Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Special Gift

I sat at my dining room table, working on my computer. My youngest daughter skipped around the corner with a pink gift bag in her hand.

“Surprise, Mom! I have a late Christmas present for you!”

I began to open it up, only to find 2 more bags with tissue paper stuffed in them, inside the outer bag.

“I wrapped it in lots of packages, Mom. It’s a special gift I made for you.”

I finally found the little gift. A small shape made of little plastic balls stuck together in the shape of – well, she had to tell me – baby Jesus in the manger.

Her face was glowing. She was quite pleased with her gift. So was I.

A small handmade gift, of great value, was wrapped in layers and layers of wrapping.

That’s been my experience with God this year. As I look over the past year of heartache and sorrow, I realize that many times the gifts He has given me are not laying out in plain view. They have been covered up, and covered up, and covered up. They have been wrapped in all sorts of wrappings, and unlike the ones that my daughter presented to me, they have not always been very pretty or fancy.

But God is faithful to give good gifts. Helpful gifts. Lovely gifts. Valuable gifts.

Sometimes, dear reader, they are tucked deep down inside and they are not revealed on first look. Keep looking, though. Just like my daughters gift, I had to keep on unwrapping and unwrapping what she had wrapped around the gift. The end result was a treasure that she made, just for me.

God has surprises for you, as well. He has treasures of truth and gifts of love that He has hand wrapped in His perfect timing and His perfect way. Trust Him and wait patiently to see what He is giving you and believe that He, as you seek to know Him and love Him, will present to you special gifts that He has made just for you.

My prayer for you as we enter the New Year is that no matter what the wrappings may look like or how many there may be, that you will see and believe that God has good gifts for you.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

What a Mess!

We walked in to the family room. Strings, globs of strings and chunks of rubber dog bone were everywhere. What a mess!

“Ok, buddy,” I said to my 10 year old son. “Please! Help me clean up this mess the dog made, before we head to bed.”

“Why do we have to clean it up, Mom? Why can’t Courage clean it up? He’s the one who made the mess!” he said, with a chuckle in his voice.

“You’re right, William. He made the mess, but unfortunately we have to clean it up. He doesn’t know how to pick up string with his paws.”

And so it is with us, dear reader. Life can get pretty messy sometimes – either by our own doing or someone else’s. We need a lot of help and most of the time we really aren’t able to clean it up ourselves. Oh, we may try, but without the capable and wise hands of our Jesus, it’s just not possible. A dog doesn't have the ability in his paws to pick up chunks of bone and string and clean up, and we don’t often have the ability to clean up our messes with our own hands.

It’s humbling and yet reassuring at the same time. God is the only one who can help. Call out to Him and trust your mess to His sovereign plan. It will likely not be easy, but it will be worth it. When we step out in obedience and trust Him with our lives He transforms us into something beautiful, and that something beautiful looks like His son Jesus. Often times, it is a day to day decision. Waiting on God and seeking His will requires great patience and great strength. He is able and willing to give you both. Commit your life and your mess to Him – just for today – each day.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

”They returned glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them” (Luke 2:17-18).

God chose shepherds to spread the Word. Shepherds were not fancy, and in fact, they were looked down upon. Maybe you feel that way sometimes, but be encouraged. God uses whatever He chooses to tell of His love, and He will use us, too.

The least of them were the ones who received the Word from God, via a magnificent heavenly display of angels. They heard the great news, dropped everything, and ran to see Him and worship Him. They sought the greatest gift and they found Him, After coming face-to-face with the Living God, they left glorifying and praising God for all the things they heard and saw, which were just as they had been told, and people were amazed!

May this be for you this coming year, as well dear reader. As God reveals the truth of His Son to you, go out and seek Him. Spend time with Him. Honor Him. Admire Him. And then, having heard and seen what God is doing in your life, spread the word about this child, this man, this God who came to save the lost. Glorify and praise Him by sharing the truths that you know of Him and the love that you have experienced from Him, to a hurting world.

Remember, you are loved with an unfailing love. Rest in that today, no matter your circumstances. Jesus came for you.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Come Dance with the Prince

There is something in Christmas that takes us by the hand and walks us down memory lane. As we look back over the years, we may reminisce about sweet memories of Christmas joys and times that were filled with safe, secure, and unconditional love. However unfortunately, I think most have experienced either a mixture of joys and sorrows, perhaps even a life story that is infiltrated with pain and loneliness. Rather than feeling connected, we’ve felt disconnected; rather than seen and cherished, we’ve felt invisible; rather than included, we were excluded; rather than remembered, we may have been often forgotten and rather than being hopeful in a season that is decorated with hope all around us , we have felt hopeless. Maybe these things are even true for us right this moment.

Perhaps it is the music, the lights, the stories, the gifts, the decorations, the beauty – that makes our hearts yearn for love. And I believe that it is the love of God – Jesus – who takes our hand and takes us for a walk. As we walk, I think we begin to explore questions in our little girl hearts (and not so little girl hearts – I know it does in mine) that we have either not been willing to ask or courageous enough to ask, like: Am I beautiful? Am I worth a gift? Am I special enough? Am I worth being pursued? Am I worth fighting for?

We wonder, “Do dreams really come true?” We so desperately want to have hopes and dreams and the assurance of love, and yet, time and time again throughout our lives these desires have been dashed.

Well, I have good news of great joy!

There is a rescuing, powerful, gentle relentlessly pursuing love our hearts beat for and His name is Jesus. We’ve been rescued by love – we just miss it. Somehow, the very thing that opens our hearts at Christmas time (the beauty and festivities around us) also numbs our ability to remember. And we forget –

The Greatest Love Story Ever (not just told) but Lived.

It is an adventure story of a young Hero – the Prince of Peace – who comes from a far off land to rescue His lost treasure (that’s you and that’s me!) And Jesus, being the Prince of Peace that He is brings peace that makes you whole. It makes you complete. It is beyond understanding, and yet, even in a world full of chaos and strife and pain (whether in your home, in your heart or far away) it is a real peace. A tangible peace. A deep Peace. A forever Peace.

He left one castle – an incredibly beautiful, perfect place to rescue the one He loves. He came from a beautiful city, with walls of topaz, jasper and sapphire, streets paved with gold and gates of pearl. He came from a place where there was – is – no darkness. Just light – and lots of it! He left the light and entered in to the darkness on a night when no one was looking, other than Mary, Joseph and a band of smelly animals.

