This is a story about how God led me (kicking and screaming)to San Antonio
I need a job, Lord. The prayer played over and over as I carried the large pepperoni with sausage and onions pizza to the table. The couple shook their heads when I inquired if they would be needing anything else and dug into their steaming dinner. I moved on to take the order of the family at the next table.
Please, God, let there be a new posting I prayed when I got back to campus to check the bulletin board by the music department offices. But no, there were no new job postings.
It was the summer of 1975, and I had just graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi with a degree in music education. I had known since I was nine years old that I wanted to be a music teacher—ever since that day in fifth grade when my class was escorted into the music room. The music teacher led us through songs and even gave us some rhythm instruments to play. I got to play the triangle with its lovely high ding. I knew right then I wanted to share this joy with others. And now, I had the paper that certified me to teach all levels of music—choir, band and elementary music.
I just needed a job.
Unfortunately, there seemed to be an over-abundance of music teachers in Mississippi. There were openings for elementary teachers, science teachers, English teachers, even P.E. teachers. But no one needed a music teacher.
Dear Lord, what am I going to do? I didn’t want to leave Mississippi. I’d been born in Mississippi. I’d made a home in Hattiesburg, attended a church I loved. All my relatives were in Mississippi.
Except Mom, Dad, and my younger brother, Johnny. They lived in San Antonio, Texas.
My dad was in the Air Force and had been stationed in Germany when I graduated from high school. Mom wanted me to attend the University of Maryland’s Munich campus, but I was determined to go to Mississippi. We’d moved around a lot—I’d attended eleven schools in twelve years, so when I got “home” to Mississippi, I was determined to stay.
I just needed a job.
June passed, and I kept working at Pizza Hut, but I couldn’t live on my $1.45-an-hour-plus-tips job. I lived in a house with three other girls, so rent wasn’t exorbitant. And since my sole transportation was my Schwinn five-speed bicycle, my expenses were minimal. But I was tired of living paycheck to paycheck. My parents had paid dearly for my bachelor’s degree; I needed to use it.
The 4th of July weekend was approaching. My mom called, excited about an upcoming family reunion. They could pick me up on their way.
“No, Mom, I have to work.” I wasn’t in the mood to see a lot of relatives and have to answer the question, “So, now that you’ve graduated from college, what are you going to do?”
After my shift that night, I got ready for bed and prayed my usual prayer. God, I know You want me to be a music teacher, so please, please, find me a job. Please. Please. Please.
As I lay down, a voice popped into my head. Go to San Antonio.
It wasn’t a booming voice. Not one like you’d expect God’s to be. More like a soft impression in my mind. I decided to ignore it.
Go to San Antonio.
There it was again. But that couldn’t be right. I couldn’t go mooch off my parents. I was an adult; I’d been on my own for four years. I was staying in Mississippi, and that was that.
Go to San Antonio.
I bolted up. No, God! I don’t want to go to San Antonio!
This was getting ridiculous. I laid back down.
Move to San Antonio.
I turned over and buried my head under my pillow. No way was I going to San Antonio. San Antonio was a city of over a million people! I couldn’t live in a place like that. There were freeways where people drove sixty miles an hour! A nurse who’d just been walking to her car had been murdered during my last visit. I wouldn’t be safe there. No, God, I’m not moving there!
Tossing and turning, I couldn’t sleep. Finally, I relinquished and prayed, Okay, God. I give up. You know what I want, but, I added, as I had been taught, Thy will be done.
I immediately fell asleep.
The next morning, I awoke, feeling an internal peace I hadn’t felt in months. I went into the kitchen, and while filling the percolator, I announced to my roommate, “I’m moving to San Antonio.”
She looked at me like I was crazy. “Just like that? You’re moving? You’ve never even mentioned San Antonio!”
I shrugged. “I’d never even thought of it. But, apparently, I’m going.”
My mom was ecstatic. After dropping off my parents at the reunion, Johnny drove the Ford Pinto to Hattiesburg and helped me pack my few precious belongings, strapping my bike on top. My prayer had now been changed to a resigned Thy will be done. Thy will be done.
Now you’d think a job was waiting for me when I got there, right? No. I applied to fourteen area school districts—but they had no music teacher openings either!
