Short Stories Series: Three Stories about God and Giving

I know, no stories for a long time, and then three at once, and no pictures either. So use your imagination. You have one.

Story One

The first story is one that Robert Morris tells. He is a televangelist who writes and speaks a lot about his experiences with God as a giver. He will say with confidence that he has never been able to out-give God and this is one of the stories that he uses to illustrate that.

He wanted to give his wife a gift for her birthday and asked their daughter to find out what his wife wanted. After the daughter had talked with her mother she reported that she had been sworn to secrecy. Robert was determined to reward his oft self-sacrificing wife so he told his daughter she was released from her promise. His wife had talked about a certain purse that she knew was more expensive than she would ever buy for herself, and she really didn’t want her husband to buy it for her either. She figured he might try if he knew. That was why she made her daughter promise not to tell.

Robert says he was floored when he heard how much the purse cost. He evidently didn’t or couldn’t buy it and he felt sad and was wondering what he should do. A widow lady in his church enters his story next. She came up to his wife and gave her a gift. It was the exact purse that his wife admired and wanted. God’s message to Robert was simply “I wanted my daughter to have this gift.”

Hearing this remarkable story, I was struck with the thought of how it would feel to receive uncommon extravagance from God, how I would feel loved and valued. To feel like the daughter of a king…

Story Two

The second story is about my own experience with giving. I met Darnelle when he was about ten years old. He was in a struggling, single parent family, and we developed a friendship centering around music. I was teaching piano at the time and he wanted to learn so I gave him lessons. Over the years he was frequently in our home, mostly in times of need. He seemed to always be out of work, sometimes homeless and sleeping in his car, when he had one. We gave him money, helped him buy cars, fed him, and gave him shelter and prayed for him. Nothing helped for very long. Every call from him eventually got down to asking for money, and finally I was done. I said no. Rather than helping him, it seemed we were enabling bad decisions.

Recently, even though we now live thousands of miles from Darnelle, I received a text from him. As usual, he was stranded and out of money, on his way to a new job. He just needed enough money to get there. I didn’t see the text until an hour after he sent it and when I replied to it, there was no answer. He often used someone else’s phone when he didn’t have one so I assumed that was the case.

Two days later, the husband and I were praying, and it occurred to me to ask God for wisdom if Darnelle should somehow connect with us again. Sure enough, I got a text. He was desperate and asked me to “walmart-to-walmart” him some money. I didn’t want to stand in line forever at Walmart. I didn’t want to feel like I’d been “suckered in” one more time, but I knew I had prayed about this. I didn’t doubt that he was in some kind of need. God has been generous with me and I felt that he was asking me to be obedient and help Darnelle one more time. I sent the money, not because Darnelle had asked, but because God had asked. Everything belongs to God, including my money.

Story Three

The third story is, again, about giving. And about God. I have a daughter who is getting married, in a pandemic year when everything is a little bit crazy. She is a hardworking equine veterinarian and barely has time to wash the manure off her clothes, much less plan a wedding. But, she made time to try on dresses. The lace, tulle, and frills (at extravagant prices) transported her to a different vision of herself as a beautiful bride. In contrast, her practical self was staring at her school loans and numerous bills. She said “no” to the dress and tried to be satisfied with something less.

We had conversations about this decision. I knew it was not in her nature to spend thousands of dollars on a dress to wear once, ONCE. She wanted reasons to feel good about the lesser dress she was planning to wear and I gave her some. I told her she could choose to be satisfied with whatever decision she made. I told her that I was praying and trusting God to bless her, “his daughter”, with her heart’s desire for this special time in her life. And I truly felt that those were not just words. They were God’s message to her.

With the time growing shorter and tension mounting, Julia was feeling the weight of things that weren’t getting done, weren’t turning out quite as well as planned, weren’t what she had hoped for. I got another call. Things were more hard than happy. Right in the middle of the disappointments, I could see the dress, and I didn’t know what to do except to keep praying for her.

On the same day that I said okay to God and gave Darnelle $100, someone precious gave Julia a gift of a beautiful dress. It was one she had tried on and loved but didn’t feel she could buy.