And Jesus came, willingly, humbly. He came and he lived, died, and lived again. He sacrificed it all for you and for me, because He loves us.

Dear reader, we often miss the tender, intimate, personal message that God has for us at Christmas. He sent His one and only Son, Jesus, to rescue you and to rescue me! It was not just a general rescue mission, but a personal one. He knows your hurts – whether they happened to you or whether you have caused them yourself. j

He has chosen you. You are the girl at the ball, who stands in the corner. He has come to make His way through the crowd to your heart and He says, "Come dance with Me.; come be with Me forever." Acknowledge His love and His power in your life this Christmas. Others may have failed you, but not Jesus. Take the hand of the Prince and dance with Him in the castle of your heart this Christmas, and all year through. Merry Christmas, dear one!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Dealing with Discouragement

In the Christmas movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the opening scene is one of a snowy night in Bedford Falls. We hear the voices of people praying for George Bailey – people who love him and whom he has helped. In the next scene, we see stars in the galaxy and witness a conversation that appears to be between God and a senior angel, Joseph. They are discussing a man, George Bailey, whom people are praying for. The decision is made to send Clarence, an angel trying to earn his wings, to help George. Clarence is beckoned and arrives.

“Clarence, a man down on earth needs our help” God reveals.

“Is he sick?” Clarence replies.

“No, worse, “God responds, “He’s discouraged.”

All faulty theology aside (for instance, angels come with wings -- they don’t earn them), my own heart is stirred with the reality that when we are infected by discouragement it can be worse than physical sickness. It can permeate the core of our being and attempt to destroy our joy and our hope, perhaps even leaving us weak and wounded. Sometimes it’s related to something particular (a dream dashed, a conflict unresolved, a trial persisting) and other times it sprouts up by itself like a seed blown in by a storm, taking root whence we know not where it has come from. As powerful as fear can be in our lives, discouragement can be equally so. It disarms our ability to persevere and be strong, if we allow it settle in and take up residence in our hearts, and causes us to lose sight of the big picture.

However, there is hope and His name is Jesus. Jesus overcomes our discouragement when we relinquish it in to His capable hands, and I believe He can transform it and use it to develop patience in us (and perhaps a hundred other things).

James 5:7-8 says, “Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.” Whenever we feel discouragement settle in, whether it is in regards to our ministry, our calling, our relationships, our finances, our families, or ourselves, we can try and look past it, focus on the Lord and the hope that of the work that God has promised to do in us.

Patience will grow in us when we respect who God is, trust in His timing and remember that He is coming back. Now, we celebrate the first Advent, but we look towards the second Advent when He will come again. It is easy for us (at least it is for me!) when it seems as if things are just not going as I hope or plan, to be discouraged – but I can be short sighted and need to remember that Jesus is coming again and all that is orchestrated now is for my good and His glory.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Needing to Make Room

“... because there was not room for Him in the inn” (Luke 2:7).

I have never kept an inn, but I do run a household that sometimes feels like an inn. People come and go, mostly my own, with distractions of all sorts always bombarding my heart, soul and mind. I have lists and lists of where I have lists. I keep them in my car, in my bathroom and in my kitchen, not to mention, in my mind. I write lists about things to do, people to call, bills to pay, groceries to buy, notes to send and things to write about. If I am not dealing with a list of responsibilities, my mind is full of thoughts and feelings. Something is always vying for my attention, in one form or another. Bottom line – there just is not a lot of room up in the old noggin’, or at least it seems.

There really isn’t mention of an innkeeper, per say in the bible. We imagine that someone must have let Mary and Joseph know that there was not room for them, probably an innkeeper. The census was drawing people in by the droves. The inn was most likely overcrowded – families reuniting (or fighting), food, music. The inn was too full. Mary and Joseph went out back and the greatest event of all time occurred in a lowly stable.

Why did God tell us that there was no room? What does He want us to learn from this detail? I’ve been pondering this short verse as I have been struggling with distractions today. My guess is that whoever turned Mary and Joseph away didn't even know that Mary was carrying the most precious gift of all.

This is the point that God has impressed on my heart today: The innkeeper, who most likely did not know about Jesus, did not make room for Him, but we do know Jesus and often times we still don’t make room.

God knows that we have the propensity to fill up our lives, not just now, but always, with busyness, thoughts and feelings. Distractions. Things. Stuff (as my 10 year old son would say). Items that divide our attention and prevent us from concentrating. Diversions. Oftentimes, my heart and mind feel as if they do not have room for one more thing – a “no vacancy” sign is ever flashing. It’s not that my intentions are not good – I desire to make room for Jesus -- but there are always the needs of the immediate, and let’s face it, there are lots of them.

Dear reader, perhaps you can relate. Life is full, and well, at Christmas time, it is over-flowing. The reality is that we can be distracted by responsibilities, by pleasures, and even by our pain. Our lists of “things-to-do” can be long, but our thoughts and emotions can be just as consuming, if not more so.

Jesus – Emmanuel – came to reside with us, but we just don’t take the time to make room for Him. “Stuff” gets in the way -- lots of stuff. We need to move some things out or move them over, make room for Jesus and abide with Him. And when we do that, He will help us care for the list of distractions – whatever they may be – responsibilities, pleasures and pain and bring us peace.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Christmas Story According to My Toddler

Several Christmas’ ago, I was standing by my kitchen sink early in the morning making muffins. I noticed the presence of my three year old son out of the corner of my eye. He was dressed in his jammies. A blanket, decorated with frogs, was draped over his head and shoulders in a standard shepherd like fashion.

“Hi! I’m Jonas,” he said in his gruff little voice.

I quickly tried to process toddler dialect. Jonas? Did he mean Jonah from the bible? No, it’s Christmas time; he must mean Joseph.

“Oh! Do you mean Joseph?” I asked.

“Yah, that guy. Jofus, “ he grunted as he pointed over his shoulder. “And that’s Mary right behind me.”

“Mary and Joseph! And what are you doing?” I queried.

“Taking care of some animals."

“And what else are you doing?” I asked.

“We’re camping.”

“And where are you going?” I continued.

“To a stable."

“And what are you going to do there?” I asked, curious about his rendition of the Christmas story .

“Fix it,” he said plainly. (That is when Bob the Builder was popular and fixing things was Bob’s job).

