As a Christian, I believe that God hears and answers prayer. In fact, I don't just believe it, I know it from my own experience. Now I might wish to have some miraculous episode to recount to convince you too; but perhaps it says more about the character of God that my most vivid memories of answered prayer concern Handbags.
The Handbags in question both belonged to my wife, though at the time our concern was that they'd transferred their allegiance elsewhere. The one incident, that prompted this post, is still making itself at home in my memory - it happened just after Christmas.
Noted and forgotten
We'd just finished the shopping at our local supermarket and I was charged with unloading the trolley while my wife visited the Ladies'. As I put the last carrier bag into the boot of the car, I noted the handbag in the front of the trolley. "Musn't forget that", I thought, as I pushed the trolley to join its companions in the trolley shelter.
My wife rejoined me in the car.
"Got my handbag?", she asked.
"Mmm", I replied [I'm grateful to my wife for filling in this part of the story, because I have no memory of it].
It wasn't until several hours later that my usefully ambiguous reply turned out, in this case, to mean "No!", rather than the "Yes" my wife had assumed at the time. We were on the way out of the house laden with platefuls of pizza, our contribution to the Sunday School Christmas party.
"You better just leave your handbag, Mummy", our three-year old daughter insisted, anxious to get to the party, as Mummy hunted in all the places that handbags sometimes get dumped. "It will be alright", she added, innocently. My wife wasn't so naive.
"If we can't find it, someone will have to stay behind to cancel the credit cards."
Since there were only two someones eligible for the task, and the female was being dragged by the non-eligible someone in the direction of the party, I remained behind. Prayer was my first resort, and a heartfelt "Help, Father!" ascended heavenwards. A second search of house and car yielded nothing. "Nothing", was also the answer I got when I phoned customer services at the supermarket to ask if anything resembling a handbag had been handed in.
So I set to work calling up the credit card companies (optimistically asking for only a temporary block to be placed on the cards) and googling to find out the procedure for replacing lost National Insurance cards and Photocard Driver's licenses.
But I felt I couldn't leave it at that. I looked in on my wife and daughter, daughter enjoying the food at the party, wife forcing the appearance of enjoyment, then I set off on the 15 minute drive back to the supermarket.
I didn't have much hope of finding anything, but I wandered round the car park, mobile in hand, repeatedly dialling my wife's number in the hope of hearing an answer from the phone that, opportunists aside, would still be tucked in her bag. I would have paid to hear the cheery Nokia jingle on this occasion: but no such joy.
Hope pretty much gone at this point, I headed into the store to try Customer Services one last time. Then, what to my wondering eyes should appear but my wife’s handbag, open on the Customer Services desk with the Assistant staring bemusedly at the mobile phone she had just fished from it.
“I couldn’t work out how to answer it”, she explained, as I introduced myself as the rightful co-owner of the lost property she held in her hand. She remembered me from my phone call to the store earlier in the evening. Then she confessed that the bag had in fact been behind the desk all along, but she had just that minute found it after disposing of a bag of rubbish that had been stuffed in front of it.
Happy coincidence? I know what I think. But before you reach your final conclusion, let me tell you about Handbag number 2.
A Handbag takes a holiday
This one had accompanied us on holiday to Torquay, in the English Riviera. It stuck with us faithfully throughout the week until the day we visited Cockington, a picturesque, Olde Worlde village a few miles out of town. To preserve the charm of the place they direct all drivers to a car park on the outskirts, from whence they’re instructed to savour the peace as nature intended: on foot. The parking charges paid by the choiceless motorist no doubt go towards preserving the structure of the village.
As I manoeuvred the car into an empty space, my wife bent down in her seat to fish her purse out of her bag. She fished in vain. It was pointless asking her to look again: not even the rubbish that accumulates in the front of our car during a holiday could conceal a handbag as over-stuffed as my wife’s. So I went to the back of the car, and started turning out the boot – also in vain.
Since our daughter – about 18 months at the time – would not appreciate leaving when having barely arrived, my wife remained with her to look around the village whilst I retraced our tracks. Back to the car park down by the harbour; back to the cafe overlooking the sea where we had so lately enjoyed a carefree coffee; back to the car park again. No customer service desk this time; but a Harbour Master just as capable of delivering the lines: “Sorry sir – nothing’s been handed in”.
I was just about to begin a second round when my phone rang. Expecting it to be my wife ringing for the third time to check on my progress, I was instead greeted by my Aunt, calling from back home.
“Afternoon Sam! Has Rachel lost a handbag?”
I wasn’t quite speechless.
“Yes! But how do you know?”
So she explained the convoluted story. Whilst answering phones on the reception desk at our GP surgery where she works, she’d received a call from my wife’s Health Visitor. The Health Visitor needed to get in touch with Rachel Jack, she told my Aunt; she didn’t have a contact number, but she’d remembered that my Aunt was a relation, so could she pass on a message? The message was from a hotel receptionist in Torquay. Apparently, a passing pedestrian had handed in a handbag containing, amongst other things, a purse within which was a Drivers license belonging to a “Mrs Rachel Jack” – but only the telephone number of the Health Visitor on a torn off page of a notebook.
I could hardly believe my ears. To think that all the time I had been making my fruitless enquiries the handbag had been safe and news of it had been on its way to me by this circuitous route!
Having received details of the hotel I set off post-haste to see if this could really be true. When I arrived at the reception desk, I could only stutter my thanks to the diligent girl who had gone right through the bag to find that single scrap that could connected her, by such an unlikely chain, with the owner. And she solved for me the one remaining mystery: how did the bag come to be outside the hotel, half a mile down the road from the habourside carpark?
The anonymous pedestrian, the receptionist said, had seen the bag fall from the roof of the car just outside the hotel. Relating this a few minutes later to my marvelling wife, she remembered that she had placed the bag there as she leant inside the car to strap our daughter into her seat, just before we left the car park. And somehow it had stayed put, until it fell, to be picked up, contents still intact, by the model citizen.
I don’t need to tell you how thankful we were, not only to her (regretfully we never had chance to express it), to the receptionist in the hotel, to my wife’s Health Visitor, and to my Aunt, but to the One who oversaw the whole episode, and “worked all things together for good”.
Now I don't want to give the impression of a God who operates a divine lost property service. The Son of God came into the world to look for and save people who are spiritually lost, rather than things that are carelessly lost by absentminded geeks and their wives. But if God can take care of ours, surely we should take him seriously when he offers to take care of us?