"Your Heavenly Father knows . . . "   Matthew 6:32

 

   Branch       Raul's Dad       Miracle?

Choice

  'WHO IS THIS?

  
                OUT ON A BRANCH

Have you ever stepped out into the wild blue yonder of the unknown?     Found yourself floundering and  falling before you called on the Lord?

Welcome to my world.

If you’re too reasonable, too mature to get yourself into such a situation, please let me remind you that “Before they call out, I'll answer.”   Isaiah 65:24

God knows everything I’m going to get into before I do it, He knew it even before I was born. 
He is God.  

My husband moved out when Chloe was born, he hadn’t signed up to be a dad.  His job in apartment management of a small community about five blocks from our home came with an apartment.  Very close but we seldom saw him.

How exciting it was when, out of the blue, he called and suggested a family barbeque!  Beautiful summer evening, he’d bring the food.  I was so excited.

Greg arrived and it was pretty normal but to me, miraculous.  He did the family dad thing and went right to work starting up the barbeque.  The busy work kept him from being too uncomfortable. As the sun set, I could see a bright and warm family future.

When the burgers were nearly done, we started to hear fire engines.  Lots of fire engines.  I listened because they were so close and then stopped.  I saw a huge glow in the darkening sky.  “Greg!  They’re at your place!” And we took off.

The entire complex of 24 apartments was ablaze.  Greg’s office and apartment were a separate building and untouched, but everything else was a roaring fire.

Folks were trapped on the second floor and one by one hung on the balcony railings then dropped down.  Children, mothers, men, a very pregnant woman.  Seeing it on the news is horrifying but seeing it happen live is beyond words.  

The residents were scuttled across the railroad tracks into the small town train station for shelter.   The Red Cross was called.  I ran home to get blankets, baby bottles and bibles. 

And there was Greg asleep on the couch.  I didn’t stop to talk, still carrying the baby I rushed back to the train station with supplies.

The Red Cross gave each household three days in a motel.  Wonderful, but can you imagine finding a new place to live in three days, and with no money?  Residents had just paid their rent and had very little left over.

I passed out the meager things I had.  I tried to console the residents but traumatized people really can’t hear and I’m not sure I had the right words, either.  But I had the right God.

Most of them had lost everything, absolutely everything.  Ashes.  No one had insurance.  In a low-income property, most survived on a cycle of benefits>pay rent>barter with food stamps.  And this was a very low-income property.

Exhausted, traumatized and frantic, what would they do in three days when the Red Cross help expired?

“God will provide.  God will give you new homes. Saturday at noon, everyone meet at my place.  We’ll have a picnic and God will give you new homes.”  Well, what would you have said?

About 11:30PM baby and I returned home, Greg was gone.

The next morning I asked my boss, Donny, a lifetime resident of Merced, “Who’s the biggest landlord here in low-income apartments?  Really cheap rent?”

“Oh, that’d be Finch.  He owns places everywhere and they’re really cheap, but so is he.  He isn’t gonna help you.  He’s also known as the meanest man in Merced.”

“Oh well, thanks!”

On my lunch hour, I drove over to meet the mean Mr. Finch.  No appointment, I just showed up and introduced myself and my baby.  Quickly I explained the need for 24 apartments, with no move-in fees, no security deposit, no screening residents, no full month’s rent.  Prorated rent for the remaining days of the month, and give them the keys.

“I can do that,”  Finch.

“You can?  You will?  Twenty-four?

“Yes.”

“In two days?”

“Yes.”

We shook hands. "Mean" Mr. Finch.  I thought he was lovely.

That was it.  No letter of reference, no business card, just me and my baby and God.   This is how good God is.

Wow!  We drove back to work and I told Donny what had happened and he was dumbfounded. 

One problem, one very big problem:  No one had any money even for prorated rent.  They were broke, every document or asset they may have had was hidden in smoking rubble.  And I certainly had no answers.

I didn’t see the residents again during the countdown to the picnic.  They didn’t know me, did they even know where I lived?  Doubt it.  The countdown was not in hours but in minutes at the most, wondering how God was going to accomplish:  money.

It was more than joyful curiosity; it was “What have I done? What am I going to do?  Oh my gosh!”  How silly, it’s never ever about “What am I going to do?”  No matter what you do, you can fail.  Unforeseen circumstances, poor planning, whatever.  But for God, every circumstance is seen in advance and He is The Perfect Planner.  Never rely on yourself, always rely on God.