“And what else is Mary going to do there?” I asked, eager to hear my dear son express the true meaning of Christmas.

“Why, she’s going to have the baby Jesus!” he said.

Now, I was excited. I dried off my hands, knelt down next to him and held his little perfectly round face in my hands. I could hardly wait.

“Oh! William! And WHY is Mary going to have the baby Jesus?” I asked with great enthusiasm and passion.

His little blue eyes looked at me, peaking past the blanket, a bit confused at my question and said, “Well, because she’s a girl!”

I still chuckle every time I think of that story. What does one say after that? I’m not sure. I just hugged him and smiled, and it brings me joy to this day. Hope it made you smile, too.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

You are Loved

Black table cloths blanketed the tables. Votive candles encircled center pieces made of wreaths and hurricane glass containers filled with gold accents. Desserts were served with coffee and tea by waiters. Little gold wrapped gifts sat at each setting. A harpist played. Women talked and laughed and relaxed, taking a break from the busy holiday season. Even though a winter storm raged outside, women gathered to celebrate at our church’s Christmas Tea, in the atmosphere of this year’s theme “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.”

I had the privilege of sharing the message this year. It brought me a great amount of joy to share with the women the truths that God revealed to me over the past years, especially in regards to His gentle, relentlessly pursuing, rescuing love. Although I did not share the details of my life story, I was able to speak from my heart -- a heart that is fully convinced of His great and faithful love. This is a bit of what I shared.

I believe that through the years, ever since we were little girls, our hearts beat for the assurance of love. The world has stolen from us the belief that we are loved, special and beautiful. We have been tainted and stained by hurtful experiences of either our own doing or the doing of others, and we (most of us) have slowly but surely believed a lie that we are none of the above.

But that is not true. When God looks at you, He thinks you are beautiful and you are special and you are valuable – because you are. You see, regardless of whether you are young or old, tall or short, have gray hair, brown hair, blond hair or red hair, He thinks you are beautiful and loves you. It does not matter the color of your eyes, the size of your dress, your shoe size, what you do for a living, how many children you have or the fact that you do not have any. It does not matter to Him whether you are married, divorced, single or widowed. It does not matter where you live – in a house, an apartment, or a car. He doesn’t mind if you have scars on your face or scars on your heart, He created you and loves you with all His heart, and that is what makes you beautiful.

In a world that has a warped image of beauty, listen to and believe the One who made you. You may not feel chosen, but He has chosen you. You are the girl at the ball, who stands in the corner. He has come to make his way through the crowd to your heart and He says, “Come dance with Me; come be with Me, forever.” You are His treasured possession. You have great value. You are a priority. Jesus loves you even when it feels as if no one does, or ever did. He is searching for you, even though to Him, you were never lost.

Our little girl hearts (and not-so-little girl hearts) yearn and long and sing, “’Someday my prince will come …. “ And the good news is – He has.

I will share more with you in the days to come, but for now, ask the Lord to help you believe how very much He loves you, regardless of your circumstances of today or your circumstances of your past. Place your heart, with all of the hurt, sorrow, loneliness, guilt, and even joy, into His gentle Hands and allow Him to rescue you, for you are loved.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Wonderfully Made

The photographer held her camera with confidence and creativity, clicking pictures of the children from every angle. The children, who at first were uncomfortable and hesitant, soon began to giggle and glow as their comfort level increased and they felt free to be themselves. It was an amazing transformation that I witnessed, and it was a gift.

I smiled, watching the whole event, taking in every moment. The children were dressed in long sleeved white shirts, jeans and wore (why do we say it this way?) bare feet. They were naturally beautiful. Now, I suppose like any mother, I’m terribly biased about how beautiful my children are but what I saw yesterday was deeper than that – it was an outward expression of their inner uniqueness, and that was beauty.

I was a bit unsure of how a photo session with five children would go. Needless to say, it was enough for me to decide what to have all five of them wear, appropriate for their ages and stages. We had not had the children’s pictures taken in years (I wish I was a mother who was more diligent about it, but I’m not) and so when the opportunity arose for them to be photographed by a professional, I thought I had best seize it and just weather the chaos.

But there was not chaos -- it’s true! There was joy, and lots of it! Each child, once they became comfortable with the photographer (a complete stranger at first) began to engage with her and react to her. The photographer was effervescent and delightful, popping her head in and out from behind her camera, relating to them, sharing stories with them and encouraging them with words like, “beautiful – fabulous – incredible – wonderful!” She praised them for their naturalness and for their joy. She laughed at their funny little mannerisms and encouraged them when they were playful and endearing with one another. Gradually, the children became more and more open and by the end of the session (1 ½ hours later) the children were begging her to take more pictures of them while they acted silly, sweet or sassy. The girls performed hand stands, wrapped themselves around each other in all sorts of configurations and modeled “attitude” poses with my reading glasses. The boys lounged on couches and against the wall looking cool, and even my 15 year old son (who has CP) propped himself up against the brick wall and flexed his much defined muscles in an atlas sort of pose.

I received so much joy watching each one of them express who they are and enjoy themselves.

I think that is how God feels sometimes with us. Psalm 139:14 says that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” I have been pondering that in light of the experience I had yesterday. If God in His great love takes the time to make each one of us unique, why do we spend so much time not appreciating our uniqueness?

I think that somewhere along the path to adulthood, some of us, sometimes, lose the ability to be comfortable with the unique being that God created us to be. We become stained and tainted by the world, and we shut our unique selves in to little boxes and fear that if we ever come out we will either be made fun of or criticized for being prideful. Our ability to be ourselves falters as our life experiences battle against who God created us to be.

Oh, we are not perfect, but we are unique. In some ways, it is about honoring our dignity and honoring God in appreciating how He made each one of us. We hesitate to be ourselves because we do not feel safe and secure; we fear. We feel judged, less than, ugly, inadequate, a failure, and we may end up even trying to be someone we are not. What a tragedy. We are our worst enemy and I think that the evil one rejoices (if that is possible of one so dark and demented) when we refuse to be who we are created to be with the gifts that God has given us.

When we appreciate ourselves in the Light of who God is, it is beautiful. It is as if He is the photographer, desiring to have us be who we are and we just stand there --- scared and insecure, rather than free and engaged with Him. But like the children, who opened up and were more comfortable the more they got to know the photographer, so can we begin to be more comfortable with who God created us to be and experience more freedom and joy in being ourselves, by spending more time with Him and allowing Him to work in our lives.

