for over fifty years and had been widowed for 2. And here's where it gets crazy: Rose and Shirley had been best friends, and Jerry and Bob were good friends too! Both Rose and Jerry's losses had happened suddenly, without a long illness or anything. Also, Jerry had gone through the trauma of losing a 47-year-old (the age I was turning that very day) son only a month prior to losing his wife. Clearly, these two had experienced some bitter times in their long lives, and the two, a bit like two Phoenixes out of the ashes, had come together to forge a new life together. 

We chatted a bit longer and I shared about losing Janie, and we marveled together at Charles Price's sermon and at God's Providence in sending Charles Price with his message  - that very day - about God's Use for our Bitter times. 

And I asked for their email which they graciously gave so I could review the details of their story with them and which they have graciously allowed me to tell here on the blog.


Have you been through something tough? Something horrible? I wonder if you know about God's use for your Bitter circumstance? Can you see a bigger picture? 

Joseph in the Old Testament saw how God placed him in Egypt for the saving of many lives. (See Genesis 45:5-8 and Genesis 50:20. Better yet, read the entire account starting in Genesis 37.)

Moses saw how God directed the Israelites out of Egypt only to lead them to be cut off by the Red Sea with Pharaoh's army on their that God could show his power in saving them by taking them through the Sea. (See Exodus 14)

And Jesus himself suffered, died and rose again...all under the Providential directing of the Father. (See Acts 2:22-24)

The bible is replete with instance after instance of God's Hand of Providence on the lives of His people...especially through their bitter hard times. 

Jerry and Rose have been able to see that God has used their hurt for a great purpose in their lives. They have seen a growth of their trust in Him and they see that they are being shaped and molded more each day into the likeness of Christ.  

God has Big Plans for your hurt too, so be encouraged. God will not waste your pain.

1 comment:

  1. So beautiful. What an intricate, ever-unfolding story God writes.