from the back porch...

From the Heart

© 2005 Betty Elders

This week my husband and I made the long trip into town to his cardiologist for his now annual check-up.  On our return home we had planned to withdraw money from the bank in order to pay our mid-month bills.  January is too often a lean working month for musicians.  While waiting to turn left into the shopping center where our bank is located, we found ourselves stopped at one of the longest traffic lights in Austin (on South Lamar) that has become a favorite haunt for transients and professional panhandlers. 

As we inched closer to the light I could feel my husband growing tense.  Our car was third in line along the innermost lane, curbisde--a virtual sitting duck for the needy, hemmed in on all sides.  I watched as an old bum picked up his sign and started walking toward us.  This was going to be a really long light...

One year and one month ago my husband had suffered a near-fatal heart attack.  A clot in his main coronary artery had suddenly and without warning blocked off the blood to his heart, the Friday night before Christmas.  Afterward, his doctors related to us that a crack had formed in the small amount of plaque which, at middle age, had begun to line my husband's arteries.  They said a large clot had then formed to repair the crack, shutting off the flow of blood.  I asked if poor diet or lack of exercise has contributed to his illness and they answered, "no."  They said there were some things in life we just couldn't control but that stress was more probably a factor.  (Since 9-11, my husband had not been himself.  He had seemed less at peace, more agitated.  Little things provoke him more...waiting at interminable lights, standing in long lines, filing insurance claims, paying our bills, professional bums on every street corner preferring handouts to honest get the picture.) They gave me photographs of his heart "before" and "after" as a memento of his miraculous delivery from death's door.  Those pictures tell it all. 

Now as the old bum reached our van window, I drew breath, expecting from the love-of-my-life a verbal explosion typically prompted by just such annoyances.  Certainly such irritation on his part might even have been justified as a consequence of his having to wear a new heart monitor for 24 hours to ensure all his coronary pipes were indeed clear.  Suddenly he rolled down the window.

I leaned back, stiffening, awaiting the outburst. 

Instead, my husband reached into his pocket and pulled out a large $ bill and folded it, pressing it into the bum's hand and smiling, said, "There you go, brother.  God bless you!"   Whereupon the old bum took the bill, grasping my husband's hand in his, quietly asked me, "Take your husband's hand there, sister."  As I reached for it, the old man began to pray.  Right then and there at the traffic light...

"Dear Lord, we thank you for bringing us all together here today.  Lord, we ask further that you would give us your strength today, enabling us to withstand this life and to do your will.  And we ask these things, Lord, now, in your precious name.  Amen." 

Immediately the light changed and cars began rolling toward the turn. 

"God bless you, brother,"
my husband exclaimed, smiling and waving at the bum who was now also smiling and waving. 

My eyes burned....

It might have been something if my husband's heart doctor had prayed with us.  But he didn't.   He was really busy; his waiting room was filled.  Instead, our gift had come from a less likely place.  It was a huge gift, too.  My husband's face was the image of peace.  Neither of us was in any way prepared for what had just transpired.  In fact, in many ways we have daily grown more cynical and weary of too many crises to count the past twenty years, and too little evidence of good will among men.  Most days anymore it's more every man for himself as we slog through life without a map, without a flashlight--controlling nothing--hanging onto the last vestiges of hope we can muster, grieving our mutual mounting losses, while acknowledging that there certainly are less and less guarantees in this old life.

Nothing brings it all home, though, like a heart attack.

And yet it is within those least likely places, those darkest valleys where the Lord God may often be found.  And it is when we are least expectant that His love can most surprise us.  God's book says He chose unlikely ways to reveal His love to us.  In stables, and street corners and sidewalks.  Not often via the proud, nor the powerful--but by the humble, the lowly, those bent down to the dirt by life.  The poor in spirit.  He says has chosen to reveal His incredible Love for us thorough what He calls "the foolish things of this earth...."  (1 Corinthians 1:21-29)

Later on as we drove home in silence, momentarily at peace, I wanted to call everyone I knew.  I wanted to tell them His love can and does lift us up from fear, loneliness and despair.  How He promises to turn no one away.  (John 6:37)   And that He can be found when and where you least expect Him. 

Indeed He can.

Pass it on.


-- Betty


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