Updated: Jun 27
It was during the olden days of the 90s that I attended seminary. Every Sunday in my sporty black Mazda, I zipped down I-5 where the speed limit was 70 so everyone drove 80. It was a three-hour trip. On Thursday evenings I made my way home again. At first, attending seminary seemed impossible. I could afford tuition but not housing and driving back and forth every day was beyond my energy reserves. God, however, makes a way where there is no way. As I discussed the housing snafu over the phone with the Dean of Women, another call came in for her. It was a sweet old lady who served Christ by opening her home every year to a Multnomah student. And as I waited on hold, she offered her annual gift of free housing. Oh yes, the gift was given to me right then and there. God always provides what is needed to walk in His will. So during that first year of seminary I slept in Mabel's “sparest of spare rooms”. What a blessing.
Every evening after the sun dipped below the horizon, Mabel and I relaxed together, idly chatting and watching television. There was her favorite show- Seinfeld, which I’d never seen before. My initiation to Seinfeld wasn’t positive. It seemed they never left the apartment, never went anywhere or did anything. I kept waiting for them to do something.
“This show’s about nothing!” I said to myself. Verily, verily, I said that. Of course I eventually watched it again and recognized it’s fabulosity. Now, of course, the “show about nothing” is one of my all-time favorites.
Over the Christmas break of that year, Mabel fell sick and ended up in the hospital. That sweet servant of God passed away, but not before she, literally on her deathbed, took a few of her precious last moments to instruct her daughter to allow me to continue to stay in her home for the spring semester. Imagine someone in the midst of dying taking the time to bless a person she barely knew! I could have robbed them blind for all she knew of me. But she trusted God and I received another blessing.
Speaking of robbing, I’m impelled to describe the last day of that semester. A fellow student was leaving for a missions trip and needed a place to store her household goods. Things like lamps, little tables, a chair, and boxes of stuff. My house had plenty of room so we arranged that I would keep her stuff with me.
There I was on that final day, my car in the driveway filled to the brim with her belongings, when Mabel’s daughter arrived to close up the house for the summer. You can imagine her thoughts when she spied the contents of the car. I ended up having to open it up so she could look inside and assure herself I wasn’t trying to steal everything not nailed down. I think she still had doubts.
During the second year, with the house no longer available, I was up the creek without a paddle. Faith flickered like the flame of a candle as I wondered how God could possibly fulfill my need. Yet I knew He would.
As it turned out, my bed became a sleeping bag on the floor of a closet in the girls’ house on campus. Not the most comfortable or roomy place I’d ever slept, but it was free and I was grateful. Another blessing from the Lord.
I did as I was wont to do in those days. In my excitement, I told everyone and anyone, completely oblivious to the effect my news might have on others. It simply never occurred to me that the five girls who paid a pretty penny to live in that house might resent the fact that I stayed for free. Oops. Harsh reality slapped me in face one Sunday afternoon. I arrived to find packing boxes practically floor to ceiling in “my” closet. It was disconcerting to say the least. Oh, I got the message alright. The not-welcome mat had been put at the door. It stunned and hurt and I hadn’t a clue why. All I knew was that I had been firmly ousted from the loving arms of the group. Just like in 7th grade when my “friends” suddenly decided to give me the silent treatment and only explained it after ungraciously deigning to forgive. “We don’t like your clothes.” It’s true I had not quite developed a sense of style in those days- highwaters and hand-me-downs- but that’s another story.
This time the reason seemed just as ludicrous and just as mean. “We have no where else to store our boxes. We don’t like leaving them in the hallway. It’s unsightly.”
Huh? For weeks, the boxes had been out of view in an upstairs hallway. I couldn’t believe they could be so petty, so unfeeling. Their coldness hurt. It was humiliating. Those old feelings of rejection rose out of the pit of my stomach and out through my mouth. “But this is my bed! It’s where I sleep!” Finally, after hemming and hawing, the truth came out. Why should I stay for free while each of them paid so much they could hardly afford food?
It didn’t faze me. After all, I was sleeping on the floor of a closet. It hardly warranted rent. Pride prickled. Anger feels better than pain so I got angry. Very angry. "But I can't afford housing!" I retorted, not recognizing we all shared the same complaint.
That Thursday evening I headed home, still seething with rage. How dare they treat me so poorly? They were nasty, nasty girls.
I drove north, the car not so zippy, my mind far from the Lord. The night was dark and thick with heavy rain. It poured over the interstate blanketing windshields so fast the wipers could barely clearly the view. Traffic moved fast and every semi within a hundred miles closed in, roaring malevolently all around me. The skies seemed to darken with menace. My hands gripped the steering wheel. My eyes strained to see through blinding headlights bouncing off sheets of water on the windshield. Panic gripped my brain.
And then I lost it. Not the car, just my mind. First about the traffic and then about the girls. Bitter words poured out of my mouth in screams as fast as the rain and just as heavy. Over and over I shouted into the darkness, “God, what am I supposed to do? What am I supposed to do? I can’t go back to that house! I don’t ever want to speak to those girls again. Ever!”
Truth is, anger feels better but it accomplishes nothing.
“What am I supposed to do? I can’t afford to stay anywhere else. I could sleep in the car, but where would I shower? I can’t afford a hotel or motel. What am I supposed to do, God? What-am-I-supposed-to-do?!”
And suddenly there it was. A car, practically indistinguishable in the storm, slipped into the lane directly in front of me. In a second, the only light I could see glowed yellow on its license plate. My eyes automatically zoned in.
“FORGIVE” said the license plate.
Forgive? Forgive! How? How on earth does one forgive rotten, no good, putrescence? I didn’t want to give up the anger. Yet God would accept nothing less than full obedience. As Charles Stanley, says, “Partial obedience is disobedience.” Rats. I knew I would have to obey. But how?
The old saying came to mind, “Act first and let the feelings follow.” Okay, God.
Of course on the next day I would come face to face with one of the girls. God wasted no time. Before the first class of the morning, before I even reached the building, there she was, right in front of me. God had thrown down the gauntlet, challenging me to choose. Would I obey?
Swallowing pride like a piece of Limburger cheese (yuck) I smiled widely. I don’t remember what I said, but they were welcoming words. Her eyes turned from trepidation to shock and amazement. And suddenly, just as the discord had blackened a carefree friendship in seconds, so suddenly everything was alright. Not only was our friendship preserved but I finally saw what I had not wanted to see- their perspective.
Anger feels better but it accomplishes nothing.
I’d like to say that from then on I’ve been swift to see the beam in my own eye before trying to take out the splinter from someone else's. I’d like to say I no longer hide hurt behind a thick wall of anger. For me, it takes time to regain perspective after self-induced tunnel vision. I’m like one of those spices that has to be practically pulverized with mortar and pestle before its fragrance is released. Some lessons take a lifetime to learn. At least it happens more quickly than before. As Pastor Tony says, “I’m not where I should be, but thank God, I’m not where I used to b