Monday, November 14, 2011

Don't Smoke 'em, Even if You Got 'em

I went to my second ever prayer meeting in June of 1973. As part of a class instruction before the meeting, we were asked to read John's Gospel, chapters 13, 14, and 15. 

When I returned home that night, I got out our very large Jerusalem Bible and began to read the recommended chapters. As I began to read, I lit up a cigarette. I had been smoking since I was sixteen. I especially smoked in the evening hours. Sometimes I smoked a pack a night, sometimes more. Larry never smoked and cigarettes bothered him. He hated this addiction and had asked me to stop smoking several times. I tried, but was never successful for more than 24 hours. This night, as I read the scripture and smoked the cigarette, I heard inside my head the words, put that cigarette out and never touch another one. The words were so strong that I put the cigarette out and decided I'd better go to bed. 
The next day I was very busy around the house, and often when I was busy during the day, I wouldn't smoke, so I had no cigarette that day. That evening, Larry and I went to our friend's house, the house of Audrey and Bob Nohe. Bob was a smoker and smoked the same brand of cigarettes I did, and he offered me one. Convinced my mind was playing tricks on me from the night before, I took one and lighted up. When I inhaled, I became dizzy and nauseated, as I'd been the very first time I tried to smoke. 
It was then that I realized God was doing for me what I couldn't do for myself, setting me free from my desire for cigarettes. To this day, I've not had another one, thanks to, I believe, God's intervention.

Nine O'Clock in the Morning

(continuation of "Adventures in Babysitting")

The next Wednesday, Larry had the day off. The children were in school, so we went into town to look around at the shops. As we walked, Larry asked if I was going to the convent that evening. I told him I had decided not to go. After all, the group was made up of four nuns and me, a married woman with four children. 
We stopped in front of a second hand shop and went in to browse. I saw a small bookcase with old books lining the shelves. On the top of the bookcase were assorted booklets and pamphlets. The bookcase was situated beween two separate areas of the store and as I squatted to see the titles of the books on the lowest shelf, someone walked past the bookcase and brushed some of the pamphlets with their sleeve. As I squatted, my skirt made a sort of catchall onto which two pamphlets fell. The first was titled, "Evelyn Underhill's Prayer Groups." The second was “The Fruits of the Holy Spirit.” I picked these up and when I saw the titles, I was stunned. I showed the pamphlets to Larry and he said, “looks like you are going to the convent again.” I bought the two pamphlets (which I still have today) and I did go back to the convent for prayer every Wednesday for the rest of the time we lived in Harrogate. 

About a month before we were to come home to Baltimore, Sr. Lucy suggested I read a book that was in the Harrogate library called Nine O'Clock in the Morning. Every time I went to the library the book had been taken out. I never did get to read it.  

I was missing my little spontaneous prayer group which when I left had four more lay people in addition to the nuns. Some of us were becoming a lot more comfortable with this type of prayer. About two weeks after I was home, I heard someone talk about a prayer meeting at St. Elizabeth's on Ellerslie Ave. I decided to go. What I didn't know was it was a charismatic prayer group with people praising God in loud voices, singing and speaking in “tongues.” I couldn't wait to get out of there. It was nothing like my little group at the convent and this group was quite large (and noisy, I might add).


Later in the year I joined our parish Bible study that was being formed for Advent. I met some parishioners I had not known before. One of the parish priests led the group and I enjoyed the sharing. When Lent came around, we all hoped to be doing another Bible study. Unfortunately, the priest could not be involved so there could be no study group. 

One of the people I met at the Advent study was Jean Smith. Jean had a friend named Ginny Kirby. Ginny was a member of Parkside Methodist Church [1] which was quite near our house on Dudley Ave. Parkside Methodist was having Bible studies in different church members' homes and Ginny asked Jean if she wanted to go to one that was being held on Chesterfield Ave. Jean, in turn, invited me, and I said I would like to go. She gave me the address and it was just two short blocks away from my house.  

The night the Bible study was to start, Ginny (who knew the hosts of the Bible study) came down with a virus and Jean was not comfortable going without Ginny since neither of us knew anyone else who would be there. I decided that I would go by myself. 

