The Homeless Nun

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The Homeless Nun

For years she frequented the coffee shop. Long dark hair, occasionally tied up under a scarf. Long white shirt tightly buttoned up to the very top. Black sweater and a jacket much like a nun would wear. And a long black skirt down to her ankles. She pulled a little suitcase on wheels behind her wherever she went. And most conspicuous was the large crucifix she carried in her left hand.  A representation of Jesus in full passion pose on a simple wooden cross. Whereas some would hang such an art piece on a wall, she pressed it closely against her chest and closed her eyes. I assume she prayed much of the time.

I never heard her utter a single word to me or anyone. She always seemed pleasant, giving an aura of peace to the café. At times she would give a few coins to the cashier for anyone who was thirsty and couldn’t afford a drink.

Sitting on my regular stool at the cash register on the book side one evening, I was lost in grieving thoughts that usually darkened my mind when I am alone in the quiet. Then I heard singing at the grand piano in front of the store. Beautiful singing. A familiar song from the Sound of Music movie. It spoke to my disquieted soul.

Needless to say, I was shocked to see the homeless nun standing with one hand on the piano and the other holding her ever present cross. She sang every song from the movie. She sang Edelweiss twice. When she began another verse of the song, she abruptly stopped and glided back to her regular table. She bowed her head and closed her eyes.

I didn’t know if I should clap or not. The whole seven years I worked at the bookstore I never heard her say another word and as far as I know she didn’t do another impromptu performance.

You know, I tell many stories and some of them feature the homeless. It is not that they are the only people to write about. But they are people in difficult circumstances doing sometimes the best they can and as such garner my interest and respect.

I remember one homeless friend tell me that there are rules in their “society.” One of their unwritten laws is that, “you must work for what you receive.” If you sit on a bench with a sign saying “homeless,” and take money from others it is considered panhandling and frowned upon. They treat those who do that with contempt as though they are thieves. They have a code of honor.

One woman from Italy sold words. She gave someone the Italian word for whatever the “customer” asked. Another did fantastic artwork. I remember giving him some paper to help him out.

Everyone unfortunately think that the indigent are out to get things from others for nothing. As if they say, “I need money for the bus,” when they are only going to go to the liquor store to get their next drink.  We turn up our nose when we see them and like the Un-good Samaritans walk on by.

But I have watched those who stand outside the pizza shop by the trash bin where the shop puts all the left over pizza at closing time. Then they go across the street where a restaurant puts day-old donuts out on a table. And I see them show gratitude. And I see them share.

One couple, who was “street married” (which means you say you are married, and you are) earned their money to pay for a hotel room so she didn’t have to spend the night on the cold hard ground. My heart goes out to them. People are People. I pray that as I write about their differences that I do so with respect and am not having fun at their expense.

Often I hoped that when the Homeless Nun prayed, she prayed for me… as I should pray for her. Did she know that I needed that calming voice the night she sang? I’ve never forgotten it.

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The Formula: Part Two

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ngaw2pg

I arrived to the cabin in the middle of nowhere on a Thursday evening, settled in, and started praying. When I grew tired, I read in my bible.  My empty tummy was constantly on my mind.

I don’t remember what I read. But I didn’t do like a friend of mine in Bible college who opened the Scripture and placed his finger on the page and read this: “Judas went out and hung himself.” He said, “That’s not what God wants me to do.” He opened it again, finger down on a verse that this time said, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all of your might;” Uh… that wasn’t it either. One more time: “What you are about to do, do quickly.” He closed his Bible and said, “I think I’ll ask someone else.” Nope, I just read some in the Old Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs to start off.

I told God that I didn’t understand what was happening in my life. I needed answers. What was I doing wrong?

I slept well that night and began again early the next morning. When I was not praying or reading, or thinking about food, I would go on a walk in the woods and cry out to God.

Friday evening it came. A migraine. One of the worst. I had brought no meds. No shots. Not even an aspirin.

I knelt by my bed and held my head while I called out to God. “Take these away from me!”

Nothing.

“God, please remove this pain!”

Silence.

“Lord, will you take this migraine?”

“No.” It was almost audible. No?

“Why not?” I wailed.

A long pause then very softly, “ I want you to give them to me.”

Ah, yes, there is a difference between taking and giving. I prayed harder giving the migraines, the pain, my health to Him. I didn’t stop there. I gave Him everything I could think of. My family, each by name. Even extended family, in-laws and outlaws. I listed all I owned even the socks and shoes I had on my feet. “God I give you my ministry. And…. My life.”

Kneeling quietly, still in pain, I passed out there beside the bed.

When I woke up I was still on the floor. Cold and cramped, but my head didn’t hurt anymore. I went straight to my routine. No food- only water – and Bible and prayer as if nothing had really happened. My headache was gone, but I didn’t deserve it.

That afternoon as I walked, I told God I was tired of trying to do everything. All I did in life was by my own strength and I couldn’t do it anymore. I did not please others, the pastor, my wife, or the teens I worked with. I was a failure. I talked it through until a formula began to form in my mind. “All I’ve done was of my own power, by the pastor’s direction, to the teens.” I knew that wasn’t right. I tried again. “All I do can’t be like that. It can’t be of my pastor, through my talents, to the teens.” And again, “Of God, through my own strength, to God’s glory.” After going through the many combinations, I realized that no, it had to be this and only this: “Of Him, Through Him, and To Him.” I was satisfied. This was the only formula that was correct. And I had been doing it all wrong. On the walk back, I asked God for forgiveness and told Him I would follow this formula from now on.

A peace came over me when I reached the cabin again. I wasn’t even hungry anymore. That was what I needed. Not food. Not a cure. I needed a formula to hang my life on.

That night I slept well. No migraine. I returned home that day. I wondered if God had really let me give them to Him.

That week I met with my pastor. I told him of my weekend getting alone to talk with God. And about the miracle of the life-changing formula He gave me.

He sat back in his chair. Rubbed his chin and grabbed for his Bible. “Do you know that is in the Bible?”

“No.” I thought it was original because I had to work through and eliminate so many things to come to that conclusion. “I have never heard or read it before.” I told him.

He turned to Romans 11:36 and read, “For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory forever. Amen.”

“Let me see that!” I thought he made it up and was kidding me. Yet, there it was on the page in black and white, right above the verse that says we are to give our lives as a living sacrifice. I noted it said “give” and not “Lord, take my life as a living sacrifice.” There is a difference. I was shocked. I had no idea.

A week went by and no migraines. Two weeks. A month, and I began to look at what I was doing differently. Different food? Medicine? No, nothing. Two months, three, then six months went by with no headaches.

That was around twenty years ago. I have not had a migraine since that Friday I prayed by the bedside in the cabin.

And… the formula still rings true. It changed my life. Everything is “Of Him, through Him, and to Him.” Whether it is my writing. My Job. Ministry. Or even how I treat my own children.

You know, we look for God in the little things. The inches, the minutes. The things that didn’t happen that could’ve. I found Him in a great thing. How do you measure a changed life?

And oh, yeah, some advice: don’t eat a big meal after fasting for three days. Good idea, bad idea.