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EXTRAORDINARY FAITHGod's Perfect Gift for Every Woman's Heart
By SHEILA WALSH
Nelson BooksCopyright © 2007 Sheila Walsh
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAn Uncertain Beginning
When Our Plans Fall Apart
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My faith has found a resting place, Not in device or creed; I trust the ever living One, His wounds for me shall plead. I need no other argument, I need no other plea, It is enough that Jesus died, And that He died for me. -Eliza E. Hewitt, 1891
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. -Hebrews 11:1 NKJV
It's Friday, June 11, 2004. It's a night I will never forget. It's a night forever seared into the hearts and minds of a nation, whether Republican or Democrat, for tonight Ronald Wilson Reagan's body was buried by the ocean he loved in Southern California.
It has been an amazing week of ceremony, celebration, grief, and reflection. Each time the flag-draped casket appeared, a military band struck up the anthem "Hail to the Chief." The body was transported from the funeral home to the Reagan library, to Andrews Air Force Base, to the majesty and quiet reverence of the Capitol building, to a glorious service in the Washington Cathedral, and finally home again to rest in the West. A nation and a world watched an eighty-two-year-old widow, fragile yet steely with love, do the last thing she could do for her beloved Ronnie. My husband Barry and I watched it all, often with tears rolling down our faces. We loved and admired this man. To me he represented all that I, as a young woman growing up in Scotland, appreciated about America. I loved his smile and his charm. I respected his unabashed love of his country and people. I loved his kindness. I loved that perhaps above all else, for it can be a rare commodity in our world.
Reagan was a powerful man and yet, as many observed, he seemed to wear his power lightly. It was crystal clear to all who knew him that he loved his wife passionately. Today, as she leaned on the arm of Major General Galen B. Jackman, Nancy Reagan looked so alone. Even in a crowded cathedral, surrounded by family and friends, she looked alone.
The eulogies offered this morning were tender, profound, and full of faith. Baroness Margaret Thatcher's words made me weep with joy. She said,
For the final years of his life, Ronnie's mind was clouded by illness. That cloud has now lifted. He is himself again-more himself than at any time on this earth. For we may be sure that the Big Fella Upstairs never forgets those who remember Him. And as the last journey of this faithful pilgrim took him beyond the sunset, and as heaven's morning broke, I like to think-in the words of Bunyan-that "all the trumpets sounded on the other side." Former President George Bush spoke with tears in his eyes. Reverend Billy Graham, who I refer to as the nation's pastor, is now hospitalized and regrets that he can't be here today. And I asked him for a Bible passage that might be appropriate. And he suggested this from Psalm 37: "The Lord delights in the way of the man whose steps he has made firm. Though he stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand." Finally our President George W. Bush spoke with eloquence and grace about the strength of this humble man. And where does that strength come from? Where is that courage learned? It is the faith of a boy who read the Bible with his mom. It is the faith of a man lying in an operating room who prayed for the one who shot him before he prayed for himself. It is the faith of a man with a fearful illness who waited on the Lord to call him home. Now death has done all that death can do, and as Ronald Wilson Reagan goes his way, we are left with the joyful hope he shared. In his last years he saw through a glass darkly. Now he sees his Savior face to face.
Barry and I had calculated what time the casket would arrive back in California for burial. We didn't want to miss a moment of this evening's ceremony.
As eight o'clock approached here in Nashville, I should have been sitting in front of my television at home, but I was not. I was in the last place that I planned to be. Let me take you there.
You Did What?
I was sitting in the emergency room at Baptist Hospital. It was busy and noisy. Two police officers brought in a belligerent drunk who had fallen and cut his face. They sat him beside me. He leaned against my shoulder and drooled on my shirt. Then he swayed forward and drooled on my computer. I moved. He followed me, offering to show me what was in his paper sack! I resisted the kind offer. Finally he screamed at the top of his voice, "This is it! Let it begin, then let it end!" And with that pronouncement out of his system, he fell off his chair.