When I knocked at the door, I was feeling a bit insecure bit when the door opened and a lady with bright red hair piled on her head looked at me and said in a very loud, dramatic way, “OOOHH Praise You Jesus!” I wanted to run. Instead I went inside. The red haired lady's name was Ethel. With her were her sister-in-law and her husband, Les. Les was a much more subdued person than Ethel. I later learned that Ethel was an accomplished artist. Les led the Bible study and I made it through. The following week, Ginny and Jean came with me. Not long after that, we were joined by my friends, Nancy and Tony, and soon Ethel's basement was filled with people, many of whom were Catholic like me. 

The Bible study continued after Lent with Les leading. We had lively discussions. One night, Ethel said to me, “I have something I think I am to give you.” She went up to her second floor and brought down a book. “I thought today when I prayed for you, the Lord told me to give you this book,” she said as she handed me Nine O'Clock in the Morning. I had never told anyone about the book since I assumed it was a British book and not accessible to American readers. I felt shaky and a bit frightened, much like I did the day Ursula called to babysit. I took the book home and read about the adventures of an Anglican priest who was prayed with for what he called, “the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.” I was amazed at what I read but also a bit wary and unsettled.  

The following week was Mother's Day. Rob had a father-son cub scout overnight camping trip that Saturday, with Larry and his return home on that Sunday morning. During the week, my Aunt Edith had died. Aunt Edie was a special lady to me. I had wonderful memories of her from when I was a little girl. She used to read to me and taught me and my sister, Joyce, the words to the latest songs of the day. I remember when I got into the car the day of her funeral, one of my siblings asked if I knew what I would be getting for Mother's Day. I told her I didn't get anything except what the children made for me at school, but that I sure would love a surprise gift.

The evening before Mother's Day, I was finishing up the dishes after the other kids were in bed and had put on a new record we had bought after seeing the musical, Godspell. Of all the songs on the record, I loved “Day by Day” the most. I was singing along with the songs but when I began to sing “Day by Day,” I began singing it as a prayer and as I sang, it was as if someone was lifting my chin up and I was looking up toward the kitchen ceiling. It was a profound moment but I was perplexed about this feeling that my head was being lifted up. Days later, I was to find the scripture that says, “Lift up your heads for your deliverance is at hand.” (Luke 21:28) 

The next morning, I awoke with the feeling that my teeth were on edge. As I went to get out of bed, I began to pray and suddenly I was speaking and uttering sounds totally unfamiliar to me. I was speaking in “tongues.” I could stop when I wanted, but I had such a feeling of joy and warmth as I spoke words that I had no idea what they meant. I can still remember the elation I felt that wonderful Mother's Day. I remember thinking, “Wow, Lord, you really did give me a surprise gift!” I didn't know who I could share this experience with. I really needed to tell someone. I began to understand in a miniscule way the apostle's need to proclaim the Gospel to the crowds after Pentecost, and their being filled with the Holy Spirit. The crowds who heard them said they must be drunk. Others answered, “But it's only nine o'clock in the morning!”

Later that day, I went up to Les and Ethel's house, and told them what had happened to me. “Praise God!” Ethel said, using her favorite expression. “I think it's time you come with us to the charismatic prayer group we go to at All Saints Catholic Church on Friday nights. You need some understanding of what the Lord is doing in your life now. The prayer group has a series of teachings called 'Life in the Spirit' Seminars. Would you go with us?” I did go the following Friday and learned that the language I had received was a “prayer language” that the Holy Spirit had given me to praise God and to use when I did not know how to pray or what to pray for. I read for the first time 1 Corinthians 14 which speaks of the gift of tongues, and I was awed and humbled.

It was after the first prayer meeting that the Lord delivered me from the grip of smoking cigarettes. I wanted to go back for more instructions and the prayer meeting that followed the seminar. I had enjoyed the charismatic worship this time unlike the time I went just after returning from England. I asked Larry if he'd mind my going and he said he wasn't real thrilled about that and really didn't want me to go. Since I had signed up for the class, I called to let the young college student, Mary Grace O'Brien (later to be Mary Grace Arconti), to let her know that I would not be there and possibly not at all. She told me that I was not to come if my husband did not want me to come but that she would pray for the Lord to change his heart. 

