- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
The early afternoon brought spasms of bright sunlight flooding the front windshield of the ten year old, silver gray, top-heavy GMC sports vehicle. Driving alone after a long day at work, Brenda was anxious to make up for lost time as she traveled down State Road 16 to Gainesville. The evening ahead promised to provide some much-needed comic relief for my newly divorced daughter. Sometimes it only takes a second to completely change the circumstances of life, turning our worlds upside down.
It was just a split second, a car passing too close, and then the loss of control. Brenda's top-heavy vehicle, traveling on a road already too close to the side of an embankment, skidded across the gravel, turning upside down, as it fell over the side. The crunching fall took only seconds before the ground impeded any further movement. There was a fleeting recognition of her Grandmother and then the world was deadly quiet.
* * *
It was a beautiful fall day; a cool breeze seemed to sweep across the city, as though cleaning it before the winter winds. Leaving church, I stopped for a few essential needs, mostly for the two cats that live in my house. The faint ring of my cell phone, tucked securely away in my handbag, forced me to stop in mid-aisle, hurriedly grabbing the unit to answer before it stopped ringing. The female voice on the other end was calm and loving. She was a nurse at the Hill Top Nursing Home, she told me, and my mother was being brought there. There were some questions I needed to answer so the necessary forms could be completed. "Of course." I answered. My heart was beating rapidly with the intuitive knowledge that my Mother was dying.
Moments later, before I could exit the store through the quick express checkout line, my cell phone rang again. This time the loving voice told me that my mother had just passed on, moments before she was carried into the nursing home. Standing there in the middle of the Publix grocery store, I wept uncontrollably.
Through the hot tears of grief that constantly ran down my face, my husband and I prepared to leave Jacksonville, Florida for Park Forest, Illinois. I had called my Mother twice a day, for the past five years, as her life slowed down. On the morning of her passing, I had briefly talked to her before church, telling her I loved her and would call later. There would not be a later. During preparations for the drive home, our phone continued to ring, as her friends called to fill in details about my Mother's last day. In between these in-coming calls, I talked to each of my children, letting them know we were preparing to leave. Now it was time for me to go back to my childhood home in Park Forest, located thirty miles south of Chicago, to close the last chapter of my Mother's life.
We left early, on a cool clear early November morning. Jim was driving as I spent my morning's preparation for the day in prayer, something I had done since childhood. I prayed for our safety on the road, as well as my usual prayers for family. Afterward, I tried to relax, knowing that God was in control of everything that was important to me.
The radio was blaring away, tuned to a country station that Jim enjoyed. The song was finished when a male voice began saying the Ninety-first Psalm, "He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most high, shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty." The voice stopped and the original announcer continued speaking as though nothing different had occurred. Sitting straight up in my seat, I shook my head as if to clear my thoughts about what I had just heard. "Jim," I asked, "did you hear that?" His reply was a confused look. I responded that I had just heard the first part of the Ninety-first Psalm coming through the radio. Jim simply shook his head; no, he had not heard anything.
Many years before this, in the early years of our marriage, Jim and I were involved in a serious automobile accident. Our lives were permanently changed that night and for all the nights to come. I've walked mostly with a crutch ever since. At the time of our accident, the words of the Ninety-first Psalm, "Thou shall not be afraid for the terror by night," had comforted and supported me as I was removed from the torn, twisted wreckage. As the years passed and we had our family of three lively children, I continued to use the Ninety-first Psalm as our protection whenever we were driving. The children learned it quickly as they grew up. This beloved Psalm was an accepted part of our lives, as natural as the daily hugs we shared.
Sitting bolt upright in the passenger seat of our car, miles away from home and family and still miles away from our destination, I was instantly alert. The message was for me, of that, I was certain. Again I began to pray. Throughout the day's drive I continued to stay in prayerful mode, even though our drive was uneventful, the scenery beautiful. Stopping at a motel for the evening, I called my children to check in, still confused by my earlier message of the Ninety-first Psalm. My daughter didn't answer her phone, so I called my son and his wife. Answering on the first ring, her words came rushing out that my son was on his way to the hospital in Gainesville. Brenda had been involved in a terrible automobile accident Alan's wife told me. My heart stopped still.