Really, God? Why did you send me here? Iwas getting testy.
One personnel director, at Harlandale Independent School District, gave me hope. “I don’t have anything today. Call me tomorrow.”
I did so every day. His answer was always, “Call me tomorrow.”
It was now mid-August. My dad, who had retired from the Air Force and was now a science teacher, went to work for in-service training. Johnny began college. Mom even got a job running a dry cleaner’s store. Everyone had some place to be but me.
Labor Day was fast approaching. School would begin the day after. If I didn’t have a job by then, I knew I wouldn’t be getting one. Finally on the last Friday of August, I called, and got the answer I’d been waiting for.
“We need a music teacher at Rayburn, a little elementary school. You think you’d be interested in that?”
Now, whenever anyone says, “God works in mysterious ways,” I say Amen!
Not only because I taught there for thirty years, and on my first day of teaching, I met a fifth-grade teacher who would become my husband and father my wonderful children, but also because six months after I moved to San Antonio, my mom was diagnosed with melanoma. She passed away the following December. But because I’d relinquished my own desires, I was able to be by her side throughout her final days.
And all because I finally listened to The Voice.
“She’s military,” the principal told my new teacher. It was December and I’d just been enrolled in my new school in Maryland. The teacher looked from the principal to me with sympathetic eyes.
If only my new classmates were as compassionate. But when I approached a table in the lunchroom, one of the girls, who’d obviously overheard the principal, told the others, “She’s military,” in a way that could have been, “She has leprosy.” The girls scooted their trays to the far end, leaving me alone.
I hated being the New Kid, although I’d had plenty of practice at it. This was my fifth school, and I was only in the fourth grade.
To say it was hard was an understatement. I was incredibly shy, never raising my hand in class, hardly saying a word. Now I ate my lunch alone and watched the other girls, who’d known each other their whole lives, link their heads together, smiling and giggling while I wished I was back in Virginia with my friends from church.
I rarely made friends at school. But at church, it was a different story. Church was home. When we’d moved to Alexandria, Virginia, there were seven other little girls in my Sunday School class who’d become my best friends. Their moms and my mom were friends, so we often played together after school. Mrs. Pearson was our teacher and although childless, she loved kids, especially us little girls. She, too, became a part of my mom’s circle.
Third grade passed, and I began fourth grade still attending the same school. I made a couple of friends and loved my fourth-grade teacher. I thought we’d be in Alexandria forever.
But I was wrong.
It was 1962, and after JFK became President, my dad’s unit was transferred across the Potomac to Andrews AFB. We moved to Maryland in December, two weeks before my ninth birthday. Once again, I’d entered a new school in the middle of the year.
But even worse than another school, we’d have to choose a new church. It was simply too far to drive back to Alexandria every Sunday.
My world collapsed. And nobody cared about what I wanted.
“You’ll make new friends,” my mother assured me. I’d heard that before.
“You’ll get to ride the bus to school,” my father told me. Who would I sit with?
I felt like a plant about to bloom but yanked up and thrown into unfamiliar soil, expected to thrive.
I didn’t want to thrive. I wanted my old church. I wanted to go back to Virginia.
So I became an angry little girl. I was angry at the Air Force. I was angry at my father. Most of all, I was angry with God.
In Sunday School, we learned about God’s love. We learned how He loved us so much He’d sent his only Son to die for us. My favorite hymn was “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” Jesus was my Friend. Often, my only Friend.
But where was that so-called “Friend” now? A friend helped you. This friend wasn’t helping me. Why wasn’t He helping?
Take it to the Lord in prayer was the final line of that old hymn, and I’d done just that, pouring my heart out to Him, begging Him to let us stay in Alexandria.
It hadn’t worked.
My mother knew I was unhappy. How could she not? I sulked and wallowed in endless self-pity. Hoping to cheer me up, she suggested I have a birthday party and invite my entire former Sunday School class.
As I skidded into the kitchen that cold Saturday morning, my mother said, “Whoa! Where’s the fire? For heaven's sake, where are your slippers?”
Ignoring her, I gave a ballerina twirl. “Today’s the party!”
“Party? What party?”
I froze. “My party. My birthday party. You know, for the daughter you had nine years ago.”