The following week, Larry came to me and said if I wanted to go to the seminar, he would have no objection. His only stipulation was that I get a babysitter so he could come as well. He said he knew something big was happening since I had not smoked for over a week and had never before been able to stop for longer than 24 hours. He did go with me and with the two of us eventually being able to pray together in a deeper way, we were able to share the rest of our spiritual journey together. 

The journey has not always been smooth. Often it was quite rough, but being able to pray together, and to seek God's will for ourselves individually and as a couple and as parents has kept us together in a time when divorce has been more prevalent than stable marriage. 

Jesus, thank you for people like Ethel and Mary Grace who prayed for me. Thank you for the many others who continue to pray for me now.

[1] Now known as New Life United Methodist Church.

Adventures in Babysitting

While in Harrogate, Larry and I were invited to become part of St. Robert's (pictured above) Christian Family Movement. Groups of married couples would get together with a priest as their leader for prayer and discussion of Christian family life. We were paired with four other couples and our leader was Sr. Lucy. There were not enough priests to sponsor the number of groups, so Sr. Lucy from the Holy Union Convent was recruited to lead our group. She was a very lively lady and we all enjoyed her. 
However, she kept asking me if I would like to come to a prayer meeting on Wednesday nights at the convent. I didn't want to go, so I would make excuses or out and out lie to her. She also kept asking me if I was aware of what was going on back in the U.S. She said there was a spiritual movement occurring there. I didn't know what she was referring to, nor was I interested. Much later, I was to learn that she was speaking of the Charismatic Renewal.

One Wednesday afternoon, I received a telephone call from Sr. Lucy again asking if I could come to the convent for prayer. I was relieved that this time, I didn't have to lie since Larry had to work the 3 p.m. – 11 p.m. shift and I had no babysitter. Sr. Lucy was very tenacious, however, and suggested I call a young teen from the parish who had babysat for me before. 
“Call Ursula,” she suggested. It was already 4 p.m., but I called Ursula and found out she was not at home. Her father told me that she and her mom had gone into town for some late shopping as the stores stayed open until 7:30 on Wednesdays. 
“Do you wish to leave a message?” Ursula's father asked. I certainly did not want to leave a message and was glad to hear that Ursula was not at home. I just said, “no thank you, it's not important.” I then called Sr. Lucy back and told her that Ursula was not at home and I would not be at the convent. Sr. Lucy said she would pray that somehow I would get to the prayer meeting. 
“Lots of luck,” I thought. 
About an hour later the phone rang. It was Ursula. “Daddy said you rang, Mrs. Turner. He did say that you had told him the call wasn't important. However, I felt I should ring back since I had such a strange experience. While I was in town I had this overwhelming urge to go home, as if there was a need. So I asked my mother if she would mind going home. She didn't mind so I came home and Dad was fine but said you had called. Do you need me to babysit tonight?” 
I was astonished! I knew something bigger than me was operating here, and frankly, it was scary. I felt I was definitely supposed to go to the convent for prayer.

I did go and found the group to consist that night of four nuns and me. And though the prayers were spontaneous prayers and I was only used to praying prayers with others that were written in a book, this turned out to be the first step of a life-changing experience. 

