Without your special function has this world no meaning for you. Yet it can become a treasure house as rich and limitless as Heaven itself." (OrEd.Tx.26.5)
When we remain open and present in our lives we can experience great moments of awakening even during a most seemingly routine day. I would like to share one with you. What seemed like a typical job on an ordinary Fall day turned out to be anything but typical. I was to appraise a church in South Central Los Angeles about 90 miles north of my home in Carlsbad. The plan was to do a quick inspection, pick up a check, and get on to the next appointment.
The church was located on a residential block in a blighted neighborhood. It bore a worn sign that read, "Heavenly Vision Church in Christ." Barred windows and an iron front door secured the building and an old wooden cross stood atop the sanctuary. I was welcomed by Pastor Carter who bore a striking resemblance to Morgan Freeman. As I shook his hand he broke into a grin and exclaimed "God bless you," to which I replied, "God bless you too Pastor."
We then entered the church. The windows were covered, the lights were dimmed, and there was a musty smell about the place. Bleached wooden beams supported the cathedral ceilings above the neatly lined pews. Two antique chandeliers caught my interest along with a painting of Jesus and the words, "Prayer Changes Things" painted above the front door.
Upon finishing my inspection I headed to the lobby where Pastor was now sitting. A feeling of warmth came over me as I thought about Pastor's church and the compassion and hope it must have provided the community. I respectively removed my hat and sunglasses and I again shook his hand, but this time he held on for an uncomfortably long time, He looked me directly in the eyes and started to quietly sing:
Lord, Thou hast here Thy ninety and nine;
Are they not enough for Thee?
But the Shepherd made answer: This of Mine
Has wandered away from Me;
And although the road be rough and steep,
I go to the desert to find My sheep,
And all through the mountains, thunder riven
And up from the rocky steep,
There arose a glad cry to the gate of Heaven,
"Rejoice! I have found My sheep!"
And the angels echoed around the throne,
"Rejoice, for the Lord brings back His own!"
He was singing an old hymn that I hadn't heard since childhood about the lost sheep parable. He then let go of my hand and stated, "We are to search for the lost and bring back the strays. Our focus should be on retrieving the lost sheep rather than concentrating on the ones who did not wander off. What good are the ninety and nine if we have one that has gone astray? God will show you the way. Listen for His Voice, follow His direction, and lead your brothers home." Was he just a crazy old man or was he delivering some sort of message?
"Father, You are the One Who gave the plan for my salvation to me. You have set the way I am to go, the role to take, and every step in my appointed path. I cannot lose the way. I can but choose to wander off a while and then return. Your loving Voice will always call me back and guide my feet aright. My brothers all can follow in the way I lead them. Yet I merely follow in the way to You as You direct me and would have me go." (OrEd.WkBk.324.1)
He then looked straight up as if he was receiving instruction and suddenly started speaking about the Biblical story of Job. He was preaching his sermon for a congregation of one with the passion and zeal of a man speaking to a packed church on Sunday morning. "Job experienced a true test of his faith by God" he exclaimed. He went on to describe the pain of Job, losing his livestock, his riches, and his family all at once. Tears filled the old man's eyes as he elaborated about the horrible sores all over Job's body and the pains he must have endured. Pastor Carter then stated, "Job's sufferings were not over, he then experienced abandonment and torment from those he trusted as his friends."
He continued, "Sometimes suffering occurs for reasons that we just can't understand until it is eventually revealed to us by God. In those times of great sorrow and unspeakable pain we are to remain steadfast in faith." He started rubbing his arms and legs and said, "I am 89 years of age and sometimes I feel my own aches and pains, but like Job, I am joyful and filled with love for God. I know that aches and pains, and even the body itself, are just tricks of the devil to separate me from God. I am joyful in spite of the pain for God is true and just."
He looked up at the ceiling, closed his eyes for a moment, and his whole body suddenly shook as if he experienced a jolt of electricity. He opened his eyes, pointed at me, and said, "Did you feel that?" I didn't answer, but he definitely had my full attention. His eyes opened wide as he declared, "That is confirmation of the truth. I am sometimes told things. Your pain and suffering like Job's, will provide you spiritual strength to follow through with God's will and the mission He has for you. Listen with your ears and your heart, and it will soon be clear. Don't give up, and don't waste this moment, not now. Circumstance didn't bring you here by accident; we have been awaiting your arrival."
