A few days ago, a woman called. She started the conversation with, "I know what you will probably say, but I want to ask you, anyway."
A few short months ago her mother-in-law had passed from this earthly life. After the funeral, she and her husband met with his siblings to express which pieces of mostly humble, earthly possessions of their mother, they would like. The siblings wrote down their desires, and there was agreement at the time...or so it seemed.
The woman and her husband were to have a hutch, a bedroom set, and a desk. Others had chosen other pieces of furniture and various items, mostly all of but sentimental value.
The woman (who called me) and her husband, had planned a vacation of which part would be to buy a trailer on Craigslist in order to pick up and bring back the stuff, a few hours' distance from the deceased mother's home. But the ugliness of the possessions caper had turned the situation into upset and confusion.
At the time of her call, she felt bad that she had agreed with her husband to stick up for their rights and insist on what had been agreed would be their furniture bequest. The woman did have good memories of her mother-in-law and her hutch, and her husband wanted his mother's bed set and desk. And there is really no reason (other than sin) that his sister decided to take what was not agreed upon.
What to do? Well, I pointed out that this is looking grim for the sister's soul. We discussed how it is just furniture, just stuff, and any of it could be easily purchased elsewhere and for not a huge sum of money. And this type of uproar is typical after the deceased is buried and the grief that can unite survivors has mellowed, and divisiveness over possessions begins to sprout.
It is a no-win situation on the temporal playing field. If this couple gives in to the essential "theft" of what they were to have, they will have negative feelings and see the reality of the sister's greed and deceit. If they show up and fight for what is rightfully theirs, by previous agreement, there will be ugliness in the confrontation, words exchanged, and perhaps even some force required. Either way, relationships will be damaged.
We discussed the "high road," if both the woman and her husband could at all levels detach from the items, much as Jesus had recommended to the rich young man who asked what it would take to enter the kingdom of heaven. At the time of the young man's asking, what Jesus said about relinquishing possessions (and this can be within the soul's attachment as well as in tangible letting go), was too much for the rich young man to do, at least just yet.
Since the husband in this current situation was not one to give in to wrongs, he also was prone to not ask his wife's input on matters. My asked-for-opinion thinking it best to let the husband deal with the issue in the way he wanted, which was then to get the trailer and go to his late mother's house, and attempt to get the items. This was to be done in conjunction with the couple's vacation. I pointed out the possessions might not be there when they arrive, as the sister knew they were planning to come to that area in a week.
The woman who had called me was in distress for added reasons. She said in part she felt guilty for having wanted the hutch in the first place. Well, that is not a horrible sin, for it is very human to appreciate and desire tangible reminders of those we love and who have loved us. And how many of us can suddenly have that kind of utmost detachment? But we talked a bit more, and I pointed out that we are getting older, and literally, "what on earth" are we going to do with the "stuff" we already have, let alone more stuff?
We agreed that their week of vacation and the days leading into it, and possibly the days following, are now and could be fraught with tension. The could be depends upon the woman and her husband's letting it get to them.
But again, the main issue in all this seemed to me to be the state of the sister's soul, for this was an ugly mess caused by her wanting what was not agreed upon to be hers in addition to what she had taken already. How sad a soul so needy of tangibles, so attached to more than enough for touchstones of her mother's memory!
Prayer would be the only balm for the couple's peace of mind and their own spiritual progression, and most importantly, for the deeper conversion of the sister's soul. The woman (a spiritual friend) was distracted by all the emotions that go along with such issues. (We all know what it feels like to have inner--and outer--peace disrupted.)
The idea came: Offer a furniture novena. I suppose it came to mind due to recently praying the potato novena [previous post mentions this, or a video sharing]. I suggested that she and I select a piece of furniture in our own abodes--one that has some kind of meaning due to memories associated. We would keep the prayer simple and tactile. Lay a hand on whatever piece of furniture and simply repeat a Hail Mary. Do this once a day for nine days. (We each know the history of and Christian, Biblical symbolism for the "nine"--as in the nine days between Christ's ascension and Pentecost.)
On the second day of our prayer-across-the-miles, the woman emailed that she was in great distress again, feeling even more guilty that she had ever wanted her mother-in-law's hutch; and she reported her husband had decided to fight for his rightful possessions, his portion of personal effects from his mother's estate. The woman's conscience was bothering her, and she had asked the Lord to give her another chance to somehow influence her husband's decision which was to demand tangible justice.
I emailed back that we should keep to our furniture prayer, and that right then if she could lay her hand on a piece of furniture in her house and ask Mary to help calm her upset, I would do likewise where I am. Surely Mary would come to her aid immediately.
The next email I received was a day later. The woman had done the praying, the laying on of hands, and peace within occurred. But an outward miracle also occurred: her husband had come home from work, showed her some photos of a trailer he intended to purchase so they could haul the furniture home. However, he then he did what is rare if ever: he asked her opinion on what he should do. (Seriously, this is not like the husband at all. He does not go in for praying, and he calls the shots.)
She had asked the Lord to give her another chance for input with her husband on the furniture snafu, and He gave it to her. When given this moment, she told her husband to let his sister have whatever, and that they can go on their vacation and let all that other go.
In another miracle, her husband agreed!
But the woman had been thinking much since our conversation. All the more she realized that her sister's soul is endangered by what she had done, even though to others it may seem like a small matter and so very typical in estate situations. So we are continuing the Furniture Novena, specifically now for the sister's soul and for conversion of mind, heart, and spirit--not for the furniture ordeal.
It is not that the "gimmick" of laying hands on a piece of furniture and praying a short Hail Mary is the gist here. It is that of faith and of the simplicity of heart in the praying, that seems to be pleasing to God. It includes the beautiful memories of people and created things and their usefulness. We each are finding delight in praying with tangible "touchstones" but not as a heaviness or laborious effort. We can think of the carpenter's Son, and add to that an intensity of desire for the good of souls: the woman, her husband, the sister, her adult children, for my own soul as well as all souls who have or will have these types of "furniture" or possession problems.
When I laid my hand upon (here very dusty, move-damaged, stacked and stored) furniture, the pieces I touch each have some memory included--either of who built the furniture such as in one my great-great-grandfather built, or in a $2 chair purchased at a yard sale four decades ago when I was first married. That chair I refinished and reupholstered the seat, and it was a chair my eldest daughter sat on while at her desk doing homework during high school years.
Another was my harp stool, with thoughts of earlier desires to play but wondering if ever having this place habitable enough to take it out of protective packing. Another is this twin bed which a neighbor gave me for my first house when married. Later, several years after the divorce, it a man with a drinking problem but needed work, refinished it. My second daughter slept in this bed through teen years. I am in it as I write this!
Now, these details mean nothing to anyone else, but hopefully we can grasp that somehow touching the items and praying for the resolution of the nasty situation brewing for my friend and her husband and his sister's soul, has touched my soul, my life. It is all very good.
And in faith, as we continue the Furniture Novena for another few days (lost count, but that does not matter), I am sure the sister's soul will be affected even if we never know or see outcomes. For one thing, it will not be for the furniture or needing it for practical purposes or for sentiment. The couple has overcome that "world."
And in another thought, these are some of the ways that the Lord interacts in our lives, and how we can talk with Him, interact with Him, and touch and be touched. He talks with us; He guides our actions; and He lays out our path in little details and truly miraculous (even if nuanced) outcomes.
These and more are God's miracles.
No surprise, this Word reminder in Psalm 85, this morning:
"The Lord will give what is good,
and our land will yield its increase.
Righteousness will go before him,
and will make a path for his steps."