I don’t presume that God spoke to the generous benefactor in an audible voice, or that he even presented himself as God. I’m pretty sure the generous benefactor knew nothing about the backstory of Darnelle and obedience in my life. But I have seen and heard that God is always at work in ways that are so complicated they can only be described as mysterious. Somehow he can bless Julia, he can bless a man stranded on I-95 with no gas in his car, and he can bless me with answered prayer, all connected with the same circumstance. I know he will also bless the person who cared enough to dress a bride in a beautiful dress.

I’ll Pray About That

“You can do more than pray after you have prayed; but you can never do more than pray until you have prayed.” A.I. Gordon

I sat for a while this morning looking at my prayer board (yes, I have one) and praying (yes, I pray) and being grateful for the wealth of friends I’ve been given. Of course there are family members up there too, but they are also the best of friends. My life has been changed in some way by each and every one of the relationships represented by the notecards tacked up on cork. I can look at them and remember the times and circumstances. I feel rich.

Not everyone on my board thinks like I do, believes what I believe, votes like I vote – you get the idea. I know that God created them all, loves them all and for some reason (not always one that I know) has given them to me to know and care about. Caring about them, and praying for them, changes me. I feel it happening every time I sit here.

It’s more than just a walk down memory lane too. What I have in common with “my people” is that we are all trying to make it through this life and figure out why we are here. When I pray I believe I’m talking to the only one who knows that answer. I ask him to move us all closer to knowing and understanding our purpose. Knowing and understanding our real identity. Knowing and understanding that there is a good plan. Move us all, one day at a time. I don’t even have to know who has it figured out and who doesn’t. (Frankly, I believe anyone who thinks they have it figured out… well, they’re wrong. No one has it all.)

And the prayer board is just a start. Every day two or three more people come to mind.

If you’re my friend or family, I’m praying for you.

If I’ve had an interesting conversation with you, I’m praying for you.

If I’ve stayed in your home, or you’ve stayed in mine, I’m praying for you.

If we’ve had an adventure together, if we were childhood friends, if you grew up with my daughters, if you live in my neighborhood, if you read my blog, I’m praying for you.

I’m not sure what you need most but I’m praying to the God who does.

I can’t promise you a miracle, but considering who I’m talking to, it wouldn’t surprise me a bit. Just sayin’…

“Talking to men for God is a great thing but talking to God for men is greater still.” E.M. Bounds

Being in Poverty: An Amazing Night

By God’s design, I am pretty sure, three young homeless men have come to live in our house. I don’t know why, but I am learning. 

It was an amazing happening, there in the dining room around the table. I never would have imagined it.

One of the young men had come in after a day of work very depressed and anxious. He had driven Uber until 3:30 am that morning,  had fallen asleep and nearly missed his wake up alarm for his day job. He was mentally depleted and close to having an asthma attack. I tried to get him to calm down and eat something, go to bed. He kept talking and rehearsing his dilemma.

The two other guys arrived about that time and heard what was going on. They jumped in with their own brand of cheerleading/encouragement. Words, stories, lots of “bro this” and “bro that”, and finally A, who hadn’t really told me much about his feelings about God or faith, said to D, “Bro, do you want to pray about it?”

“Yes, I pray” D said. He wasn’t expecting it to happen right at that moment, but A walked over, sat down and took his hand. J took another side of the table. There was one side left so I sat down and joined them. J started praying, talking to God very sincerely for a good five minutes. Tears were coming down D’s cheeks when the prayer was done.

They talked some more, to the point where there was something to laugh about. I could tell D was feeling better. They were all having something to eat. J was pointing out that all three of them had hard things in their stories, but they were still there in spite of those things and that they were being given another chance. Why not take it? They all had children to live for and people who would be devastated if they gave up.

I felt so included in their story, and so a part of their camaraderie. I said to them, “We are all adults here, and even though I am much older than you, I don’t mind if you call me Shirley instead of Miss Shirley.” There were looks of disbelief on three faces.

