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When you come to the edge of all the light that you know and are about to drop off into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing one of two things will happen: There will be something solid to stand on, or you will be taught to fly.
~ Patrick Overton, author, poet, educator
Just the Two of Us
I'll never forget that first night in our new apartment. I had spent the previous week getting the place ready for us to move into, as I prepared for the next chapter in my life — a single mom going back to college with my four-year-old son, Michael, in tow.
We had lived with my parents in Dover, Delaware, for a year after my marriage broke up — they were so patient and generous as they gave me space and time to figure out what I was going to do with the rest of my life. I was just 23 years old — disappointed in love and confused about my future. I finally decided I needed to go to college and get an education.
I had very little money to start my new life — just $100 a month child support and $100 a month from my parents. I rented a basement apartment in Newark, where the University of Delaware was located — a hundred miles north of Dover. I furnished it with a $10 army cot for Michael, a $40 used bed for myself, a $10 table on which to study, and two empty beer kegs with pillows on top for stools. My coffee table was two cinderblock bricks with a board across the top. There was no sofa, just a small Greek flokati rug to sit on the floor. A bookcase held my radio/receiver, turntable, and a pair of small stereo speakers. The place looked like a typical college student apartment — except that in our case, the student was a young single mother with a toddler.
Michael and I spent our first day unpacking and putting our clothes and personal things away in the closets and cabinets. His toys filled a plastic laundry basket. We went to the market to stock up on food and got the kitchen all ready to use. It had been a busy day.
Bedtime came and after his bath, I knelt to tuck Michael into his army cot. Tears welled up in his eyes as I leaned over to kiss him goodnight. "I'm scared," he started to cry. "I want to go back to Grandma's house."
I wrapped my arms around him. "I know, sweetheart. I want to go back to Grandma's house too," I said as I started to cry, too. "But we can't — we have to stay here and start our new life. From now on it's just you and me."
We clung to each other and sobbed. We felt like a couple of orphans, suddenly finding ourselves alone that night, knowing we had to make our own way in the world. We were both scared, not knowing what the future held for us.
As our tears subsided, we just hugged each other. I offered up a silent prayer, asking for help. When Michael finally fell asleep in my arms, I went off to sleep in my own room.
That was many years ago and, needless to say, we survived that night. There were many more challenges in the following days, weeks, months, and years — and many a time I turned to prayer.
Being a single parent was the hardest thing I've ever done. Countless times I felt clueless. Often, I asked Michael's father for advice; occasionally I asked friends who were parents, too. But most often I turned to God, seeking help with all the problems that parenthood brings.
I've often joked to friends that Michael and I took turns raising each other. But the real truth is — God had to raise both of us at the same time!
Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.
~ Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., civil rights leader
What Are You Waiting For?
A wise woman once wrote,
"It's never too late
to be what you might have been."
I want to believe her,
but I'm afraid ...
afraid I won't succeed,
afraid others will think me foolish,
afraid that I can't change,
afraid I don't have enough time,
I worry that maybe it IS too late
"What are you waiting for?"
"I'm waiting for the right time,"
"No time like the present,"
"I'm waiting for more information,"
"You have all the information you need,"
"I'm waiting for the fear to subside,"
"I'm right here with you —
just feel your fear
and do it anyway,"
"How do I do that?"
"The answer to 'how' is 'yes,'"
"Say 'yes' to taking the first step.
Say 'yes' to getting into action.
Say 'yes' to moving forward.
Say 'yes' to change.
Say 'yes' to life.
Just say 'yes.'"
Belief Versus Trust
Several years ago I heard a wonderful story about a man named George who wanted to ride his bicycle on a thick cable strung across Niagara Falls. He showed up at the falls one morning, and as he prepared for his ride, a crowd began to gather. Everyone was excited. "You can do it, George!" they cheered. "We believe in you!" As the crowd grew larger, you could feel their enthusiasm in the air.
George finally finished his preparations, mounted his bike and positioned it on the cable, then pedaled off across the falls. Everyone yelled encouraging words: "Keep going, George! You're doing great! We believe in you! You can do it!"
George balanced his bike skillfully and gracefully as he pedaled over the roaring falls below. Finally, he reached the other side and the crowd erupted in joy! They screamed and yelled in happiness. Then, much to their surprise and delight, George turned his bike around and pedaled back over the falls once again, to end up where he'd started.
