The week had been stressful already. I had said goodbye to my husband in Ohio, who was staying behind to sell our house, moved to New York City by myself, met two new bosses for the first time, searched for an apartment, all while trying to navigate the subways and buses of the Bronx and mid-Manhattan.
It was my first Sabbath in the city. I so wanted the companionship of fellow believers. I got up early, warmed leftover pizza in my hot pot, and got ready to go. The Days Inn where the firm was housing me for two weeks had a phonebook. I checked the listing for the Church of the Advent Hope, with which I had been in contact before I moved to the city. I wrote down the address and, with my slim knowledge of the layout of Manhattan, ventured forth to conquer the commute.
After a few conversations with the hotel’s front desk staff, passersby, and each bus driver that came to the bus stop, I finally boarded one headed in what I hoped was the right direction. I settled in, happily enjoying my first Sabbath on my own in New York. I missed my husband terribly. This was a massive adventure. I stepped off the bus at the closest stop, tried to orient myself, and began walking. After all, it couldn’t be too far away. I was certain of the address, even though I had left the scrap of paper behind. I am famous in my family for my lack of direction sense, and Manhattan’s layout felt either backwards or sideways to me—I wasn’t sure which.
Tromping along in my dress shoes on cold, cleared sidewalks on that cloudy day, I found 86th Street and headed right, searching for the address that I was certain was a couple of blocks off Park Avenue. I walked one way, then back the same direction I had come. Even though the buildings pretty much butted up right to the sidewalk, I could not locate the church. I took my search one block over, and then another.
I sensed God’s understanding, His precious supporting presence, but I wanted to be with people.
After a futile 45 minutes of searching, and now far from my Sabbath peace, chilly and worn out, and feet freezing, I was no longer certain that I could even navigate the bus system well enough to get myself back to the hotel. I used some of my precious expense fund, which had to last me until I moved to the apartment, and hailed a taxi. If I hadn’t been so upset, the novelty of hailing my own cab on the street might have perked up my spirits, but as it was, I slumped into the back seat. I did not care if my seat belt was fastened or whether the driver saw my tears, now running down my cold cheeks. I was so upset, I’m not sure I even tipped the driver.
Back at Days Inn finally (now almost 11:30), I felt so defeated that I gave in to a flood of self-pity, exhaustion, and disappointed tears. I slid out of my clothes and lay facedown on the bed, sopping the pillow. Once I had finished with the drama, I went to wash my face, wishing I did not have to spend all Sabbath alone in my hotel room. Tears still threatening, I stood in the small bathroom and tried to calm myself, feeling again the bitter sting of disappointment. Quietly, gently, but very distinctly I heard His voice. God asked, “Am I not enough for you?”
The tender love with which the question caressed my mind brought a fresh spate of sobbing, but I finally managed to say: “Not today, Lord, not today.”
I sensed God’s understanding, His precious supporting presence, but I wanted to be with people. I could read and study and write letters, of course, but Sabbath is a day for fellowship, and I needed the support of fellow believers on that first Sabbath in the city.
Determined to try again, I got dressed again and rechecked the listing in the phonebook against the slip of paper I had left behind. I rolled my eyes in frustration when I saw it. I had been a full six blocks off in my memory of the street number. Armed with the written address, once again I hopped on a bus, hoping that I would make it while the church was still open. I found it without much trouble this time and ventured in. To my pleased surprise, someone greeted me at the door and handed me a bulletin.
“Am I too late for the worship service?” I asked.
“You might catch some of it.” The host smiled and held the sanctuary door for me.
I slipped in and sat in the back row so as not to disturb anyone. No more than five minutes later the benediction was said, and people stood, gathering their belongings. I sat, uncertain what to do. Should I go downstairs to the luncheon that had been announced? I didn’t feel I hardly had any right to it, but I had a distinct aversion to eating more leftover pizza in my hotel room. So I joined the group moving downstairs. As I was about to join the back of the line, I found myself being taken to the front of the line by a smiling, dark-haired young woman. She insisted that visitors never waited at the back.
“I didn’t think I even deserved to stay and eat, I got here so late,” I said. Introducing myself and the story of my morning, I began to feel better immediately. She took me under her wing, chattering away as if we had known each other forever. The food was simple but delicious, and I found myself being introduced to a number of people, all of whom were friendly and welcoming.
I continued to stay, content to take in the afternoon’s activities. Then, much to my joy, I was invited to join a small group that was going down to lower Manhattan to listen to a concert that evening by the King’s Heralds. We stuffed ourselves into several cars and headed out, arriving in plenty of time for the concert. The young woman, Audrey, and I had about 30 minutes to chat, and enjoyed getting acquainted. She had a way about her that was so pleasant, as if she didn’t know a stranger. She made it so easy for me to feel at ease myself, and I felt as though I had found my first friend in the city. The concert was enjoyable, and I felt so much thankfulness in my heart that God had understood my need for fellowship and had made certain I had a full day of it.
Dropping to my knees beside my hotel bed that night, I was again crying tears, but they were tears of joy and thanksgiving for a God who understood, for a God who knew my need, for a God who arranged the perfect afternoon for His imperfect child.
Ann Slaughter is a recently retired paralegal from Warren, Ohio, who enjoys writing and editing.