This morning I would like to introduce you to a woman I "coincidentally" met last spring in Dallas. Edna Ellison engaged me in conversation at a Book Expo and I immediately knew that God had placed her in my path for a reason. I will tell you more about her ministry and message later this month, but for today I've asked her to tell us a little bit of her story. Can God use "coincidences" to lead us? Read on!
When I was fifteen, I fell in love with the boy next door, Snow Ellison. My high school sweetheart played football and was a handsome guy with dark hair and lots of personality. After dating three years, we married, and it was a marriage made in heaven. Active as a deacon in our church, Snow managed a store in town, and after four years, I went back to school so I could teach English at our high school nearby.
Twenty-three years and two teenagers later, our family went to a high school football game together, as usual. We were having a great time in the stands, cheering for our alma mater, when just after halftime my husband whispered, “Edna.” I heard him in spite of the roar of the crowd, and turned just in time to see him lean down to a lying position in the stadium seat and whisper one last time, “Edna.” In spite of nurses and doctors who appeared quickly out of the stands, vigorous CPR, and attempts with a defibrillator to revive him, he died before the ambulance reached the hospital.
My life changed dramatically, but one thing I know absolutely: God is as good as His promises. Long before, I had memorized His wonderful words, “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5)—and He didn’t.
I was amazed that I was not mourning! I could think of nothing but Snow’s joy as He stood before God in heaven. A euphoria took over, and I could hardly keep from grinning. I had every reason to be sad. My husband was the best lover, the best godly Christian husband, the best hilarious friend any wife ever had. Yet I was not grieving.
I tried to tell myself to stop smiling, because I’d always thought a widow should be screaming, “No!” or at least crying, especially over an untimely death (Snow was 49). Instead, I kept hearing God whisper in my ear, “It is fitting.” What does that mean? I thought, as hundreds of fans dropped by our house, three blocks from the stadium, after the game. Nearly every one of them said, “I’ll be praying for you.” And they did.
Could it be that all my joy was overflowing because of their prayers? I’m convinced that was part of it. Another factor was that my “better half” was experiencing extreme joy in heaven. I had one foot in heaven already! We had always been so close, in “one flesh and one spirit,” that part of me felt a palpable peace and grace lifting me up from the grief. And here’s the best part. I never experienced the stages of grief, which I had studied in a church workshop: denial, harsh reality, bitterness, anger, resentment, and depression. Never. (I’ve met five other women in my lifetime that had the same experience. For some reason, after their wonderful husbands died, they never experienced grief. Like me, they felt odd that they were so much at peace--even joyful—and kept looking for grief to come, but it never did.)
As years went by, God continued to bless me. I took as my life’s verse these words: “All things work together for good to who love God and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). I knew God had allowed my husband to move up to heaven, leaving me with two teenagers. Therefore, He must be up to something. What was it?
Through many miracles financially, I put two children through college on a school teachers’ salary. (--even going to school myself so that they could get government grants with more family members going to school at the same time!) I even earned a Ph.D. at the insistence of my daughter, Patsy, who urged me to do it for her. The degree later opened doors I never expected.
Before Snow died, the most boring part of my life was grading student papers at night. Even worse, as the yearbook sponsor, I had to be sure the Beta Club report or the football game write-ups were the exact number of letters to fit the space on the yearbook pages. Our specifications to make one yearbook page were 25 lines of 35 characters. Late at night I’d count: 1, 2, 3, 4, . . . 33, 34, 35, slash (/); 1, 2, 3, 4, . . . . until I slashed-off 25 lines. I’d often look to God and ask silently, “Lord, why am I doing this with my life?” Though I loved the students and the final results seen in the yearbook, I didn’t enjoy the eleven years I endured that boredom every night as yearbook deadlines approached.
A few years after his death, a church friend and talented writer asked me if I’d go to a writers’ conference with her. I answered no immediately. What could be more boring than being a writer?
She asked me to pray about it, saying she couldn’t afford to go unless someone would share the expense of a room--$600. After hearing the amount, I halfheartedly prayed, “Lord, you don’t want me to do that, right? Yeah, I knew you didn’t want me to go,” and forgot her invitation. That Sunday, I decided to clean out Snow’s foot locker so my son, Jack, could use it at college. In the top tray was a mysterious envelope marked “Vacation.” Inside was exactly $600! Now that’s a holy coincidence!
Nudged by God, I prayed again. I called my friend and told her I’d go—but not to take part in the writers’ conference. I would go on vacation, exercising, enjoying the fresh air, and swimming in the pool. The first three days were great. Then one morning with my towel over my shoulder, I saw this sign: Pool Closed for Repair: Rest of This Week.
Out of bored desperation, I went to a small workshop on devotion writing, and—holy coincidence--received an editor’s invitation to write six devotions for a national denominational magazine. Later that day my writer friend convinced me that I probably couldn’t fulfill that invitation (“Devotionals are hard to write,” she said.), but when I got a contract in the mail the next week, the specifications said, “Please write each devotional at 25 lines of 35 characters each.” What a coincidence! I could have done that in my sleep. I’d actually done that in my sleep many times. God had been training me late at night for eleven years!
I wrote hundreds of devotions for a Standard Publishing magazine, and they used them later for a book.
Before the pool broke, I was eating breakfast one morning and a famous editor in my own denomination sat beside me. (I paid no attention to this stranger, eager to get out to the pool!) Then I realized he was going around the table asking writers what they wanted to write. I was embarrassed to say, “I’m not interested in writing. I paid $600 to put on my bikini and swim in the pool every day.” Then off the top of my heard, I remembered I had taught a church study recently about missionaries. When he asked me what I wanted to write, I quipped, “I want to write a good mission study. Some of them are really boring.”
His response? “I’ll turn in your name to WMU (a missions-support organization) as a missions writer!”
I laughed, almost spitting out my cereal and milk. Sure, that famous man was going to turn my name in?
You guessed it. He did. Then WMU asked me to write. In a holy coincidence, they interviewed me, saw I’d written hundreds of devotionals, one book (the earned PhD didn’t hurt my record, either), and, before I wrote even one page, they hired me as editor for the denomination’s national women’s magazine, Royal Service, now Missions Mosaic. I didn’t even know the editor’s position was open. I didn’t apply for the job, but I got it. Now that really is a holy coincidence!
When I realized this was a call from God, I had no excuse. Since my children were out of college (almost) and on their own, I moved away from my hometown two states away to a place where I knew no one, trusting God to lead me. I worked joyfully at “hard labor” as the magazine editor for eight years, returning later to that building as a speaker/trainer/consultant for several more years.
I’ve since written 13 books (12 still in print), and God has blessed me beyond my wildest dreams. Probably much like you, I’ve found God has sent one holy coincidence after another into my life.
Edna tells her life stories of holy coincidences in her books, especially in the Friend to Friend Bible studies and the Deeper Still series. (Order at www.ednaellison.com, or contact her at ednaE9@aol.com.) Look for a new book which she co-authored with 4 women she mentored: A Passion for Purpose: 365 Devotions for Missional Living. Her two children and one grandchild are faithful and active in their churches and are finding God’s holy coincidences in their lives.