Dear reader, you were fearfully and wonderfully made and still are. God has created you with special gifts and a unique personality that only you have. And in it, He has a purpose for you to bring beauty to a hurting world and to reflect a dimension of Himself that only you can. Ask the Lord to show you who you are, if you are not sure, and be the best you that you can be for Him.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Learning to Enjoy God

We walked 3 blocks to the Jewel grocery store every day. We played Yahtzee, ate lunch on T.V. trays in the T.V. room (a bedroom that had been converted into a family living space), and went to the beauty parlor together, where she had her hair done once a week. We went to the Moose and saw her friends, where I was the “guest of honor.” She gave me small prizes (AKA junk) that she won at bingo and other games. I ate Brach’s candy with her in the car. She always made me peanut butter and honey on toast before I went to bed. She said funny, ordinary things that would make me laugh. I went to Marshall Fields with her to get a new slip and pantyhose (how’s that for an “old” word?). She rubbed my back at night; always called me “Dolly” and let me be me. I loved my grandma.

When I was a girl, I was crazy about my grandma. Every summer, I would go to spend one week with her and my grandpa. When I was with them, I felt special and like a priority. It’s not that they did anything extravagant (other than occasionally going to a Chicago Cubs or White Sox game – which was pretty special) but I loved being with them and we were very close, particularly my grandma and I. I miss her.

The thing about my grandma is that she was very present with me in and out of the activities of daily living. She listened to me, engaged in conversation with me and held me. I loved that about her and I enjoyed being with her. This challenges me to reflect on my relationship with the Lord. He is ever present (even more so than she could have ever been). He listens to me, speaks to me, and holds me. He is always available and never out of reach and He desires for us to be present with Him, as well -- to speak to Him, listen to Him, spend time with Him, share with Him our joys and our sorrows, and enjoy Him.

I want to be more aware of enjoying God. I want to enjoy him in the moments of each day. Enjoy His grace and great love for me. Enjoy the intricate and immense dimensions of His personality. They do not have to be big “over the top” experiences, just living life together. It makes for a relationship, a deep, never leaving, always abiding type of relationship.

Dear reader, you are a priority to God and He desires to be a priority to you. Take time in the little and big things of each day to acknowledge His presence and His love and affirm your love for Him. I learned from my grandma that it is in the little things that we are given opportunities to love and be loved. Make a conscious effort to grow in your relationship with the Lord in this way, as well. Enjoy Him!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Change 4 Change 4 Jesus

“On your mark! Get set! Go!”

I gave the command, and they were off. Jumping from their places on the floor and couch, the children scattered to all corners of the house. They searched under couch cushions, in drawers, and in pockets of coats hanging in the front hall closet. They rummaged through my old purses, a swim bag hanging in the laundry room and in my jewelry bowl on my dresser. They scowered the car. They found their own stash in jars hidden in their bedrooms and they gathered the treasures from spaces and places where “extras” were kept.

Quarters. Dimes. Nickles. Pennies. Change. That is what they were after. One by one, screams of glee would echo through our home, “I found some more! I found a quarter! I’ll be right there. I found a lot!” And gradually a pile of change began to accumulate on a dish towel, in the middle of our family room floor.

"Change 4 Change 4 Jesus" I coined it. (No pun intended! J) Seems like the Lord gives me the best ideas when I am driving in the car, alone – maybe it’s because I finally have a chance to sit down and think. I was pondering the question “Am I really making a difference? How can I touch people near and far this Christmas? There are people hurting everywhere, but what can I do – we do – to help bring about the change that is needed in the hearts of people, showing them the love of Jesus?”

I glanced down at the cup where I store my coins. The thought sprang in to my mind -- “Use this cup of change – all your change -- to bring hope.” And the idea was born – “Change 4 Change 4 Jesus.”

After gathering up the coins, leaving no couch cushion or bowl unturned, we sat down as a family and counted the money. Making piles of each coin in to smaller piles, we sorted and organized. We made guesses on how much we had ($70, $68, $78, $75, $73 and $80) and then enthusiastically went around the room, adding the totals together. To our absolute amazement we had $127.50 in quarters, $34.40 in dimes, $13.65 in nickels and $10.15 in pennies – for a grand total of $185.70!

Either we are very poor guessers or somehow God multiplied the money, given cheerfully, like He did the fishes and the loaves. I’ll never know, but we had a lot.

We wrote down ideas on how we would distribute the money. All sorts of opportunities came to mind – friends and neighbors in need, a family at church who recently lost their job, a friend struggling with grief, the local emergency shelter, our troops, our school, our church. We thought about sharing it with local community services, missionaries, our Christian radio station, a widow friend of ours and the Salvation Army. Then we took all our ideas and went to the Lord in prayer, thanking Him for the amount that we found, and asking Him to help us determine how He would want us to use this money -- His money.

After praying, voting and discussing we came to this -- we would help a family in our church that recently lost their job and we would send some of our money to Gospel for Asia, buying 4 chickens and 1 goat, to help families in India come out of poverty and know the love of Jesus. Anything left over we would use to brighten someone’s day in an unexpected way -- maybe someone who is sad, lonely or despairing.

Dear reader, I invite you to join our family’s “Change 4 Change for Jesus Challenge.” This Christmas season (and throughout the year) take time to get together as a family and search your home for change that can make a difference in the world. Make it fun and make it special. God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7). Whether you find $2.00 or $200.00, ask the Lord to show you who He wants you to minister to with your “change.” The world is full of people in need, near and far – financial needs, emotional needs, spiritual needs. One by one, we CAN make a difference and be a blessing to a world that is hurting, in the name of Jesus.

PS – One more thing – will you come back and let us know what you did and the ideas that you came up with regarding whom to help? We’d love to hear your ideas, and they may spur others on, as well. And pass it on to your friends and family … let’s make this Christmas a time of revival in giving, in the name of Jesus!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Impossibilities are Faith Opportunities

I’m not exactly sure why, but the one thought that keeps pushing in on my heart is this – “Nothing is impossible with God.” I keep thinking that when the impossible happens, then I will write about it and what a testimony to God’s power it will be! But today, I am convicted that I am to write about having faith in the God Who does the impossible, not the impossibility itself.

