Writer James Bryan Smith tells the story of how author and speaker Brennan Manning came to better understand the deep love of God. Brennan had a best friend named Ray. They hung around, double-dated, and even bought a car together. In time they enlisted and served in the same military unit.
The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis is one of my all-time favorite books. A fictional account about the narrator’s trip to hell and heaven, I love the imagery and the lessons we can glean about what is and what’s not truly important. At one point on his journey deeper and deeper into the heavenly landscape, the narrator notices a huge parade. Musicians, girls, boys, and all sorts of animals are parading in honor of a lady of great renown.
“You can’t get blood from a rock.” That saying, used sometimes in my part of the world, means that we can’t get from another person or situation what simply isn’t there. For example, I might say, “I can’t get blood from a rock” when I’m trying to collect a debt from someone who doesn’t have the money to repay me. Trying to acquire cash from someone who isn’t capable of providing it is impossible.
Charlie has given up everything to care for Sarah. The life they knew has slowly deteriorated with Sarah’s early onset of Alzheimer’s. Charlie has rearranged his schedule to more effectively care for her. He cooks, cleans, bathes, administers medicine, and makes sure Sarah is able to get to and from the bathroom even when her body fails. He cherishes her in sickness, health, disappointment, and frailty. Great love drives him to selflessly give up his life for her whether she knows it or not.
Sometimes I receive unexpected Facebook messages from people I haven’t talked to in a long time or from those I don’t know well. Some ask me about what it takes to be a writer or if I’d be willing to read something they’ve written. Others message me with prayer requests or life updates. But every now and then, I get a message of encouragement or unexpected good news. Someone thought of me, appreciated me, and simply wanted to tell me! Sometimes they want to know if I’ll use my gifts to minister in their church or ministry. It’s good news right out of the blue—totally unexpected.
Evangelist George Mueller was on a ship when a thick fog settled over the ocean. It was Wednesday, and Mueller told the captain he had to be to his destination by Saturday. “Impossible,” he said. Mueller then bowed in prayer. When he stood up, the captain asked if he too could pray. “No,” Mueller said. “First, you do not believe He will answer; and second, I believe He has. And there is no need whatever for you to pray about it. . . . Get up, captain, and open the door, and you will find the fog gone.” Indeed, it had vanished.
My 3-year-old daughter caught me staring at her. “Mommy, why are you looking at me like that?” “Because I love you and delight in you,” I said. “God looks at you that way too.” “You mean, God looks happy at me?” she earnestly inquired. “Yes!” I said. “God always looks happy at you,” I emphasized. “Then I look happy at Jesus, at you, at daddy, and [my] sisters,” she concluded. When she finished, I think she could see me beaming with happiness. I want my three daughters to know deep down that God delights in them and loves them “with an everlasting love” (Psalm 37:23, 149:4; Jeremiah 31:3).
I knew someone who had a difficult time believing she would ever truly experience God’s goodness and faithfulness (Joel 2:23). She grew up with an emotionally and physically abusive mother and absent father. In addition, she had been sexually assaulted by numerous men. In time, she thought she’d overcome the tragedy of her childhood and early adulthood. But even though she was faithful to Jesus and did her best to serve others, she couldn’t easily shake some of the dark influences that shadowed her.
It was October, a month in my part of the world when temperatures begin to dip and the leaves of many types of trees turn brilliant colors. The trees dazzled me with their autumn glory. Leaves sported deep reds, bright yellows, soft orange hues, and a beautiful color somewhere between green and yellow. I plopped down in the middle of a grove of trees to soak it all in. Then I lay down in a bed of leaves and gazed up at the blue sky. I was within a natural cathedral that swayed to and fro in the chilly fall wind.
I’m the point person for the visitation team at my church. This means that I visit people in the hospital, at their homes, and in hospice. I also solicit volunteers to go out and visit others and provide encouragement, spiritual conversations, and prayer. Being ill can be a lonely path for many—especially the elderly. Yet younger people can also contract serious illnesses and experience difficulties.
In his classic book Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton writes: “[Children] want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them.”
Reality TV and me? Not a good fit. No one is going to make a reality TV show about my life anytime soon. My life consists simply of loving and caring for my husband and daughters, working at my church part-time, doing some writing, and trying my best to love others in my spheres of influence. From the world’s perspective, I’m not worthy of the bright lights.
My pastor sat down in my church office and told me about a parishioner he had encountered years ago at another church. The woman, known for her criticism, felt that he did nothing right, and she shared those sentiments with others. His sermons weren’t the kind of preaching she liked. At best, she said, they were “mediocre.” She even asked him why he didn’t preach like some of the ministers on TV. When he met to talk with her about her criticisms, she didn’t back down. But even with all of the venom he received from the woman, my pastor could say to me, “There were many wonderful things she did for the church. We’re all mixed bags, Marlena, all mixed bags. Just remember that.”
Luciano Faggiano bought a building to house his new restaurant venture. Unfortunately, sewage kept backing up through a toilet. So he and his sons began digging a trench in order to find the broken sewage pipe. After a week, they couldn’t find the problem. Frustration with the project quickly turned into excitement, however, when they unearthed an archaeological treasure. The men discovered an underground world of rooms, including tombs, a Franciscan chapel, and many other artifacts—some that predated Jesus. Oh, and eventually they did manage to fix the broken sewage pipe!
Not long ago I was certain that God was moving my husband and me in a specific direction. Two different sources, without consulting one another, encouraged us to pursue the same opportunity. So we did. Doors flew open as we kept moving forward. We were encouraged and excited, for what we never thought would happen was coming together right before our very eyes. As we bathed the whole process in prayer, God seemed to be honoring our requests. Until the eleventh hour, that is. That’s when the final door was slammed shut in our faces. We were shocked, and felt cheated and tricked by God. There was absolutely no way to make our dream a reality.