Billie Marie Zal, Founder of Wingspread
September, 2003 Wingspread
WALKING BY FAITH, NOT BY SIGHT
By Billie Marie Zal
It was the best God could give me - this tiny room surrounded by the deep frozen earth of a Chicago winter. I looked around me at the furniture. There was a sofa bed hard enough to break an egg on and a desk that was a throw-away from Christian friends who's son, manic depressive and psychotic, had carved up in a fit of rage. The "bedroom" was a sectioned off area. I had an old bed and dresser and barely enough room to make the bed which was inches from the wall.
I had managed to get linoleum; it covered the stark grey cement of the basement floor and cheered me. A rocker and a little maple table completed the "decor" of my living room. My Daddy, who was always sensitive to my feelings, took the time to make a nice divider for me so that I could at least have the impression that I had two rooms.
There was no kitchen and no bath. And no privacy. The basement steps led up stairs to Mother's kitchen and everyone came through at will. The laundry room was behind my place, and seldom could I sleep because of the schedule of Mother's "wash days."
Worst of all, I was very ill during those days. I never knew why, but I was so weak and many times as I lay in bed I would count the basement stairs: fourteen of them. I would determine to get up and climb those stairs and regain my strength.
This kind of life was not the usual for me. Before my salvation I had the same attitude that everyone has: get all you can, save a little, have a nice home and car, and live happily ever after.
But God had other plans for me. He uprooted me from my old life and set me down in this dark "cell" where I would learn lessons to prepare me for the battles that lay ahead. I lost everything: my home, my furniture, my car. Soldiers are prepared on the battle field. The basement was mine.
Now I was ready for my personal ministry. How do I describe it? I can't. It was a ministry of trusting God for all my needs, or refusing to compromise His truths, of "keeping the faith" and of living Christ.
If I had known what it would cost when He called me I doubt that I would have committed myself into His will and keeping. But He is a wise Father and He hides from us the reality of the calling, and it's cost, so that we cannot turn back.
I really did not know God personally when He called me. I knew that I belonged to Him but I thought He would be like my earthly father, who never let me suffer any kind of want if he could do anything about it. But God was nothing like my earthly father. He would not spoil me, or make things easy for me. He knew deep within my heart was the longing to become like His Son and I must suffer the inevitable trials that make us comfortable to that wonderful Image.
Now, in my dark little room fear gripped my heart. I had no income. In response to His calling I had left my position as an executive secretary in Chicago and now I waited on Him to tell me just what to do!
It was a matter of day to day survival. I was forbidden to tell my needs, even to my own parents who lived above me. Within a few days a lady came knocking at my back door (at the top of the stairs) with letters in her hand. She said the mailman had "accidently" left my mail in her box. I knew it was no accident when she said, "I notice sometimes you go to your car with a Bible in your hands. I was wondering, could you teach me the Bible?" Then she began to cry. I knew the pattern now; I would be teaching the Bible in homes for a while!
It was a wonderful beginning. She was saved, then her mother, then her husband. We had studies every night and I still remember the home made donuts she served. I felt accepted. My "income" was contained in a bowl on the dining room table, and after the studies people would throw a few dollars or quarters into it. I never asked and I was grateful that I received anything.
I drove an old car to the studies that reached out eventually to other women in the little suburb where I lived. It was a wreck. It had long since given up the ghost but I prayed it through to each study. Sometimes I had to get the ladies to help me push it to get it started. At other times I would carry brake fluid along so that when the brakes began to fail I could add the fluid. I was not brave and my heart always pounded with apprehension when I approached a railroad crossing. If the lights were flashing I could maneuver a good stop by throwing it into gear. I had terrible pictures come to my mind of being crushed by one of those fast moving trains, or rolling down a hill on the icy streets of Chicago. But that old car never failed me. I believe the angels kept it going.
In time my ministry expanded as far as Zion, Illinois. A lady heard about me and asked me to come up there once a week. I wanted to say "No." It seemed so far and I was afraid. But who can say no to God, once you know it is Him calling? So I made the weekly trip to Zion and it was that very calling that gave me another car to drive!