I guess we all have a tendency to weigh the likelihood of a particular situation and go with the more likely of 2 choices. “Everything is possible, but is it probable? Probably not.” I hear statements like this, and I think, “Yep. That makes sense. I better go with the more likely answer. The odds are against me for anything else to happen. Don’t be foolish.”

We are a skeptical people. The beliefs of the world and our own experiences have turned our views upside down and we hesitate to hope, our faith falters and we concede to putting our hope in probabilities instead of the One who holds it all in His hand.

In Luke 1: 26-39 we hear of how God sent the angel Gabriel to announce to Mary that she was chosen to be the mother of Jesus. Although troubled and confused by the angel’s words, Mary, in faith (not disbelief) asked “How will this be since I am a virgin?” The angel went on to explain and ended his statement with this, “For nothing is impossible with God.”

I am struck by Mary’s response. She didn’t vacillate or deny, but she said immediately with great faith, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”

THEN Mary got ready and hurried to see Elizabeth, her relative, where Elizabeth exclaimed a confirmation of Mary’s pregnancy with and said, “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.”

I think it is interesting. The angel says “For nothing is impossible with God,” Mary commits her devotion to Him; this leads to her immediate movement towards Elizabeth (whom the angel spoke of, too) where she is further encouraged, not only in that she is carrying the Lord Jesus, but for her belief in what the Lord has said. The very truth that nothing is impossible for God moves her forward with courage and faith.

I want to be like that. I don’t want to walk around skeptical of what God may or may not do, but I want to walk around in the truth that anything is possible with God and so, therefore, whatever He chooses is good. I want to be the Lord’s servant and a woman of great faith. God gives us lots of opportunities to trust Him. He precedes them with truths from His Word and from Himself. He whispers in our ears, “Nothing is impossible with Me” and yet we do not move forward in faith, we doubt, count the odds and resign ourselves to probability rather than possibility – the possibility that God may be doing a great work through us.

Impossibilities are faith opportunities. We have choices to trust God -- or not. Today, I am going to recommit to resolutely choosing God. When faced with what appears to be an impossibility, I am going to remember that anything is possible with God, and allow that truth to strengthen me to be courageous and faithful. I am going to walk forward in what He calls me to do, day by day, step by step. I am going to choose the narrow road and I am going to believe that whatever God has for me is the good and perfect thing. Maybe it will be an “impossibility,” maybe not … but either way, I hope that He will say “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.”

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Give Thanks for His Unfailing Love

Dear Loved Ones,

Whether you find yourself in a time of abundant blessing or in a time of deep need, my prayer for you this Thanksgiving is that you will know of God’s unfailing, faithful love for you. I am praying for those of you whom I know and those of whom I do not. God is not limited by whether I have ever met you – He can choose to use my prayers for you, if He desires, and so I pray.

Many people will proclaim with great optimism this Thanksgiving, “I am so blessed!” However, perhaps this weekend, you are struggling to feel blessed. Perhaps you have lost your job, lost your family or been betrayed. Maybe you are sick, weary, worn down or wandering. Maybe you are lonely, fearing, abused, or hopeless.

Although it is paramount that we look for the ways that we are blessed, my concern is that we can easily look upon these things admiringly and gradually the focus becomes on ourselves and what we “have,” rather than on Who God is.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “ … give thanks IN all circumstances.” It is a challenge, I must confess. God does not say that we need to be thankful FOR all circumstances, but we can be thankful IN them --IN all pain, IN all loneliness, IN all poverty, IN all grief. We can be thankful in it for what God is doing in us, through us, and especially, we can be thankful for Him.

We can be thankful for God’s faithfulness, for His quiet love and for His joy, despite pain. We can be thankful for the wisdom and insight that He gives those who love Him, for His truth and for the discernment that He gives, allowing us the ability to drown out what a multitude of people say to only hear His voice. We can be thankful that He is Safe and in control and a Refuge that we can run to. We can be thankful that He is always present, available, and will never leave us or turn His back on us. There are more than a million things that we can be thankful for about God.

Look in to the light of His face, that shines even brighter in the darkness, and give thanks to the Lord for Who He is. Thank the Lord FOR the blessings He has bestowed upon you, however large or small they may be, but do not miss giving thanks to God IN all circumstances. And, do not forget to "... give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love" (Psalm 107:8). What a relief and a reassurance that no matter whether we find ourselves in times of “blessing” or in “pain,” God and His love will never change.

In His Faithful Grip,

Andrea

Monday, November 23, 2009

An Unwanted Solicitor -- Envy

True confessions, I have felt the pursuance of envy on my heart over the last couple of weeks. Like an unwanted solicitor, the image of envy, with green eyes, dressed in the clothing of entitlement, pride and selfishness, has persisted in trying to get me to allow it in. I don’t need a show of hands, but anyone else having to bar their doors and post “No Trespassing Allowed” signs? Like the persistent solicitor either on the phone or at the door, it keeps calling and calling trying to get me to respond, and regrettably, from time to time I have answered to hear what it had to say.

Envy is the desire to have something that is possessed by another. Envy, like all sin, is destructive. Very destructive. Envy destroys us. It destroys our relationships with others. It destroys others. And it destroys our example of who Jesus is to others. Envy is never satisfied. It always wants more.

Proverbs 14:30 says that, “envy rots the bones.” Can you just feel it? It starts out as a sticky, slimy, sickening, grimy feeling and before you know it, it has permeated our very support structure, and the decay progresses at the speed of time elapsed photography. I hate it.

I can see the hot breath of envy making clouds of vapor out in the cold, outside of my heart, and I’ve noticed that it is often accompanied by its cohorts discontent and ingratitude. We want something that we do not have, and we are not pleased with God’s plan for our lives. We want what someone else has, rather than being satisfied with what God has given us. When I allow these two things to enter in to the home of my heart, I can almost be guaranteed that their pal envy is present, even if I did not notice it at first. I need to also be aware of these two harmful guests. Their boss is pride, and I know better than getting involved with pride. The enemy of our souls tries to sell us all sorts of lies. He entices and incites to evil. It brings him satisfaction. I do not want to be part of his supply of satisfaction. Pride alienates me from God, and I do not desire that. I love Him too much.

