*** LIBRARY of CONGRESS Honoree ***
*** AWARD of EXCELLENCE - Deep River Books ***

Sunday, September 27, 2009

God's Voice of Love

(People have heard God speak to them for thousands of years. When it was one of the great prophets relaying His words, we accept it and even rejoice. But when someone we know, a neighbor or family member, tells us about what God told them, we are at least a little skeptical. And, nobody would have been more skeptical than Al. That's why Al reacted as he did when God spoke to him.)

Excerpt #6 from "A TIME TO..."

“Are you religious?” Al replied.

“I go to church when I can. I believe in God. Is that what you mean?” Paul wondered.

“Angels? Do you believe in angels too?” Al pressed.

“Sure. Aren’t they part of the God package?” Paul said rhetorically.

“What would you say if I told you somebody thinks I’m an angel?” Al asked Paul.

“You got a new girl friend?” Paul replied with a smile.

“Al rolled his eyes and chuckled, “No. I’m serious. A young girl at the shelter thinks I’m an angel God sent and she’s convinced her mother that I’m an angel too,” Al confided.

“But you don’t have wings? So, how did they mistake you for an angel?” Paul teased.

Al retold Paul the story about his visit with Almaz’s family, Berhanu’s subsequent conversation with them, and the doctor’s prognosis.

“So, do you have any miracles up your sleeve?” Paul asked Al.

“A miracle...? Yeah, that’s what they expect from me. Do you have any ideas?” Al prompted.

“Hmm... Well there’s parting the Red Sea, and it’s not too far from here. Or, there’s turning water into wine and feeding thousands by multiplying a couple loaves and pieces of fish. I’d mention raising someone from the dead, but let’s stick to something more doable,” Paul teased more.

“Funny. Ha, ha. Maybe I’d better forget about a miracle,” Al concluded.

“No. Don’t do that. You just need to be creative. Find out what it would take for Amaz’s father to regain his will to live, then you’ll have the miracle you’ll need to perform,” Paul suggested.

“I’m back to square one. I need to talk with Berhanu,” Al realized.

The next morning Al arrived early at the shelter and pulled Berhanu aside to talk as soon as he saw him. “Does Almaz’s father think I’m an angel?” Al asked Berhanu.

“No. He thinks his wife and daughter are crazy,” Berhanu told Al.

“What would he do if I told him I am an angel?” Al supposed.

“He’d think you are crazy,” Berhanu said confidently.

“What if I proved I’m an angel?” Al wondered.

“Now, I think you are crazy,” Berhanu admitted.

“Let me explain. The doctor told me that Almaz’s father will die unless something happens to end his depression. The pneumonia will kill him. Didn’t you tell me that faith in God is all that keeps the poor like him alive? Well, the depression has apparently stolen his faith. So, unless his faith is restored, he will die. I want to be his angel and do something miraculous so he will live for his sake and for his family’s. But, I need your help,” Al explained.

“What changed your mind? You weren’t going to tell them you are an angel,” Berhanu inquired.

“Almaz. I saw something in her face the other day. I don’t want her to become bitter, like someone I know. And, I can’t just stand by and watch her father die if there is something I can do to prevent it,” Al told him.

“OK. How can I help?” Berhanu offered.

“The doctor told me they have no home to return to. I don’t know what he meant. Can you find out if they are homeless now and anything else that may be causing the depression? You already told me about his son. I want to prove to him that I’m an angel by doing something miraculous,” a committed Al told him.

“But you are not an angel. You can’t make miracles happen,” Berhanu reminded Al.

“Yes and no. Just because I’m not an angel doesn’t mean I can’t perform a small miracle. I’m hoping that will be enough,” Al replied.

"OK. I’ll talk with them today and let you know what I learn,” Berhanu confirmed.

“Thanks,” Al said as he tapped Berhanu’s shoulder.

A miracle... Al needed a miracle. Why not? Why not one more in the string of miracles that were taking place that year, 1974, in Ethiopia? Wasn’t it a miracle that Peace Corps Volunteers eradicated Smallpox from the world that summer in a remote Ethiopian village? Wasn’t it a miracle that the remains of a three-million-year-old human ancestor were discovered not far from Dessie, providing clues to the origin of human life, and wasn’t it a miracle that the days of Ethiopia’s ancient feudal system were about to end? While Al had no idea now what would be needed to make this peasant farmer whole again after everything he had been through, somehow he knew that the answer lived deep inside himself in a place he avoided ever since Tommy killed Billy.

When Berhanu sat down with him later that day to report what he had learned, Al listened carefully for anything that would tell him what to do. He just hoped that it wouldn’t require a journey he wasn’t prepared to take.