“But that’s a sign of respect, and if my Mama knew I called you anything but Miss Shirley I’d be in trouble no matter what my age!” one of them said. The consensus was that they were going to call me what they were used to calling me and it was going to be Miss Shirley.

That got them talking about how they each had not wanted to stay with us in our home – just because it had seemed so uncomfortable at first. But the misery of living in their cars had been great enough to drive them to accept. I realized how uncommon it is to move into a stranger’s house, and especially a stranger from another racial background. This is not something that very many of us ever do.

What a gift I was given, to listen to their unguarded conversation about their life, their culture, and their feelings. I don’t get this kind of experience very often and I’m giving God the credit for it. It was pretty amazing, just sayin’…

But you would have none of it…

Sometimes I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing.  I wonder if the reason my life is filled with routine, sometimes mundane activity is because I’m not a good enough tool. Maybe I wasn’t listening when instructions were being given. Maybe I was playing spider solitaire or watching tv? Maybe I was over invested in my to do list for the day, or riding my bike to allay my worries about hypertension. Maybe I just didn’t want to sit and write about something I had learned or felt – something that might have brought hope to someone desperate for a word.
Okay, I’ve come to recognize this train of thought. Left unaddressed, it gathers force and eventually has me sort of despising myself for not being something greater than I am. I could wallow in it, but don’t have time. I could go talk to a counselor, but don’t have that kind of money. I could talk to God…, yeah, I actually do that. Today it went like this.

“Help me. This angst and unrest is insanely uncomfortable.  I know you wanted me to solve the world’s problems, lol, instead I’m not even solving my own.  Should I be able to do something more than this?”

It occurred to me in the middle of this that God is probably able to put me where he wants me. Indications are that he likes it when I give him credit for that. So I started thinking that way, and it felt right, good. Felt true.  I also read from him – it’s something he told someone else, but it’s a principle that shows how he does things.

image

 

It also records the response he got which was not so great.

Whoa! Could I be doing that? I’m told to be quiet and trust and instead I’m having none of it and looking for some action?  I’m going to worry about it and figure out what to do? It’s pretty ridiculous, but it happens when I forget who God is and who I am and how different we are.

I thought about this, off and on today, and my conclusion is that I want all the quietness and rest God wants to give me. Bring it on.  I want to be alert and ready, but content, storing up that strength I’ll probably need later.  This is one of many answers to personal cries for help, from God’s word to my intellect, resulting in a kind of peace.

What does this mean in a world that doesn’t believe in a personal, relational spiritual Creator who works with people for their betterment?  God could easily say to this culture “but you would have none of it”. We fit the picture, just sayin’…

Being Led

image

One of the hardest things for me in my relationship with God is knowing when he’s telling me something. I’m sitting in the physical, trying to hear from the spiritual and honestly, I need more practice at it to be sure what I’m hearing.
The husband has been a member of a community band for years. It takes quite a bit of his time and is really his one and only hobby. He plays trumpet, helps on the board, and with their website and talks about band, band, band all the time. I’m not a band music type of person, although I can usually find something to enjoy about any music played well. I have been to quite a few of his concerts over the years but lately I have felt more selfish with my time. I have many things I enjoy doing as much (more) than listening to marches and show tunes.
Today there is a fall concert, and I would say that the husband has been a tiny bit stressed out about it. I had not discussed with him whether I would go or not.  He left early to be there for a practice and warm up.  I was at home wanting very much to have a lovely quiet afternoon. Unfortunately, I have found that often in that situation I begin to have persistent thoughts that maybe I should be doing something else. Like, maybe going to a concert in support of the husband. Is this the voice of God testing my willingness to listen? Is this an overzealous conscience fueled by guilt? Hmmm… what are the chances?
So here I am at the concert (painfully early I might add), which I know will probably make the husband happy.
It’s possible it wasn’t God talking but he knows that I thought it might be him, so I think he’s happy too. It strikes me as the kind of thing God would do to surprise both the husband and me, so in that way I am looking forward to how this will turn out. And what can it hurt? I feel sort of blessed already, I’m just sayin’…