So, what do we do? Know what it looks like. Do not open the door. Do not answer the call. It can come in masqueraded as something else, like justice and truth, but it is not. Lay whatever you are feeling along side of what God’s Word says and look to see what is true. Ask the Lord to reveal it to you, and ask Him to show you the truth about yourself. If any envy has made its way in to your heart, rid of it (1 Peter 2:1)! Clear the home of your heart of this toxic, hazardous poison (Kick it out!) by asking for forgiveness and asking the Lord to show you who He has created you to be.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 says this, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” In addition, practice joy, prayer and thanksgiving. It is a choice! When our hearts are full of these godly things, they act as a barricade against the entry of those things that destroy, like envy -- their presence is a sign to sin that says, “No Trespassing Allowed!”

PS Not always easy, perhaps never is. I'm a work in progress, for sure. Off to work on all of the above myself ... thankfully, God is here to help.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Dreaded "Deck of Cards"

The dreaded “Deck of Cards.” As soon as I saw it in the trainers’ hand, I said to myself, “Why did I come to boot camp today? I wish I would have stayed home.” It was too late. I’d look like a quitter if I darted out the door and maybe even more importantly, I would have felt like one.

I attend a group class called “boot camp,” three times a week. The exercises are always varied and intense. For me to say that I enjoy it would be only a partial truth – I do not enjoy it during the time, but I am thankful for the strength and stamina that I have achieved by persevering, over time.

Ah, Yes. The “Deck of Cards” -- It is a most grueling and nearly hopeless grouping of exercises. The trainer assigns an exercise to each suit in the deck. For instance today, “hearts” were squat jumps, “diamonds” were power push-ups, “ clubs” were V-sit ups and “spades” (and I wince even thinking about them) were one- legged burpees. (What is a burpee, you may ask? – Don’t. It is hard to explain, almost impossible to do in succession, and … well, I wish they were never invented.) The trainer shuffles the deck of cards; we all get a chance to cut the deck, and then the torture begins. The first card is turned over and one does the exercise associated with that suit, the number of times that are on the card – IE: 2 of clubs is 2 V-sit ups, 9 of spades is 9 one-legged burpees – (that’s 9 on each side -- 9 x 2 = 18. Can you tell I am still reeling from the discomfort?) Once you are done with one card, the next card is immediately turned over and you are on to the next exercise for the expressed number of repetitions. And on and on it goes till 108 squat jumps. 108 power push-ups. 108 V-situps, and 216 one-legged burpees are completed. OUCH!

Thoughts like – “This is crazy!” “I’m going to pass out!” and “I’m never coming back here again!” crossed my mind, while I sweated and panted and felt my muscles ripple like waves on the ocean. However, knowing that at least 2 of the 3 things are not true (In my view, “This is crazy!” is accurate) I kept my mind focused on the finish line -- Card #52 (which was 8 one-legged burpees – that makes 16 total if you’re doing the math). The last card was eventually turned over and we were done.

Long story to share about what I thought when I drove off in my car, dripping with perspiration and exhausted, but done. Sometimes life seems like the “Dreaded Deck of Cards.” I find myself challenged by one situation after another, in rapid succession, feeling like I’m going to pass out or just quit.

The apostle Paul uses the analogy a lot of physical training in the bible, and I like that. He says, “… let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus …” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Here is the reality. God, in His wisdom and mercy, does allow (for He holds the deck) for us to undergo intense training. He is training us for godliness. It is not pleasant when we experience it. It is hard. The words of Paul indicate, however, that we do have a choice as to what we can do when we participate – “let us run with perseverance … let us fix our eyes on Jesus."

I could have quit today. I’m glad I didn’t. The trainer heard me mumble the words of self-defeat that I mentioned earlier. Her response was, “You’ll be glad when you’ve completed the workout. The sense of accomplishment and the results are worth it.” So, despite intermittent complaining, I tried to persevere and to stay focused.

Dear reader, it’s hard when we are getting bombarded with trial after trial, exertion after exertion, frustration after frustration, heartache after heartache … but don’t quit! God is in control, He loves you and He uses our struggles to strengthen us and create in us stamina, as He trains us to be more like Jesus. It is difficult – sometimes even grueling -- and although Paul says run, I think there are times when we find ourselves just barely walking, but we need to keep on moving in the right direction, keeping our eyes focused on the Lord Jesus. Over time, I believe, we will be able to say, “We did it!” (Thanks to Him!) and the results will be more than worth it, for “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12).

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"The Will of God Will Never Lead You Where ..."

The framed quote was lost in the abyss of my bathroom linen closet. I forgot about it. It was stashed in the back, past half used shampoo bottles, tubes of tooth paste that were purchased in bulk on sale, and other miscellaneous medicine bottles, lotions, and personal items. My daughter found it, while searching around for something else, and placed it, as a surprise, on my bathroom sink counter. When God wants to say something, He finds a way to do it – one way or another. The quote reads,

“The will of God will never lead you where the grace of God cannot keep you.”

I do know it to be true, but sometimes it requires intentional believing for me. When tensions are mounting and new developments are occurring faster than popcorn popping the truth is that God will not take us outside of His grace, and in every circumstance that He brings us He is present and ready to equip us for that which He asks us to do.

Looking back, I must have stuck the framed quote away years ago, probably on sunnier, “no kidding, I know that” days -- days when “God is great, God is good” rolled off my tongue with ease, for my tongue was not weary and dried from exhaustion. I may have thought I mastered this truth, and did not need to have it present in front of my eyes on a daily basis. It is easy to lose sight of God’s truths – truths that get lost behind the bottles of busyness and the clutter in our lives.

Thankfully, God brings them to us despite our tendency to forget, and He is impeccable in His timing. Suffice it to say, as I struggle with certain issues right now, I need to remember that God is in it and will give me the strength to face what (and whom) I would rather not, and strengthen my weary heart and gird up my courage to stand firm in what He is asking me to handle, today and every tomorrow.

Dear reader, do you need to be built up by this truth today? God will not lead you where He will not keep you. He will never forsake you. He will never leave you. He will never push you out and say “good luck with this one … I’ll see you later.” No, He is faithful to walk with you through all things that He calls you to do.

What is it for you? Are you dealing with a difficult person? Are you suffering physical pain? Have you been betrayed? Abandoned? Have you been criticized unjustly? Are you being called to persevere in a challenging situation and not sure if you can do it? Are you being asked to love your enemy? Are you being asked to exercise bold love? Are you grieving over the loss of a loved one? Are you facing changes – drastic changes? Are you experiencing the one devastating thing that you thought (or hoped!) you would never have to face as a spouse, parent, friend or child?