Friday night I started to cook, wondering if anyone was coming the next day, noon.  I made mountains of potato salad, baked a truck load of chicken, I remember baked beans, drinks, paper plates, plastic dinnerware and cups.  And cake.  

The busy work helped distract me from terror.  In these two and a half days, not a word, not one peep from God about the money.  
I had no brilliant thoughts, “Well, I’ll just go to the City”, or “I’ll go to the Full Gospel Business Men’s Association”, no, not a thought.   I didn’t need a decision-making process or a committee review, I needed cash.

Saturday arrives.  I’m ready with the picnic and no solution.  Yes, a miraculous offer of 24 apartments, but no money to move in.  Ah, but maybe no one would show up and call me on my bluff – that’s how it feels when you’re starting out with a mustard seed. 

Then in they came, all of them.

A typical household was made up of single moms, lots of little ones, and unauthorized male residents, all unemployed, several on parole.  These were rough folks if you look at them with your eyes.  They had tattoos on top of their tattoos way before ink was in.   And they weren’t friendly, excited and hopeful, and I had no answer.

So I served up the picnic.  I blessed it with prayer:  “Father God, thankYou for this food and for our new homes.  In Jesus Name.”

Well, they were hungry, they saw I was trying to help, and they had absolutely no expectation other than being homeless Saturday night.  In a couple of hours.

While I was running around serving, carrying the baby with me, the front door bell rang.  I think this was the first time I had heard it ring, so this, too, was a curiosity.

Opening the door, here stood two men in suits.  OK,

“Are you Mrs. Branson?”

“Yes.”

“Are you Greg’s wife?”

“Yes.”

“We’re the owners of the Desert Apartments.  We’d like to get inside the office there but we can’t find your husband.”  Ah, common ground.

“But you can go in, legally, because you’re his wife.  You can enter through a window and then as his wife, open the door and give us legal entry.  Will you help us?  ”

“Yes, of course.  I wonder if you could help me, too.” 

I explained to them that I had arranged for apartments for the residents, but had no money to get them in.  And I mentioned that “they” just happened to “all” be in my back yard. 

“If I can find the rent roll for the month, can you give them an immediate refund of their rents so they can move?"

“Yes.”

“It’s Saturday.  Could you please call their new landlord and assure him that you will pay their prorated rents?”

“Yes.”

I want you to visualize me giving my new refugee friends the news that all of them would have their own homes, their own keys, tonight.   God invaded our lives to do the impossible.  We were all walking in a dream.

These weren’t churchy folks.  These weren’t God’s folks, except that “I will say to those people who were not My people, “You are My people.”  And they shall say, “You are my God!”  Hosea 2:23

“For He is kind to the unthankful and the evil.  Luke 6:35

And to me.

Amen.


“I am the vine and you are the branches.  He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without me you can do nothing.”  John 15:5





                                                                                        Raul's Dad
  

It’s funny what you remember.  Everyone remembers things slightly differently, we all have pictures in our minds.  It’s really incongruent what I remember most of a rather dramatic experience.

He wore the biggest, cowboyiest belt buckle, gold, that I had ever seen.  It’s amazing he didn’t topple over from its weight.  So we’ll get to that soon.                                                                                                

There was a sudden, crazy pounding on my door, desperate:  Lydia! Lydia! Come!  My father is dead!

It was Raul from downstairs.  He was very friendly and eagerly spoke what American he could, his father and mother were both pleasant and friendly and we couldn’t exchange a word.  So I knew them all but didn’t really know them.

They didn’t know me, either, except the friendly part.

I followed Raul racing down the stairs, into their apartment, into the bedroom.

I have absolutely no medical training but the diagnosis was clear:  the man was dead.  His coloring was strange, there were tiny bubbles at the corners of his blue mouth.

Without missing a beat, I put my fingers on his wrist, I touched him, and there was no pulse at all, none, and I said

“Jesus!  Give him a heartbeat!”  And immediately there was a strong pulse. 

Not a weak pulse increasing gradually, a booming pulse.  

I touched him. “Lay hands on the sick and they will recover.”  Jesus said it.  Mark 16:17-18

Did you notice that I wrote “and I said “Jesus!” and not “I prayed”?  I hadn’t stopped to consider or think it through, or pray anything “the right way”.   At the time, I had "walked with The Lord" about three and a half minutes and I 'knew nothing'.  But I knew SomeOne.

When I talk to Jesus or He talks to me, we are praying, yes?  Yes.  Sometimes it begins with worship exalting Him, and that's good.  Other times I just talk and He talks.

