I love getting feedback from friends who have read my book or heard my presentations. When the writer of this blog shared how God used my visit to her church to sow seeds of interest in the Celebrate Recovery program, I was so excited I wanted to share her story with my own readers. If you are ready for some life change, this may be the avenue God wants to use to guide you on a different path. Enjoy!
Before technology took over our lives, before kids could text during class with flying thumbs and barely a glance beneath the desk… we passed notes. Yes “notes” – folded pieces of paper with the contents of our hearts printed for the whole class to see if Teacher caught us passing them across the aisle.
If we had a crush, we might draw lopsided squares next to the words “yes” and “no” following a question written with trembling pencil: “Do you love me?” Then directions for responding: “Check yes or no.”
Remember the heart-pounding, back-of-the-neck sweating, weak-kneed anticipation as the recipient carefully unfolded the paper and read those words? The date of the Emancipation Proclamation escapes us to this day because we missed an entire American History lesson as we anxiously anticipated the reader’s response. That one tiny check mark had the power to make or break social status and self-esteem, and determine whether we would cry on our best friend’s shoulder, or jump up and down with glee as we giggled together next to our lockers in the hallway. Remember?
I felt that same thumping in my chest, weakness in my knees, and inner angst on Monday as Honey and I drove to Tampa to retrieve the two fifteen year old Ukranian orphan boys we are summer-hosting with Project 143. After being apart for nearly three weeks, I didn’t know what to expect upon our return. Will they want to come home with us? Did they miss us? Will they hug us?
We tapped into modern technology – FaceTiming them on our iphones most days while we were traveling for Honey’s work and my Texas book tour, but with the language barrier, it was difficult to communicate. After several seconds of awkward staring, smiling and waving, we said “goodbye” and put the phone down, wondering what they were really thinking and feeling. Wondering why we missed them so much after sharing only nine days together.
“I bet Pasha ignores us or hides behind the other host parents when we get there,” I said to My Honey over Wendy’s baked potatoes halfway between Jacksonville and Tampa.
“Why would he?”
“Because he’s had a blast with the other kids and we abandoned him and he probably just wants to stay there and not come home to our small, quiet life,” I responded. “Besides, he doesn’t transition well.”
“Hmmm. Well, I guess we’ll just have to see, won’t we?”
When we arrived in our host friends’ driveway, Yura met us at the car with a shy but genuine smile. He hugged us both then immediately mounted his new Ripstik, proudly showing off his balancing skills.
Whew! One down, one to go.
I cautiously entered the house where my still-sane-after-parenting-six-kids-for-three-weeks friend, Sarah lives. No sign of Sarah but I heard kid-noise in the game room where I discovered four kiddos hovered around two computer screens, Minecraft on one and a digital soccer game on the other. Pasha’s back was to the door as he focused on the soccer screen. I sneaked up behind him, quickly covering his eyes with my hands in a guess-who gesture.
“Ms. Sarah?” he questioned, leaving my hands in place.
I said nothing. Inwardly pleading with my heart to stop pounding. Father, why do I expect rejection?
Pasha leaped from the swivel chair and attacked me – one hundred and six pounds of teenage boy wrapping me in a hug that squeezed fear to death! That moment confirmed Sarah’s hunch that even though the boys had only been with us a few days, our home was their home, because that’s the first place they landed in America. And our family was their family, because we were the ones who initially bonded with them here. Pasha didn’t let go. He hugged and hugged and hugged me until I became a rag doll flopping into the swivel chair. Then he raced outside to find Honey.
A few days later I sit in church, wedged between them like a paperback between bookends, watching My Honey in the pulpit – preaching the communion sermon.
Jesus, I want them to know You. I want them to want to know You. What does this service mean to two orphaned teens who didn’t grow up in the Christian faith and barely comprehend a few English phrases? How can I use Google Translate to translate Your sacrificial eternal love for them?
As Yura takes the tiny cup from the deacon holding a silver tray, I see the scars. Perfectly straight, white with age, horizontal lines just above the wrist. Cutting? Why have I not noticed these before? My stomach knots as I reach for my own symbol of the blood shed for my sins.
Grabbing my phone, I text with flying thumb, barely glancing at the screen half-hidden beneath my flowing skirt. God, I can’t be silent. I must ask, in the stillness of this moment. Will he trust me enough to let me share his pain?
I press “Go” and pass the phone as Google magically turns my English into strange letters and symbols understood only by Yura.
Расскажите мне о шрамы на руке? Tell me about the scars on your arm?
The same sixth-grade heart-pounding, back-of-the-neck sweating, weak-kneed anticipation creeps through my body as the recipient carefully-so-as-not-to-spill-the-blood takes the phone and reads my words.
Do you love me Yura? Do you love me enough to let me know the hurt behind those marks on your arms? Will you look at me with honest eyes and see that I long to know the life you’ve lived and the tears you’ve cried and the pain your young heart has born in your strong, silent way? Check yes or no.
Instantly his eyes meet mine as he drops the phone and instinctively covers the visible marks of his pain.
Oh Lord! I’ve gone too far, said too much, crossed the line! It’s too soon. The trust hasn’t had time to bloom. But, we only have six weeks left. Every moment is an opportunity.
I pick up the phone, feeling the eyes of a pew full of worshippers on the back of my neck as I, the pastor’s wife, text during the holy communion service.
I will use humor. That usually works.
Развелев поцарапать вас ? Did a lion scratch you?
He smiles, almost giggles and whispers in English, “No!”
Whew! Now what?
