A SIGN FOR OUR TIMES

A SIGN FOR OUR TIMES

From Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work

A Sign for Our Times

Knowing God’s own time is best, In patient hope I rest . . .

John Green leaf Whittier

One morning in 1975 in Greenwood, South Carolina, Dorothy Nicholas sat scribbling at her kitchen table. She was trying to compose an appropriate slogan. Even though Dorothy is an award-winning writer and former advertising copywriter, she sometimes has trouble finding just the right words. And she sensed that these needed to be perfect.

The words were for a sign hanging over the self-service gas station Dorothy managed with help from her disabled husband, Fred. They had started working a week ago, pulling their trailer from Orlando up to Greenwood, and the job seemed simple enough, just sitting at a drive-up window, taking money from customers.

“It was a bit of a lark,” Dorothy admits. “Fred and I called a lot of places ‘home’ during those years because we both yearned to travel, and with our children grown, we could do it.” Sometimes they settled for a while and took jobs, and this was one of those times.

There was already a lighted advertising sign on top of the building, but Dorothy’s new boss had told her she could replace the message with anything she liked. “I had heard that this chain of stations was frequently robbed,” Dorothy says, “so I was thinking about a safety-related slogan.” At the same time, she felt that God was nudging her, encouraging her to make her trust in Him known to others. She tried several ideas, then inspiration struck.

“What do you think of this?” she asked Fred.

He studied her scrawl: God Is Our Security Guard—Always on the Job. “That says it pretty well,” he told her. The next day, he spelled it out on the lighted board.

The sign was impressive, but it seemed to have little or no effect on anyone. Few customers commented on it.

After five months, the wanderlust struck again, and Dorothy and Fred resigned and took off in the trailer. Time passed. “Sometimes we would travel that route, going from Florida to South Carolina, and I always felt a little glow as we’d drive by the sign,” Dorothy says. Subsequent managers had liked it well enough to keep it up. But remembering her strange urgency to find just the right words, Dorothy wondered if the sign had really mattered to God after all.

In 1988, Dorothy and Fred found themselves in Gainesville, Florida. At church they met Janet and Larry, a young couple living nearby. The four got along well, and when Dorothy and Fred had some temporary health problems, their new friends proved to be a blessing: running errands, providing an occasional meal, and just being there. “I don’t know what we would have done without you,” Dorothy told Larry more than once. She was growing quite fond of this kind, clean-cut young man.

One evening Dorothy invited Janet and Larry over for dinner. The four sat around the table, talking leisurely. Fred and Dorothy were surprised to hear that Larry had grown up in Greenwood.

“Why, we worked there once—” Dorothy began. Had they ever met Larry? She started to ask him, but having begun to talk about himself, Larry couldn’t stop.

“I’ve had a pretty rough past,” he went on, pent-up words suddenly tumbling out. At 16, he’d become involved with the wrong crowd and had spent a year in reform school. After his release, he’d wanted to start over again, but because of his record, he couldn’t find a job.

“One night in 1975,” Larry continued, “I decided to rob a gas station for money to leave home.” There was a self-service station nearby, so he stole his father’s gun and car, and just before closing time, he drove up to rob the woman sitting at the window.

But before pulling his gun, he glanced at the roof of the building. There had always been a sign there, but someone had recently changed the words. “When I read the message,” Larry said, “I knew I couldn’t rob that place—or do anything else illegal.” He went home, prayed all night and begged God to help him straighten out his life.

Dorothy and Fred looked at each other. “What did the sign say, Larry?” she asked gently.

“I’ve never forgotten those words,” the young man assured her. “It said, ‘God Is Our Security Guard—Always on the Job.’ And He is, Dorothy. He guarded me from danger that night, and He has ever since.”

Dorothy’s heart lifted. It had taken 13 years, but now she knew the source of that strange longing, the need to find just the perfect words. For God had used her small act of faith to bring a lost child safely to His side.

Joan Wester Anderson

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