I was sitting at a four way stop and a man ran his stop sign and broadsided me; it ruined my car but no one was hurt and I refused to press charges against him. He had a big family and no insurance. It was then that one of the men who had heard about the studies and had me come to his home and teach decided that it was time I had a car that was reliable.
I didn't know it, but he went to a used car salesman who owned a car lot, and asked him for a car for a lady minister. God had the man's heart, and he gave my friend the car to give to me. Of course I hoped to get a pretty car, and maybe a near new one. But just before I turned the corner where my "new" car sat, I stopped and said a prayer. It went something like this: "Father, you know how I feel. But You also know what is best for me. I trust in Your love, and I want to be able to praise You when I see that car - no matter what it looks like."
His peace entered my heart and when I saw the car I praised Him. No, it was not "nearly new." It was older than the one I had. It was rather odd looking with one of those "visors" they used to put on cars above the windshield. And it was very high off the ground. But it had good tires, a good paint job, and all four doors worked. The brakes worked, too. I used to laugh and say that one "bonus" about having that car was, I could look down at all the people I passed and wave at them!
Day by day things got worse instead of better. I became very, very ill and could barely make the studies. I had unbearable pain and never knew why and I lost a lot of weight and could eat very little. Sometimes I would pray selfishly that the studies would not last long. But God always renewed my strength when the time came, and I never missed a study.
My income was next to nothing and I found myself praying that the bottle of butane would not run out (I had a preacher friend who prayed like that, and his lasted miraculously for weeks). I was always cold, and when someone stole my fur coat (the only thing I had left from "high on the hog days") I had to wear a cloth coat. God showed His love in this situation, too. He had asked me to forgive whoever took my coat, and I did. And He rewarded me by keeping me warm in that cloth coat. It was the first winter that I was not frozen when I went outside.
Just when I would think that things were getting better they got worse instead. My "income" was on the starvation level, but I managed never to let my parents know and I was able to get the school things my son needed. I did some volunteer switchboard work at the Pacific Garden Mission on Chicago's Skid Row, and the girl in charge of the clothing there gave me some nice things to wear. Nothing I would have chosen, but at least they looked nice and they fit.
One night, just before God intervened in my financial situation, I almost gave up. I had cardboard in my shoes and my feet felt as though they were frozen. It was no more than ten degrees above zero and my car heater had stopped working. I remember taking a wrong turn in the snow, and I stopped. There was a big sign that read, "DEAD END." I put my head down on the steering wheel and began to cry. But suddenly I felt the Lord's sweet presence. As I was crying, my heart had been crying out "WHY?" Why didn't He supply enough so that I would not always be in want? Why didn't He just make me well, pronto, quickly, and get it over with?
There was no forcing of His will upon me. I could go back to work, buy a home, buy a new car, and use charge accounts to get what I wanted. But when He manifested His presence I discovered to my amazement that it didn't matter anymore. Nothing mattered - not the poverty, not the scarcity of good things, not the bad health. Nothing. And I bowed my head once again, this time in total surrender of my life to Him.
I got back to my basement room and I no longer resented the inconveniences. My mother kept her TV turned up so high that I could hear every soap every day and I hated soaps. I no longer resented having to sit upstairs in her kitchen and never have a kitchen of my own. I no longer resented her strict rule that when my Daddy got home from work I was not to use the bathroom. I found myself bathing in the laundry tub in the other side of the basement and buying a "portable toilet." God had not chosen to give me any "perks." And He was my Head. He was getting ready to let me begin again, now that the lessons had been learned.
God had been glorified. I had kept the faith. I had not let my needs be known and now He could give me a little more than enough each day! First, He gave me a car. A really beautiful Buick which looked like new! My nephew was visiting the summer I got it (a Christian couple had given me enough to pay cash for it when they cashed in an insurance policy) and Bill (my nephew) insisted that we take a run around the neighborhood so that everyone could see that Jesus had answered his prayer that "Aunt Billie could have a car that worked."
Within two years before He led me out of that basement He had raised up a few believers who were looking for HIM. Not a doctrine, not a social club, but HIM. And when we got acquainted, because of how He had led me, and made me into a pliable instrument in His hands, they found HIM. Five are still with me today.
