God’s Goodness – A Greater Miracle: to be part of one

Heart pounding, I leaped up from the sofa, ran down the hall to my bedroom, and anxiously searched through my jewelry box. Where was it? I didn’t even remember the last time I’d worn it. Could I find it? Now was the moment, the divine instant. There in the corner, under pearls, gold earrings and an opal necklace, was a tiny, flat gray piece of barbed wire – now the most priceless jewelry I owned. Grasping it tightly I ran back to the living room. Leana looked at me with wonder that bordered on alarm. We’d met just nine days earlier. “She must be thinking ‘This is one crazy woman,’” I laughed to myself as I opened my hand and placed the small pin in hers.

“This is yours,” I said, and my mind flew back over fifteen years as I began to explain to the confused young woman why I had flown from the room in the middle of her story. In my memory I could still clearly see the unimposing figure, a courageous man who carried Bibles into the Soviet Union. We listened with humility and admiration as he related how difficult life was for Christians living under the threat of persecution. For some reason I didn’t understand, his words kindled a passion in my heart for that land, and I bought a tiny barbed wire pin and wore it to remind me to pray for those people. Years passed, and as so often happens, I didn’t wear the pin as frequently. Eventually it drifted to the bottom of my jewelry box, but that didn’t quell the prompting I sensed from time to time to pray for someone. I didn’t know for whom I was praying, but I prayed God would protect, guide, bless, and be very real to her or him.

Leana was one of four Russian girls our church was supporting in a college in the Midwest. Because the dorms were closed for two weeks over the Christmas break, the girls needed a place to stay. Tom, the youth director at our church, asked for host homes from the teens in the youth group. A year earlier our older son and a dozen youth had gone to Russia with Tom, taking medical supplies and an incubator to two hospitals in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Since our son loved his adventure in Russia, and since we had an extra bedroom, and even though we didn’t have a girl in the family, my husband, our two boys and I thought it would be fun to share our home and holidays with one of the Russian girls.

Tom chose Leana for us, and her addition to our family made the holiday magical as we experienced our traditions anew through her eyes. With all four girls we went Christmas caroling up and down neighborhood streets, freely singing our faith. One Saturday Leana perched on bleachers beside our younger son and tasted her first cotton candy while flower-strewn floats and marching bands passed by in the first non-military parade she had ever seen. At the zoo she laughed delightedly as she swayed on her first camel ride. On Christmas Eve the candlelight flickered on her young face, reflecting the hope we felt rise more powerfully than ever with the strains of “Silent Night.” Our extended family showered her with gifts on Christmas Day, and Leana gave us beautiful gifts from her homeland.

There had been so much activity that Leana and I hadn’t had much time to simply talk, so I seized the opportunity for some girl time with her while my husband and the boys were out one afternoon. Side-by-side on the sofa, I asked Leana about college, about her career dreams, about her family and her life in Russia, and about how she met Tom.

“My parents aren’t Christians,” she said, relating the years of wondering and longing that drew her to ask questions about God as she grew up. “I wanted to know the truth about Jesus. Then I heard Tom speak at . . .,” she continued, and I didn’t hear another word. The quiet voice I heard in my heart drowned out Leana’s words:

“Do you remember that person you prayed for in Russia, the one you didn’t know?”

“Yes, God.”

“Well . . . there she sits.”

That was it, simply matter-of-fact, but this sudden recognition launched my heart so jubilantly that I had to leap up and find the tiny pin. Now I knew whose it was.

“This is yours, Leana. I’ve prayed for you for fifteen years, even though I didn’t know I was praying for you. God put you in my heart long ago!” Tears brimmed in her eyes and mingled with mine as we embraced and cried together.

How is it possible to love someone you’ve never met? How is it possible to hear a child’s heart-cry and add your prayers to hers? How much more improbable is it to find yourself one day, in your own home, looking into the face of that same person? How breathtaking is it to be part of a miracle?

I don’t think my prayers were the only ones God prompted for Leana, but how incredible it is to have played even a small role in the answer to her prayers! That to me is miraculous, and now I know it’s true that to be part of delivering a miracle for someone else is as astounding and life-changing as receiving a miracle of your own – perhaps even more so!

My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God; on behalf of a man he pleads with God as a man pleads for his friend.” Job 16:20-21

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of him.” 1 John 5:14-15

A “. . . but . . .” to pray: Glroious God, I’ve prayed and sometimes not seen an answer to my prayers. It’s tempting at those times to think you don’t hear me, BUT I know you do, because Jesus told his disciples (and all of us, me included) to pray. You wouldn’t tell me to do pray if you didn’t passionately want to speak to me, hear from me, and move divinely in response to my prayers. Thank you that you inspire me to pray for others. I may never see or hear the results of my prayers, BUT I believe they will accomplish much more than I know. How wonderful if I could someday meet the one those prayers are for, BUT even if I can’t, thank you for giving my life incredible impact by making me part of a miracle, and thank you for moving someone I don’t know to pray for my needs.

Your own “. . . but . . .” to pray: God, sometimes I think my prayers go no higher than the ceiling because I don’t see the answers, or because the answers are so long in coming, BUT I am willing to believe that ______________________________. Thank you for inspiring me to pray today for someone who needs a miracle.

God’s Goodness: The Power of Purpose

(In the photo are 28 of the many-more blessings God gave us in this place)

It was an unlikely spot for a miracle to begin: the curb of a Howard Johnson’s parking lot on a Friday night. I huddled on the cold concrete, oblivious to the flaming glory of autumn leaves above me, my husband inside the hotel oblivious to my desolate grief. My chest heaved with sobs as I cried out from an abyss of desperation, “Did you bring me here to abandon me?”