As he completed his return trip, the gathered crowd was ecstatic. "George, you're amazing! Bravo! We knew you could do it! We had faith in you all along!" They cheered, laughed, and hugged George, clapped him on the back, and heaped their joyful praise upon him. It was a wonderful scene.
Then George surprised the crowd again. He said, "I'm going to do it again, but this time I'm going to take one of you with me. Who wants to ride on my handlebars?"
The crowd fell silent. People looked askance at one another. An eyebrow here and there was raised. Folks hung back. It looked like no one would ride with George.
But then a little girl who'd been watching from the sidelines stepped forward. "I'll go with you," she said.
George smiled and scooped the little girl up in his arms. As he carried her toward his bike, the crowd grew angry. "You can't take that little girl," they yelled. "It's too dangerous!" They looked around for someone to stop him. "Somebody call the authorities — he should be arrested! Don't let him take that little girl!"
But George paid no attention to their protests. He put the girl on his handlebars, showed her where to hold on, and then pedaled off across the falls again.
The crowd was furious — and terrified. They screamed for him to come back. Some cried. Others looked away, afraid to witness the tragedy they anticipated. A few fell silent and held their collective breath.
George kept pedaling, maintaining his focus and concentration. The little girl held tight, just as she'd been shown. And soon, the two reached the other side.
Without so much as a second thought, George turned the bike around for the return trip. He and the little girl made their way back, safe and sound.
As soon as the bike's front wheel hit the safety of land again, the crowd began cheering. "It's a miracle!" some cried. "You're safe!" They gathered around the little girl to hug her.
"What made you go with George?" an older woman asked the girl. "Weren't you afraid?"
"No, I wasn't afraid," the girl answered. "You see, I don't just believe in him — I trust him. He's my daddy."
There are two primary forces in this world, fear and faith. Fear can move you to destructiveness or sickness or failure. Only in rare instances will it motivate you to accomplishment. But faith is a greater force. Faith can drive itself into your consciousness and set you free from fear forever.
~Norman Vincent Peale, minister and author
Kathryn, Cancer, and God
I called my friend Sam Beasley to complain about the injustice: "I just got word that my friend Kathryn has been diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer. She's only 68 years old. She's been sober for 30 years; she hasn't had a cigarette in 29 years; and she hasn't eaten sugar for 28 years. She flosses after every meal and her teeth are perfect. She's trim and athletic. She and her husband go biking every weekend. Their summer vacations are biking across Europe with friends. She's done everything right and still — still she gets cancer!"
"So, let me ask you a question," Sam said. "Are you her Higher Power? Are you her God?"
"But what you're telling me is that you want to overrule her Higher Power," Sam said. "You think you know what's right for Kathryn."
"For all we know, this might just be the best year of her life!" Sam said.
"Oh. I hadn't thought of it like that."
"Most people don't," Sam continued. "In fact, your friend Kathryn probably isn't thinking about it like that either. But the truth is, we don't know that the cancer just might come bearing gifts ... and that this last year of her life might very well be the best."
Could Sam be right? Kathryn had expressed many worries, concerns, and complaints over the ten years that I knew her. Chief among them was the absence of an exit strategy from the high-stress business she owned. She often complained that her husband John was not sufficiently sensitive to her emotional needs. She said she felt lonely much of the time and had no close friends. And she fretted about her two daughters: Chloe was overweight and Dianne wasn't interested in getting married. Kathryn lamented the lack of grandchildren. Clearly, hers wasn't the picture-perfect family Kathryn thought it ought to be.
Underlying her concerns and complaints was a chronic refrain of fear and mistrust. Kathryn said she had a hard time trusting people. Myriad fears haunted her daily life: fear that her business wasn't making enough money, fear that she'd miss a deadline or make a mistake; fear of what others thought of her; fear of abandonment; fears for her daughters' happiness ... her fears seemed endless.
To any outside observer, these worries seemed baseless and irrational. Kathryn was a wealthy woman with a long marriage to a handsome, successful man; she had two lovely homes; she leased a new Mercedes every three years; her daughters were talented, attractive, and smart; and her family enjoyed a lifestyle anyone would envy. But the fears were still there — they had nothing to do with objective conditions.
