"Bless You" a short story of God's grace.
Written by Osten Aune.
Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, there lived an old sweet couple who lived out in the middle of nowhere in a thick forest; far from people. Matthew and Sarah were their names. They have been married for what seemed to be ages. But even though they have been together for over 50 years they have always been close and have kept their love alive throughout the years. Matthew loved and adored his wife Sarah. She was a soft-spoken kind woman. Matthew would swear that when Sarah smiled her whole face was aglow. For Sarah, Matthew was her dear husband and also her closest friend and confidant. Even though they were miles and miles away from their closest neighbor, they never felt lonely or alone. They never really wanted for more than what they had – each other.
Through the years they had become very self sufficient – they had to be, to survive in such an isolated wilderness. Together Matthew and Sarah grew vegetables in their garden, the forest also provided, fish from the stream, and Matthew was an excellent hunter with just his bow and arrow.
The forest was beautiful, filled with beautiful tall trees, thick woods, rivers and streams, hills, valleys, and gullies, a good place, but there were also many dangers in the forest. Wild animals, packs of wolves, foxes, an occasional bear, but their worst threat that of robbers and thieves which roamed through the forest, ambushing, and attacking, and sometimes killing innocent peasants traveling through the forest.
At this time the days were getting shorter and the shadows were getting longer. Winter was fast approaching. The skies were getting darker and darker and the north winds were blowing harder and harder. Soon the snows would be coming down. Sarah and Matthew throughout the year they had made many provisions to sustain them through the long, cold winter months. At this time Matthew was continuing to cut down trees for firewood. It was near impossible to cut down enough trees for firewood with all of the other work and chores that were required just to keep themselves alive.
One day when the weather was overcast and the skies were threatening, Matthew was out cutting down a tree; just as he has done many, many times before. But this time when the tree fell, it snapped and with a violent jerk, the tree with a jagged edge learched back and struck Matthew in his leg. Blood started gushing out! Matthew's leg had a large cut in it but fortunately it was not broken. At first Matthew thought that he had broken his leg; it hurt to put any weight on it. His leg started to swell. Matthew grimaced. He wasn’t too far away from their cabin but with his aching leg it seemed to be much further. Sarah was too far away for him to call out to. Just about when Matthew thought that it could not get much worse it began to rain, a bitterly cold rain and with the blowing wind it was piercing right through him. Matthew was shivering and shaking now from the cold.
Trying to use his trusty old axe as a crutch he started back to the cabin in much pain. Matthew was worried, and not just for himself. This was the worst of time of year to be injured. Help was far away. He also needed to cut down more trees for firewood. And he wondered to himself how he could hunt if he could just barely walk. Would he make it? Would Sarah and himself make it through the winter. Would Matthew even make it back to the cabin? Matthew feared that he might not ever see Sarah again. How would Sarah survive in the wilderness without him??? Matthew had fears. Matthew had doubts. But then he reasoned, “God has gotten me thus this far.” And then Matthew again put his trust in Lord Jesus just as he and his wife Sarah have done for their many years.
Matthew grimaced in pain as he trudged through the forest, trying to get back home. Under his breath Matthew prayed to God for the strength to get back home safely. Matthew put his trust in God, that God would be mighty to save and strong to provide. Suddenly and bewilderingly Matthew’s despair disappeared. His leg still hurt and Matthew let out a moan. All of a sudden Matthew was startled. He heard another moan and it was not his own. Matthew froze and listened. The rain was turning into snow. Matthew looked around and could see no one. All Matthew could hear was the wind. Matthew was becoming anxious and afraid. He didn’t think he was imagining things. What was that moan? Then he heard the moan again – coming from some brush not so very far away. It sounded like a wounded animals: No, more like a wounded man.
Matthew gathered his courage, asked God to go before him, and went closer and closer to the brush pile where he had heard the sound. And there to his unbelieving eyes was another poor soul worse off than he. As rapidly as his torn leg would carry him he went to the stranger. It was a younger man around thirty years old Matthew guessed. The man was semi-unconscious. Matthew called out to the stranger but there was no response. Matthew with a lot of effort rolled the man on his back so he could see him better so he could evaluate the stranger’s injuries better.
The man had a large bloody gash on the side of his head. The man’s coat and jacket and boots were all missing. Matthew imagined that robbers had attacked the stranger and had left him for dead. “Hey man, what is your name?” Matthew kept calling to the man. Finally the man started to come to. He was barely conscious but he said, “Joshua. My name is Joshua.”
“What happened to you man?”
“I don’t know! I was traveling through the woods and then...
I guess I was struck from behind.
“Will you be alright?”
“I think so.”
“Ohhh, Thanks be to God, man. Let me help you to get up. We must get out of the weather. A storm is approaching but my home is not far. Let me help you.”
Joshua looked at the older man and his leg covered in blood and asked, “Well tell me, who is going to help you?”
Matthew didn’t realize that his britches were soaked in blood.