“Ohhh. . .I remember. I was there, you know.” My mom started to turn back to the stove, whirled around, and caught me in a bear hug. “You think I’d forget? Silly goose, don’t you smell the cake in the oven?”
Now that she’d mentioned it, the entire kitchen smelled heavenly.
She turned back to stirring the oatmeal.
As I sat down to eat my breakfast, I noticed snowflakes lightly drifting past the window. “Look!” I jumped up, pressing my nose to the window. “It’s snowing! It’s snowing for my birthday! We can have snowball fights and make snowmen at my party!” I jumped up and down, unable to contain my excitement.
“Well. . .it may not snow enough for that. Besides, your friends may not want to play in the snow dressed up in their party dresses and church shoes.”
“Oh, they won’t mind.” I blew off my mom’s objections.
“Hmmm…they might not, but I’m sure their mothers will,” Mom muttered.
I quickly finished my breakfast and then asked, “Can I go out and play now?”
“May you? I think not. The party starts in,” she glanced at the clock, “oh my, less than four hours, and we’ve got a lot to do. It’s too bad your father has to work. We could use his help with the balloons. Go get your brother to help.”
Together we blew up balloons. Then Mom bundled up my little brother to send him next door to play with his friends since this was an all-girl party. As she sent Johnny out the door, a gust of cold air and snow blew into the kitchen.
“Oh no!” Mom said. “This is turning into a blizzard.”
I was delighted. “Yay! We’ll have lots of snow to play in!”
“Caren,” Mom was looking strangely at me. She opened her mouth to speak, closed it, then opened it again and said, “Come help me ice the cake.”
“Okay!” I was thrilled that she considered me old enough now to help. I picked up a knife.
“We’ll do the bottom layer first.” She showed me how to put a dollop of icing on the cake and smear it around. I copied her.
“Excellent!” she praised. Then, “Umm…Caren, this snowstorm is looking really bad.”
“No,” I corrected her. “Snowstorms are good! We can make snow angels!”
“But they’re not good to drive in.” Mom eyed me intently. “The snow can make cars slide and cause a wreck.”
“That’s okay,” I said cheerfully. “We’re not going anywhere.”
“But, Caren.” She paused and for a moment it almost looked like she was praying. Then she put down her knife, took my arms, and turned me to face her. “Caren, it’s a long way from Virginia to here. I know I wouldn’t drive in this snow.” Then she spat it out. “Your friends might not make it to your party.”
I stared at her as comprehension finally dawned on me. I ran to the window. The snow was coming so hard, I could barely see the house next door.
I turned from the window and looked at my mom. “NOOOO!!!” I wailed. Then I ran from the room.
I went to the living room and sat down in my father’s chair, facing the big picture window. I watched the vicious storm swirl around in the front yard, covering our sidewalk, the street, and our car.
Pray, something inside me said.
No! I argued. That won’t work.
Pray. This time it wasn’t a suggestion, but a command.
No! I stubbornly replied. It doesn’t help.
Pray. Pray. Pray. I couldn’t seem to shut it up.
Okay! I acquiesced. But it’s not gonna work.
For a moment I sat there, trying to come up with a prayer that would be so wonderful, God would make it stop snowing.
My mind was blank.
Finally, I settled on, Jesus, if you are my friend, you’ll make the snow stop.
And wonder of wonders, it did!
I ran as fast as I could back into the kitchen, “It stopped! It stopped! I prayed and it stopped!” I screamed gleefully at my astonished mother.
Her head whirled around to look out the window, confirming my declaration.
I was dancing around the kitchen singing, “Prayer works, prayer works, prayer works!” when I noticed Mom wasn’t celebrating with me. I stopped. “What’s wrong?”
Mom gently guided me to the table and sat me down. Taking both my hands in hers, she said, “Caren, prayer always works because it brings us closer to God. But,” she gently stroked my cheek, “sometimes God says ‘No.’”
“But he didn’t. The snow stopped.”
“Yes, it stopped. But there’s over a foot of snow out there. And, just because it’s stopped snowing here, doesn’t mean it’s stopped in Virginia. The roads are still very dangerous. I certainly wouldn’t risk life and limb to go to a birthday party.”
I stared at her, stonily. “I don’t care! God answered my prayer. I’m going to put on my party dress.” I stomped off to my room.
