By Gregory Matthews, Feb. 4, 2015, Published by permission of the author. [Luke 15:11-31] With his foot pressed to the accelerator, Ralph[i] raced to the hospital. The voice on the telephone had said: “Your wife is on her way to the emergency room. You need to come very quickly.” At the hospital, the doctors told Ralph that Susan had a twenty percent chance of living. She had probably been without oxygen for fifteen minutes. A helicopter was on its way to take her to the regional medical center. As they spoke, Susan opened one eye, said two words to Ralph and lapsed into unconsciousness again. Three days later, the word, came: “Susan will live. But she is likely to have severely decreased cognitive function.
Days passed. Concern for her mental status continued. One morning during rounds, staff discussed doing heart surgery a few weeks later. Suddenly their discussion was interrupted: “No,” Susan said. “If you cannot do it now, you cannot do it at all.” Susan had come back. She had more cognition than they realized.
As Susan reviewed her near experience with death the words of her favorite verse echoed in her mind: “My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber.” (Psalm 121:2-3, NIV.)
God was watching over Susan, and always had. Like a prodigal daughter, she had wandered in the world of sin. But, her Lord had continued to pursue her like a hound from heaven chasing a fox.[ii]
Susan had been abandoned before birth by her father. Her mother had been unable to provide her with the care that she needed, so her paternal grandparents had stepped in. Susan moved with them to the West Coast. The grandparents purchased some property and the family lived in a tent while they built a home in which to live.
Susan spent twelve happy years in this family. She was grounded in basic Christianity. Her pastor was Adriel Chilson, who was married to a granddaughter of Ellen White, a co-founder of the Seventh-day Adventist church. Under his pastoral care, Susan grew to know and love the Lord and to value the counsel that she found in Ellen White’s writings. At a time when Susan had neither a father nor an effective mother to care for her, God had put people in place to give her the nurture that she needed.
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The music ended. Five hundred Adventist guests had just witnessed 17 year-old Susan and Ben mutually pledge their lives to each other and to God. Two months later, Sarah moved in with them. Times were hard. She needed a place to stay and was a relative of Susan. During the months that followed, however, it became evident that Sarah was Ben’s mistress. Susan divorced Ben.
One day a telephone call came from Germany. Ben was now in the U.S. army and wanted to try to renew the marriage. Once travel arrangements could be made, Susan flew to Europe. Here she found that Ben had fathered children by two different women. When she confronted him with this, Ben handed Susan fifty cents and ordered her home.
Susan was desperate. She was in a foreign country. She had neither food, nor shelter, nor money. She went to the Club; put the fifty cents in a slot machine and with one pull of the handle she had enough money to buy something to eat. As Susan was not married to Ben, she had no claim against the U.S. Army for transportation back to the United States. The American Consulate arranged for her to fly to New York City where she was met by a Social Worker who arranged transportation to the home of a relative.
Lonely and confused, Susan made poor choices in men. She became a mother. Deep down within her spirit, she felt emptiness. In her search for meaning, she returned to the Seventh-day Adventist church. She wanted a father for her daughter, but she did not know how to find one. She married Andrew, a soldier in the U.S. Army and soon the three of them were in Germany again. A short time after they arrived in Europe, they received a letter addressed to them in Germany. It informed them that she and Andrew would be expelled from membership in the local Seventh-day Adventist church for the sin of failing to attend services, unless they attended the following week. Living in Germany, it was naturally impossible for them to attend services in the United States. As a result the congregation acted and they were expelled from membership.
Once Susan and Andrew returned to the United States, they began a new relationship with the Adventist church. They both formally joined following an evangelistic series. But trouble soon followed. Susan learned that Andrew was participating in a homosexual life style. This was not acceptable to her and divorce soon followed. The local congregation did not know the reasons for the divorce. They only knew that they now had a divorced woman who was driving the school bus that brought their children to school. Susan was soon not only divorced, but without the small income that she had been earning. The next blow came when someone accused Susan of using tobacco. She denied those charges as she had not used tobacco for three years. But the congregation acted and Susan was expelled from membership once again.
Marriages and relationships followed one after another. Susan gave up on God. She knew her sins. The church she loved had rejected her twice. Surely God could not accept her. With the passage of time Susan became the mother of nine children by five different men.
Stability came as she raised her children as a single parent. Caught in a trap, she did not know how to return to the Lord, but the God who had died for her on Calvary had not given up on Susan. The Lord was working for Susan at times and in a manner of which Susan knew nothing.
The next step in her return to God occurred on a Friday evening. Susan had no idea when she walked through the door of a bar that evening that God had entered with her. In her understanding of God she probably would have said that if God had been with her at all, he would have left her to enter the bar alone. On that Friday evening, in those early hours of the Sabbath, on a day dedicated to spiritual communion with God, the Lord was going work to bring to salvation a woman sitting on a stool at a bar. The Jesus who had died for her was calling her home.
To be continued next week…
[i] All names have been changed with the exception of the names of SDA clergy.
[ii] The Hound of Heaven is a poem written by Francis Thompson (1859-1907) sometime before his death. The idea of this poem is that God works to bring the sinner to repentance and salvation as surely as the hound chases after the fleeing fox. J. R. R. Tolkien is one of the people who have been influenced by this poem.
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