I grabbed my computer, which had jumped into the air as he screamed. The receptionist rolled her eyes. His outburst didn't move her at all. A woman in a wheelchair was throwing up in a sack. I offered to help, but she looked at me with mistrust and hissed something about leaving her purse alone. The couple opposite me was arguing.
"I told you to stay off that ladder!"
"Well, if you had hung the picture when I asked you, I wouldn't have been up the ladder!"
Time passed. I looked at the screen of the waiting-room television and could see the convoy carrying the casket of President Reagan to his body's resting place move along the Southern California freeway. Crowds of people lined the side of the road, their cars pulled over in respect. Men, women, and children hung over every overpass and bridge. I saw a flag suspended over the freeway and wondered if Mrs. Reagan expected all of this.
The drunken man found his way back onto his feet and tracked me down. He swayed in front of me, cackling like a hyena. I hate emergency rooms! Finally they called my name. I hobbled through the door and pulled myself onto a bed in my assigned cubicle. My left ankle was swollen to twice its size; it was black and blue, and somewhere deep inside a throbbing pulse was playing the 1812 Overture with great gusto. A young nurse assured me that someone would be there shortly. Having experienced "shortly" before, I lay back on the bed and wondered if I could call my husband on my cell phone. I decided against it and closed my eyes.
Sometime later the curtain that was around my cubicle was pulled back with dramatic flair, so I sat up.
"How did you do this?" a male nurse inquired.
I tried to think of more noble explanations than the pitiful truth: A young mother lost control of her stroller. It was hurtling toward an oncoming vehicle, so I threw myself in its path and pushed the stroller to safety. Or I pulled a boy free from the mouth of a rabid wolf. It bit me, but it's a mere flesh wound.
I looked in his tired eyes and knew that he had no patience left for baloney. I confessed, "I was taking my dog for a walk, and I fell off the sidewalk."
I find it amazing how, with no words, some people have the gift to communicate, What an idiot.
I was taken to have the offending limb x-rayed. "Does it hurt when I twist it like this?" the x-ray technician asked.
"Well-yes!" I said with tears in my eyes, feeling like a big baby.
Several x-rays later, I was wheeled back to my cubicle and told that the doctor would be in "shortly."
When the doctor had examined the x-rays, she came and sat on the edge of my bed. "So you fell off the sidewalk?" she asked with a twinkle in her eyes.
"It was a big sidewalk," I whispered sheepishly.
"Well, it's not broken, but you have done some damage. You've torn the ligaments in your ankle. We will fit you with a surgical boot, and you will need to use crutches for a while. I'll prescribe some pain medication for the first few days. It will make you sleepy and your thoughts a little cloudy, so don't write anything important, and don't climb any stairs."
I started to laugh. I laughed and laughed. She looked at me wondering, I'm sure, if she should transfer me across the street to the psychiatric unit. I thanked her, grabbed my crutches, and hobbled out. I couldn't explain my hysteria; it was too long a story. But those two simple pieces of advice couldn't have been more ridiculous to me at that time. I had a book due the following month, and we had just moved from our home into an apartment up three flights of stairs!
I called Barry, who was home with our seven-year-old son, Christian, and told him the good news that I hadn't broken my ankle. I decided to save the rest for later. I drove back to the apartment and parked my car and grabbed my crutches. I had no idea how difficult it is to use them for the first time. It's like that old patting your head and rubbing your tummy exercise; it looks easy but is frustratingly difficult. I made it across the parking lot and sat on the bottom step, looking at the three flights above me, and decided that I would just pitch a tent there at the bottom. I reflected on the past months' events.
"This is not the best time to write a book on faith, Lord," I said. "I don't know if You've noticed that?"
There was no immediate answer, but it started to rain.
Events Cloud the Sky
It would be nice to think that one could write in a vacuum. I would find it easier if, when the day arrived to begin a manuscript, I could put life on hold until I was finished. Then I could simply write out of what had happened and reflect on those events as opposed to what is continuing to happen and interrupting my writing schedule with annoying frequency.
