Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Has anything changed?

After what I described as defining moments and answered prayers in Barcelona, I've found myself wondering: Has anything changed?

The answer seems to be yes and no.

No, because I'm still disorganized, I procrastinate, and I let opportunities slip by. And because I already believed in miracles but just hadn't given them as much thought.

Yes, because I don't think a day has gone by that I haven't prayed with renewed faith that God will intervene in what appear to be impossible situations.

So, I pray for miracles. As I do, I realize that sometimes the miracle is sanity. Patience. Gratitude. And sometimes it really is the desired thing that seems impossible except with God's intervention.

-- The soul and spirit of loved ones who are good people, but I'm not sure they have the relationship with Christ that my faith and theology tell me is essential for their eternal salvation.

-- Those troubled by addictions, compulsions and/or mental distress.

-- A dear couple going through heartache and heartbreak over children and parents.

-- A four-decades-plus marriage that seemed to be on a strong Christian foundation and an example for all, and now is coming to an end.

-- Chaos, conflict and oppression throughout the world.

-- Situations where hard-working, conscientious and dedicated workers are pushed to near impossible limits.

Really, I'm not sure whether these need miracles or just healing. I lift them up to the Lord, praying in faith, trusting Him.

Today's reading from a 12-step devotional seemed appropos for my Barcelona experience and also as I continue to pray for God's intervention in all those varied situations. It's a quote attributed to French dramatist Jean Anouilh: "True miracles are created by men when they use the courage and intelligence that God gave them."

Of course, I don't take that to mean that people create miracles, but I do believe God sometimes uses people to orchestrate His divine plan. And sometimes He doesn't.

Speaking of miracles, sometimes the words of Isaiah 40:28-31 seem miraculous. Is this really possible? And of course the answer is yes!

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

And the following aren't miracles, but they are promises and prayers I take to heart as I wrap this up:

“The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” —Zephaniah 3:17

“The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” —Numbers 6:25–26

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Defining moments: Miracle in Barcelona

For all the glorious sights and experiences of my nine-day European cruise, the defining moments unfolded in an unplanned window of time as I found myself alone in the crowd of humanity at Barcelona's Park Guell, without identification, money, credit card or a phone.

Heading out about 8:45 a.m. Tuesday with a tour group for A Closer Look at Gaudi, I was thinking again that I was out of my element. Here I was on the final day of an expenses-paid cruise from Dover, England, to Barcelona, Spain, that I had done nothing to deserve and seemed unqualified to appreciate to its fullest. From the moment the travel opportunity came up, I had prayed to know whether to say yes, and also for understanding of God's will whether I accepted the trip or stayed home. The answers were still unclear. But the uncertainty did not keep me from enjoying the overall trip or this tour, which was taking the group past numerous notable buildings, including at least two designed by renowned Spanish artist and architect Gaudi.

Then we arrived at his Park Guell, a beautiful and fascinating creation with terraces, steps, houses, columns, colorful mosaics and designs. It wasn't crowded when we got there, but became more and more so. I was taking pictures as usual with my little Canon and my iPhone. All was going pretty well until the Canon quit working. I couldn't get it to come back on after it closed when not in use. I tried swapping out the batteries, and it still wouldn't work, and then I swapped memory cards. Still nothing. So I took the batteries out again and blew on them. And it came back on. What a relief!

By now, the group was heading back to the tour bus. Unfortunately, when I got there, I couldn't find the memory card. The original one. Which meant I had no pictures except those on the iPhone. I looked through all my stuff, and it wasn't there. What am I going to do? I mentioned it to the people around me and the tour guide, and she said there was no time to wait for me to go and look for it, which I knew. But she and several people seemed to be encouraging me to go back to look, and then to take a cab to the next stop: Gaudi's La Sagrada Familia. I finally decided to do that, after making sure I had money for the cab ride to the landmark cathedral.

Stepping out

As I stepped off the bus and walked unaccompanied back into the gardens, I started praying. I expressed praise and gratitude and trust in God. I acknowledged I was unworthy of a miracle, but humbly asked for one. I also affirmed to God my trust that, whatever happened, it would be OK, even though, by this time, I felt more "out of my element" than ever. I was aware that, without a guide to lead the way in the park crossed with many paths and levels, I was unsure even which way we had come while I was trying to get the camera to work.

