Bad Things Happen, But We Grow
By Billie Marie Zal
The trip had been a nightmare, and I wondered if God had really sent me all the way from Hattiesburg, Mississippi where I lived to Tupelo, Mississippi where the Royal Ambassadors (Baptists) were meeting state wide.
I ALMOST did not go. I had an ancient, falling down dead car that seldom started if it rained, so I got out my map which I had marked with little “crosses” to show where - in the state of Mississippi - I had ministered, and I noticed that as I drew a line from where I was to Tupelo, it formed a perfect Cross. Surely this was God’s intention then, that I go no matter what.
I set out very early one morning in August - possibly the hottest month of the year in the deep South - and mentally calculated if I would need anymore gasoline before I arrived at my destination. Just before I left, a used car salesman who knew me well said to me, “Mrs. Zal, I don’t know how you feel about your car, but if I were you, I wouldn’t leave the city limits in it.”
This did not give me the encouragement I needed so I beat a hasty retreat and ignored his opinion. But he was right! For some time I had noticed a peculiar odor if I drove very far - something was definitely getting too hot and scorching. But so far, so good and there had been no money for repairs anyhow. As I drove through the countryside, I tried to be brave. But I WAS NOT BRAVE and I felt my stomach tie up in knots as the gas gauge edged toward the big “E” FOR empty.
I pulled to a halt and got about five more gallons and had to ask a gentleman to give me a shove because by now, the car had become bumpy and coughed hard every few miles. I checked my purse as I drove on, and I noticed that I had one dollar left. One dollar to finish my trip to Tupelo, and . . . then what?
It has always been my custom NEVER to ask for payment for serving Christ and spreading the Gospel. For one thing, God had made it clear to me that HE was to be my supply, my trust, and I must not go to people for help. That was a deep lesson within itself. And the lesson would continue for my lifetime.
But when we are in a place where there is nowhere to turn then if we are wise, and if we really believe that He is God, we turn to Him, the keeper of our souls. And that is what I did. Fearfully, yes, but by faith I drove on and on and finally, just as I entered city limits, my old car wheezed her last time and died on me.
I looked quickly around, to see if anyone might give me a shove and it was then that a man from an AUTO REPAIR SHOP came running out. Of all things. . . I had broken down right outside that repair shop. I told him I smelled “something burning,” and he stood there, as mechanics do, scratching his head and contemplating the cause of the breakdown. Then I mentioned to him that maybe I could get a ride to a motel (I had been told that a room was reserved for me) and he said, “Oh yeah - I know why you are here! I belong to the First Baptist Church and you are going to minister at the RA state wide meeting! Just come on in, I’ll get my car and drive you over there, and we’ll just keep yours and fix it.”
I didn’t have the nerve to tell him that I had one dollar in my purse and no way to pay; so FAITH took hold of my fear and I arrived at the little motel room by God’s miraculous intervention. You don’t learn to trust Him if bad things don’t happen; these are the lessons which give us that child like trust which is so pleasing to our Father in Heaven.
During the two or three day meeting, an edge of worry gnawed at the corners of my mind. I knew we are told to REJOICE. . . always. And we are told to “take no thought for tomorrow. . .” But when Jesus spoke those words, did He KNOW that I would be in a town at the top of the State, in a broken down car, and a dollar in my purse, and no word spoken of any kind of offering for my ministering at that congress of boys? Did He KNOW that the long drive was frightening - that the burning odor assailed my nostrils and I could only drive thirty five miles an hour, there was no “pick up” when I accelerated?
And what about the trip home? Did He KNOW that I couldn’t ask anyone for help - that my car was in the shop with no way to pay the bill, and anyhow I had no money for gas to get home on?
Of course He knew. And He showed me, in His own wonderful, loving way. He knew all along, and He cared.
On the last night of the meeting, I could stand it no longer and while some preacher was giving his message, I left the auditorium and ran outside, lonely and fearful. I always carried a tiny “pocket Testament” with me, and I clutched it tightly in my hand as I sat down on the hot stone steps. Even in the dead of the night, in Mississippi the buildings never cool off. Yet the warmth somehow comforted me.
I suddenly looked up at the vast arc of the night sky and I could see billions of stars. In the deep South they seem very close. A still small voice began to nudge my memories of my walk so far with the Lord Jesus Christ. I began to think hard on what God had asked of me, and I knew it was a moment of decision. God lets us have a taste of what it will cost us to follow Him, and then He lets us stop and decide whether we really want to go on or not. He never insists. We must do this freely and joyfully.
I flipped open the pages of that little Testament and my eyes fell immediately upon Philippians 1:12. The Apostle Paul was speaking to his beloved people. He was at this time a prisoner in Rome and he wanted to reassure the Philippians of his love for Christ and he also wanted to rebuke them for inconsistencies in their behavior. That was his kind of love.
