Pay It Forward & Save!

“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.coins in hand

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!men praying

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.

Living In The Present

IMG_2009

Image Credit for “Yellow Roses”: winter_can_wait

My romantic husband wants to buy me flowers. I squelch him every time. After nearly four years of marriage, I finally figured out why. The epiphany revealed itself at the Writer’s Workshop I attended a couple of weeks ago when I was asked to write a lead about a memory involving flowers. The lead turned into the following paragraphs:

“Yellow roses smell like death. Death of dreams. Death of desires. Death of innocence. I loathe yellow roses. With Jon, every momentous occasion was marked with yellow roses. Tulips are my favorite flowers. But unless it’s Easter, tulips are hard to come by, so Jon bought me roses. With my credit card.

I used to pretend to be happy and surprised. But somehow they always made me sad. Even though every August I was the only teacher with a dozen yellow roses delivered to her desk, in my heart I knew I was also the only teacher whose husband smoked crack and pawned his Christmas presents. Everyone oohed and aahed and thought he was wonderful and said I was “lucky.” I didn’t want to feel special. I just wanted to have a normal life. And I didn’t feel so lucky when the credit card bill came. When eventually I dumped those drooping roses in the trash, my insides were more wilted than they were. Year by year my girlish dreams died along with dozens of yellow roses, until I knew that they could not, would not, be revived.”

So, now do you understand?” I asked my husband as we walked around the block together on Monday evening. “I think I have some sort of strange emotional conflict whenever you bring me flowers because historically, for me, flowers have often meant that someone was trying to cover something up or pacify some wrong, or just put on a big show when there wasn’t anything in the marriage to support the show.” His head nodded, “yes,” but his face still wore a puzzled expression.

My poor husband. He’s a good and kind man. Sometimes I’ve hurt him because I’ve responded to him with behaviors and emotions carried over from my previous life as the wife a cocaine user. I didn’t want to bring any “baggage” into our marriage. I thought God and I had resolved my issues. But, don’t “issues” rear their ugly heads in the oddest moments? Like when your loving husband brings you roses on an affectionate whim and you just feel annoyed rather than overjoyed?

I do not want to be in bondage to my past. God says, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1-26 ESV) I am free from the past. In Christ, I am a new creation. I do not need to mar the present with a thin layer of the past every time something happens that jolts me back to my former life. I was reading about codependency the other day and I came across this quote in the book Codependency for Dummies by Darlene Lancer: “It’s normal to need control and predictability, but the family of an addict or abuser is in perpetual crisis…You learned to control your feelings and behavior to feel safe. You’d never again be at someone’s mercy…you…may be anxious, dread disaster, and try to control people and events because of your past fear even when there’s no evidence for it in the present.” (P. 60) That is me. I don’t want it to be me. But sometimes, it is.

At a Women’s Retreat I attended last month, Dr. Vicky Coe said something that struck me as profound. I summarized it this way in my journal. “God has to take you out of your comfort zone in order to bless you. Especially when we are going to the next phase of life. There is growth in discomfort. We are creatures of habit. We have difficulty in our walks of faith because we live on yesterday’s faith. It’s a daily walk. We can’t live today on yesterday’s faith.” She’s right. I am a creature of habit. I don’t like to be taken out of my secure, controlled environment. I want everything to just be safe. And normal. And okay. But God in His mercy, wants me to trust Him. So he has given me a gregarious, out-of-the-box, spontaneous, romantic spouse. I’m not allowed to control every situation. I cannot squelch his passionate French heritage, and if he wants to bring me flowers, he wants to bring me flowers! Who am I to shut him down? I cannot live today on yesterday’s brokenness. Today is a new day. Codependent controlling behavior will not steal my joy. I will thankfully receive every gift God has in store for me today. Even if that gift is roses! I hope you will, too. Let’s not deny ourselves the gifts of the present because of the pain in our pasts.