When Your Angel Has Sunk to the Bottom

angel

by Pringle Franklin

I was struggling to resurrect my fallen angel. Why was this so difficult? He kept rolling away from my grasp.

Too often it’s the same with the people whom we love: they resist our well-intentioned efforts to help. So the ebb and flow of this dance felt sadly familiar, expending energy on behalf of an ill-fated rescue, only this time my task was to save an angel statuette from murky waters.

A neighbor had given me the tiny praying angel after my father passed away in 2000. We had kept the terra cotta figure around in the yard for almost 17 years, and yet he had never found in his proper spot. He is so small, about 10 inches tall, that the flowers and shrubs in our garden beds dwarfed him.  On the patio, the childlike angel seemed unmoored, without impact, more clutter than art. One recent day while I was planting rosemary in the garden, I received an inspiration. I relocated the angel boy so that he was kneeling on the edge of an oblong pond in the patio area, staring down at the basin with clasped hands.

Ah, that felt better. In this setting, he looked meditative and peaceful. One might stop to wonder what the little angel was thinking.

Yet my husband resisted the new placement, saying that he was sure to bump the statuette into the water. Keeping that in mind, I moved to tiny angel to the far end of the reflecting pool, hoping to keep him out of the flow of foot traffic.

For three days, everything went well; often I found myself looking with new eyes at the little statue. Funny how simply relocating an object of art to a fresh locale can heighten your awareness and appreciation of it.

Then a crisis struck.

“Your angel is under water,” Sam told me.

“What happened?” I said.

“I knocked it over, and now it’s in the pond. And I am not sticking my hands in that water to get it out,” he said.

I received this news with a sigh and went to peer into the pond. Sure enough, the orange-tinted clay creature was swimming on his side, wings down and toes floating under the grayish water. We keep chlorine in the reflecting pool, and Sam regularly scoops leaves out, but there was enough rotting debris circling around the basin that I wasn’t keen on plunging my hands into the water either.

I fetched the long-handled pool net, trying to scoop the angel into the woven nylon end. However, the net was too weak to properly support the compact statue, and my efforts felt clumsy. As I was pushing him around the water, he was stirring up swirls of yang and muck. I paced around the oval pond for about 10 minutes, angling the net this way and that, but I was merely knocking the kneeling angel around like a hockey puck.

I felt defeat standing over me and jeering. “You are such a hopeless incompetent,” ran through my thoughts. My shoulders drooped. Perhaps I would be forced to stick my arm up to my elbow in that dirty water, and Sam, who was sitting nearby at a patio table, would tell me that it served me right for having ignored his warning.

Had I been foolish? I wondered. And yet I had been touched to see the angel gazing fixedly into the pool. It had not felt foolish.

As I squatted around the basin, net in hand, a thought crossed my mind. I remembered Philippians 4:13, which says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” A new surge of determination fortified me. I prayed a silent prayer, telling the Lord that while my efforts had failed, I believed that, if He willed it, I could rescue the angel through Him, through his love and power.

I thrust the net toward the angel, and this time, the winged creature rolled right into the center of the net. It took a moment for my brain to register. The angel was trapped. The struggle was over. Soon I had hauled the angel out of the water and set him on a garden wall to dry off in the sun. He looked no worse for wear.

IMG_3417And I felt remarkably better. The part of my brain that had been listening to self-critical language was silenced. For I had been reminded: I was not left to my own bumbling efforts down here on this earth.

When prayers are answered quickly like this, our connection to God might feel magical, but this is not magic; we are not given prayer to satisfy our petty whims or selfish cravings. Prayer is an electrical cord connecting us to the Source, and sometimes when we remember to plug it in, the Lord in his mercy will answer a sincere cry for help. This “proof” should not be mistaken as a tool for making our lives on earth easier, as many who received the loaves and fishes from Jesus misunderstood the true value of what the Master was offering. Rather such miracles are evidence of the power that is available to us in the spiritual realm. The lesson in God’s abundance applies to conditions of the heart and soul which are much more important than a sunken garden statue or a basket of fish and bread.

If God can answer prayers about earthly issues so efficiently, through the energy flow of Christ, then why should He not give us the grace, and the courage, to actually grow more and more like Jesus? When Christ taught his new commandment in John 13:34, “Love one another as I have loved you,” he was both calling us to action and offering to help us with the uphill journey.