The Word that came to me was, “But I would that ye should understand, Brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the Gospel.” (Phil. 1:12)
That Word electrified my spirit and I came alive! Here was the great Apostle Paul, chosen by God to bring the Mystery of the Church to us, telling his people that what had happened to him only “furthered the Gospel.” And what had happened? You might wonder, what could have happened to a man so beloved of God? Surely nothing terrible!
But listen to what he says about himself - about how God had led him, and kept him, in spite of bad things happening: “Even unto this present hour we both hunger and thirst and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling place, and labor, working with our own hands. Being defamed, we entreat; we are made as the filth of the world, and are the off scouring of all things unto this day (I Cor. 4:11-13).”
And here I sat - on a hot stone step in a little town in Northern Mississippi, bewailing my sad plight like a spoiled child! My decision came, instantly: What did it matter whether I received an offering or not? What did it matter whether I had money to pay for the car charges
or not? If God did not send me an offering, then I would just leave the old car there and HITCH HIKE HOME.
It didn’t matter at all anymore; that is the way the Holy Spirit sheds abroad His love in our hearts. When He comes in and gives us grace to give up, we are free and we know that all those things which made us afraid only worked out for the “furtherance of the Gospel.” The knot of apprehension came undone and I was thankful and happy and rejoicing that I had such a Father, who could give me joy no matter what.
After the meeting was over, the deacons came to me, holding out what they told me was my “remuneration.” I didn’t count the money in the envelope until I got back to the motel room; but when I did, I just laid it all out on the bed, and told my Father how much I loved and trusted Him, and if He had anymore trials in store for me, I would remember this moment.
I called the repair shop and the owner said, “I couldn’t charge you anything, you being so good as to come up here and minister to our boys, so we will bring the car over to you, and it’s all done and paid for.” I fell asleep that night, knowing that the “bad things” had somehow made me just a little bit more like the image of God’s dear Son, Jesus Christ.
I drove back to Hattiesburg with a purse filled with dollar bills, and I didn’t have to wonder how much gas was left in the tank. I stopped and ate a good meal, ham and eggs with all the “trimmings,” and when I pulled into my driveway amidst the tall, tall pines and the scent of Wisteria perfuming the air, I put my head down on the steering wheel and made a vow to my Father in heaven. I would always trust Him, and if bad things happened - and they most certainly would - He would be there. Not sometimes in the way I thought, or thought He “ought” but as one of my little prayers says, “But in His own time, God answered prayer.”
There are so many of you who tell me that bad things happen all the time in prison. I don’t have to be there physically to KNOW what it is like. I’ve worked with prisoners for twelve years and I know about the environment in such a place. To be scrutinized continually is in itself a “bad thing” for any person who has led a life at one time in the free world. Or, to be in lockdown for 23 hours a day, often isolated, even hungry - these are “bad things.”
But they can work good for each of you, if you will take God at His Word. Through these trials, you can learn to feel again; some of you have bottled up your feelings for so long that you almost CANNOT feel. You can learn to see people, no matter how mean they are, as our God sees them: worth saving with the blood of His only Begotten Son.
You can learn to correct YOURSELF before the need for correction arises, for you have a free will and everyone chooses. You can learn to accept the injustices and remember that once you were unjust and did things that hurt others. And you can learn that there is never a night so long that the Day follows and God keeps His Word and lets the sun shine.
Sometimes I get up here in early morning and from my sofa in the living room, I can see the sun come up over our mountain ridge across the highway. I always remember that if it were not for GOD there would be no sun. And if it were not for Him, we could not just accept the fact that yes - the sun will come up.
I never tire of seeing God’s hand in every living thing, good or bad. And I never tire of hoping that when some man writes a letter to Wingspread, he just might catch a glimpse of the Risen Christ within each of us here. Bad things have been done; but good can come out of it. The Bible says so.
I never forget, either, that the Apostle Paul who wrote two thirds of the New Testament did most of his writing from a hole in the ground called a prison cell beneath the streets of Rome.
Think upon these things, and let God send the bad things because I promise you that good things will come out of it all.
- from the August, 1998 Wingspread
We are living in an age when it is very hard to feel optimistic. I find myself feeling negative about the world in general, and I don’t like feeling that way. The news is full of people starving, suffering in floods, loosing all their belongings, in various ways. Terrorism is all around us and so much hatred and cruelty.
I am a citizen of another world. Heaven is my home and I don’t belong here. But this is where I am; God is not done with me.
So I started thinking about the things that give me joy and I came to the conclusion that it has always been things relative to God. God’s creation is everywhere and to think that He spoke it into being out of nothing boggles my mind.