Лев почесал меня , тоже. Только мои шрамы на внутренней части. A lion scratched me, too. Only my scars are on the inside.
I wait. Yura smiles again and turns the phone off. He says nothing, but his body moves closer in a gesture of understanding. I can feel his leg, warm against mine as Honey reads from Matthew 26 (NKJV): “Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”
“Our savings in this world are not what we have today, but what we give to others” Sam Vonumu, Uplift A Child International.
The quote stops me in my tracks. I read it again. And again. I take out my phone and snap a photo of it. I think about it as My Honey and I are herded toward lunch with hundreds of other Christians from around the world who are attending the same conference.
The convention center cafeteria is freezing cold. We stand in line next to a couple from Australia and My Honey, as usual, begins a conversation. A Haitian gentleman serves rice onto his plastic plate in front of us and I overhear a quiet exchange in what sounds like Korean from the next line over.
“God, You have people who love You on every continent, in every country. What are we all doing to show the world Your love?” I question as I wait my turn for the salad dressing. “Does the world see Jesus in the people who call themselves Christians? Does the world see Jesus in me?”
We find two empty chairs in the dining hall and settle in next to a rainbow of skin tones. The folks to our left are from Brazil. The couple across from us are Kenyans. We smile and introduce ourselves. English on the Brazilian side is limited. Our Portuguese is nonexistent. We spend the meal conversing about Africa as my Dutch-skinned South African husband jokes that he is “African American.” Mr. and Mrs. Kenya laugh and inform us that our President is from their same tribe.
Several minutes into the conversation, we learn that the Kenyan pastor we are speaking with serves 2,000 Christians in several churches and many of his people do not worship in a building, but under the trees as they await funds to build a church. His wife is a high school teacher. They have saved for years to be able to travel to America and represent their country in this convention. This is their first (possibly only) trip to the United States. They are overwhelmed, but they “love it!”
Give them some money.
I recognize the Holy Spirit’s prompt.
“Lord, that would be awkward. They are not asking for anything. It might embarrass them. They are both professionals.” I argue.
I don’t hear God again as I finish my meal.
Then Honey asks them how much their plane tickets cost. They have a discussion about “Shillings” and “Rands” and “Dollars.” The man says, “I have some American money, but I don’t know how much it is worth.” He digs in his pocket and produces several coins. My husband touches each one and explains its value.
The wife asks, “What can you buy with one penny?”
“Maybe a piece of bubble gum,” I reply smiling.
I take a photo of the man’s hand as he holds out his coins. God prompts again.
Ask them if they need anything.
I say nothing.
We all smile and shake hands as we end our conversation. They stand to leave. We wave as they melt into the crowd heading for the convention hall.
“I wish we could give them something,” Honey says as the couple disappears.
“I think God told me to give them money,” I reply. “But, I felt it would be uncomfortable.”
“What?! How much do you have? Give it to me. I’ll go find them.”
I frantically dig through my purse and produce some cash. My husband grabs it and chases through the crowd
“Why don’t I just listen to You in the first place, Lord? I’m sorry. You were right.”
Honey comes back smiling. “Mission accomplished! They were thrilled. It wasn’t awkward at all.”
I am humbled. Again. By the goodness of God. By the fact that He communicates with us. By the opportunity to be His hands to bless another.
Later, I receive an email from one of the postal workers mentioned in Chapter 12 of my memoir, Same Dress, Different Day. It was a thank you for the copy of my book I’d given as a token of appreciation for kindness shown years before. Way back then, without knowing the details of my situation, this insightful postal worker in my town had offered compassion and had prayed for me, a customer. How wonderful to be the recipient of God’s mercy through another human being who listened to Him!
Part of my response to that email reads, “May God continue to bless you on your own journey and as you impact people in your circle of influence. You never know what a difference you are making. Perhaps only in heaven you will find out the rest of the stories.”
Last night, one of the front desk managers in our hotel asked for prayer for a coworker’s daughter. After a few brief encounters, Honey and I were trusted enough to be confided in and invited to pray for someone we’d never met. What a privilege!
These three incidents were sloshing around in my brain today as I sat down to write a blog post for someone suffering the effects of addiction. How does what I’ve written apply to codependence and addiction? How does it fit into the theme of my blog, that God redeems the dreams we thought were lost?
Here’s the connection. It goes back to Sam Vonumu’s quote at the beginning: “Our savings in this world are not what we have today, but what we give to others.”
Sometimes we are so overwhelmed by our circumstances that we miss opportunities for God to bless us through others. We can easily become mired in shame and fear and uncertainty when a loved one is acting out his/her addiction. We often miss the opportunity to give to others by allowing them to help us.
Here’s what I mean: The Kenyan couple gave us the opportunity to bless them because they did not respond to My Honey’s offer with pride or embarrassment. They happily took the cash and said, “Thank you.” No awkwardness at all.
The postal workers in my town gave me the opportunity to feel God’s presence and watch care over every detail of my life when they allowed God to use them to help and encourage me. I was humble enough at one point to confide in them because I needed help. I gave them my trust and they were able to bless me.
The hotel front desk manager became vulnerable enough to reach out to two Christian guests and ask for prayer. We would not have known the need if he did not ask. He GAVE us the opportunity to ask God for a miracle.
Sometimes we just need to give people the opportunity to help us. By doing so, we not only help ourselves, we also help them. If you love an addicted person, don’t live your life alone. Find a safe place to heal and grow. Find a place to talk and pray about your circumstance. Find a place to give others the opportunity to bless you. One day you may be the one who pays it forward.