At some point, I was thirsty and started trying to fish a water bottle out of my bag. I got my drink and kept going. Along the way I also saw a cat and had to take a picture, even as I became aware I probably wouldn't find my little camera case and the memory card within it. I knew I didn't have all day to look, because I was to rejoin the tour at the La Sagrada Familia. I decided to call my husband and just tell him I had lost the memory card with all my pictures, but that I knew there could be much worse things to lose, so I would just go on.

And then I began to experience what could only be classified at the moment as "much worse." I could not find my phone. And as I kept looking, I realized I could not find my wallet, either. Usually the phone was in a zippered pocket on the outside of my nylon backpack, and the wallet was in a smaller bag inside the nylon one. But in my rush to make sure I had money and phone before getting off the tour bus, they ended up together in the smaller bag.

I didn't know whether one of the pickpockets I had been warned about had gotten it, or if it had fallen out when I got the water. All I knew was that I now was in a busy city park in Barcelona without identification, money, credit card or a phone.

No longer was I praying for a little miracle. I knew I needed a big one.

Here, the idea that I don't deserve a miracle -- nor did I deserve the trip -- returned. Still, I prayed. In faith. With confidence. Not knowing what to expect.

Instead of writing notes about sites in Barcelona, I began filling my journal with what was in my mind, trying to stay focused and calm, writing out prayers: "Lord, I trust You. I thank You for Your presence." Lessons: "Don't go alone! Never go alone! And even so, trust God. Trust God. Don't cry. Pray for calm. Seek help." "Be gracious." "I trust You, God. It will be OK."

Having no idea where this would lead or how long it would last, my first stop was the bathroom, then I checked with the gift shop in the area where I had looked for the camera card. The young clerk spoke English and said items that are found sometimes are brought there, but my bag had not come. He told me where I might find police to help me. I looked some more for the bag containing my phone, money and ID, praying and hoping against hope, but didn't find it.

Meanwhile, by about 11:30 a.m., a police van had come to the gift shop area. Fortunately, one of the Barcelona Guardia Urban's finest spoke some English, and eventually he was able to reach the cruise line by telephone. An official there suggested the policeman get me a taxi and assure the driver the fare would be paid when I arrived at the terminal. (It never occurred to me or the police to call my cellphone! Duh! That's another lesson to learn from this.)


It was in the taxi that emotions started to overwhelm me as I thought of the lost pictures and the lost opportunity -- and how helpless I felt. I also felt embarrassed, stupid, humbled, grateful -- but fortunately never really scared or alone.

Still, tears formed. All my pictures. Gone. Credit card, gone. Driver's license, gone. Euros and U.S. currency, gone. (At least I knew my passport, the identification needed to fly home, was on the ship.) "If possible, Lord, if it be Your will, please help me not cry. If it's better for me not to cry, please help me not cry. And if it's OK -- then let the tears flow. Or, perhaps, if the tears flow, please help it be OK." (The tears trickled, and it was OK.)

When the taxi arrived at the ship terminal, I was greeted by people from the cruise, who even before paying the fare informed me my bag had been found and would be back at the ship at 2:30. (This was about 1 p.m.) I wasn't totally convinced, but felt hopeful. I got a new room key, then went up, praying and again trying to be positive but hesitant to get my hope up. Shortly, I had a phone message. It was Olivia, a member of my cruise group who also was on the Gaudi tour. She was excited to tell me she had found my bag. I could come and get it in the room next door. But when I got there, it was the camera bag and not the one with the phone, etc. What had been the object of my original search now seemed so insignificant. I felt crushed again. But I thanked her and expressed hope that, possibly, the information about the bag coming back at 2:30 might also be true. Dare I hope? How could I not?

Again, I kept praying, even as I was afraid to get my hopes up. I also considered whether to call Gene yet or wait until I knew whether the bag was found. (I knew that if it wasn't found, I would need my husband's help in canceling credit cards and making other arrangements to get me home. And if it was found, did he even need to know about all this before I got home?) But right around 2:30, the desk called and said my bag with phone and wallet was there. I felt such relief. Oh my. Thank you, God!

It wasn't clear to me where the bag had been or who brought it to the ship, but I was just glad to have it back.

As soon as I had my iPhone, I used it to get online and check email. And I saw Gene had emailed me just after 11 a.m. (4 a.m. Oklahoma time). "Call ASAP. Lost handbag?" As soon as I saw it (about 2:45 in Barcelona and 8:45 in OK), I texted: "Handbag is found. You can call me when you get this or have a chance." He replied that he couldn't call out, so I called him. Little did I know ...

