Monday, May 7, 1917 – Direction
Mr. Branson came home with a telegram today, couldn't wait to show Mrs. Branson. It was from their son, George. Told them he enlisted to help end all this fuss over in Europe. Mr. Branson was so proud. He's been in a fine mood since he got home.
A knock rapped at May's door. She placed her pen next to her journal. “Come in.”
The door creaked open. Mrs. Branson poked her head through. “Dinner in about fifteen minutes, dear.”
“Thank you, ma'am,” May replied. She noted the tense expression. “Need any help?”
“Oh, no, not tonight. I've been in such a tizzy since Mr. Branson came home my hands are happy to have something to work with.” Mrs. Branson nervously rubbed them together, then realizing she had betrayed her emotions she put them to her side and patted her dress. “I'll be alright. I know somebody's got to go over there and end all this nonsense. It's just that mother in me that gets all worried, I guess.” She breathed a deep sigh. “Well, no sense fretting about something good my boy has decided to do. Could be lots worse. I think I'll get back to dinner.”
Once the latch to the door clicked shut, May smiled with empathy and whispered, “Give her peace, Lord.” Her heart brewed on the concern Mrs. Branson had shown, the diligence that called her but no direction.
I feel as if the hardest choices are some of the easiest to make. God gives some people such clarity that the path they are to take is laid before their feet, and they need only walk, no, run down it. But what of those who hit the crossroads? Should they keep running to the evil of presumption, or halt to the evil of idleness?
“My brother's a marine now!” one of the boys from May's class beamed earlier that day, his thumbs in the straps of his overalls, his stance so proud as if it were his own accomplishment. “Enlisted over the weekend, he did.”
“My sister is a nurse, so she joined the Red Cross,” another boy added.
“Well, my brother is going to pilot airplanes,” a little girl said.
“What about you, Miss Gibman?” another girl asked, raising her hand. “Are you going to do anything?”
“Of course,” May had replied. “Everyone should do something to help.”
The little girl instinctively raised her hand again. “What are you going to do?”
May sat in her room, staring at her journal. “What am I?”
The call for men and women to rise and help the nation fight for the freedom of democracy in the world had been sounded. Men were commissioned to enlist, to defeat the tyranny of the Germans and their Kaiser and to plow the fields for liberty. But what should she do? She was no nurse, only a teacher. Should she continue to teach? And if not, then what? May was certainly not the kind of girl to sell war bonds, although her friends teased that the boys would buy from her just because of her looks.
And what of Richie? May had been able to talk with him for a while the night before. He was just as she figured him: young, rugged and single, all of which were prime for the war. What were his thoughts about all this? If he was already planning on shipping over to France, then it seemed a pointless pursuit for her to seek to get to know him more. But what if he was staying? That would change every circumstance she was considering. She felt as though she had to know what he was going to do before she could act, but that she would have to act on something before knowing what he was going to do.
May looked down at her page. She picked up her pen and placed her other hand on the desk empty and open.
I do not ask for the clarity of the path before me, Lord, but only that my steps be guided. Let Your word be a lamp to my feet. Abba, Father, hold my hand, and as You lead do not take me to temptation. I need You to steer away from the paths of selfishness or obligation and lead me by the still waters. I know that is where I can find peace in Your Will.
Another abrupt tap at the door sounded. “Yes?”
Mrs. Branson's voice called from the other side. “I thought I'd let you know, dear. Mr. Branson invited a guest for dinner, a hand who helped him on a project in the barn today. Nice lad from church. Richard, was it? Anyway, he's downstairs now so don't let the company wait too long.”
May's heart jumped. “I won't,” she managed to get out of her suddenly tightened throat. She picked up her pen again to jot one more thing before heading downstairs. Direction, Lord. Give me direction.
Thursday, May 3, 1917 – Discretion
“Actions are like tools,” Grandpa used to say. “Necessary to be productive, but each is only useful for a specific occasion. Don't take your paintbrush when you go to build a house, and keep your hammer home when working on glass.” If only life was that easy.
May placed her pen back on her desk for a moment while she took a sip from her cup. Still steaming, the chamomile tea was brewed strong, the bold, relaxing flavor just how she liked it. The hot liquid warmed her throat as it went down. Contentedly she smiled as she placed the cup next to the kerosene lamp that lit her bedroom. Though it was small, May was happy to have a room in the boardinghouse to herself. She liked the other young women that lived there as well as Mr. and Mrs. Branson, the estate owners, but solitude is often priceless.
“Pray with your door closed and your heart open,” May's grandfather had said. “God doesn't call you to pray to see you do it with half of your attention. If you want His, give Him yours.”
Ironically, thinking about focus made May's mind wander. She thought of the church service the night before. It had been mostly uneventful. A successful attempt at a casual conversation with Richie had been trumped by another girl's interjection. Just as May was enjoying herself, just as she thought she would have a chance to get to know him, it was ended. Of course, there would always be another service on Sunday. This seemed to be her constant consolation every week.
When do you know when being passive is negative? They say women are to be harmless as doves, but when are we to be wise as serpents?
“Women aren't supposed to pursue,” May had overheard Mr. Branson say. “They're supposed to be pursued upon!”
His wife just shook her head when he would say such things. “You don't believe that.”
“Of course I do!” he retorted.
“Mr. Branson, you know full well that I pursued you all the way to the altar and back.”
“Only because I pursued you first.”
“Say, I seem to remember a little blonde-headed girl that used to always get your attention before we started courting.”
“It was a mutual pursuit, see? How about we leave it at that and spare the young girls' ears?”
