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Archive for April, 2013

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“I don’t know if you remember me. I hope I’m not bothering you…” The man’s voice is hesitant, almost apologetic, with a distinct midwestern drawl.

The number on my phone shows an unfamiliar town in Missouri, and the voice isn’t registering as anyone I know. Wrong number?

“We met on the bus to Springfield,” the man continues. “I had just gotten out of prison.”

My heart jumps as it all comes rushing back. Just after New Year’s. The greyhound bus from St. Louis to visit my grandmother.

The young man sitting next to me had struck up a conversation with me during the three-hour trip. He revealed that he had just gotten out of prison. That morning. Drugs and the wrong friends had messed up his life, but he was ready for a fresh start, he’d said.

“Fresh start.” Those were his very words. Jesus had met him in prison, he’d said, and he had read the Bible he’d been given over and over. When I told him about Fresh Start For All Nations and the blog I write, he agreed to let me tell his story. “If my story can encourage someone else, then please use it.”

Before I got off the bus, I gave him my business card with the Fresh Start website. It was only afterwards I realized it had my personal cell phone number too. Was it wise for a single girl to give her phone number to an ex-con?

And now, four months later, he’s calling me.

“I’ve gotten mixed up with my old friends,” he confesses softly. “And I’ve started doing drugs again.” I can hear the defeat in his voice.

My heart is heavy. He was so hopeful when I met him a few months ago. So confident. And now…

“I’ve been looking through old phone numbers,” the man continues, “and I remember that you were so sweet and encouraging. I was just wondering if maybe you would pray for me.”

What else can I do? I feel so helpless.

“Can I pray for you right now?” I ask. The man agrees. Taking a deep breath, I plead on behalf of this broken man.

“Father, thank you for your grace and forgiveness…” I ask God to be with this man, to bring him good friends, to help him get connected with a good church and a recovery support group. “…And most of all, may he know how much you love him…”

When I finish, the man thanks me. “That was so sweet. I really appreciate it.”

As I hang up, I still wonder if I did the right thing. But what else could I have done? “Always be prepared to give an answer… for the hope that you have,” we’re encouraged in I Peter 3:15. Hope – that’s what this man needed.

Is there someone God has brought in your path who is in need of HOPE? Are you prepared to give the reason for the hope that you have? All you can do is point that person to the One who is the source of all hope – Jesus. And pray that he or she will cling to that hope. It’s a hope that does not disappoint us.

Going Vertical!
MJ

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My hands grip the steering wheel, knuckles turning white. “Don’t look down, don’t look down, don’t look down…” I tell myself. Yet my eyes are irresistibly drawn to the drop-off on the right side of the car. I just barely catch a glimpse of the yawning gulf stretching out endlessly in either direction before whipping my head back to the front again. Wiping a sweaty palm on my jeans, I try to take deep breaths.

“This is amazing!” Beth is ecstatic. She peers out the passenger window at the snowy ridges that seem to stretch on forever. “I can’t believe we’re here!”

The whole trip was Beth’s idea. “I have to see the Grand Canyon before I go back home,” she’d said. “And you have to come with me!”

An exchange student from Asia, Beth’s been my language tutor for the past few months. We studied the Gospel of John for our lessons, which sparked many interesting discussions. “I’ve met so many Christians in America,” Beth explained to me once. “And they’re such good people! But I can’t become a Christian. I have to go back to my country soon, and it’s different there.”

Now, driving on the snowy roads of the Grand Canyon National Park, I’m having second thoughts about the whole thing. This is a bad idea, I worry, my heart pounding. What if I hit an icy patch and lose control of the car? The car will skid and swerve and then careen over the edge of that cliff. It will all be over in a matter of minutes. And no one will even see it happen…

“Are you OK?” Concern in her voice, Beth reaches out and touches my arm gently. “You don’t look so good.”

Shaking my head to dispel the disturbing images, I snap back to reality. “Um, I guess I’m a little afraid of heights,” I confess shakily. “I didn’t think I was, but…” My voice trails off.

“What you need is some worship music,” Beth decides, scanning the radio stations until she finds a familiar Chris Tomlin song. “And we should pray. But you keep your eyes open!” She shakes a finger at me teasingly, then gets serious. “God, please help Michelle not to be afraid. Help her to trust You. Amen.”

Amazing. Beth, who says she doesn’t even believe in God, is telling ME to trust Him! I’m convicted and forced to examine my heart. Do I really believe what I say I believe? Do I really trust God to keep me safe in ANY and ALL circumstances? Is He able to calm this pounding fear that’s threatening to paralyze me?

“Just remember, God is with you!” Beth’s voice is earnest. “You don’t have to be afraid. It’s going to be OK.”

As I park the car and turn off the engine, I let out a deep breath and relax my shoulders. Here, at the edge of this cavernous depth, I face my fear head-on. I will NOT be afraid. Fear has no power over me. God is with me. I can trust Him.

“Well, what are we waiting for?” I smile at my friend in the passenger seat. “Let’s go see the Grand Canyon!”

Going Vertical!
MJ

“I sought the Lord and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.”
Psalm 34:4 (NRSV)

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“Trapped. Hopeless. Depressed. That’s how I felt after four intense years of teaching English in an extremely sensitive, highly stressful area in northeast Asia.”

Thirteen pairs of eyes watched me intently as I began my story at this foreign English teachers’ retreat. Seated on metal folding chairs in a semi-circle were American teachers from a large university in Asia. They were all single women, ranging from age twenty-three to fifty-something. Several of these ladies had served in this country for five, ten, fifteen years. I could see the weariness in some of their eyes.

I had only just met these women. And I didn’t know their stories. Yet I felt such a strong connection to them. I wanted to fling my arms around them and say, ‘I know what it’s like! I’ve been there too!’

“Many times over those months and years in Asia, I wondered what on earth God was doing,” I continued. “I couldn’t see the results of all my work and investment in relationships. I struggled with homesickness, cultural barriers, serious conflicts with team members. And I felt so alone.”

“Yet time after time I felt the Father gently ask me, ‘Is it enough that I have asked you to come and you have obeyed? Even if you never understand? Even if you never see any results? Can you trust Me?’ ”

“Over and over again I had to surrender to Him, not knowing or understanding it all, but trusting that He would somehow, someday use it for good.”

I smiled. “You know, God didn’t have to show me why I experienced some of the hard things I went through.” I had to fumble for a tissue in my pocket before I could go on. “But here I am today, standing before all of you, sharing my story. And I feel He’s giving me just a tiny glimpse of His bigger purpose.”

At the end of the three-day retreat, one young woman came up to me with a broad smile. “I love how much you cry,” she said. “Thank you for being so real and vulnerable in sharing your story. It gives me permission to cry too.”

The author of Corinthians says that “…the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort… comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (II Cor 1:3-4, NIV).

If through my tears I can encourage one woman that she is not alone, if I can remind her that God has a purpose in HER pain, if I can give her hope that she, too, can find help in her time of need, then it’s all worth it. Because HE is worth it.

Going Vertical!
MJ

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