Living in the tension of the truth that the will of God will never lead you where the grace of God cannot keep you, can be very difficult, but if God calls, He carries and equips. I have lived the reality of His constant care and I am confident of this truth.

His grace is sufficient; His power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). God’s ways are higher than our ways and His will is perfect. He calls us to trust in Him in all circumstances. Amidst dark and difficult times, His abundant grace and love will keep us safe and secure. Half the battle is to believe, the other is to wait. His grace is for both.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Buried Treasure

The maps are often brown, crumpled with jagged edges, charred as if just having escaped destruction by fire. Sketches of paths, mountains, valleys, caves and deserts cover the page. A large “X” marks the spot of the buried treasure. Stories (some true, most not) circulate about such valuable, mysterious treasures. Books are written and movies are made about them. People are fascinated by them; hopes are constructed around them. Treasures. Buried treasures. Hidden treasures. Valuable treasures. Desired treasures. Perhaps there is a little “treasure hunter” in all of us – the mystery, the surprise, the quest, the prospect of finding something that no one else has found.

Isaiah 45:3 says, “I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.”

Treasures of darkness? Riches stored in secret places? It is true. God has things – treasures! - for us that we could not know in any other place than in the dark times that He allows us to walk with Him through. These are the places where we find the treasures, and these treasures are evidence that He knows our name.

Precious jewels like diamonds and rubies are usually not found scattered on the ground. They are hidden – buried treasures -- deep below the earth’s surface, as well. They are dug for, chipped away at, carved out and polished. Pearls, hidden between the strong clasps of an oyster’s shells, are dived for in to the deep oceans.

So it is, dear reader, the Lord has precious treasures for us, riches stored in secret places, in the deep, dark places of our life. He gives us a map (His Word) to navigate our way over the mountains of pain, through the valleys of betrayal, in the storms of sorrow, in the vastness of the ocean and in to the caves of loneliness. As we search and seek with Him, He gives these treasures to us. He guides us to valuable truths that we could only find in these dark places. These rare and brilliant truths are not just laying out on the surface for anyone to pick up who is just meandering by. No, these truths are special ones He has just for us – truths about Himself, ourselves and His great, unfailing love.

The hidden treasures are “so that …” we know that He is God and that He calls us by name -- personally. What a joy! What a reassurance! Even here, now, when all may be dark and dank, there are treasures wedged between the hardness of the rock or in the depth of the ocean, waiting for us to discover them with the direction and strong hand of God, so that we will know more of Him and His intimate relationship with us.

Seek for these treasures – treasures that are far greater than any earthly treasure. Yes, they are buried, but they are beautiful, and they are for you.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Caught Off Guard

Yesterday, I shared in our Women’s Bible Study about how God uses suffering in our lives. Although it was only a short contribution, the flood of memories and emotions seemed to well up inside of me, oozing out of every pore the moment that I stepped to the podium. In addition, much to my dismay and mounting agitation, the Lord prompted me to share some specifics about my time of trial at the last minute, as I was preparing to walk to the front to speak. Although they were not details, they were far more than I had intended, and it threw me off. I am planner and this type of surprise was not a party. It felt as if I took my heart out of my chest, dissected it on the table, and then quickly tried to stitch it back up and reinsert it into my chest – all in ten minutes or less.

Uncomfortably, I have been rattled ever sense. I take my teaching and speaking seriously. I pray and research and plan and write and edit and rewrite. I love doing it and I love seeing what the Lord gives me to share. Usually, I am open to adding and subtracting bits here and there, believing that God will hold my words or give me new ones, according to what He wants said and who is listening. But this time -- a "big" change at the last minute? I was not accustomed to this. I wanted to be obedient, but it felt uncomfortable and even hurt.

In thinking it through, it hurt because I was vulnerable in a time when I was not sure I was ready to be. I also knew that I did not have enough time to explain or to expound on the situation. I would have to trust the Lord for the details, and just say – and not say – what He wanted me to, and then let Him take care of the rest.

It’s a scary place, like stepping up to a cliff, stepping off, not looking down, and trying to look up and stay focused. It’s what trusting the Lord looked like for me yesterday. During those 10 minutes I lost a view of what was around me, but continued to persevere in what God was calling me to do. After free-falling, and landing, I had to get up and walk on, not quite sure of what happened or whether it really even made a difference.

At the end of the talk, I shared this verse from Isaiah 54:10-13. “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you. ‘O afflicted city, lashed by storms and not comforted, I will build you with stones of turquoise, your foundations with sapphires. I will make your battlements of rubies, your gates of sparkling jewels, and all your walls of precious stones.”

What a beautiful picture of what God is doing in our suffering. My encouragement to the dear women at the study, and to you dear reader as well, is that even when all seems as if it is falling apart, or that you are free falling, God loves you unfailingly. He is working in all that is happening, and He is building you with the precious stones of His truths, the truth of His character, the truth of who He has made you to be and the truth of His love. These are the sparkling jewels that He uses to build the walls of your heart with.

I remain rattled, but not as much now, and maybe I am just beginning to see a glimmer of a new jewel that He is placing in my life -- the jewel of the truth that when we walk in obedience to Him (regardless of how we feel), He is responsible for the outcome, not us. We are just to trust.

P.S. -- On a much lighter note. I arrived home after my emotion filled morning, to find myself engaged in a game of "chase" around the kitchen table with my 1 ½ year old dog. I was in hot pursuit of what he had snatched in his mouth – my personal undergarment (AKA -- bra). Needless to say, I was too late. It was shredded. I needed the comic relief; I got it thanks to God and a precocious dog named – Courage. (I thought of taking a picture and posting it, but thought maybe that was an unnecessary visual J).

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Ping-Pong Pandemonium

It’s funny how sometimes it is the small things that can really get us going. I don’t understand it. Perhaps you’ve heard the old saying, “Do not major in the minors.” Well, after majoring in the majors for the past several years, sometimes even the minors were feeling like majors. Perhaps you can relate.

I was caught off guard, agitated and irritated. My heart felt like it was a ping pong ball, bouncing between the paddles of mad and sad. Ping-Pong. Ping-Pong. Back and forth. Mad-Sad. Mad-Sad. I was beginning to make myself dizzy with all the back and forth. I needed to stop the ball, and think clearly.

