I don’t remember if I’ve ever told anyone this story. But it came back to mind this morning.
Three decades ago, when Melanie and I lived in Florida, I got a job offer to build a Christian radio station in Illinois. I loved where we were at (I was program director for one of the premiere Christian radio stations in the country at that time, broadcasting from Lakeland). Melanie and I had both grown up in cold northern winters and were glad to be out of them. But it seemed clear to us that God was calling us back north. So, without overly much joy on my part about leaving Florida, we moved.
We ultimately landed in an apartment half the size of our place in Lakeland, which had been one block from a lake. This apartment was next to a flat cornfield. The winter winds never even noticed that we were keeping the windows shut. Melanie learned the trick of sealing the windows tight with a black plastic sheet. For six months we would do without sunlight in exchange for, mostly, stopping the cold wind. We would still find the electric wall sockets under the window covered with ice.
I missed seeing palm trees.
After the radio station got going, I began to receive speaking invitations from Christian groups in our listening area. One I accepted came from a support group of divorced men and women who met in a church. I was invited to share a few words at a supper gathering they were having. I had never been divorced. But I was interested to find out more about this group of listeners to the station. And I was unnerved at the line of thought the Lord seemed to be giving me for them.
The night came. I drove over in the chilly darkness to the near by town and found a group of three dozen or so gathered in the church hall.
Part of my job was public relations. The radio station operated on the basis of offerings sent in by listeners. We were always trying to make friends and grow the audience.
I was given a warm introduction by the group leader who had invited me. I looked over the smiling faces and took a deep breath. I had long ago decided there was no point to pretending when speaking to people. But I knew my next words could not be found in any “How To Make Friends” guide.
“I don’t want to be here,” I said.
That was an unusual start and some of the smiles faded a bit.
I told about the life Melanie and I had enjoyed down in Florida. The radio station there had been very successful, with financial support from coast to coast. The new station in Illinois had gone on the air about the time the local economy was collapsing. About the only businesses that were doing well were the ones selling “For Sale” signs for houses and cars. Indeed, one of my first part-time employees would soon simply stick his house keys in his front door and drive away, leaving the state to find work elsewhere.
We lived one block from the radio studio. I had the early morning shift. In the winter it was usually hard to start the car, so I would walk across a snow covered field to get to work in the cold. I couldn’t count how many trails of tiny mice I could see in the snow cover.
And we were miles from any palm trees.
“I don’t want to be here,” I repeated.
“But I don’t suppose any of you wanted to be here, tonight or ever, either.” The room had gotten very quiet. I could see one of the girls was now crying, sobbing.
I remember thinking, Dear Lord, help me! And though I could never remember later exactly what I said next, the Lord did wrap His arms around us in comfort. I think the words that came to me were to remind us all that the Lord had not abandoned us. He still had purpose for us, even in difficult and unpleasant seasons of our lives.
At a minimum, we could praise “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” ( II Corinthians 1:3-4)
The group of broken, divorced folks still let me stay for dinner. Maybe somebody there that night needed the reassurance from the Lord. Like I have needed it, myself, many times since then, when things did not go as I expected or wanted.
I am not sure why this memory came back to me today. I was in the middle of praying about something entirely different.
An apartment next to us is up for rent. We have been praying the Lord would send the right tenants. I have already been praying for the Lord to help whoever they may be, right now, before we know who they are. We are asking the Holy Spirit to be present and give a comforting confirmation that “this is it” to whoever the Lord is sending.
In the middle of praying about this again this morning, during breakfast, the Lord poked back. “You haven’t prayed about tenants for the house that is for sale across the street.”
Sorry, Lord. Them, too.
Because sometimes we move and aren’t happy about the change. But You are in charge. You have a purpose and You are inviting us to be a part of it. For our own benefit. But especially for others.