"Trials are but lessons which you failed to learn presented once again, so where you made a faulty choice before, you now can make a better one and thus escape all pain which what you chose before has brought to you. In every difficulty, all distress, and each perplexity Christ calls to you and gently says, ‘My brother, choose again.' He would not leave one source of pain unhealed nor any image left to veil the truth." (OrEd.Tx.31.87)
All I could do was to simply stand there, hat and sunglasses in hand, and listen. I glanced towards the open door, my escape route, and my feet suddenly felt stuck to the floor. I was planted here by some force and knew that I was involved in a life defining moment. It was as if I was standing on holy ground to hear a message, but I just wasn't sure I was ready for the experience. I had no choice however. I was immobilized.
He went on to describe, "Son you were given a mission and you have traveled far and wide. Many teachers and lessons were given you along the way. Some you learned well while others are like seeds planted inside you for later. You think your journey is over – your journey has just begun. The real journey is learning the lessons God has for you, and then, to share those lessons with the world. Not just in your words but in your deeds. What you have searched for is what we all desire and need to remember. The bickering, the fighting, the pain and sorrow of this world are unending. Messengers of hope are needed these days. Don't let the rejection of others stop you. Resistance will stand in your way, but you have come too far to make the wrong choice now. Listen for guidance. It might take you down roads you never thought you would travel. Have faith that God will lead you where you need to go." He closed his eyes and his shoulders and body shook once again. As he opened his eyes he smiled and stretched out his finger toward me and said, "I know you felt it this time. You must have. It's a confirmation of the truth."
"When you come to the place where the branch in the road is quite apparent, you cannot go ahead. You must go either one way or the other. For now if you go straight ahead, the way you went before you reached the branch, you will go nowhere. The whole purpose of coming this far was to decide which branch you will take now. The way you came no longer matters. It can no longer serve. No one who reaches this far can make the wrong decision, but he can delay. And there is no part of the journey that seems more hopeless and futile than standing where the road branches and not deciding on which way to go. (OrEd.Tx.22.38)
His eyes were so bright and his smile so inviting and warm I just stood there speechless. Suddenly I realized that I was having a conversation with God through Pastor alone in a small church in South Central Los Angeles. What was I to say? What questions should I ask? A panic came over me and I tried harder to move my feet, but they wouldn't budge. I looked towards the open door, but I couldn't move. I nervously swallowed as the sweat ran down my face, and my knees started shaking. I knew I was staring Truth straight in the face as I looked back at Pastor.
He seemed to have sensed my interest in the door and pointed to it, "Noah once walked through an open door much like that one there. God instructed him to ‘set the door of the Ark in its side.' God gave Noah detailed plans as to its construction and the Ark itself was only to contain one door, and that door was a symbol. All who chose to walk through would be saved."
He went on to explain, "Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord and he was called for a mighty mission, and I tell you son that we all have our missions but few of us listen. I have been preaching here for many years to many in need. I am now old and my body is worn, but the spirit of Christ is alive and burning in me."
He went on with the story, "The world was in turmoil, and Noah was appalled at it. Much like today there was terrible unemployment and a lack of prosperity, but Noah was commanded to undertake a tremendous project that put the entire region to work building an Ark. But there was no river or ocean nearby, no launching ramps of any kind. They asked Noah how will this huge boat weighing thousands of tons ever make it to water. Noah explained that the water will come to it." Pastor stopped a second, coughed a bit, and reflected.
He went on, "You see Noah stumbled along his way many times – the construction, the animals, and the jeers of those around him – but he continued on in blind faith because he listened to God and followed his path. So must you. You cannot let setbacks, letdowns, or the doubt or ridicule of others stop you from your mission. Tired, hurt, scared, sick, or angry are just tricks of the devil to separate you from God. He is your safety and your strength."
"Do not put your faith in the worthless. It will not sustain you. Only the Love of God will protect you in all circumstances. It will lift you out of every trial and raise you high above all the perceived dangers of this world into a climate of perfect peace and safety. It will transport you into a state of mind which nothing can threaten, nothing can disturb, and where nothing can intrude upon the eternal calm of the Son of God." (OrEd.WkBk.50.2)
I started to regain a bit of movement in my right foot, the one closest to the open door, and I glanced once again at my escape route and even leaned a bit in that direction. From out of nowhere the door that had been propped open for well over an hour suddenly slammed shut by itself with a loud bang. I jumped at the sight and sound of the slamming door.