Meanwhile, in the U.S. ...

Gene told me he had been awakened at 4:03 a.m. by a call from my cell phone number. "And it's a guy, speaking English. Good English. Not even an accent." The man said a bag with this phone had been found. And this was the last number called. Gene said it must belong to me, his wife, and that I was on a Crystal cruise. The man said he would make sure the bag and phone get back to the ship. Of course, Gene is wondering what happened to me. "I'm literally thinking you are in the hospital or dead." He knows I often take my purse and phone with me even when I go to the bathroom at home, so for me to be separated from them seemed serious. Had I been kidnapped?

After a couple hours of wondering and worrying, at about 6:30 (7:04?), Gene called my number back, trying to get more information about what was going on. The man said the bag was being taken back to the ship (but he apparently had no idea where I was). Gene said he had not been able to contact me, so the man gave him a phone number for the ship. Gene called and talked to someone on the ship, but that didn't really provide any clarity as to my whereabouts.

So, while I had no idea Gene was aware that my bag had been lost and found, he had no clue about where I was or whether anything had happened to me until I called after 2:30 p.m. Barcelona time (8:48 OK time). (As best I can tell, that was at least four hours without him knowing; some of the times and numbers don't quite add up, based on what Gene and I remember and what time stamps on emails and texts reflect.)

Everything in its place

That night, I met my cruise group for a small party, but decided not to go back into Barcelona with them. I wanted to try to track down the rest of the story of who found my bag and how it got back to the ship and thank whomever was involved.

And, amazingly, I did! The woman at the ship's front desk said the person who brought it back was one of Crystal's ambassador hosts, and he was in the Stardust Club dancing. So I headed that way, and when I was about there, a woman going the other way looked at me and exclaimed, Are you the woman with the lost bag? I said, um, yes. I asked what she knew about that, and she said she and the woman with her were among the people who found my bag and brought it back. So I met her and her sister-in-law -- and the host who was the excursion's escort.

They were with a different tour going through Park Guell. They gathered in an area with benches, and some sat down. When they got up to go on, someone noticed the bag. They thought it belonged to someone from their group, but no one claimed it. As they tried to decide what to do with it, they saw the iPhone. Only one knew how to use it and decided to call last number. That's the call that awakened Gene, who was in Arkansas for a conference.

They could tell by the iPhone pictures that I was on their ship. Plus, one of the women said she recognized me (from my driver's license picture?) as someone on the ship. Of course, like Gene, they had no idea where I was or what had happened to me, so they were quite concerned and were praying, too.

They had been as interested in finding me as I was in finding them. They had checked with the desk later to find out if I had returned to the ship and were relieved to know I did. But we all were glad to get the chance to meet, take pictures, express gratitude to each other -- and thank God!

I've always had faith and an awareness that God loves me, never leaves me and works all things for good as I seek Him and trust Him. And if you asked, I would say I believe in miracles. I believe that, on Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013, I experienced a miracle in Barcelona. I see no way except for God's perfect, divine intervention that all my lost or misplaced things could have made their way back to me. I just don't think that could all happen by chance.

While I missed my coveted visit to the architecturally and spiritually significant La Sagrada Familia (known, among other things, as a work in progress more than 100 years after it was started), God visited me -- His own work in progress -- in an intimate, powerful and transformative way. I stand in awe of His amazing grace and pray to respond to His glory.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

An ongoing project

I'm back from the cruise.

It was wonderful.

I've been trying to compose reflections about it, but each time I've gotten bogged down with details. There is so much I want to write down -- for my records and to share -- but it is taking more time than I had hoped to make sense of it all. So, it will be an ongoing project.

The "Wisdom from Oswald Chambers" I encountered and shared before the trip was helpful along the way:

"When you are joyful, be joyful; when you are sad, be sad. If God has given you a sweet cup, don’t make it bitter; and if He has given you a bitter cup, don’t try and make it sweet; take things as they come." Shade of His Hand, 1226 L

"Take things as they come." That's what I did and continue to do.

My expenses-paid "European Embrace" aboard the Crystal Serenity was indeed a sweet cup, with many opportunities to feel joyful, refreshed and blessed. God revealed His presence, trustworthiness and power in new, transformative ways, and I pray to be faithful in my response. This, too, is an ongoing project.