Without ever asking for a cent, or hinting about my needs, they began to tithe. And for the very first time since my calling there was more than enough. Margaret (one of those who is still with me) said that one of the things that attracted her to my ministry was the fact that I had such a pretty suit on when she met me. It was a beige wool suit with a beautiful mink collar. What she did not know was, that I had waited a full year for that suit. I had seen it, prayed for it, put it on "lay-away," and one year later it was mine. She said that she had been brought up to believe that anyone who dressed lavishly was not a Christian. But she knew that I was, and it made her heart glad.
Soon after I met these people, I knew that God was bringing my sojourn in the basement room to a close. He lets us know through the witness in our heart; and He follows up the witness with circumstances that guide us onward. I began to get ready for the move. Somewhere, I knew there was a home for me with a kitchen and bath in it!!! I bought linens and silver to complete my set and put them away in my cedar chest.
Just before the seven years ended, God indicated His plan. I was to move to southern Arkansas. He had a work for me there. After the revelation, I made a trip to southern Arkansas, found a home for rent and paid the first month's rent on it, purchased enough furniture to fill it, and came back to my basement room. I arrived home with exactly one dollar in my purse. I had no charge cards, nothing, so the trip was a miracle.
God never spoils us; that would ruin our love for Him. And, true to His way, He gave me only enough to make the move. No savings, No more than enough for the first month in my new residence! Though He had, for seven years, prepared the soil of my heart to receive the good seed of faith, I found myself afraid.
So I knelt one night and asked Him why I was fearful. He had never failed me but I was fearful. This prayer came just before I left my basement dwelling place. As I prayed, He answered. He told me that I had never really THANKED Him for that place of death to self. I had never rejoiced in His perfect will for me.
I looked around me. His Love had filled that room. It was never so dark again, after He manifested His will to me the first year. But I had not been thankful for things as they were. We are told to "claim" prosperity. But what if God instead chooses poverty for us? He did for me. As I finished my prayer, my eyes fell upon my African Violet plant. I had carried that plant all over with me, when I moved to the basement. It had never bloomed much, but it was a very large plant. But once I put it in the tiny basement window that scarcely received the light of day it had bloomed so much that everyone commented on it. I once counted twenty seven blossoms at one time on it.
Suddenly I saw the lesson that God had wanted me to learn. I was to "bloom where I was." In the dark, if need be. I was to accept His will and never for a moment believe that He could make a mistake. His Love filled my heart, and I thanked Him for all of it: the poverty, the pain, the rejections and most of all, the knowing that He is the God whom He says He is.
As I drove away from that place of death to self, I honestly felt lonely for a while. It had been the one place in this world where God could make Himself known to me. We are not to ask for blessings, but rather to ask for the Blessed One. We are not to ask for plenty, we are to ask for faith to trust when there is never enough. We are not to ask for health, but believe even in our worst sickness that He will come in His own time, with healing in His wings.
May God give you that faith that overcometh the world. It's your's for the asking.
As we said, we will be using one of Billie's old messages each month for Wingspread. We have somewhere around fifty years of her writings, volumes and volumes which have already been published once. We have tapes of her teachings, back when she had a radio ministry. And we have her journals, which she wrote in almost daily. So her life is all there in writing for us, and I would venture to say that just about any question which we, or more importantly you, may have, will be found in these writings.
We debated, briefly, about waiting until next month to do another Wingspread. But we remembered that throughout Billie's entire ministry she had never missed a month, no matter what the situation might have been. I believe she told me once that she had not missed putting out one issue in over 37 years.
This was and is the message Billie had wanted for September, 2003. It was written in February, 1995, and she wanted to send it out to you all again. I had re-typed about half of it for her (because she had originally done it on a typewriter) last Sunday and was going to finish it the next day and let her proof read it before putting everything together. Instead we finish it today for you.
Billie had a remarkable way of keeping up with you all. She knew you all personally and new your needs and the prayers which you needed. There is no way we can reproduce the prayer list she had been making for this month, even though most of it is documented in her little book. We will in the future continue to make a specific prayer list, just like we've been doing for a while now. But for this month just know that we are reading through your letters (and there are a lot of them) and we are praying. All of you please pray for us. Our hearts are broken.
One of our favorite photos of Billie
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