The chandelier's flickering light illuminated the darkened sanctuary and strange twisted shadows bounced across the walls and ceiling. I glanced at the door and the words, "Prayer Changes Things" seemed to be highlighted by the chandelier's glow. The silence soon was broken by Pastor's laughter.
The slamming door seemed no surprise to him and he appeared amused at my reaction. I found myself wondering what's next, but his calm manner and warm smile comforted me. I relaxed a bit, and I felt no need to defend or put up a front. He was now looking deep into my soul, and I could feel the oneness between us like our bodies had disappeared. I felt as if I stood naked and exposed but with no shame or embarrassment.
His laugh trickled down and he suddenly looked at me with a serious face and stated, "The crowds formed as the base of the Ark and they taunted Noah as to being a crazy old fool. Noah beckoned the crowds to enter the Ark through the one open door so they could be saved, but they didn't listen. Instead they just continued to taunt Noah. Some of the engineers that helped construct the Ark called out to Noah and said how will you shut this door? You only have locks and bolts on the inside, but how will you shut the door Noah? The crowds had grown and the atmosphere became like a carnival as they laughed and jeered Noah."
Pastor suddenly grabbed my hand and looked out towards the closed door and continued, "And then the laughter and taunting died down as the crowd started witnessing what was happening right before their very eyes. The bottom of the massive door that was resting against the ground started to lift up by itself and swung silently and swiftly until it closed shut with a mighty bang!" The sound of Pastor's description of the "bang" had the same impact as the bang of the door slamming earlier and again I jumped, but Pastor just looked at me and smiled.
He continued, "By faith, Noah and his family entered the Ark, and once they were all inside, the Lord shut the door. I have stood in this door almost every day for many years and called out for people of this community to enter here. Many times I am laughed at and jeered, but I never give up looking for my lost sheep. That is my mission. Today you entered through that door, it slammed shut, and you are listening to the words I am speaking."
He closed his eyes and I knew what was coming, he shook again and this time I felt electricity flowing through me and my feet were released from the ground and felt light again. He stated, "You felt it didn't you?" I responded, "Yes Pastor I did." He then said, "It a confirmation of the truth son, and now you feel it too. Today you are entering the Ark and will experience both storms and rainbows. Don't deny the mission before you."
"The teachers of God have trust in the world because they have learned it is not governed by the laws the world made up. It is governed by a Power Which is in them but not of them. It is this Power that keeps all things safe. It is through this Power that the teachers of God look on a forgiven world.
When this Power has once been experienced, it is impossible to trust one's own petty strength again. Who would attempt to fly with the tiny wings of a sparrow when the mighty power of an eagle has been given him?" (OrEd.Mn.4.3-4)
He shifted gears and asked, "Was religion introduced to you in a complicated way?" To this point I had been mostly silent. When I have a personal appointment with God's messenger, what need do I have to speak? I answered, "I was baptized an Orthodox Christian, and often a large portion of the services were in Greek or Serbian and hard to understand." He spoke again, "It's not really complicated. God's love is really a simple thing. We just have to realize its presence."
All of a sudden I burst into tears and an emotional release started unfolding. I wondered where this would lead but I trusted I was in the right place and this was the right time. Pastor just looked at me, grabbed my hand, and stated, "Son, I want to pray with you." I closed my eyes and felt as if I was sinking deep into the pew. I felt light headed as Pastor's prayer started sinking in. I fell into a trancelike state as his words started to fade until they sounded like ancient echoes from a distant place.
As I relaxed I visualized flying through the air weightless and landing in cool water. I could see that I was in my childhood pool and swimming back to a large man with outstretched hands. It was my dad. I marveled at his strength as he plucked me from the water and tossed me across the pool. It was as if I was airborne for minutes before I landed with a splash and eagerly swam back for more. I realized how free and secure I felt at this moment. In fact, it was the last time that I could remember such a feeling of innocence, security, and peace.
The vision started transitioning, and now I was seeing my dad placing extra interior locks on our door as he explained to me that he was leaving, because he and my mom couldn't get along. I watched as he hugged me goodbye, and I felt a deep sense of separation and insecurity.