Sitting on the edge of a strange bed in a lonely motel room, I began to pray. I knew instantly why the message of the Ninety-first Psalm had come. Several hours later another call came. Brenda was fine and clamoring to be released so she could go home. Smiling, I was filled with gratitude as I pictured my headstrong daughter insisting she wanted to leave. However, it would be several days before I heard the rest of the story.
Ensconced in my Mother's home several days later, the details of my daughter's experience that first afternoon came spilling out over the telephone. Brenda had been driving to Gainesville and was sideswiped as another car passed her traveling at a high rate of speed. As her car tumbled over the side of the embankment, Brenda said she felt her Grandmother's presence reminding her of the Ninety-first Psalm.
Brenda found herself upside down on the floor of the passenger side when the car finally stopped. Rescuers coming to her aid, sometime later, were in disbelief to find her alive, remarking this was one time that not wearing a seat belt saved someone's life. Brenda answered that she had been wearing hers. The entire drivers' side of her vehicle was gone. She was found, alive and well, in the only space possible to have survived this experience. She was placed on a life-flight to Shand's Teaching Hospital in Gainesville, where she was monitored for the evening, finally released the following day.
There was no doubt in my mind that the message on the radio was meant for me. God was speaking to me in a manner that I would recognize. My mother's last thoughts were of her family and in that instance before moving on; she was there for her Granddaughter. 'God's thoughts passing to man, spiritual intuitions pure and perfect' were the angels that surrounded my family, answering before we called, keeping us safe 'under the shadow of the Almighty.'
I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust ... Psalms 91: 2
The rain was coming down faster and harder than Jon had ever seen in his twenty-two years of life. It was as though sheets of water, torrents of uncontrolled emotion were descending upon the war torn country of Vietnam. The one-hour flight from Clark Air Force base in the Philippines to Ben Hoa Airfield in Vietnam raced by quickly, too quickly for the young men headed for the war zone. Inside the cargo plane, there was utter silence, as each man dealt with his own thoughts, fearful premonitions of what was to come. As devastating as these thoughts were, none could parallel the real experience ahead, something right out of the "Twilight Zone."
The plane had hardly been in the air fifteen minutes when it hit an unexpected air pocket, dropping over a thousand feet in seconds. My brother Jon was one of the few men dutifully wearing his seat belt. The sight around him was incredible; everyone and everything became suspended in midair, remaining that way for several seconds. Just as suddenly, the plane stopped falling, bringing everyone and everything crashing down. Each man had an incredible look on his face, a look of horror, a premonition of what was to come. They thought the plane had just been hit by enemy fire.
The plane hit the tarmac at Ben Hoe so hard it jarred every bone in the young men's bodies. The engines of the plane remained on, while each man was literally thrown off the plane along with his duffle bag. Quickly picking themselves up off the tarmac, each man rescued his duffle bag, only to look up into the watchful eyes of a burly guy manning a fifty-caliber machine gun mounted on a jeep. Before they could even mentally register the sight of all the other heavily armed and grimy soldiers, the plane roared out of there, disappearing above the men, the deafening roar fading quickly away. On the way to the Replacement Center, they were to learn that the Vietcong captured that airstrip daily at noon. It had been just minutes to noon when they landed.
The ride through the town of Ben Hoa, in an armed convoy, was shocking beyond belief for the young men, accustomed to the public amenities of life in America. Old men squatted in the streets to relieve themselves, children ran everywhere half-naked, while the rain soaked through the clothing of the new recruits, reaching deep into their souls as though to wash away any fearful apprehensions.
The replacement area consisted of structures resembling summer camp housing, with walls only halfway up and screening that reached the rest of the way to an unfinished ceiling. Eight men were housed in each of these units, each man provided with one of the double bunks available. On this afternoon, ten men were assigned to this particular unit. Jon was number ten.
Following a cold, ration-style dinner, the men peeled off their rain soaked clothing, collapsing into one of the temporarily assembled army bunks. Cold, wet, and exhausted, Jon still could not sleep. Running over and over again through his mind was the question, what in the name of all that is holy am I doing here.
Jon came from a religious background, and was regularly taken to Sunday school. He also attended a small religious Midwestern college, Principia. Afterward, he and his young bride joined the Peace Corp. with a heartfelt desire to contribute something positive to the people living in the blighted, deprived town of Ligon, Kentucky. They stayed for a year, living amongst the people, sharing their skills in an effort to start a library. The desire to begin a library was quickly abandoned, replaced by the more practical, primitive need for outdoor toilets. Their new baby interrupted the experience, bringing them home to Chicago. Here is where the induction letter to serve in the United States Armed Forces found Jon.