Within the first week of her diagnosis, all that began to change. Kathryn's husband took a leave of absence from his work and devoted himself to caring for her. He moved her business out of their home and put it up for sale while she was in the hospital, so when she came home all she had to do was focus on her health.
When I went to visit her in the hospital, I expected to find her crying and fearful — her usual response to anything bad. But the Kathryn who greeted me from her hospital bed was relaxed and glowing. Her room was filled with flowers, cards, and balloons. Her entire family was gathered there with her — her husband John, her daughters Chloe and Dianne, her sister Suzanne, and Suzanne's fiancé. Kathryn was basking in their love and attention. She told me that she felt peaceful and serene, trusting God that all would be well.
For the next seven months, Kathryn's life looked like the solar system — with Kathryn as the sun — and family and friends orbiting around her. She received calls and visitors daily. John doted on her. Chloe was at the house every day and Kathryn's sister Suzanne came frequently, too. Dianne got married, and Kathryn rallied to participate in the wedding. The happy couple got pregnant, fulfilling one of Kathryn's fondest wishes — for a grandchild. With her business gone, Kathryn had the time and money to do anything she wanted — with her devoted husband by her side. They went on outings to the local arboretum and gardens, museums, movies, and their weekend home up the coast.
I think back on what my friend Sam had told me: This might very well be the best year of Kathryn's life. From all appearances, it was. Her cares and concerns of previous years simply disappeared — along with the fear that had gripped her. Her final months were filled with love, laughter, lively conversations, companionship, holidays and special occasions with her family, and treasured moments with loving friends. Kathryn got everything she'd ever wanted.
As is often the way with us humans, Kathryn finally realized that much of what she thought was missing had actually been there all along. In the words of the French writer Colette: "What a wonderful life I've had! I only wish I'd realized it sooner."
Cancer had come into Kathryn's life — bearing gifts. Best of these were the gifts of serenity and peace of mind.
Faith is not a storm cellar to which men and women can flee for refuge from the storms of life. It is, instead, an inner force that gives them the strength to face those storms and their consequences with serenity of spirit.
~ Samuel James Ervin Jr., former U.S. Senator from North Carolina
I asked for wisdom ...
and God gave me problems to solve.
I asked for prosperity ...
and God gave me brains and the strength to work.
I asked for courage ...
and God gave me danger to overcome.
I asked for love ...
and God gave me troubled people to help.
I asked for favors ...
and God gave me opportunities.
I received nothing I wanted.
I received everything I needed.
My Prayer has been answered.
~ anonymous (Islamic origin)
Saved from Myself
I never thought it could happen to me.
How many thousands of times had I seen TV shows and movies in which someone is handcuffed, stuffed into the back of a cop car, and hauled off to jail? I'd seen it in real life a few times, too — it happens in L.A. — some hapless junkie arrested for trying to rob a 7-Eleven, a gangbanger busted for dealing dope, ladies of the night locked up for plying their trade. It happens, all right — to other people — not to me.
Yet here I was, in the middle of the night, handcuffed, sitting on the cold curb of a deserted street. "This can't be happening," I thought as I overheard the staccato voices and static coming from the police cruiser's radio. It was like something out of the Twilight Zone. I must have slipped through a time warp and entered some alternative reality. Perhaps I had made a wrong turn and walked onto a movie set where I was mistakenly caught up in the action. I felt disoriented and confused — in an alien world.
The cop got me to my feet, walked me to his black-and-white, and put his hand on my head as he assisted me into the backseat. "I don't belong here," I wept. "I'm a soccer mom, for God's sake. I'm somebody's mother. I'm as wholesome as Doris Day and apple pie. I'm not drunk — I'm just tired. There must be some mistake!"
How did I ever end up here?
Truth be told, I asked for this. Just twenty-four hours earlier I had been on my knees — sobbing at my bedside: "Please, God, help me. I can't stop drinking. Please stop me ..." I drunkenly mumbled the Serenity Prayer and tumbled into bed.
Excerpted from If God Is Your Co-Pilot, Switch Seats by BJ Gallagher. Copyright © 2011 BJ Gallagher. Excerpted by permission of Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc..
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