May laughed to herself. The Bransons often reminded her of her grandparents, especially in their quarrels. She smiled sadly. She missed her grandparents dearly.
I guess this isn't just a question for myself as a woman. As Christians, we are all called to be meek and gentle, to put others before ourselves. But when is a pursuit worth enough to permit the pursuing? Do I sit by meekly and risk watching the thing I want pass me by, or take a chance and risk unfairly appearing forward and selfish?
May sat back in her chair and pondered. Stretching, she yawned. She had had a long day teaching, and she knew she should retire soon if she expected to have the energy to deal with the children tomorrow. She smiled as she thought on one of the lessons earlier that day.
Standing in front of the class, May held her Bible in her hand and read from Ruth: “And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of corn: and she came softly, and uncovered his feet, and laid her down.”
One of the boys' hand shot up. “Why?”
“Why what?” May asked.
“Why'd she do that? Why did she uncover his feet?”
May stopped, realizing she had to think about it for a moment. “She was obeying what Naomi told her to do. By uncovering his feet, she was asking him to marry her. She was trying to tell him that she loved him.”
This answer was only returned by an expression of even greater confusion. Sighing in defeat, the boy replied, “I guess girls are just too weird to understand.”
May stared into the blackness, letting her thoughts float to the surface of her conscience. As the lantern's flame flickered, she picked up her pen again and wrote.
Ruth understood this balance of meek patience and active pursuit. She was not content to sit at home and do nothing, yet only acted when directed. I wonder if she ever worried how others would perceive her actions, if they would condemn this Gentile for her presumption. Apparently if she did, she didn't let that keep her from doing what was right.
Lord, teach me the discretion of Ruth. Let me understand the times I should refrain and the times I should act. When I refrain, let me be busy in Your work, and when I act, let me rest in Your timing.
And Lord? If You could teach Richie this too, it sure would help me.
Tuesday, May 1st, 1917 – His Will
May's pen rose gently from the journal's page to the let the ink dry. She squinted, her chestnut-brown eyes studying the words she had written. She wasn't going to take this lightly; the words had to be perfect. The book now being passed to her to fill its pages, May felt the duty of continuing in the spirit of her grandfather's record of prayers.
She had started just as she was told: the date first, then her request. “Your prayer ought to be focused, like a bullet,” her grandfather used to say. “Stop this nonsense of praying for everything and anything just because you think you should. Pray what's on your heart. That's what God's gonna hear best anyway.”
“Grandpa!” May remembered scolding him when she was younger. “I can't leave other people out just to pray for what I want.”
He just smiled wisely and winked. “Then they're on your heart, aren't they? If you can't leave them out of your prayers, that's when you know you care. Remember that. You'll know how much you love by how much you pray. But don't pray for what you don't care about just to avoid feeling guilty. And if you do feel guilty, just care more so you can pray more. Be focused!”
With the words she had written still imprinted in her mind, she turned to gaze out her window at the cool spring scenery that made up the setting of her 21st birthday. The Maine countryside was barely beginning to blush with the buds of new birth. The air held that comforting scent of day-old rain, that aura she loved about living in the country.
“His will,” she whispered. A few moments of silent meditation followed. Then, turning back to her book, she picked up her pen.
But what is it? Jesus prayed for it, but even He had the privilege of knowing what the Lord's will was. What? Should I refrain from praying for what I want, lest it not be what God wants? If I am always to pray for His will, then why spend time in prayer at all? Why not simply pray, “Thy will,” and be done?
May stopped again, somewhat surprised at the phrases appearing on her page. Of course, honesty was one of the points of a journal.
She inhaled a sigh, and with it a flowery aroma. May smiled. She reached for the tulip she had placed in the small vase atop her writing desk and withdrew it. It was a gift from earlier that day, a birthday present like her journal. This present was from Richie, the “new boy” at church. He'd just been saved for a few months, but most of the girls her age had already taken notice to him. He had been so sweet; he had heard it was her birthday and was embarrassed he had nothing to give her, so he ran to find the first flower he had seen of the season. He was trying so hard to fit in with them.
That was why he gave it to her. Nothing more. Right?
May laughed at herself and placed the flower back in its place in the vase.
I guess I'd be lying if I said my real request was selfless. Indeed, aren't most prayer's of “Thy will” born of a selfish desire? I know what I want, and I want God to give it to me, and somehow tagging His will at the end makes me feel more comfortable praying for it. May looked back at the top of her page. I guess I've tagged His will at the beginning.
May mused over that sentence for a moment, then her pen continued.
Maybe that's how it should be. Truly, was not Christ's request for Himself? Not all requests for ourselves are selfish or wrong. He was our example. If He can pray that way, so can I.
Richie's face from earlier that day came to mind. May shook her head. It all seemed so foolish. Sure, he was handsome, but he was a newborn as a Christian. He was just a couple years older than her; that was prime age for the war Congress had just declared against Germany a month prior. And honestly, she knew him very little.
But she also felt something more. The things that attracted her to him were not the petty characteristics of infatuation. She saw in him a heart, bold and strong and unashamed. It seemed already tempered against the inevitable dim of the revival flame, as if a constant coal instead of a dying bonfire. She liked that. More than anything else about him, she liked that.
So again, I say, “His will.” And I mean it. Until I find it, I'll keep praying it. And I am going to get to know my Lord even more so I can find His will, and then continue to pray for it.
But Lord, just one thing? A little time to talk with him tomorrow night at church would be wonderful. Of course, if it's Your will, that is.