It’s not that the feelings were not valid – they were (are) – but they were beginning to cloud my thinking. My allowing my heart to be tossed back in forth in this fashion was not good for me. What I was experiencing was chaos of the heart, and I needed to stop.

So, how was I going to do that? (“Easier said than done, “ I moaned to myself). In order to stop the pinging and ponging, I needed to remember Who God was, and Who He has been in my life, faithfully. As I made the choice to stop and look towards Him (which actually wasn’t hard at all) God began to infuse His perspective in to my heart, by giving me a vast array of memories to remind me of Who He is. Even this coming in to my life was not something that slipped through His hand with, God saying “Whoops!” and “I’ll try to do better next time!” God knew that I would have this little minor issue, and I needed to remember that He was still good and that He still sits on His throne, in control, even in this, AND that He was using it for my benefit. Yes, I could still be sad and mad, but the pandemonium needed to stop.

Dear reader, my encouragement to you today is this. Most times, I am convinced, we just don’t know what God is up to. We fret and feel and fear and fail – but God is orchestrating everything around us, not only in our own lives, but in the lives of the people around us. Somehow, He does it perfectly and profoundly. Who knows what He may be preparing us for, or protecting us from? We may never know, but He does – and that is enough for me. For in these past years He has shown me that He is completely trustworthy. It is a struggle, though, for me to remember. Even today, the ball has stopped bouncing, but I am still practicing remembering and holding firm to the truth. OH! How I wish I had it perfected!

God is God, and we are not (thankfully). The Lord helped me to stop the ball by reminding me of Who He is and how much He loves me. When you are feeling overwrought, and your heart is feeling tossed about -- stop, call out to Him, and trust Him for every single thing, major or minor or minor feeling like major. He is faithful to love you and care for you.

PS -- Thank you, Sara, for being the Lord’s mouth piece and reminding me of some of these truths. He uses you time and time again, and I am grateful.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Shape of Shame

The statue sat near the back of the table at the yard sale. My friend and walked past it several times without noticing it. In front of it rested a menagerie of useful items, although no longer needed at that household. Glassware. A quilt. Jewelry. Books. Clothes. Serving Dishes. The usual rummage fare.

We were heading out when the figure caught our eyes. Simultaneously, we turned to each other and sighed, “shame.” The form, slightly larger than the size of the human heart, was in the shape of a woman, eyes cast down, shoulders stooped, arms wrapped around curled up legs. We immediately bought it. She planned to use it with her counseling clients, and I desired to write about it. The statue cost a mere three dollars. It was cheap compared to the price of the thing that it depicted.

My friend and I have different life stories, as we all do, but we both know the feeling and underlying messages of shame. “You are the problem. There is something wrong with you. It’s your fault. If only you were different.”

Shame is different than guilt. Guilt says, “I did something wrong.” Guilt should drive us to repentance. When we feel guilty over something we’ve done, it makes us want to ask for forgiveness and change our behavior. Shame says, “I am something wrong.” When we feel shame, we need to remember who we are, created in the image of Jesus, dearly loved.

It is part of all of us; some of us more than others, depending on our life experiences. When pushed in to, our hearts can quickly take on the shape of shame, and even our bodies as well. We find ourselves with down cast eyes, heads hung low, and shoulders stooped. We feel “less than” and it hurts.

So, what do we do when we feel our hearts molding in to the shape of shame? We seek the Lord and examine our hearts for whether we are experiencing shame or guilt. They can feel similar, and they can often meld together. It is important to realize the difference. If it is guilt, we repent. If it is shame we need to remember (or learn) God’s truth about ourselves – we are rescued, bought with a price, created with a purpose, not perfect, but perfectly, unfailingly loved by Him.

Psalm 3:3 says, “But you are a shield around me, O Lord; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head.” Do you feel His gentle hand beneath your chin, dear reader? There is a lot of invisible power in shame, but it is not as powerful as the One who made you. He is a shield around you. He is the lifter of your head. You have value. You are beautiful. You will make mistakes, but you are not a mistake. Look up, and into the face of the One who loves you, and believe Him.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

An Unexpected Visitor

Today I was reflecting back on a situation that occurred several years back. My family arrived at a small town diner, to have lunch. After fidgeting with our chairs and our belongings, we finally settled in to who was going to sit where and next to whom. (This is no easy task with five children, each having very outward opinions of whom they want to sit by). I was under the weather – discouraged. Although I can’t remember specifically why, I do remember feeling quite overwhelmed as a mom and not terribly qualified or successful at it.

We ordered, talked, ate, colored on place mats and made a mess. (Sometimes, I wondered if I should bring my own hand held vacuum cleaner when they were all little, to help with clean up). Near the end of the meal, a man approached our table.

Previously, I noticed him out of the corner of my eye, sitting at a booth not far away from our table. He was a stocky man with a ruddy complexion and large muscular hands stained with oil and dirt, giving me the impression that he was hard working. He wore blue jeans and an over sized plaid shirt.

Often times, when strangers approached our table, they talked to the children or talked to my oldest son who has Cerebral Palsy. Occasionally, they made comments about how the children were well behaved (hopefully) or encouraged my son with special needs, in some way -- but not that day.

The man walked directly up to me and simply said, “Here, this is for you. You need to know that you are very special and God loves you very much.” He handed me a small card, the size of a business card, with a bear on it, and the words, “God made you special.”

I was shocked, and confused. How did he know that I needed that? Why was he talking to me?

I looked down at the card, processing what happened in what seemed like slow motion, then looked up and he was gone.

This story came back to me today while sitting in bible study, listening to the teacher speak about angels, what they are and what they are not. I have always wondered about that man. Could he have been a ministering spirit sent with a message from God?

I don’t know, but I am confident of this -- God knew what I needed to hear that day, and whether He chose to send an angel dressed in the appearance of a hardworking man, or a real man, God spoke to my heart. Perhaps this man was not an angel, but a man who felt the prompting of God and then obeyed, stepping out to encourage an overwrought, tired, struggling mother in an out of the way diner. Either way, God knew my heart, and He provided comfort and strength to me that day, in a most surprising way.

This simple event has stuck with me for all these years. I carry the little card in my purse, and from time to time, when I come across it, God uses it again to encourage me that He thinks that I am special. It also reminds me to be aware of the needs of the people around me. Perhaps God would choose for me to make a difference in a small way or a big way; one that would have a lifelong impression, as this sweet unexpected visitor did for me.
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