Because He wants it that way.  He wants me to talk to Him. He wants to talk to me.  Many, many times, He answers without me calling on Him.  This is Jesus who loves you.

Back to Raul’s dad.

Now his chest moved up and down, he had a strong heartbeat.

“Raul, call 911!”

“I did, they are coming.”

Sure enough, paramedics arrived, bundled Raul’s dad onto the gurney and took off sirens screaming.

I bundled Raul and his mother into my car and we followed.

Raul’s dad was in ICU and we were permitted to join him. 
What I still remember is the little screen going blip, blip, blip as an orange line graph went up and down on it.

Suddenly, the little screen sang one solid note and the orange line went solid flat.

Medical staff rushed in “What happened?”

Then came a frantic young doctor.  He had dirty blond shaggy hair, jeans, cowboy boots and the biggest belt buckle I had ever seen under his white coat.

“What happened?”

Mrs. Raul’s Dad, Raul and I had nothing to say.  We knew nothing.

So there was lots and lots of activity, resuscitating measures and the paddles and still the little screen stayed on its one note and its orange line stayed flat.

“He was doing fine when he arrived.  What happened?  What happened before he came in?”

I explained that all I knew was seeing him not breathing and finding no pulse.

“Then what?  Then what happened?”

“I prayed.”

“Do it again!”

I  prayed. 

The little screen went back to its blip, blip, blip song and its orange line started climbing up and down again.

The doctor stared at me.                                                             

I stared at his belt buckle.


Notes:

You probably have this figured out, but for those who don’t know me:  I am very ordinary.  I am ordinary and extraordinary things happen around me. 

And this is because on my best day I can do nothing, but Jesus can.

On my worst day, Jesus can.

“For we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power might be seen to be of God and not of ourselves.”  2 Corinthians 4:7

Whatever my condition or circumstances, Jesus delights in doing good things for me and through me. 

“how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him."  Acts 10:38 

He interrupts, He breaks in, He breaks through and He breaks out of the impossible. 

To do good.

And He just loves it!

"I rejoice over doing you good!" 
                                                                                                            Jeremiah 32:41 (LHV)



  


 
                      Choice

 

In the powerful, loving little body of believers of Home Mission Chapel, one of my dearest friends was Dorothy Thornton.

Dorothy beamed. Her age was a mystery, her smile looked like your favorite Halloween   pumpkin cutout, her little body shaped in complimentary form.  I don’t know anything about her background.  I do know that precious Pastor Finn picked her up every Sunday and brought her to worship.

It was a simple church, it was an authentic congregation that gathered in nothing more than an old house on the road.

Dorothy sat in one of the straight back chairs along the back wall, closest to the entryway.  From here she could welcome everyone as they arrived and she always welcomed me.  Her warmth and genuine excitement at seeing me was a great healing. 

She would enter into praise and worship and soon after Papa Finn began to preach, we’d all hear the most amazing snoring!  Papa Finn was a large, loud Texas boy and he preached large and loud, too, but couldn’t drown out Dorothy, fast asleep. 

I adored her!      

Chloe arrived, and Dorothy blessed my baby, too.  Come Christmastime, Dorothy, out of her poverty, had made needlepoint gifts for Chloe.  Yes, I adored her.  I still have the Christmas ornaments Dorothy made.

One day I got a strange phone call:  “You don’t know us, but we found your telephone number in our mother’s purse.  Our mother is Dorothy Thornton, she’s in a coma in the hospital, can you come pray for her?”

Oh, absolutely yes, I did.

Walking into the hospital room, I met two women and a version of Dorothy I had never seen before.  She was lifeless, her beaming had left her, there wasn’t much left of her at all.

I held Dorothy’s hand and began to pray and as I prayed, Dorothy went Home.

I don’t recall much of the conversation or activity afterwards, and I left the two women with Dorothy who had already left.

A few days later was a special day celebrating Pastor Winnie Mae’s birthday.  The Full Gospel Business Men’s Association had arranged dinner at a local steakhouse.  Well, Baby and I couldn’t miss showing up with a gift, and we couldn’t afford to sit down and eat.  So we paid our respects and excused ourselves.  Everybody loved Winnie Mae!

Walking back to the car in the night, we passed someone digging through the garbage while picking their nose.  It was one of those pebble and cement garbage fixtures, they leaned their black bike against it while they dug around.  They were clothed entirely in black, and even though it was a very dark night, they wore the blackest sunglasses.  They wore headphones and I could hear the music on way too loud.