I remember while visiting on death row, watching the tiny ants who somehow had made their way through the cement walls. There was God’s created life, even in that dreary place.
Rodney planted some beans and just days later the little green sprouts came up through the dirt. This is one of God’s miracles we take for granted.
And most people don’t believe in miracles, but they are everywhere - when we stop and look. God’s greatest work and miracle is man.
Yesterday we got a letter from an old friend. He had always had a problem with controlling his temper, and it often got him into trouble. He wrote how a guard had shook down his cell, taken his books, and was walking out with the book Billie had written. The book was dear to him, and in the past he would have lost it at such injustice, but he asked for the book back respectfully, and he got it back.
When God changes the heart of a man or woman it gives me joy, because I see the work of God. I know in the dreariness of your cell there is not much that brings joy. But my hope is that all of you will see that your life is a miracle and God has a plan for every life.
My daughter Penny had been in so much trouble all her life. When she finally gave her life to God and loved him, then she was killed. Was that fair?
I have to say yes, because I know God is boss and knows what He is doing. How do I know that? Because I have faith. In Jeremiah 18: 1-6 God in effect says that He is the Potter and we are the clay and He can do with us as He sees fit. I trust Him.
Yes, He allows the guards to be unjust at times; He allows you to get longer sentences than maybe you should have gotten; He allows the hardship of prison life. It is all in His plan for you.
I wish everyone could embrace God’s sovereign will and know He is all power. There is no power apart from God. That is hard, especially for those who grew up with little or no discipline.
Billie and I always thanked God for our Mothers who did not spare the rod. That kind of upbringing does make it easier to submit to authority. And remember this, the people in authority will also have to answer to God for their actions. And they will also be judged more harshly.
My greatest joy comes from knowing that I am only passing through this world, and one day there will be no more evil or injustice. Get your eyes off of today and this world. It will pass away and our citizenship is in Heaven if we walk by faith.
Your start by faith, you walk by faith, and you finish by faith.
It is surprising that the devil in his shrewdness is able to give so many people the idea that sin is something to be proud of.
On the contrary, no act is wise that ignores remote consequences, and sin always does that. Sin sees only today, or at most tomorrow - never the day after tomorrow, next month or next year.
Death and judgment are pushed aside as if they did not exist and the sinner becomes for the time a practical atheist who by his act denies not only the existence of God, but the concept of life after death as well.
The sinner is not really the bright rebel he fancies himself to be, and does not realize that he is only imitating others like himself, now long dead. When will he comprehend that he is actually a weak and stupid fellow who must follow along in the long parade of death toward the point of no return?
One of our great tasks is to demonstrate to the young people of this generation that there is nothing stupid about righteousness. To do so, we must stop negotiating with evil.
We Christians must stop apologizing for our moral position and start making our voices heard, exposing sin as the enemy of the human race and setting forth righteousness and true holiness as the only worthy pursuits for moral beings.
I have no doubt that historians will conclude that we of the twentieth century had intelligence enough to create a great civilization but not the moral wisdom to preserve it.
Prayer Requests for August, 2005
For Robert Heffernan at Tucker, Arkansas, for his health, and for an attorney to pursue his appeals.
For Johnnie Dunnum at Lexington, Oklahoma, for knowledge; and for his sister.
For Willie Scott at Pine Bluff, Arkansas, that he gets to Class I soon, and for his health.
For Brother Ed Ewing in Hanford, California, for strength and encouragement.
For Calvin Huddleston at Pontiac, Illinois, who recently suffered a stroke.
For Rudy Sisneros in Buena Vista, Colorado, who’s appeal was just denied, that God will provide another legal avenue for Rudy to take.
For Tommy Hayes & Everyone at the Robertson Unit.
For Francis Nolan Holland’s Father, for an infection and for his stomach to heal from surgery.
For Terry and Sharon Franzen in Florida. Sharon suffered another serious stroke.
For Sister Ann and all the nuns at Carmelite, and that God will send young women to their ministry.
For Willie Scott at Pine Bluff, Arkansas, that he gets a “309 Job.”
For Brother Peanut at the Estell Unit in Texas, for his health.
For Jerry Crocket at Taft, Oklahoma, that he will be allowed to enroll in Vo-Tech.
For our neighbors, Gary & Ginger, Colleen, Cheryl, Sandra and her husband. Sandra needs prayer for her health, and Cheryl for health and peace of mind.
For Pastor Melissa Scott, Los Angeles, California, for her ministry and for her personally.
For Andre Lamont Barry, who is in the Oklahoma county jail, that he will be transferred to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections soon.
For our brothers on Death Row.
For our Shirley’s knee, and for all of us at Wingspread.
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