Wildflowers and Makeshift Vases

Work had stationed my husband, Larry, and me on a base on the moor above Harrogate, Yorkshire, England. We were given two bedrooms and a bathroom for us and our four children: Anne, Rob, Paul and Mary. These rooms were in a wooden one story building that temporarily housed new families on tours of duty. There was a “game room” with very few games and a small TV room for all the families staying there. The rooms were drab and the weather was bleak and the base was surrounded by barbed wire. I felt like I had just been put in prison. 
The weather turned worse and all I wanted to do was to take the next flight home to Baltimore. After battling roaches in our temporary home and trying to keep the children entertained while Larry worked the night shift during several days of rain, I remember praying for the sun to come out. 
God heard my plea and the next day, out came the sun. We had no car at this time, so I decided I was going to take the children for a walk off of the base. I had to know that I could leave if I wanted to and that I was not really a prisoner. I had no idea of where the road would take us but off we went.
Along the side of the road, wild flowers were growing. Thew were so lovely and different than those I saw at home so we picked some of them. We were all enjoying the walk and one of the children saw a road on the opposite side leading in a different direction. Feeling adventurous, we crossed over and started down this tree-lined country road. After a bit, we came to a wooden gate and realized we had been walking on the access road for a local farm. We could see cows and sheep in the fields beyond. 
As the children were watching the animals, I asked the Lord to help me. I didn't know if I could cope with the temporary housing much longer and I wasn't sure I would ever get adjusted to the base with its barbed wire. It all seemed like too much. 
I knew we had to start heading back to the base soon since the younger kids would be getting tired. As I was turning to go, a man in a Yorkshire cap came from behind a barn. He came over and asked if we were from the base. I told him we were and looking at my flowers he said, “You like flowers, do you?” I said I did, so he asked me to wait just a minute and headed off beyond the barn where I noticed a greenhouse. He came back with a beautiful bunch of hothouse flowers wrapped in a wet paper towel. He handed me the flowers and said, “Enjoy your time here in Yorkshire.” I thanked the man and we headed back to the base. 

I was so touched by his kindness and how he had appeared just after I had sent up that prayer for help. I somehow knew that I was going to be okay here. I would make it through these first difficult days. That man was God's sign to me that He was with me and He loved me. 
As we reached our rooms with the wildflowers and my lovely bouquet, I realized that I had no vase or jar or anything to put the flowers in. All I could do was lay them in water in the bathroom sink. Paul and Mary, tired from the walk, laid down for a nap. Rob and Anne went out to play on a baseball field behind the BQ (the name for the place we were billeted in). There was a mound of dirt near home plate and the kids were climbing the dirt hill. About 15 minutes later, Rob came in very excited. 
“Mom! Look what I found in the dirt!” 
He handed me a chipped, mud-filled wide mouthed bottle that someone had made in a ceramics class and thrown away. God again had supplied my need. I was going to be fine. I still have that chipped bottle as a reminder of His faithfulness. 
The following month, we were given a house in Harrogate away from the base and its barbed wire. In the three years we lived in Harrogate, I made many lasting friendships and we loved our time there. 
Thank you, Jesus, for the Yorkshire farmer's act of kindness that instilled faith in me that all would be well.

Anne and the Rose Leaf

It was a clear, crisp fall day and my six-month-old daughter, Anne, did not want to come back inside. She loved watching the cars and trucks go by the side street near our apartment. We had been for a walk and she was enjoying the outdoors. I was too, but I had baby bottles to sterilize, dirty dishes to wash, and dinner to start. 
I decided to ask my my next door neighbor if Anne could sit in front of her side gate in the little seat we had for babies at that time. My neighbor's house was on the corner and from the side gate, Anne could continue to watch the traffic. From my first floor apartment, I could work at my sink and see Anne; with the window up, I could hear her if she got fussy. My neighbor said that would be fine. I was feeling good that I had worked out the problem to our mutual satisfaction. 
I worked at the sink for just a few minutes when I had an overwhelming urge to go and look at Anne. Her back was to me as she looked out the gate, but she wasn't crying and it had just been a few minutes since I had come back into the house. 
Again, an even stronger urge came over me to go look at her. I left my kitchen and went over to the gate to find my child with her mouth wide open, gasping for air. Panicked, I put my finger into her mouth and found a rose leaf covering the back of her throat. She had been able to grab the leaf from a rose bush that I had estimated to be out of her reach. I pulled out the leaf and Anne began to cry. 
We were both shaken, yet I knew that some power outside of myself had compelled me to go to Anne: one of God's invisible messengers we call “Angels” who was sent to save my child from her mother's poor judgment of distance.