Archive for November, 2010



Thanksgiving this year found me very grateful to have a place at a dear friend’s table. Alone for the first time in my life on the holiday, I was sweetly adopted as a guest for the big feast at the Robertson house. When it was time to eat, hostess Carter encouraged us to gather around the table to look for our place card with our name on it.

A late addition to the group, I could have been placed anywhere amongst the family and friends that were there.  But my dear friend placed me right beside her at the head of the table with her amazing husband Barny. I was humbled and very blessed to be sitting there.

Blessings and thanksgiving have appropriately been on my mind all month.  In church on Sundays, I’ve been aware that lately it’s not too hard to find inspiration from the other side of the altar sitting with the choir. But I wasn’t behind the altar the first time I was introduced to Stephen Paulus’ Pilgrims’ Hymn.  I was smack dab in the middle of Wednesday night choir rehearsal.

Sitting in the center of the front row, in the midst of the first sopranos and flanked to the right by the seconds and to the left by the altos, I began to sing the words and melody like any other singer there.  I sang until tears welled up and emotion choked any good sounding notes away—a singer’s worse enemy emotion is sometimes.  The words had penetrated my heart without permission really, and I tried to gather myself through the first chorus only to be met again with eyes full and ready to burst as we sang the second verse.

I didn’t fight it so much the second time.  I let the tears roll down my face, lowered my head a bit and listened to the song in stereo, the familiar voices of my choir enveloping me with a simple but glorious message.

I love it when God surprises me like that.

It’s confirmation that God is amazingly detailed when it comes to our lives.  A believer of any amount of time has most likely been told how God knows exactly what we are feeling, thinking, yada, yada, blah, blah. We can hardly swallow the information. That is not until we are met head on with his deeply personal, eerily specific, spiritually intimate word that he somehow communicates to us in a single moment of time. He knew exactly what I would be singing that night.

As I’ve reflected on the lyrics of the song since, it has really blown into full view the miracle of my life the last year or so.  Out of full-time work for almost a year now, God is putting the dimes and nickels to work.  He’s blessing us where rationally there should be little blessing to celebrate.

Yes, there have been moments when I’ve been pretty angry and sad.  What I was doing before was a ministry to me and to many others, and it’s not easy to take the high road, navigate through the human side of the whole job loss thing, and then come to rest in the fact that God knew exactly what would happen to me and to my small family.  I’m the only breadwinner in my house—the pressure I feel is sometimes enormous—being mom, maid, shuttle driver, cook, bill-payer, handywoman, etc., etc.

Everything starts and stops right here. Or so it seems when I’m overwhelmed by it all. But God has been speaking into our lives more and more, which translated means: I’m currently paying closer attention to what he has to say.  Now, many months later it’s crazy good to look back over the year and see what he has done. One miraculous story sums it up.

On the way home from somewhere, I was talking to Emma about how wonderfully God was taking care of us.  It was the early spring, a chill was still in the air, and I was being intentional about talking to her about celebrating God’s goodness.  We stopped by the mailboxes in our complex, got the mail and then rounded the corner into our designated parking space.

A little over an hour later, I was sobbing pretty fiercely after a tense call with Chase—my credit card company—over the more than $100 monthly increase in my minimum payment (which I found from opening the mail).  My budget could not bear such an unexpected jump, and though I pleaded intensely, not rudely, with several Chase employees, I was told there was no exception.

Deeply frustrated, I hung up and threw my phone down.  Unfortunately, this was just in time for my daughter to see my defeat and my unusual physical outburst.  I apologized immediately for my behavior and through tears tried to explain what the call was all about.  As I hugged her, I shook my head.  I couldn’t understand how just a short time before I had been praising God’s name and now I was filled with fear and disbelief over a single bill that could disrupt our entire financial well-being.

Going to bed that night wasn’t any fun.  Getting up the next day wasn’t either.  How was I going to make it now?  We were already on the edge of hanging on.  A hundred dollars was groceries for a week or gas for two weeks.  Which of those was I supposed to give up?

After a day or two, when my mind cleared and my spirit settled, I felt strongly that I needed to do something more.  I did some research on-line of Chase practices and customer satisfaction and did not find a stellar record or even very many positive comments.  In fact, there were many stories like mine.

Never believing it would really do a darn thing, I wrote a detailed letter to Chase. I outlined my history with the company, my payment record, and the customer complaints that I had found.  I used their own slogan by turning it around and asking them to “chase what matters” which was respect for good customers like me who had been paying a bill despite being affected by the horrible economy.

It felt good to write the letter.  I thought it was an intelligent and well-expressed customer response. I addressed and sent it directly to the CEO of the company, just knowing that I would never hear from anyone.

But there was a secret prayer in my heart.  Did I ever say it out loud?  I’m not sure.  It was really more of a fantasy than a prayer.  Easily forgotten, I imagined if I got an answer it would be some dumb courtesy call and nothing more.

In typical fashion, weeks passed.  On the way to work one day, I got a call from an unknown number.  It was Chase.  A woman assigned to my “case” was on the other end. “Ms. Messer?” the voice said. “Yes,” I replied, bracing myself for the institutional bull that was surely about to rain down on me.

“I’ve reviewed your account and the history including the interest you have paid over the lifetime of being our customer. We have decided to credit your account with $20,000 which leaves you with a balance of…”

She went on, but I didn’t really hear anything else for a second after that.  “Could you please repeat the part about the credit?” I sputtered.

She repeated herself word-for-word.  My mind reeled. Twenty thousand dollars credit. Debt erased. Debt forgiven. After that large of a credit, I would have just one more payment to bring my balance to zero.

I don’t need to type a lot of words here to express the miracle that took place for us through this unusual gift.  My secret fantasy that was not a true prayer had been, “Wouldn’t it be cool if somehow my balance was just gone?” Yeah, he heard that.

And so, I celebrate this big and the less big miracles in my life this year.  God has truly been good to me and has blessed my family in many undeserved ways.  With a heart of thankfulness and gratitude I sing a new song with ancient meaning, and I sing it to him who has done so much to keep this soul of mine from giving up:

Even before we call on Your name

To ask You, O God.

When we seek for the words to glorify You,

You hear our prayer;

Unceasing love, O unceasing love,

Surpassing all we know.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

Even with the darkness sealing us in,

We breathe Your name,

And through all the days that follow so fast,

We trust in You;

Endless Your grace, O endless Your grace,

Beyond all mortal dream.

Both now and for ever, and unto ages and ages.


Michael Dennis Browne words, Stephen Paulus music © 1997