Four events have occurred during the last few months, demanding attention and time that I didn't have. But they have been loud and persistent. I think of them as
Grand larceny in San Jose; An unexpected e-mail; A devastating car crash; The great uprooting.
All of these events seem unconnected, but I can't escape the conviction that they are strongly linked. I'll tell you why as we explore them in this chapter and those following. For that I'll need to go back in time and give you a brief history of an organization that I am part of-Women of Faith-for that commitment has led me to this theme and this book at this time.
The Path to Extraordinary Faith
I am part of a team of six women who have traveled across America together since 1996, presenting conferences. These weekend events for women became a reality in January of that year. Our first year's theme was A Joyful Journey and conferences were held, and sold out, in ten U.S. cities, with a total attendance of thirty thousand women. Now we travel to thirty cities every year, and more than two million women have attended Women of Faith events since 1996. What started out as a simple idea has evolved into one of the most significant and powerful women's movements of this decade. It is very clear to us as a team that the idea came from the heart of God. Each of considers it to be a great privilege to partner with God in communicating His overwhelming love to women in our nation and, through our writing, to the world. I had no idea as a young woman growing up in a small town on the west coast of Scotland that God would give me such an amazing gift.
As our tenth anniversary approached, we discussed what theme should be for 2005. The majority felt compelled by the topic Extraordinary Faith. I didn't initially warm to this idea. I love talking about the love of God, about His grace and compassion, but I am a little intimidated by faith. Perhaps my reluctance is a residue of the so-called faith movement of the 1980s.
At that time I was the cohost of The 700 Club with Dr. Robertson. Pat is a man who believes in the healing power of God, praying for the sick and expecting miracles. Having worked with him for five years, I have tremendous respect for him, but at times we differed in our understanding of God's ways. I believe with all my heart that God can heal, but it seems to me that in these days, this is exception rather than the rule. I have lost many friends to cancer; have stood with others as they have buried their children even though they were godly people who had asked God to spare their loved ones.
The issue that troubles me most with faith is the burden many carry when they don't get the answers they have prayed for; they they have failed in some way. That seems a cruel yoke to wear in midst of pain. I have received their letters and heard their pain-filled words.
"If I had more faith, my child would not have died."
"If I had more faith, I would find a husband."
"If I had more faith, this curse of cancer would leave me."
"If I had more faith ..."
"If I had more faith ..."
(Now, the irony that I am part of a team called Women of Faith has not escaped me!)
During my tenure as cohost of The 700 Club, we aired stories of those who had experienced God's miraculous intervention in their lives. The stories were inspiring and, Pat believes, faith-building. My problem was that when all you show are the stories with the happy endings, it can seem to those watching that God always responds that way if you have enough faith. Therefore, if your child dies or your husband doesn't come home, you have failed in some way.
Pat does not believe that, but I received thousands of letters from those who gleaned that message as they compared what we aired to the reality of their own lives. My heart ached for God's people who were longing to find some mysterious key that would unlock the answers they desired.
I am aware of the Scriptures that proclaim the impact of simple faith, and during this journey together we will study those texts, but in this opening discourse I just wanted to come clean with you as to where I am as we begin.
So we chose the theme for 2005 even as I squirmed slightly under the weight of the title. To add irony to irony, our Women of Faith president, Mary Graham, who is one of my dearest friends on this earth, asked me if I would like to write the theme book for the year.
"I can't write on faith, Mary. I don't have enough. Sometimes when I pray for people, they get worse. I'm kind of like Lourdes in reverse!"
"I don't think that's the point," she said. "I don't think it's about us. I think it's all about God."
So I said that I would and was grateful for the opportunity to examine an area that is troubling to me. I had no idea that I was then walking toward the first of four apparently unconnected events.
Grand Larceny in San Jose
I opened my eyes to a beautiful, sunny California morning. Barry, Christian, and I had flown in from our home in Nashville the night before. We were in San Jose for one of our 2004 conferences. Our theme for that year was Irrepressible Hope.
Excerpted from EXTRAORDINARY FAITH by SHEILA WALSH Copyright © 2007 by Sheila Walsh. Excerpted by permission.
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