My husband and I just spent 48 hours in Philadelphia. I had no idea what awaited me in this historic city but today, I was interrupted by a “divine appointment” that I will never forget – 15 minutes of some of the most real brotherly love I have ever experienced.
We were here to meet with 20 professionals at a summit about Bible engagement for children. The location – The Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge – a venue so rich with scenery and American history that it brought tears to my eyes on several occasions throughout our stay.
A statue of Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson kneeling to pray over the Declaration of Independence, was the first thing to catch my eye on our way onto the grounds. A monument with the Constitution etched in stone stood tall with a huge flag waving proudly in the background. The words “Fundamental belief in God” stood out and gently reminded me why I was here. Inside, a very talented group from various ministries had gathered to pray and examine research – pursuing the best ways to engage a digital generation with the Bible.
After two packed days of presentations and collaboration, our facilitator asked us to take 40 minutes of solitude for reflection and prayer and to come back with our best ideas from the two days. I grabbed my notebook and began walking around the inspiring grounds of Valley Forge. I came upon a memorial to families from various states and I sat down on the curb to read the stone tablets that told of their costly pledge to freedom through the Declaration of Independence.
I made some notes and I bowed my head in prayer – lost in thought with God. A few moments later, I heard a gentle voice over my shoulder and I looked up to see an older gentleman walking toward me. He said, “Young lady, do you need help – are you alright?” I rose quickly and gazed into the bluest eyes of a white-haired man. He gently took my hand and asked me why I was sitting on the curb. I told him I was praying and enjoying the rich history of this place. He smiled a knowing smile and with tears in his eyes, proceeded to tell me that he prayed too. In fact, he prayed every morning at 5:45 a.m. with a group of men called the “dawn patrol” and that he had done this for the past 23 years. Then he asked me if I believed in miracles – now I was crying too – clutching his warm wrinkled hand as if he would disappear if I were to let go.
He began to tell me about his miracle and about his wife whose oncologist now calls the “miracle lady”. Nine years ago she had cancer throughout her abdomen and she was given little hope. He beamed as he told me that today he had been married to her, the love of his life, for exactly 54 years and 102 days. He said that prayer and God were behind his wife’s miracle. Now it was my turn and he looked surprised when with a cracking voice I told him about Mia’s Miracle and her journey through stage four cancer at the age of seventeen months. I shared how her oncologists still say there is no medical explanation for her to have lived past the age of two and that she is now seven years old and free from cancer. Together, we wept and thanked God for mercy and love and the power of prayer.
I then told him I was on the grounds for a summit hosted by the American Bible Society and he proceeded to tell me about his nearly fatal auto accident a few years earlier and how some men from the American Bible Society had visited him in the hospital. He recalled their encouraging words, “Russ, you should not be alive after that terrible accident. God spared your life because you have more work on this earth and you have to finish it.”
I shared the reason for our meeting was to find new ways to get today’s kids to become engaged with the Bible. Then I asked, “Wasn’t it at Valley Forge that George Washington said to his men, These are the times that try men’s souls…” He nodded and I mentioned that I felt the same way today and that my soul felt a bit “tried” as I pondered the task ahead. Then he said, “Young lady when you go back into that meeting, you tell your group that I am praying for all of you and for what you are doing here today. You know when I drove past you, I wondered if there was something I could do to connect with that woman sitting on the curb and I wasn’t sure why. So I stopped my car and I felt that I just had to go back down the hill to talk to you.”
I smiled knowing that God had ordained this moment and that Navy Captain Russell K. Schulz, Executive Vice President of the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge, was a real gem. This dear man had backed down the hill to check on me and through this kind gesture God had encouraged both of us.
Russell offered me a ride back up the hill and around the bend to our meeting place. As we passed the statue of Benjamin Franklin and the other founding fathers kneeling in prayer, he pointed to it and I told him that I had stood there wishing for a “kneeling stone” in front of that very statue not 20 minutes before this conversation. “ He chuckled and said, “That’s a great idea young lady and let me tell you if I had passed by and seen you kneeling there in prayer, I would have jumped out of my car to join you.”
We arrived at the meeting place and I asked him to wait for a minute while I ran inside to get him the Canadian Bible Society magazine with Mia’s story in it. When I got back into his car and handed it to him, tears began to course down his cheeks as he gazed at her smiling face and once again he grasped my hand. I asked him if I could pray and he bowed his head. Together, we thanked God for our miracles and we talked to our Savior just as our forefathers had done so long ago – it was truly a holy moment.
As Dale beckoned me back to the meeting, I hugged Russell and I left his car with a fresh realization that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are only found in Christ and in following His plan for our lives. I ran up the steps thanking God for Valley Forge, for Russell, for Bible Societies, and for times that really do try men’s souls – forcing them to rely on their Savior!