As I put on my dress and my patent-leather shoes, a new prayer formed in my mind. Let them come. Let them come. Let them come.
I went back upstairs to my father’s chair where I could look out the window and watch for my guests to arrive, the prayer chanting on a loop in my mind.
Two o’clock came and went. Two-fifteen. The snow glistened on the street, white, pristine, and untouched by tires.
My faith began to waver. I guess God had better things to do. Why should He worry about a little girl’s birthday party?
I remembered a prayer time in Sunday School. We were all in a circle, holding hands. We were to each say a short prayer, then squeeze the hand of the next person, signifying it was that person’s turn. I had my prayer all ready. I was going to say, “Please help the missionaries.” Missionaries were a great prayer request. They were in faraway countries being persecuted. They needed all the prayers they could get. I was very proud of my missionary prayer request.
But one of the first girls said, “Please God, bring my dog home. He ran away this morning.”
I couldn’t help it, I busted out laughing. God didn’t care about dogs! Dogs weren’t important. Certainly not as important as missionaries. Then I caught the stern eye of Mrs. Pearson. I tried to cover up by turning my laugh into a fake cough. The girl with the dog request looked mortified.
I suppose I gave my missionary prayer request when my turn came; I don’t remember. What I do remember is that afterward, Mrs. Shilling said, “Never think that your prayer isn’t important to God. God is our father. He wants what is best for us. Remember, what’s important to you is important to God.”
So now my prayer changed. Okay, God, I know You’re very busy and there’s a lot of bad stuff in the world that You need to take care of. But this party is important to me. If You know what’s best for me, I hope it’s to have this party. If not, I guess that’s okay, too, since You’re busy and all. Amen.”
Then I began singing What a Friend We Have in Jesus. I had just gotten to Can we find a friend so faithful, who will all our sorrows share when a big old Buick turned the corner. It puffed its way slowly down our street, stopping in front of our house.
“Mom! Mom!” I screamed. “They’re here!”
I ran to the door and flung it open as all four doors of the car opened, and seven little girls in party dresses emerged, each carrying a colorfully wrapped present.
From behind me, Mom yelled, “Be careful on the sidewalk!” The little girls gingerly picked their way up to our door.
Behind them, Mrs. Pearson, that wonderful piano-playing little-girl-loving woman brought up the rear. “Happy birthday, Caren!” she beamed. She explained to my mother that she had gone around to each of the girls’ homes and picked them up because she couldn't bear to see Caren disappointed.
I don’t remember anything else about the party. I’m sure we played Pin the Tail on the Donkey and other games (all indoors,) and I certainly don’t remember any of the gifts I received.
Except for the gift of one woman’s bravery to drive her giant car through the snow to save a little girl’s birthday party.
And another gift, a gift that has stayed with me for sixty years since. The gift of my Friend.
For there were many more schools-eleven in twelve years, including each year of high school in a different country. But I knew wherever I went my Friend Jesus was with me, and what a privilege it’s been to carry everything to Him in prayer.
What A Friend
My mother loved to picnic. This is a true story about what happened shortly after this photo was taken in 1959.
This is the story of my 9th birthday party and a lesson I learned about faith.
Miracle on the Potomac
Betty pulled her Fiat off Washington Boulevard, parking at a crest overlooking the Potomac River. Caren jumped out as Betty reached for Johnny. A roly-poly solemn little character, Johnny was now a healthy toddler. Even as an infant, it was obvious to Betty that this child had inherited not only his father's green eyes but his intelligence. Methodical, never in a rush, he spent long minutes examining a toy car, turning it over to see how it moved. His daddy prophesized he would be a mechanical engineer.
Now, she admonished Caren, “Keep hold of his hand until you get by the picnic table. I'll unload the car.” Caren nodded, obediently leading her brother.
“And stay away from the river!” Betty called after them.
Bonnie, Betty's friend slid her car in next to Betty's. Bonnie’s girls, Deborah and Tamara and another friend, Jeanne, and her son, Glenn, piled out of the car. Deborah was a year younger than Caren, and Tamara was almost four. Betty watched Glenn zoom past them until he reached the picnic table.
Slapping his hand on it, he yelled, “First!” Only four years old, he was already athletic and competitive.