“His name is Serranen... Almaz’s father,” Berhanu reported to Al. “The land he had farmed was owned by a prince. Serranen’s family worked that land for many generations for the same royal family. The prince had decided to sell his land to another royal family because he needed the money to continue living his privileged life. Harvests had been bad in recent years and then this draught put him in debt. The new land owner had his own farmers, so he told Serranen to leave. But where could he go when all he knew was farming and he didn’t know anyone with land who could put him to work?

“He and his family were walking for two days, looking for work, when some thieves took the few things they owned, including all their food. In the fight, Serranen broke his foot. The next day, their son wandered off into the wilderness to find food for his family. He returned a few hours later with a sack of berries. He had eaten his full before filling the sack for his family. But, by the time he returned, he had become very sick. His mother rushed to him when she saw him struggling to walk and breath. Within a few hours, he was dead. They buried him in a field of wild flowers not far from the road they were traveling. The berries were apparently poisonous, so they went hungry for two days, until an empty lorrie returning to the Dessie shelter stopped to pick them up. They were amazed when it dropped them off at the shelter,” Berhanu related.

"Almaz and her mother’s prayers were answered. Serranen didn’t pray. He was too angry by that time to talk with God as a result of what had happened to his son, with his job and the thieves. Almaz believes that you, being an angel, had heard her prayer and sent the truck to save them. It didn’t take much to convince her mother that you are an angel," Berhanu concluded.”

As Berhanu told the sad story, Al closed his eyes and slowly shook his head, ‘no’ after hearing about each hardship, and nodded ‘yes’ when he heard about the impact they had on Serranen.

“I can’t do this. How can I help him when I feel the same way about God? I don’t blame Serranen for feeling as he does,” Al told Berhanu remorsefully.

“So he will die, leaving Almaz without a father and Abebech without a husband? Can’t you just pretend as you said before and give them a small miracle?” Berhanu pleaded.

“I can’t give him back his son or his job. Those are the only miracles that matter to him now,” Al said softly.

“He just needs to know that in spite of everything, God is with him and loves him,” Berhanu whispered.

“How? I’m not a magician. The last time I tried to be one, when I was a kid, my tricks backfired on me. ‘God is with him and loves him? ...after everything that’s happened to him?” Al said sarcastically.

Just then, this scene from Al’s life froze and the mysterious voice that he had heard earlier in his life said, “Isn’t it time that you stopped blaming God for what happened to Billy and Tommy?”

“It’s you again. What’s happening to me? Where am I? Who are you? What do you want from me?” Al demanded.

No answers came. The voice just repeated its same question. After a long pause, Al finally said, “Why?”

Then for the first time ever, the voice responded to Al. “God didn’t hit Billy with the bottle. God didn’t put the gun in Billy’s hand. God didn’t create the animosity between the Apostles and the Disciples. God didn’t convict Tommy,” the voice said with kindness.

“And, God didn’t do anything to prevent these things either,” Al snapped back. “God has given humans laws to follow and the freedom to do as they please,” the voice replied compassionately.

“It’s not that simple,” Al protested.

“Yes, it is,” declared the voice.

“No!” Al screamed.

“And, isn’t it time that you stopped blaming yourself for what happened?” the voice added. “If I didn’t help Bookie fix the game, Billy would still be alive and Tommy would be free,” Al declared.

“You made a mistake. Learn from it and move on. God forgives mistakes ... so should you,” the voice responded.

“I can’t. I want to, but I can’t. Please tell me how,” Al pleaded.

“Ahhh. Now we are getting somewhere. You can’t do anything to help Billy or Tommy. They are in God’s hands, but you can do something to help Serranen and his family. It will do wonders for your soul.” the voice counseled.

“”I’ll try, but I’ll need help. Do you have a suggestion?” an exhausted Al asked.

“Listen to your heart,” the voice said just before the scene with Berhanu resumed where it had stopped.

“Yes, God and his love are with Serranen, even now,” Berhanu told Al. “Suffering is part of our lives here. Serranen knows this, but he needs a reminder to understand that God hasn’t abandoned him.”

Al looked thoughtfully at Berhanu in silence for a few seconds and then recalled Tsehye’s earlier words to him, “Your bitterness speaks loudly... It tells me your soul is in pain. Listen to your soul tell you there is a God... a mysterious God who doesn’t always seem to care about you and others in this world.” Al then covered his eyes with his hands, bowed his head, and wiped a tear from his eyes.

“What is it?” Berhanu asked. “Was it something I said?”

“Yes, and something an old wise man told me a few months ago,” Al said as he regained his composure. “I will do everything I can to help Serranen live,” Al said just as an idea came to mind. Tsehye is a landowner. “Perhaps Serranen could work for him,” Al thought.

“What will you do?” Berhanu asked compassionately. “I will try to be in spirit the angel Almaz thinks God sent to save them. I hope to show Serranen that God is with him to help restore his faith and his health. And, I hope to move on with my life and not be held back anymore by a mistake I had made years ago,” Al whispered.