“God willing, we will be alright. We shall find shelter from the storm in the shadow of God's wings.”
Matthew helped Joshua to get up.
“Bless You,” Joshua replied in kind.
The two men started the journey to Matthew’s home holding on to each other. Suddenly Joshua fell hard to the ground. Matthew tried to hold Joshua but he could not stop Joshua's fall. Joshua was in worse shape than he looked. His head was spinning and he had lost his balance. Joshua was blacking in and out of consciousness. Joshua was weak from the loss of blood and who knows how long he had been out in the cold without his coat and boots. Joshua was freezing to death from the bitter cold. Matthew helped Joshua up again.
“Bless you. A man is blessed when he has a friend to help him up after he falls.”
Matthew slightly smiled at Joshua’s remark. Together the two men arm-and-arm wrapped around each other’s shoulders, one helping the other. Both of the men were lame and then suddenly this time they both stumbled and fell to the ground in much pain.
Joshua said, “Father help us.”
Matthew could hardly stand himself but Matthew again slowly helped Joshua to get to his feet.
“Bless You,” again was Joshua’s reply.
“A cord of three strands is not easily broken.”
Again in his pain Matthew smiled at Joshua’s saying and replied,
“Even a cord of just us two is not easily broken.”
In their pain, they laughed. Matthew guided them back to his home where Sarah was anxiously waiting at the doorstep looking and waiting for Matthew to come home; she knew that Matthew was overdue and that something must’ve happened. She had been worried. When she saw the two of them struggling to walk in snow that was beginning to stick to the ground, she knew that something was wrong. She ran out to them as fast as her old legs would carry her.
“O’ my Lord, what has happened?"
“Help us to get in Mother, and I will explain.
Sarah didn’t even ask who the stranger was she was so worried about Matthew. She trembled when she saw his bloodied pants leg. She looked at the stranger, he looked more than half dead himself and frozen cold to the bone. The poor man was shivering violently. Both of the men were in trouble. She feared for both of the men. She feared for their lives. As she helped the two suffering men into their small cabin home she lifted up a silent prayer to God. She prayed for Matthew and she prayed for the stranger. Her prayer was short; she had to care for both of these desperate men. She prayed for their healing, she prayed for strength, she prayed that God would be her guide and show her what to do to care for Matthew and the stranger.
When they reached the cabin, Sarah opened the door. She practically had to push them through the door they were so exhausted. Both of the men fell to the floor.
“Bless You.” Bless You,” came Joshua’s reply.
The two men were gasping for breath from their ordeal. They were both thirsty and Sarah got them water to drink.
“We may be knocked down… but we are not knocked out!” Matthew laughed. – Pastor Rick Hawkins
“How can you laugh at such a time?” Sarah almost cryingly scolded.
“Better to laugh than to cry,” came the words from Matthew as he clinched his teeth together in pain.
Then Matthew reached out his hands, one to Sarah, the other to the stranger, Joshua, and Matthew began to pray: “Dear Lord God, we thank you for bringing us home. Thank you for giving us shelter from the storm. Thank you Lord, we count our blessings. Be with us Lord. Be with our new friend Joshua. Please dear Lord heal our bones. We give thanks for your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.”
The men huddled close to the fire as Sarah prepared some hot stew for them. That night Sarah dressed their wounds. The stranger Joshua had cuts and bruises all over his body; he had been beaten almost to death. Sarah thought to herself that it was a miracle that Matthew had found this poor soul out in the cold wilderness.
"Thanks be to God," she whispered to herself. She cleaned and wrapped Matthew’s leg and she placed him in his big chair near the fire. Sarah she rested Matthew’s leg up on a small table. Joshua was so weak and feverish from the cold she placed him in their bed and covered him with blankets to warm-up this poor shivering man. She was afraid that he might catch his death from the cold. She prayed for this poor man, "Oh God have Mercy, hear my prayer...."
Joshua opened his eyes momentarily in his fever and said,
“Bless You, mother,” closed his eyes and fell into a restless and tossed sleep.
The next day was not much better. Matthew’s leg was huge it was so swollen. Matthew was in a great deal of pain. Sarah was worried. Joshua was asleep but he had a high fever and was shaking with cold even though Sarah had gathered most of the blankets to keep him warm. She also had to use a damp cloth on his face because his forehead was so warm from fever. Joshua was a cross between two extremes: freezing cold or burning feverishly hot. Sarah again was worried. Sarah had doubts. Sarah had fears. Sarah prayed.
The wind was blowing and howling around their small cottage. The wind was blistering cold. This was one of the earliest of winter storms that she could remember. How would their provisions hold? How would their provisions hold especially with an extra mouth to feed, that is another mouth to feed if Joshua lives? Sarah feared that Joshua would die. She prayed for Joshua to live; God would find a way. With Matthew’s leg in such poor condition she wondered how they would servive. How would she be able to fish, hunt, and chop wood for their survival through the long cold winter months? She feared not. Sarah prayed.
