Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Purse

When I went on vacation two months after Andrew's death, I did not intend to get my purse stolen.

I had mentioned to a neighbor, Melissa, who was really trying to reach out to me as Andrew was dying, that if he died, I wanted to be stolen away for a few days for a short vacation. I had more expected to go with my mom somewhere. But, Andrew ended up dying mid-winter, and anywhere local to Minnesota in February was icy tundra. When things began to settle down a bit, Melissa kept mentioning going on a vacation somewhere. She lives down the street and I only met her in September. I was surprised she wanted to go with me, considering it wasn't until Andrew died that I even had the time to start to get to know her, but really appreciated her kindness. Melissa loves Jesus and she has had such an eager heart to be there for me. So Melissa and I planned a trip to Florida. At the beginning of April, I went with the kids, Melissa, and her daughter to Clearwater, Florida for a short vacation.

In the meantime, around 6 weeks the daily crying began to subside. I had been surprised that the pain I was feeling was less fresh and sharp. It was about 7 weeks since Andrew's death when we left for Florida. And so I thought I would be fine when we arrived in Florida, as it was one place I had never been to with Andrew.

As we rode on the airplane, AJ suddenly looked very downcast sitting in the blue seats of Sun Country Airlines. He said, "I just feel so sad because I don't have my Papa." It didn't matter where we were going. We were in the blue seats without Papa.

I was completely unprepared for the memories that would blast me in Florida. When we arrived Wednesday evening, I couldn't figure out what was so familiar about standing outside the airport in the humid air amidst the palm trees. Was it LAX it reminded me of, all those times flying in and out of the Los Angeles airport to return home to New Jersey or arriving back in LA for school? And the last several times being joined by my new love as we travelled to our homes in New Jersey together? How could the Florida airport remind me of that, if LA is dry desert and Florida's air was thick with moisture?

We arrived at my aunt's condo right on the Florida gulf and instead of feeling I was in unexplored territory that could not remind me of my love, every memory I had of every vacation I had with Andrew flew at me. They began to coincide into one memory, so that I would have to think through them, separate them, organize them into the proper time and place. My aunt's condo was right on the beach with a beautiful view of the water. Andrew loved views. The time we accompanied him on a business trip to Coer D'Allaine, Idaho and stayed in a hotel over the blue lake when Gracie was three months old and AJ was 18 months old the summer of 2006 melded into the memory when just he and I stayed in a hotel that overlooked the Pacific Ocean in Canada just after he recovered from his first time through radiation and chemo in the summer of 2007.

I had brought with me the book Heaven by Randy Alcorn. As I read from it each night, I began to long for the beautiful, vivid place my love was already enjoying. I read the part that said, "Perhaps you're afraid of becoming 'so heavenly minded you're of no earthly good.' Relax...On the contrary, many of us are so earthly minded we are of no heavenly or earthly good. C.S. Lewis observed, '...you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles...all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth 'thrown in': aim at earth and you will get neither.'"

On Saturday, it was a clear sunny day. The water had a gorgeous greenish-blue tint and the sand was white. It was our day to spend at the beach behind our condo. While we were leaving the condo, I discovered that I had been missing my purse since the night before. I had gotten distracted by the kids and was desperately missing Andrew, laid it down somewhere, and didn't think of it till morning. After realizing where I had left it and checking all possible lost and founds, it became obvious that someone had taken advantage of the opportunity and stolen my purse.

The most distressing thing about it was that I needed my license to be able to fly back to Minnesota Monday and I needed my cell phone that was in the purse because there was a voicemail on it that I had been saving for over a year.

The voicemail was of Andrew telling me about a conversation he had had with AJ, when AJ had told Andrew that he wanted to pray that Jesus would save him. A month after Andrew left that message, he was diagnosed with cancer for the 2nd time and our lives never were the same again. I called my cell phone company about suspending my plan until I switched it to a new phone. They said that if I switched my plan to a new cell phone, then my voicemail would be lost forever. I felt so hopeless and longed for Andrew to return to me so much that it felt like I could reach my hand through the veil of eternity and touch him.

That afternoon, I couldn't stop thinking about the movie Prince Caspian, that we had just watched with the kids the other night. How the kings were too proud, self-reliant and had too little faith to go to Aslan (the Jesus figure) with their hopeless situation. But when they were finally at the end of themselves and went to Aslan, Aslan simply roared and it was so easy for everything to obey him to defeat the enemy.

I cried out to God that He promises to be a Husband to the husbandless, and that He knew this would never have happened if I had had my husband. I told the Lord that I was in a situation that was too big for me but was so easy for Him to handle. Using Melissa's cell phone, I called my cell phone several times for about the 20th time that day. A minute after praying, Melissa's cell phone rang saying that "Grace" was calling. I immediately answered like a small animal that had just been run over and was gasping its last word: "Pleease," I answered the phone with. "My husband just died and I'm really having a hard time. Pleeease, I just need my license and my cell phone back. Pleeeease."