Let’s get specific. Since August, I have become aware, through divine revelation, that critical and judgmental and gossipy talk is offensive to God, as He is the loving Father of all. Since I gained this clarity in a personal way, not just in a general “thou shalt not” sort of way, I have been astonished to notice some of the ugly things that spring from my lips. I have been making slow progress to change this habit for months. One day, I will bite my tongue and resist saying something unattractive; yet the next day, I may join into a conversation with gusto and begin bashing someone’s behavior without even pausing to reflect.

But now the fallen angel had brought me an “Aha” moment. In my future fight against temptation, I will remember to call upon Christ for help, and to expect to receive help that is sufficient. In the case of gossip, the self discipline that I need to obey his higher calling will be granted when I seek the grace to follow Him.

We all have our bad habits. Yours may be in a different arena. Whatever the area of weakness — and let’s be honest, at times we enjoy our proclivity to sin — we are not going to find success on our own. The only hope is to rely firmly on the promise of Phil. 4:13, that we can overcome through Christ. His power is ours for the asking when our intention and purpose line up with God’s will.

If we flop back into our comfortable pattern of sin, it is not because we are fallen creatures. That excuse is dust; in Christ, we are no longer left defenseless. If we fail, it is simply because we don’t care enough to take up our cross and struggle under it, relying each step on the sustaining grace and strength of Christ.

I must ask myself, what is my true desire? Do I really want to pull back when others begin to gossip? Let’s be real here a moment. I fear coming across as prudish if I refuse to go along with a friend who is complaining or back-stabbing. No sister wants to gossip alone! If I must speak only in love, then how can I have normal conversations with other females? I don’t want to pinch my lips and act like I swallowed my tongue. But if I confess that I am guarding my words, it will seem like a criticism of the person in front of me who has just said something indiscreet.

Only by keeping my focus on Christ and his ability to do all things in me can I find the right path forward. Keeping this focus is easier if I spend time daily in deep prayer. My experience in Centering Prayer — a silent meditation on God’s presence — has opened spiritual floodgates. My mind has become less cluttered, and I am more able to grasp the reality of what living in Christ can mean.

As Paul suggests in Romans 12:2:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

Let us not limit ourselves to poverty of the soul when Christ is offering to hoist us out of the murky waters. May our quest for holiness be in earnest.old cistern/El Jadida

Divine Appointments Are Usually ‘Unscheduled’

photo by Vtek111

photo by Vtek111

by Pringle Franklin

Several days before Christmas 2015, I was thrown way off schedule while trying to reach Charleston for the holidays. I was in the wrong place, at the wrong time — or so it had seemed.

At this point, we were still living in France and returning to Charleston for the two-week winter break, but technical delays with United Airlines’ computer system in Paris had cost us. By the time we had landed in Washington D.C. and cleared customs, we had missed our evening connection to Charleston. The airline graciously put us up in an attractive airport hotel and gave us seats for a 9 a.m. flight the next morning.

We would arrive in Charleston about 16 hours behind schedule.

It wouldn’t have been a big deal except that Sunday, Dec. 20 was a red-letter day for me. St. Philips Church had graciously scheduled a book signing for Hope & Healing in Marriage. I had been so excited about returning to my home church and sharing my newly published book; I had promoted the event on Facebook and received messages back from friends who planned to attend.

Yet the unexpected overnight in Washington meant I would miss most, if not all, of the book signing. How could God possibly want to cancel a promotional event for a Christian book designed to help hurting people? To me, it did not make one iota of sense. Even so, I prayed that God would use the travel snafu for his higher good. I claimed Paul’s beloved promise from the book of Romans:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  Romans 8:28

This was the second time I had claimed this verse on our journey. First, I had thrown this protective cloak around me when we were stuck at the airport in Paris. The next morning I was proclaiming this spiritual truth while sitting on the commuter plane in D.C., despite the fact that my book signing was basically sunk. If everything went smoothly about getting on the ground in Charleston, and I did not take time to shower or change, I could rush over to the church and might manage to catch the tail end of the Sunday morning crowd.

Nothing could be done to turn back the hands of time, so I decided to stop kicking against the goads and take a deep breath. I would trust in the Lord. As the narrow plane rolled down the runway in Washington, preparing for takeoff, I relaxed and looked around.

The guy directly across the aisle had a French passport stuck in his seat pouch. He was speaking French to someone farther back, but to the stewardess, he spoke perfect English. He was about 25 years old, of Arab descent, and he was wearing Wayfarer sunglasses inside the plane, despite the fact that it was not bright in the cabin. I took that as a sign that he wanted to be anonymous.