The next few days were no better. Sarah prayed: “Dear Lord, help us to find sanctuary in the shadow of your wings, dear Lord. Help us dear Lord, we are poor and weak, hear our cries, you count our tears, you know our fears. But we put our Faith in you dear Lord.
May the morning bring us word of your unfailing love.
For we have put our trust in you.
Show us the way we should go.
For to you we lift up our souls.
Sarah prayed and God heard their prayers. The next morning both Matthew and Joshua were doing much better. Matthew’s leg was an ugly color but the swelling had gone down. With Joshua the fever finally broke. Color came back to his face and he didn’t look like death anymore. He woke up and was speaking, and he was hungry; a good, good sign.
Sarah was so thankful; she prayed and gave thanks.
Sarah nursed both of the men back to health.
Joshua was finally fit enough to sit up and eat some soup that Sarah had prepared and cooked. She hand-fed Joshua from his bedside. “I’m sorry this is mainly broth... our provisions are low.
Joshua gave thanks for his soup, smiled and looked up at Sarah and said, “Bless You.”
The next day was quite a celebration and accomplishment; both men sat at the table to eat. It made Sarah feel good to see both men on the mend. She knew that Matthew’s leg could have gotten infected, Joshua’s fever could have worsened; both men could have died – easily. Sarah cried. Sarah wept. Sarah prayed and gave thanks to God for the healing of the two men. As joyful as she was at their recovery she was deeply worried about the future; how would they live on such low provisions, with an extra person to feed? Where would the hunting game, fish, and chopped firewood come from? Sarah prayed. She trusted God in her heart. She knew that God was mighty to save and strong to provide. She knew that she was in God’s hands and she was comforted.
That evening the snow relentlessly came down. Drifts of snow surrounded the cottage. The weather was not fit for man or beast to travel. They had a small stockpile of firewood in the cabin with more firewood outdoors but there was so much snow against the door, Sarah was not able to open the door to get outside to get more firewood. Sarah had doubts. Sarah had fears. Sarah trusted in the Lord. Sarah prayed.
The snow continued to fall. All the earth seemed to be at peace as the snow fell silently to earth. What would tomorrow bring Sarah wondered? What calamity? But at the same time Sarah felt that their lives had always been blessed. Why start to fear now? Sarah prayed.
Later that night, the moon seemed to be glowing ever so brightly through their small cabin widows. The whole room was aglow. Sarah looked around and everything looked different. Everything was so bright. And out of bed was Joshua standing there in the middle of the room, all dressed in white. Amazing she thought.
“Wake up. Wake up,” she told Matthew, “I think I may be dreaming, wake up!”
Matthew woke up right away and was astounded by the light… and then he saw Joshua as good as new… no, better than new... he was aglow.
For just a second Matthew and Sarah started to be afraid. But then Joshua in such a kind voice said, “Do not be afraid mother -- father.”
“I was injured and you took me in.”
“I was naked and you clothed me.”
“I was thirsty and you gave me drink.”
“I was hungry and you fed me.”
“What you have done for the least of these –
You have done for me.”
“I have told you repeatedly, ‘Bless You,’ and you are blessed because you are a blessing to others.”
The room just seemed to get brighter and brighter. Sarah and Matthew just held on to each other in awe of what they were witnessing.
“It is time for me to leave you now.”
"May the living Lord go with you.
May he go behind you, to encourage you,
Beside you, to befriend you in obedient ministry,
Above you, to watch over you,
Beneath you, to lift you from your sorrows,
Within you, to give you the gifts of faith, hope, and love,
And always before you... to show you the way."
Benediction is from Dr. Blair Monie’s traditional benediction,
Senior Pastor of Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church
And then the door opened but the cold did not rush in.
A dazzling light filled the room and Joshua walked out into it. Slowly the light faded and Joshua faded into the light. Sarah and Matthew couldn’t even speak for a few minutes. Finally Sarah said, “Thanks be to God.” and then Matthew chimed in “Thanks be to God.” And then they both said in one breath, “Amen.”
Do not forget to entertain strangers,
for by so doing some people have entertained angels
without knowing it.
Matthew’s leg continued to heal and by Spring it was as good as new. Throughout those cold winter months, the soup never ran out. Each night the pot was filled with hearty soup with meat, even though Matthew couldn’t hunt. The oil and the flour in the cubbard never ran out even though Matthew couldn’t go into the village to trade. There was always another log for the fire; Sarah never had to open the door to go outside to get more firewood.
Sarah and Matthew loved the Lord and without knowing it they had entertained angels. Sarah and Matthew had put their Trust in the Lord. Sarah and Matthew knew that God was mighty to save and strong to provide. This legend is not a story of what God did years and years ago; this is a story of God's grace of what God is still doing to this day. God is working in our lives full of Love, Mercy, Forgiveness, and Grace. Amen.
July 3, 2009