My sister had specifically been praying that they would have a change of heart, and, indeed, that is what had happened to these teenagers. They said, "Yeah, we'll return your stuff," acting like it was the most normal thing in the world. In God's sovereignty, He hadn't allow me to cancel my cell phone. If I had, they would have never been able to call me back on Melissa's cell phone.

At the end of the conversation I said, "Can I ask you why you want to return it to me?"

They said, "Why? Cause it's the right thing to do."

The Lord gave me a heart of compassion for them, and I felt moved to bring them something that would tell them about Jesus. I had them meet me at the security guard.

When I arrived to meet them, the security guard was already grilling them. They said it was their friend who had stolen my purse and they were just returning it. They gave me back my cell phone and wallet containing everything in it, complete with $2 bill and gift cards. I had brought Andrew's Bible with me to meet them (it was a cheap pew Bible that he had bought last year and he had carried around with him ever since then. He had written his name in thick black ink). I handed it to them and said, "My husband died two months ago at the age of 27 from cancer. If you had known him 10 years ago, you probably would have been friends with him." I told them to read the book of John or Romans. They lowered their chins and looked up at me, slowly nodding.

They felt so bad that they returned again to the security guard with Andrew's Bible, a few hours later and confessed to me that they were the real thieves. I made them keep his Bible and told them that's what Andrew would want them to have. They said that every lie they had said felt like a knife stab.

It was like the Lord had pursued them like an angry husband who was looking out for his wife, only this Husband was omnipresent and could follow them in their car and could influence their consciences.

What kept coming to mind as I stood before them was that nothing anyone could do to me, no matter how horrible that day was, could compare to what I did to Jesus on the cross, nailing Him there daily with each of my sins. I had been reading the book of Luke, and so many of the passages kept flying to mind.

"And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, 'Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?' And Jesus answered them, 'Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance' (Luke 5:30-32). What does this passage mean when Romans 3 says that "There is no one righteous, not even one." If we don't see ourselves in the same category as "tax collectors and sinners" and thieves who are all in desperate need of Jesus' mercy, then perhaps it is not because we are not sinners, but because we are in the same category as the self-righteous Pharisees, which Jesus thought was even worse. We are all tax collectors, sinners, and thieves, even if our sin takes on a different face. Before God, we are all guilty. I didn't feel angry at them, because Jesus wasn't angry at me. He forgives and accepts me every day. That was something Andrew had taught me by his own eagerness to forgive and accept me every day.

I mentioned that I forgave them to which one of them exclaimed "YOU DO???"

They said they had never done anything like this before and that they had stolen from the wrong person.

I said, "No, God allowed this to happen so that you could hear about Jesus and give your lives to Him." I told them that at the same time, though, God was not pleased with what they had done and that they would have to stand before God - any moment, we couldn't know when - and answer at His Judgment throne for stealing my purse from me. I said, "This isn't the first sin you've committed in your life -"

"No, it isn't!" one of them exclaimed.

"You have sinned against God your whole life. And you will either have to pay in hell for all eternity, or Jesus can pay for all of your sins for you if you ask for His forgiveness and submit your lives to Him. Then you can enjoy Him now and for all eternity."

I kept telling them about Jesus and that they could only find relief from a life of guilt in Him.

"Okay, we want to do that now, then!" one of them said. "But you pray for us," he said, "since you know how to do that."

I prayed for them - with my eyes open - again explaining how one can know Jesus. I said "Dear Lord, I pray for these young men, who's real names I don't really know -" they interjected their real names - and then I continued.

When I finished, I said, "Now, I can't save you. Only Jesus can. You will have to give your lives to Him yourselves. But there is a price. Any one who follows Jesus is promised suffering. But Jesus if far better than anything you are pursuing here. He is far better than any pleasures you are living for."

I shared with them Andrew's testimony and as I kept telling them the gospel in many different ways, one of them began to look increasingly angry, while the other one looked increasinly wide-eyed and attentive.

Towards the end of my conversation with them, I showed them in the Bible where John and Romans were. The attentive one said, "I've never read a book in my life, but I will definitely read this one!" I gave them my email address if they had any questions about what I told them to read, but that I wouldn't have internet access until I returned home.

When I arrived in Minnesota Monday evening, there were three emails from the particularly attentive one and that he had started to read the Bible. He said he didn't really understand it, but that he would keep reading it over and over until he did understand, like I had told him Andrew had done.

Eventually, he mentioned that his grandmother, who he lived with, goes to church (I looked it up and it is Southern Baptist), and she had helped him by telling him just to read and a passage would stick out for him.

