Monday, December 9, 2013

Monday Morning Meditation #32: Multiplication, God's Way

This week I moved from I Kings to II Kings and wandered into the story of Elisha coming to Gilgal when there was a famine in the land. To a gathering of 100 men with Elisha, a man from Baal-shalishah brought Elisha 20 loaves of barley and fresh ears of corn, who told his servant to give them to the 100 men. The servant asked how on earth these few loaves would feed 100 people, and Elisha responded, "Give the people, that they may eat; for thus saith the LORD: They shall eat, and shall leave thereof." And that is exactly what happened. In a foreshadowing of the story of Jesus feeding the multitudes with five fishes and two loaves and having baskets left over, not only were the people fed, but also there was leftover.

Reading: II Kings 4: 38-44
Meditation: Whenever I hear these stories of God multiplying resources, whether it be loaves of bread or, as earlier in Kings, vessels of oil, I am reminded of so many times when God has has multiplied resources in order to help me and my family, for which I feel immense gratitude. We may live in an imperfect world, in which free will, running rampant, can result in some very bad things happening -- and then watching God bring good out of the bad is highly reassuring. Experiencing the multiplication of resources is about as awe-inspiring as it gets. Since the morning is very early and I do need to get some sleep before heading out to work, I will give only one example, but it is, for me, a powerful one and a bit complex.

After returning to California from Jordan a few years ago, we received an e-note from our tax accountant, informing us that the IRS determined that we had underpaid our taxes by $11,000, based on income from Jordan that we had not thought was taxable but was. The very next day a bill from the IRS stood proudly in our mailbox. "Due immediately" was stamped across it.

Ha! Fat chance in ___! We had just finished moving, and while the majority of our moving expenses had been covered by my new employer, many unanticipated expenses had not been covered. To complicate matters, we had moved all our savings from our bank in Jordan to Shane’s account in the United States to facilitate our return. Our safety valve of $14,000 had us resting easy until the greedy hand of a hospital accountant, unbeknownst to all of us, requested court permission to search Shane’s bank accounts for additional money in order to increase the rate at which he was paying off the costs of the five kidney surgeries of Nathaniel, our grandson. Lo and behold, during the exact two-month period that we were using Shane’s account to hold the money until I was back in the United States and could transfer the money to my own account, the additional $14,000 was found in Shane’s account and without any notice to him, our entire savings at that time was withdrawn by the hospital. All our income had dissipated or been used to cover moving expenses. Now, Uncle Sam wanted $11,000!

Our tax accountant was able to get us a six-week delay, no more. Six weeks to find a spare $11,000 while finishing moving from overseas back to the United States and trying to set up housekeeping, a major one-time expense in itself, turned out to be too great a task for my overwhelmed brain. So, I did what I always do now. I left it up to God. My trust was so complete that I asked only once. Then I put the problem out of my mind, continuing on happily with my daily life, confident that some unique response would come before the end of the six-week period as it always had. It did.

A few days after asking God for help, I received a letter in the mail from Indiana University, where I had worked five years earlier in an interim position. The letter in my hand concerned my retirement fund. I had such a small retirement fund with the university that I had actually forgotten about it. Fortunately, the university had not. According to the letter, all individuals no longer on payroll needed either to take out the retirement funds or roll them over into a retirement fund external to the university immediately. I called the fund, and the amount available for take-out, minus (of course) taxes, gave me 50% of what I needed for the IRS. God had rescued me yet one more time.

The other 50% owed, I was certain, would show up before the end of the six-week period. God had never before left me hanging at half-mast. Sure enough, a week later, a quarterly summary from another retirement fund at another institution, where I worked years earlier, arrived in the mail. I had put that particular fund out of mind because it had taken a big loss years ago. According to the recent statement, though, it still had most of the dollars that had been invested from my pay checks tucked away in it, earning a penny here and there in interest. Those dollars would cover another 40% of what was owed. I called the fund. A very kind gentleman agreed to close my account and send me those much-needed dollars. He could not give me a precise amount but thought it would be close to the amount in the current quarterly summary that I had received in the mail. He explained that I would have to wait for the stock market results at the end of the day, which would determine the precise amount to be disbursed. I would receive whatever the fund was worth at that time, most likely the amount he had just cited to me.

We were close! Clearly, we would not be trapped in IRS hell or married to the IRS for eternity. The remaining 10% would show up somehow. If necessary, I could eke it out of my salary or borrow it from someone.

As it turned out, there was no need to worry about the remaining 10%. The stock market leaped upward over the next few hours. Donnie said he thought it might have been due to the release of iPods on that day —- some of our stock was in technology.

On January 11, we received considerably more than we expected. The amount allowed us to pay off the IRS debt in full on the 12th, the last day of our extension. It also paid our tax accountant’s bill in full. Moreover, after paying all those with their hand held out, we found an additional $400 in our basket. What to do with that? The answer was obvious. That was God’s money. He had over-multiplied our resources, so I compelled to return it to God. (I gave it to Fr. Barry, the director of our local Franciscan retreat center; he was probably amused when I explained that the source of the money was a mathematical miscalculation by God. Actually, I don't think there was any miscalculation; the retreat center really needed that money because their main building had burned down and needed to be re-built.)

And that is far as I can go with you this Monday morning. I retire to prayer, to thank God for the ongoing ways in which He keeps my bread basket full just when they are beginning to look empty, to ask Him to help all others who have empty or emptying bread baskets, and to praise Him for that fact that He really can do this, while still allowing free will to reign. After that, I will spend as much time as I can in contemplation, my favorite part of the day, letting God take over the direction in which my relationship with Him moves.

I will now leave you to your prayer and contemplation, but first, I would like to bring to your attention a Monday morning prayer post that you might enjoy:

Fr. Austin Fleming, priest of the Archdiocese of Boston and pastor in Concord, Massachusetts, posts a prayer each Monday morning that he calls "Monday Morning Offering." I enjoy his prayers very much. I hope you also will find them inspirational. He has graciously given me permission to include a link to his blog on my Monday Morning Meditation posts.

For additional inspiration throughout the week, I would point out two sets of blogs: (1) the list of devotional blogs that follow the enumeration of Monday Morning Meditations on the sidebar of this blog and (2) my blogroll, where I am following a number of inspirational priests and writers about spiritual matters. I learn so very much from all these people. I highly recommend them to you.

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