Despite this, I found myself opening a conversation with him because I felt the need to be hospitable to a Frenchman who found himself in my home country. I opened things up by asking if he were French. He was clearly surprised, not realizing that I had been observing him. I told him about our ties to Paris. He uncrossed his arms and turned toward me.

photo by Vtek111

photo by Vtek111

After about five minutes of friendly conversation, he removed his sunglasses. That was when I knew that I had managed a break through with Sebastian (as I will call him).

Somehow his sister had found her way to Charleston, and Sebastian and his brother (who was eight rows back) were going to visit her. His parents had flown over from France and would be in Charleston too. His family is Muslim, although Sebastian was quick to tell me that he was non-practicing. His parents had allowed their children to decide for themselves, he said.

As we chatted on, we discovered we had both been stuck one day earlier on the delayed flight from Paris to D.C. Sebastian’s face flashed with frustration and anger as he related how hungry he had been while we sat in the parked plane at Charles de Gaule Airport for three hours. Sebastian had skipped breakfast to get to the airport on time, and he had expected to receive a meal shortly after take off. But instead of flying away, we sat buckled into our seats, waiting, waiting, waiting for the computer issue to get fixed. After several hours, Sebastian was starving. He asked a steward for food and was only given a small pouch of peanuts. Sebastian’s anxiety spiked and he admitted that he was pretty unpleasant with the steward.

I acknowledged his feelings as being universal for stranded travelers. But I went out on a limb and shared my own experience during that time. When I began to feel anxious, I pushed all worries away. Instead, I focused on the soothing thought that God was with me, that he loved me. I trusted that nothing could happen to me which was outside of his will and that, when bad things happened, God could work them for good.

I explained that I am a Christian, and that it was my belief that God surrounds us all the time with love, and that this love was available to us if we would open ourselves to receive it.

photo by Vtek111

photo by Vtek111

This young man, who was had seemed so unapproachable, so aloof, was fascinated by my candor. He seemed drawn to the idea of someone having a loving, trusting relationship with God. His facial expressions ranged back and forth between benign amusement and respect. It was not a monologue on my part; Sebastian repeated back what I was saying, letting me know that he understood and was actively listening.

I felt remorse for my initial reaction to seeing the young Arab guy, wearing sunglasses and a disdainful expression. Airplanes tend to make me jumpy, and my mind had leapt to the fear of terrorists and bombs and the recent attacks in Paris. That kind of association just happens, whether you like it or not. Luckily, I recognized the ugliness of the mindset and refused to entertain it, knowing that God has called me to respect the dignity of every human being. But sometimes it is hard to push such suspicions away.

At one point, I asked Sebastian what kind of work he did. His family lives in the southern part of France, near Bordeaux, and yet he and his brother moved to Paris.

He hesitated before replying, “Finance.”

For a moment before he answered me, a look of alarm had passed over his features. But as he answered with that one word, finance, his face returned to a neutral expression.

My gut told me that he was withholding pertinent information. While perhaps finance was not technically a lie, this vague answer was serving as a cover for something, something he did not wish to reveal. This was not a door that I was going to try and force open. I continued to chat with him in the same cordial and friendly tone, feeling that the most important thing was to help him catch a glimpse of the magnificent way that a soul can know and love God.

img_2133We exchanged pleasant good-byes and well wishes after the plane landed. I collected my bags and went outside to wait for my ride by the curb. Unlike cold and dreary Paris, Charleston was sunny, warm, and bright. It felt like leaving Siberia and emerging in Key West. I saw Sebastian, standing and leaning against his suitcase, his face turned toward the sun like a turtle soaking up rays. Naturally his Wayfarers were back in place. We smiled at one another, exchanging gestures about the unexpectedly beautiful weather.

As I turned away, I prayed a silent prayer for his soul to find its way to God.

Later on, I thought again about Romans 8:28. How quickly had the Lord answered my entreaties. When we pray into his will, this is often the case. He is just waiting to make good on prayers that are built upon the foundation of faith in him and in the scriptures. It didn’t matter that I was a day late arriving in Charleston; it didn’t matter that I ended up missing most of the book signing. God had opened a door into someplace eternal and had allowed me, for a few moments, to walk beside him in his work.

And yes, I did manage to swoop into the church yard in time to catch a few friends who were kind enough to request an autographed copy of the book.book-signing