We hurried past.

Then we turned around and walked back and I placed my hand on their forearm.  When the earphones came off, “God sent me back to tell you, He loves you.” 

The face looking up from the garbage can was a woman.  A large woman, not very old.  She wore a cap, she didn’t take off her sunglasses, and I guess I must have given her my telephone number because she called me the next day.

Her name is Stacie. 

She rambled, Stacie rambled on and on.  She had been estranged from her family for about three years.  She had travelled to the East coast.  She missed her mom.  She knew that her mom had gotten sick, but she didn’t come back to see her.  It was too late.  Her mom died.

We had this phone conversation more than once, she had been gone for over three years and now it was too late.

For some unknown reason, I finally asked “What was your mother’s name?”

“Dorothy Thornton.”

“What?” I thought, but I said nothing.  Too creepy, something doesn’t add up.  Then I asked “When did your mother die?”

“About three weeks ago.”

“Weeks? I thought it was three years ago.”

“Weeks!” Stacie responded angrily, as though I hadn’t been paying attention. 

Yes, I had spent hours listening to repeated meanderings and grief and remorse and I had paid attention.  And I had gently insisted how much Jesus loves her.

This was Dorothy Thornton’s daughter, Stacie Thornton.

Who in the world is this girl, Dorothy Thornton’s daughter, and what in the world is she doing going through garbage at night?

I told Stacie that I knew her momma, that I knew where her momma is now, and how much Dorothy loves her daughter.  Stacie cried.

I invited Stacie to come to my house and pray, I gave her the address, and she said she knew where I lived.  Fine.  She was on her bike and on her way.

And Stacie never showed up.

I thought it might be helpful if I checked Stacie out, maybe just a little bit.  I called Homicide Detective Byrd and ran the name past him.  Oh, he knew her well, he knew her entire family.

“Her family tree has only one branch.”  I didn’t know what he meant.  No idea.  So he laughed and explained it to me. 

Evidently, Stacie was one of eight children, and the only girl.  Detective Byrd said she’d been molested by her brothers all her life.  Just repeating this makes me ill and sad.  Byrd said that all of the family wasn’t all there, and I got the impression he had crossed them off his list. 

Make no mistake, Detective Byrd is a very caring guy.  But we humans have our limits, “there’s only so much we can do for so many people in need”.

God doesn’t have any limits.   He cares.   He will never change.  “Even when we are faithless, He is faithful, for He cannot deny or change who He is.”  And

“God is love.”

So although Stacie was deemed hopeless and worthless, I was always glad when she called me again.  I never said “Why didn’t you show up?”  I always invited her to come.  Now.

One afternoon of many many phone calls, and many “I’m on my way”s, and “I’m almost there”s, the sun went down and a night had come.  Stacie called me in frustration.

“I’m here!  I’ve been  trying to get to you and I can’t get through them!”

“Stacie, who?”

“They’re standing all around your house and they won’t let me through!  They’re huge, they’re huge men in bright light, they're dressed in white and have purple sashes and they have flaming swords of fire and they will not let me pass! Their swords are really big.  They're about 14 feet tall!”

So now what do you say?  I went back to praying in The Spirit and there came a knock on the side porch door.  And in came Stacie.

Yes, she was dressed in all black again and still wearing those overblack sunglasses.

But this time she came in.

My favorite place to meet was in the breakfast nook at the formica table.  Stacie and I spent a long time there in conversation.  We held hands.  Her hands were so big, so calloused and hard, and so dirty.  She knew Jesus loves her.  She knew she needed saving, she knew Jesus was The Savior.  She knew it was time to make a decision, The Door was open to her.  And she said:

“I want to accept Jesus, I want to pray now.  But I can’t, because if I do, I have to give up my friends.  They’re my only friends and I’ve talked to them all my life.  And if Jesus comes in, I have to let them go.”   Without emotion or fanfare, Stacie left back into that dark night, into those dark places which were familiar and comfortable.

I never saw or heard from Stacie again.  But!

I am confident in The Lord who answers a mother’s prayers.  I am confident that He who began a good work in Stacie will get it done.   I am confident in Him.

“Yes, but we all have free will, we all make our own choices!” says you.

Really? 

Go ask Jonah.

God is just that good and He does all that He wills.  He is love, and He does good.

Never stop, never give up, because God.


     "I know the plans I have"Jeremiah 29:11