So much had gone wrong in the six weeks since the September morning I’d said good-bye to our older son and his fiancée, our family, our home of 28 years, our friends, and a dynamic church – aside from my husband and our younger son, everyone and everything that mattered to me. My husband’s new job took us 2,000 miles across the country. Our house sold in two hours – a hopeful balm to the loss I felt – and I considered the lightning-quick sale confirmation that God’s hand was guiding our move.

But was it? The 40 houses we’d looked at were at least $100,000 more than we had, and each one disappointing in some major way. The first house we saw had no closets, and things only got worse from there. We had signed a contract on one house and purchased new appliances to upgrade the kitchen, but a week later the owner decided not to sell and backed out of the contract. That left us with $5000 worth of appliances sitting in storage with no house to put them into… My husband’s new company rented us a house for one month, but what they didn’t realize was the owner of the house had rented it every weekend to “leaf peepers.” Friday nights we packed up and moved back to the hotel; on Sunday nights we moved back to the rental, where I washed dirty dishes, sheets and towels, cleaned the bathroom, and vacuumed before we could even unpack.

With no permanent address, we couldn’t enroll our son in school. I didn’t want to start him in one school, then move him to another in weeks or months. He felt uprooted enough! Then my husband found a condo we could rent in November in the town where we hoped to settle, so I met with the principal to convince him to let our son start school. We’d moved from a metropolitan area where our son’s school was ethically diverse to a tiny pocket of rural New England. A friend from our home church glowingly described their new home in Connecticut as a “Leave It to Beaver” neighborhood, and I drank in the hope that our new town would be the same. But during the first week in his new school, a girl in our son’s class announced, “You’re from somewhere else. That makes you different, so we aren’t going to be your friends.” And that’s how the school year went. Our son, the befriender of the outsider, the compassionate kid who made hurting children feel accepted, was now an outcast and devastated. Every day I drove him to the small school nestled in the lovely valley, and every day he battled rejection and tried to make a friend.

So I sat rocking on that cold curb, anticipating mountains of cleaning on Sunday night, everything I loved stripped away from me, every hope for happiness seemingly strangled, and wept bitterly. Through sobs I looked up and cried, “God, I can’t do this! Please send us back home!”

“If only . . . .” I whispered, “If I could see a purpose . . . . I could live with all of this if there was a reason.”

At our 10,000-member home church I wrote books with the senior pastor and led groups in a vibrant women’s ministry; our son loved the lively, creative Sunday School program. Now we were looking for any Bible-believing church. Earlier that week I’d called the pastor of yet another congregation to get directions to his church. “No,” he replied to my questions, “we don’t have a women’s ministry or a youth group. My sons and one other boy are the only children in the church older than preschoolers.” Most of the church’s 60 members were college students.

“Oh, great,” I thought ruefully as I picked myself up off the curb in the gathering dark and my mounting gloom, “I told him we’d visit. Now we’ll have to go through with it just out of courtesy.”

Sunday we took our seats on folding chairs at a local library. An older couple behind us tapped our shoulders, introduced themselves, and said, “We’d love for you to come to our house for lunch after church.” Our son’s eyes met mine, silently pleading, “Please, no – can’t we go to MacDonald’s?” But we accepted. It couldn’t hurt to meet people who were friendly!

Loretta and Dana were gracious and genuine. Over lunch in their kitchen, my husband mentioned that he worked for a Japanese-owned firm. Loretta said their son had worked in Japan. Thinking for a moment, she added, “I know a Japanese woman here who’d like to be in a Bible study, but she’s uncomfortable with her English. Her husband works here, so she comes for three months, then returns to Japan for three months. I think,” she added, “they live in the town where you’ll be living next month. Would you be willing to have a Bible study with her?” At least it would give me something constructive to do, so I took the woman’s phone number.

I had no idea I was poised on the brink of a miracle.

“Coincidentally” this woman lived in the complex we’d soon move into. In fact, Hiroko lived two buildings down, and her husband was president of the company my husband worked for! “Coincidentally” we’d visited the church I wanted no part of, in front of the couple who could connect me with Hiroko and my miracle of purpose. Hope rushed in as a door opened for me into new understanding. Now I knew why the contract fell through on the house we bought appliances for! I knew why we were renting a too-small condo. I knew we had a church home. I knew God had a purpose for me and meaning for this move!

Incredibly, God moved us across the country to answer the prayer of a woman from the other side of the world. Hard as it was for our son and me, we were answers to prayer. God’s hand was in every detail of this move, and if that was true, his goodness was there for our family.

This foreign land for both Hiroko and me became a place of miracles. The next year our son made good friends at the regional junior high who didn’t know he was from “somewhere else.” We found a house with closets. I helped start a women’s ministry with precious friends who became like family.

God’s miraculous answer to my anguished cry on the curb of the Howard Johnson’s was not to send me home, but to plant my heart in the purpose he had for me in a new home. This, too, is God’s character: he gives our lives meaning that gives our lives joy, no matter who or where or in what circumstance we are. Not all miracles of healing involve your body. Some miracles – perhaps the most powerful and lasting – heal your heart. That healing is God’s heart for you today.

“For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

A ” . . . but . . .” to pray:

God, I’ve misjudged you when I have only seen difficult circumstances, not the potential for meaning, purpose and miracles even in difficult situations. Sometimes you are hard to discern, BUT I believe and delight that you love to make me an answer to prayer and give my life meaning and purpose that make even hard places and circumstances become places of blessing. You are great, and you are good! Amen!

Your own ” . . . but . . .” to move:

God, I look around me and see _____________________ in my life, not goodness, BUT I know you long to use me to answer the cry of someone’s heart, and I know in being that answer, I’ll __________________________ and you’ll fill and strengthen my heart, too.