The evening hours ticked slowly away while Jon wrestled with thoughts of home, his wife, and new baby. Under cover of darkness, he valiantly fought away the slow burning tears that threatened to expose his vulnerability, temporarily allowing his self-confidence to seep away. War was hell! Quietly repeating the words from the Ninety-first Psalm, learned as a child in Sunday school, he drifted off to sleep.
The thought came through his dreams, though his vague grasp on consciousness. LEAVE THE TENT NOW. Blinking his eyes, Jon realized anew that this was real. He was in Vietnam, having been prepared in boot camp to fight. He had been labeled 'light weapons infantry unassigned' while waiting in this temporary replacement area for his assignment to a fighting unit. Again the thought came, GET OUT OF THE TENT NOW. Stunned by the urgency of the thought, Jon remembered the warning given earlier that they were not to leave the tent due to camouflaged Vietcong sniper fire in the area. Sounds of men sleeping and snoring permeated the tent as Jon shook himself awake. Early on, during childhood, he had been instructed at his Mother's knee to listen to the still, small voice and to be obedient. But not in this monsoon rain? God, be real!
Pulling on his still damp clothes from the day before, slipping bare feet into damp combat boots beside the bunk, Jon prepared to leave the tent. At the far end, he could see another young soldier; he, too, was dressing, preparing to leave the tent. Jon waved to him as he quietly exited. The two young men made their way through the mud, the muck, and the pouring rain to the hastily built latrine. Seconds later, they heard the ear-splitting explosion. The Vietcong mortared the makeshift tent they had just left. Shaking in the wet rain, the two young men could only stare, stunned and shocked at what remained. The temporary quarters they had just walked out of no longer existed. No one inside survived.
Jon, along with several surviving soldiers from other tents, hid out in the muddy trenches for the remainder of the night. In the morning, an armed convoy arrived to pick them up, escorting them to Army Headquarters. Here it was learned that Jon had excellent typing skills, skills that were sorely needed to handle the paperwork piling up at Army Headquarters. In addition, Jon served as a much-needed Army Chaplin for the remainder of his time in Vietnam. At the conclusion of his obligated service, Jon returned home, safe and sound, to his wife and child.
Something needs to be added to Jon's story. As Paul Harvey, the popular radio announcer used to say, now for the rest of the story. Sometime later, in one of his letters home, Jon shared the story with his mother who documented the date and time of this experience. His mother, who prayed for Jon daily, recalled a certain time, around the middle of the day, when the thought came to her to pray for Jon to wake up. She remembered this time because the thought was overwhelming and continued to come to her. She was accustomed to being obedient to the still, small voice, and so, without hesitation, she began to pray that Jon would awaken. She continued in this manner for a great length of time, noting it on her prayer calendar.
Later, the date and time of her prayer for Jon to awaken matched the time in Vietnam when Jon woke up in the tent, knowing he had to get out immediately. 'God's thoughts passing to man, spiritual intuitions, pure and perfect' were the angels that surrounded my brother, having 'kept charge over him,' sheltering him, providing a safe refuge for this young American soldier so many miles from home.
Surely, he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence.......... Psalms 91: 3
The February day dawned bright and clear, a small miracle for the often-smoggy mornings in California. My husband, Jim, was in the military, a young Electronic Technician Chief in the Navy, stationed on the U.S.S. Midway CVA 41 home ported in Alameda, California. Currently, his ship was out on sea maneuvers, leaving me alone for long periods of time with our two young toddlers, Alan, then age three and Brenda, age four. To make life even more interesting, I was five months pregnant.
Brenda was enrolled in a private pre-school program on the naval base several mornings a week; an opportunity generously afforded us through military relief funds so Brenda could develop social skills prior to entering kindergarten in the fall. We made a fun ritual of the mornings, getting Brenda ready, as well as little Alan and me. We sang songs, often hymns, as I drove from the off-base housing to the main base where the Children's Center was located. This helped to alleviate any separation anxiety for my little girl, the first one to leave the nest. Later in the morning, Alan and I would return to the center to pick up Brenda. All the way there, we would wonder what stories Brenda would have to tell us about her morning.
Excerpted from Angel Whispers by Carol-Ann Medina Copyright © 2010 by Carol-Ann Medina. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.