I looked up some churches in the area and sent him to a Sovereign Grace church. He actually went on Easter! Please pray that He would give his life to Jesus.

29 comments:

  1. this is what life on this earth as a Christian is all about!!! praise God!

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  2. Praise God that you were able to share the gospel with these two young men! God is so faithful...

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  3. What an awesome story. Thank you. I'll definitely be praying for both those young men.

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  4. God is awesome
    keep it going, Grace
    still praying for you
    :)
    -Tae

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  5. That was such an amazing story! How God can use us even in the midst of horrible loss, is truly amazing. Thank you for sharing!!

    Chrisie Lim
    California

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  6. Cry out to God, God is listen. Praise God! Thanks for sharing.

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  7. I just love God so much. Isn't he amazing, incredible, awe-inspiring, loving, beneficent, magnificent, forgiving, merciful, kind? I love how he reaches out to us! Thanks for sharing this, Grace, and for being open to the Holy Spirit's guidance. You showed many of the above qualities of God to these boys. I will keep them in my prayers, and you and yours as well!

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  8. wow, I was in tears reading this. Thanks for this reminder of how amazingly sovereign God is!!!

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  9. Thanks Grace. God is so good and kind.

    Mark S.

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  10. Hi Grace.. thanks for taking the time to write this; it is so encouraging! I praise God for your strength and for your passion. I'll definitely be praying for that young man.. keep us posted!

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  11. What an awesome testimony and what a great God we have! Thanks for being so obedient to Him - we are so encouraged! :)

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  12. BTW, we lived in Clearwater, FL last year - isn't it soo beautiful! :)

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  13. so encouraging - what a reminder to always be ready to share the reason for the hope we have! I love how God worked this seemingly bad situation for something so, so good! Praise HIM!

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  14. Dearest Grace,
    I am speechless with gratitude to our great God for giving you this amazing opportunity! You have blessed me so much with this story. Thank you. You and Andrew are such beautiful testimonies of our great and precious Savior.

    We are praying for you and your children!

    Love, Julie, Todd and Family

    PS - our daughter Annie (2-1/2 years old) can't stop dancing. Tonight while she was dancing I told Todd that it looks like we have a Grace U. on our hands. That would be a great joy to our family indeed!

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  15. Thank you for that encouraging story of God's sovereignty. I'm so glad you got your purse back, and I am even more encouraged that you were willing to part with Andrew's Bible for the sake of the salvation of a stranger. I hope that the Lord uses your witness to save him!

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  16. Thanks for sharing! You continue to be an inspiration to me in your faithfulness to God and the gospel, even in the most difficult situations. And what a reminder that He is sovereign over every interaction and experience in our lives! I will pray for this guy's salvation, and am continuing to pray for you and the kids!

    Love, Doreen

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  17. What an encouragement this story is to me, a wonderful reminder of how awesome our God is and how He is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine. I pray that you would continue to find your strength in Him and that He would continue to use you to touch the lives of others in His name.

    Michelle
    Vancouver, B.C.

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  18. Grace,
    Whatever happens next in this young man's story, isn't it exciting the part you and Andrew are getting to play in it?!?
    Thank you for sharing it and for your openness in sharing how you and the kids are doing. Praying for you today.
    Jenni Wong

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  19. Praise God!!! And praise Him too for his "Grace" (in so many ways) is sufficient!!!! He is using you in beautiful ways...and bringing beauty from ashes!!! He is good, all the time!!!! I continue to pray daily for you and your children! I LOVE Alcorn's book...it also has brought me so much comfort this past year! Thank you for your faithfulness to Him, and for the beautiful testimony of your life! With His love, Janine (Julie's friend)

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  20. Gracie!
    The Lord WILL complete His good work. I'm so happy!
    JC

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  21. Grace,

    Your whole blog is so moving, deep, and profoundly filled with love for the Lord. "The Purse" was such a demonstration of our Lord's Sovereignty over all things. Praise His name!! I will keep those two young men in my prayers, and also you and yours too. May the Lord Bless you.

    Paul M.

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  22. How precious our Lord is to give you such a joyful opportunity in the midst of such a hard time. Thanks for sharing it and for your faithfulness to share the gospel and Andrew's testimony to these kids. Isn't it amazing how Andrew continues to be used through you and his family and friends. We love you and have continued to pray for you all daily.

    Much love,
    Julie, Rick and the munchkins

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  23. Grace, Melissa had told me parts of this story and I have told others. I'm now forwarding your blog. As a new Christian, I am in AWE of your FAITH and obedience to the Lord! I am amazed at your strength in the Lord. I will continue to pray for you, your children and the boys in Florida :)

    Tara

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  24. Thanks for sharing that story Grace. It was a blessing to me.

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