Annette Harber is a member of the School of Education at Trevecca Nazarene University. She works as an assisstant librarian. Recently, she shared a moving and personal story with the faculty of the School of Education. With Annette’s permission, the story is here for you:
I Met Jesus at the Football Game
Some of you know that I talk to students about writing reflections for their eportfolios. Today I am going to share my own reflection where I look back on an important time in my life. For me this time stands as a marker, my Ebenezer you might say, reminding me of just how close and powerful God was during a time when I desperately needed His help.
In 1998 my husband of 21 years died suddenly from a combination of a preexisting condition and a severe bacterial infection. One day he was basically doing well, the next he was admitted to the hospital, and then three days later my two children and I gathered around his hospital bed in an Augusta GA Intensive Care Unit to say our last goodbyes. It all seemed so unreal but one thing I was sure of was that I started to strongly feel God’s presence with me. In the months that followed I came to rely on His presence to be there for nearly every move I made. I felt Him with me when I tackled car and household maintenance issues that I had never handled before. He was with me when I negotiated the sale of the house and made arrangements to move back to Tennessee. And I felt Him with me in the small things too, like opening stuck jars and being able to go to sleep at night. I could see him moving in so many ways that I was afraid I might not remember it all so I started a journal to keep track. I credit the extra-special help that I was getting largely due to the fact that so many prayers were being said on our behalf. Some of those praying were my former classmates and professors from Trevecca’s MHR 71 cohort. God heard and answered those prayers and He was evident in all things. During this time I learned that I could trust Him for everything and in return He gave me a spirit of power and love and a sound mind.
There is one instance during this time that I want to share and it comes by way of a football story. About a year after my husband died, my 13 year old son came home one day and told me he wanted to play on the middle school football team. This wasn’t quite as scary as when five years later he told me he wanted to be a Marine, but it was scary enough. I prayed about it for several days, and hearing and feeling no opposition I decided to let him play. This was a valuable lesson I learned during this time and that was that if I didn’t get a specific answer when I prayed that it either meant wait and the answer will become clear or if delay was not an option that no answer meant that my decision would be okay as long as I left the situation in God’s hands. So I gave Steven permission to play and then gave it over to God to keep him in one piece.
Sitting in the bleachers one day during a game, I suddenly had the thought that while most of the other boys on the field had moms and dads there to watch, cheer, and shout, my son just had me. A huge lump grew in my throat when I thought about other events that were going to come about where my children would need their dad. Not just during their teen years but throughout their lives. This time like a few others was a real struggle. I knew Christ was with me but the sadness and the worry would just not go away. Suddenly, it came to me that instead of just acknowledging that Christ’s spirit was there, I needed to do more. I needed to acknowledge his physical presence. I needed to visualize Christ sitting there with me on the bleachers. The idea seemed strange but I had come to realize that I did not need to be surprised by the things that God was doing. When in my minds eye I finally did see Christ sitting there beside me, I felt the peaceful reassurance that everything was going to be alright. As a matter of fact my heart grew lighter and I had to smile when I gave thought to the idea that Christ wouldn’t be sitting on the bleachers in flowing robes but would likely be dressed like everybody else, wearing blue jeans and a ball cap. And just like me I saw him standing, clapping and cheering Steven on. My pain was gone and in its place was peace.
I could end this football story here because at this point I had been given another blessing but God had a little more in store for me that day. Later in the game I saw one of the deacons from church walking up the bleachers. Mr. Bradford, who had been Steven’s 5th grade Sunday School teacher came and sat beside me and said, “I was at home and decided that I wanted to come and watch Steven play”. So we clapped and cheered whenever Steven took the field. Mr. Bradford didn’t even know it but God used him to put icing on the cake.
He truly does give beauty for ashes.
As I close this devotional I want repeat some of Paul’s words to the believers in Ephesus as translated in the Message Bible. Ephesians 3:8-21:
And so here I am, preaching and writing about things that are way over my head, the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ. My task is to bring out in the open and make plain what God, who created all this in the first place, has been doing in secret and behind the scenes all along.
My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.
God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.