“You are so right about this spot!” Bonnie was saying to Betty as they lugged folding chairs and badminton set to the table. “It's just gorgeous! Look at that tree!”
Towering over the picnic table was a giant tree, that tom-boy Caren was already climbing. Deborah and Tamara were unpacking dolls. They called to Caren to come play, but Caren ignored them, preferring the tree. Lush grass around the picnic table created a perfect lawn for playing badminton. A crude footpath led down to the Potomac, which was hurriedly churning along to empty into the Chesapeake Bay.
Today was Saturday, so all the picnic tables would soon be taken. Even as they began unloading their car, another pulled in next to them. Betty was glad they'd gotten here early.
Before heading back to the car to get another load, Betty exclaimed, “Look at that river! Think George Washington really threw a silver dollar across it?”
Jeanne laughed, “Not at this spot!”
Bonnie agreed, “It must be a half-mile across.” Together the three women got the picnic ready. Bonnie had brought sandwiches, Jeanne baked beans, and Betty potato salad. Each mother filled a plate for her children. Once everything ready, they called them to come eat.
“My turn to say the blessing!” Deborah announced.
“No!” Caren yelled, “I want to say it!”
“Why must you two argue over everything?” asked Betty. She looked at Bonnie, “Honestly, arguing over the blessing?!” Bonnie shook her head. Jeanne, however, said in a calm, pleasant voice, “I think Jesus would be happy to hear us all say the blessing.”
So, they all joined hands and chanted,
Thank you for the world so sweet
Thank you for the food we eat,
For a few moments, but for the call of an osprey and the Potomac slapping against the rocks, there was blissful silence as the children ate.
Naturally, the children finished eating before the mothers and hurried off to play. Glenn was kicking a ball, Johnny doing his best to keep up. Deborah and Caren had a tree-climbing competition. Tamara, doll in hand, snuggled next to Betty. The day passed all too quickly. The women and older children played badminton, Tamara and Johnny, kickball. As the sun began its descent, the air took on a chill. Betty began reloading the car.
Johnny toddled up to her, tugged her sleeve and began making car noises,“Vrrrooom! Vroooom! Dwive!”
“Well, come on,” she said. Opening the driver's door, she helped him in. He bounced on the seat, turning the steering wheel, making car noises, pretending to drive.
Betty started returning to the table but had only gone a few steps when she heard a scream. She looked up and saw Jeanne, standing by the picnic table, pointing toward her, her mouth an oval of horror.
“THE CAR!” Jeanne had screamed.
Betty turned back to the car to see it rolling—straight toward the Potomac—with her baby inside.
Bonnie dropped the badminton set and ran toward the car, intending to get in and stop it—or at least grab the baby before the car went over the ridge and crashed into the river. But Betty, leaning across the driver's door, panicked, was pulling at the car, trying by sheer force, to hold it back.
The Fiat was small, but not that small.
“Get away from the door!” Bonnie screamed, “Let me in!”
Meanwhile, Johnny, perhaps sensing danger, let go of the steering wheel, turned, and began bawling, pounding his chubby little hands against the window.
The car suddenly lurched to the right and stopped. “Oh Jesus, thank you!” Bonnie gasped.
Betty yanked open the door, grabbed Johnny, hugging him furiously. The toddler, sensing the danger over, stopped howling, and began squirming, wanting down.
Jeanne and the other children ran to Betty and Johnny, everyone chattering at once.
A man from the next site, ran up to them breathlessly said, “I saw what was happening, but I couldn't get here in time. That was quick thinking—turning the steering wheel.”
Bonnie looked at him, “No one turned the wheel—look, the window's still up.”
“Then…what stopped it?” the would-be Good Samaritan asked.
The women shook their heads and shrugged. The man walked around the car, scratching his head. “There,” he pointed to the right tire. “There's a small boulder, keeping the tire from going forward.”
He paused a moment, looking at the trajectory of the car, “But…what made the car turn? Was it the baby? Did he steer it?”
Again, Bonnie answered, “No, he was banging against the window.”
The man shook his head, walked to Betty, and patted the still-squirming baby. “Lady,” he said, pointing skyward, “Somebody up there likes you!”
Betty could do little more than nod while silently praying thank you for the miracle that saved her child.
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