93: Safety Net

93: Safety Net

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Touched by an Angel

Safety Net

Faith is the vision of the heart; it sees God in the dark as well as in the day.

~Author Unknown

Laid off. What an awful phrase. It strikes fear in the hearts of most American families that live paycheck to paycheck. I thought it would never happen to us. I was wrong.

My husband’s company was involved in a hostile takeover. When the new owners came in, they began laying off employees, group by group. Bruce’s turn came about three months into the layoffs.

We immediately put our beautiful California home on the market, thinking it would take us a few months to get a respectable offer. But the house went into contract on the second day. A generous cash offer.

The buyers, a sweet old couple, were anxious to move in right away, so Bruce and I moved most of our belongings into storage.

We wanted to save as much of Bruce’s severance pay as possible. There was no telling how long it would take for him to find another job. But we assumed, with his qualifications and experience, that his job search wouldn’t take long.

Our church family offered to let us park our camping trailer on the church grounds until the school year ended. That was about six weeks away. “What an answer to prayer!” I told my church friends. “By the time school’s over, we should be packing to move to Bruce’s new job.”

I was teaching at a local community college, so most of the time the only space I needed was a table and a chair to read and grade papers. The trailer was fine for that work.

“This’ll be great, Bruce,” I said, looking out over the heavily treed church property. “Just like camping.”

Bruce shot me a dubious look. “We’ll see.”

Our pastor invited Bruce to move his computer into the church office so he could be connected to the Internet.

Each day Bruce worked on his résumé and sent out inquiries to appropriate companies. And in our trailer, I prepared my music history lessons and graded quizzes. At night, we prayed and prayed that God would provide just the right job.

The days grew longer and warmer, and with that warmth came the annoying bugs that any camper faces: mosquitoes, spiders, ants, even ticks. I began to sorely regret that we had agreed to let our buyers move in right away.

The bugs and the hot weather drove me inside the air-conditioned church building more and more often. I got used to going in and out of the three inside corridors off the church lobby. The first one led to the main office. I went in there daily to check on Bruce’s progress. Close to that doorway, maybe ten or so feet, was a wide staircase that led downstairs to the classrooms. It was nice and cool in the lower level and that’s where I did my college work when it was unoccupied. The third corridor — separated from the stairwell by a wall, was the one that we usually exited through to get to our trailer.

By mid-May, Bruce and I grew uneasy. In spite of his excellent résumé, he wasn’t getting any bites from employers. In our discouragement, we asked ourselves many questions: Where are the jobs? Where should we move? God, have you forgotten us?

I felt as if our prayers were hitting the ceiling and going no further. “Lord, why are you allowing us to go through this trial? My head knows that You care for us, but my heart feels as if You’ve abandoned us. Please help us!”

One evening, Bruce stayed late in the church office. I came through the usual back entrance to see what was delaying him. When I came into the office, he was just shutting down his computer.

“Dinner’s ready,” I announced with a whine in my voice. This extended “camping” experience was wearing thin on my nerves.

“Give me two minutes,” Bruce said. “I just have to check all the doors and shut off the lights.”

“I’ll turn off the lights in the lobby.” When I flipped off the light switches, the interior of the church was darker than I’d have imagined. Black as a cave.

I put my hands out in front of me to feel where I was going. Except there was nothing to feel because the lobby only had furnishings on the north end. I think I traveled about fifteen paces. Where was the wall that led to the south exit? I took another step.

My foot met nothingness. Panic jolted me.

It’s an amazing phenomenon when the brain registers imminent doom. It seems to be able to think a thousand thoughts simultaneously.

In a fraction of a second, I knew I’d turned prematurely and missed the south-end corridor. I knew I’d stepped blindly into the stairwell. I knew that I would not be able to catch myself and that the fall down those dark stairs was going to hurt me. The least I’d do was break my wrist. The worst: crush my skull.

My body shot forward. I didn’t even have time to scream as I threw out my arms and tried to clutch anything. But, of course, there was nothing to grab.

Then something I can’t explain in scientific terms happened. A force kind of like a wall of cotton stopped me mid-flight, pushed me back into a vertical position and settled my haunches down onto the same stair I’d just blindly overshot.

How does one overcome momentum? By the application of an opposite force. But no one had grabbed my arms, or stepped in front of me to catch me.

I sat quietly for about thirty seconds, waiting for my thumping heart to settle, and trying to make out what had just happened to me. Bruce was still on the other side of the church, so — even if he could have seen in the dark — he wouldn’t have been aware of my near-death experience.

When I heard Bruce come out of the office and shut and lock that door, I stood up and moved quickly away from the stairwell. Later, in the trailer, I told him what happened to me in the stairwell. He shook his head in wonder.

It’s so easy in bleak times to imagine that God has turned His back, or doesn’t care what you’re going through. But my wonderful rescue showed me that God never ceases to watch over His children. I did not have to see a heavenly being when I fell into that dark stairwell to recognize the invisible, but certainly real, rescue.

~Dena Netherton

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