I then found myself back in high school raising my steer Bonzo who had transformed from a Future Farmers of America project into a loving pet who followed me everywhere. As a lonely and confused teenager, Bonzo gave me a purpose and someone to care for, but I knew that someday I would have to give him up. That day eventually happened. I watched as a truck pulled up and I was given a few moments for a hug and to tell him goodbye. As I walked back to the classroom I noticed no trailer on the truck to carry him away and realized they were planning to butcher him right there at the school. The teacher asked if anyone wanted to watch how a steer was slaughtered and a group formed. I was sitting alone in the classroom weeping when the gun shot rang out. I knew it was over and moments later a classmate ran in holding something in her hands. It was Bonzo's eyeball. I just cried and cried. My friend was gone.
I was then shown glimpses of my two divorces and the pain of reliving the transformation of a loving family into a broken and shattered battleground of separation and anxiety. I saw myself showing up at a visitation center only to find that my son had been kidnapped out of the country. I retraced the five long years of battle to get him back and was re-experiencing the pain of still not having a close relationship with him to this day.
I was experiencing my familiar nightmares of separation, and it was painful to relive them once again. I started to realize my unhealed wounds all had to do with separation and healing could not happen without understanding. God brought them up from deep inside where I had them hidden so that I may see them through His vision instead of my physical eyes. I felt His strong hands around me once again, and the fear melted away. I was ready to turn these experiences over to God for healing and understanding.
"The Holy Spirit wills only to make His resolutions complete and perfect, and so He seeks and finds the source of problems where it is and there undoes it. And with each step in His undoing is the separation more and more undone and union brought closer. He is not at all confused by any ‘reasons' for separation. All He perceives in separation is that it must be undone." (OrEd.Tx.17.21)
The place where I felt safe and secure was inside of big hands. As a child I thought they were my dad's hands many years ago in a pool, but they were actually God's hands. You see, in my innocence I saw the Face of Christ in my dad and his hands. It was just that feelings of separation clouded the experience and misperception took over turning a happy dream into a nightmare. All that I was left with was a vision of big hands stretched out towards me, and I reached out for them.
"How instantly the memory of God arises in the mind that has no fear to keep the memory away" (OrEd.Tx.28.13)
As I started feeling my body once again, Pastor's words became clearer, and I could feel his hand holding mine. I felt a calming sense of peace and serenity I never had experienced before. It almost felt as if I was flying again across the pool. As I opened my eyes and looked at Pastor I saw something unexpected. I saw the Face of Christ looking back at me with perfect love and acceptance. It was as plain as anything I had ever seen.
"You who hold each other's hand also hold mine, for when you joined each other you were not alone." (OrEd.Tx.18.27)
Pastor Carter didn't change, just my perception of him changed. I knew that it was my purpose to see all of humanity with that same face. I was no longer a victim of circumstance. It was always my choice. Now I was starting to understand the journey that Pastor was talking about, and I couldn't wait to begin.
In experiencing my reoccurring nightmares, God showed me that my monsters were just misperceptions and fragments of a much bigger picture that I was incapable of understanding in the moment. I was to dispel the illusion of separation by forgiving everyone and everything that I once judged. It must have been the mission that he was talking about.
"Can you imagine how beautiful those you forgive will look to you? In no fantasy have you ever seen anything so lovely. Nothing you see here, sleeping or waking, comes near to such loveliness. And nothing will you value like unto this nor hold so dear. Nothing that you remember that made your heart seem to sing with joy has ever brought you even a little part of the happiness this sight will bring you. For you will see the Son of God." (OrEd.Tx.17.7)
Pastor gently let go of my hand, and I noticed that he had fallen asleep beside me. It was quiet. I gathered my things, and as I opened the door the sunlight blinded me for a moment. As my eyes focused everything suddenly seemed crisp, clean, and new. I was to take what I learned inside this church to the outside world. I looked back at Pastor on the bench still asleep and was so very grateful for this experience. I thought about him standing in this very doorway and looking out of it just as I was now. I understood that what I was looking out at was my mission field. The flood was finally over and I stepped out of the church and into my new life. I was now ready for the storms and rainbows that lay ahead and I was so very grateful to be alive. God Bless Pastor Carter.
"This is the way salvation works. As you step back, the Light in you steps forward and encompasses the world." (OrEd.WkBk.156.6) ♥
2269 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94114
This article appeared in the December 2014 (Vol. 28 No. 10) issue of Miracles Monthly. Miracles Monthly is published by Community Miracles Center in San Francisco, CA. CMC is supported solely by people just like you who: become CMC Supporting Members, Give Donations and Purchase Books and Products through us.