You Can’t Run Out of Time

EE Hale

The graduating seniors—all 34 of us—were asked to choose a quote for our senior page in the yearbook. This being 1977, quotes from rock bands like Pink Floyd and The Grateful Dead were popular, but I was always the odd duck in my class. I chose the above quote from Edward Everett Hale, author of the famous short story “The Man Without a Country.”

At that time, I really had no idea what I would do with my life, but I wanted to be of service somehow. I considered becoming a nurse, a special education teacher, some kind of missionary. I felt certain I was here for a reason and God wanted me to do something. Whatever it was, I would find it and, by his grace, I would do it.

Now, more than 40 years on, I have to ask myself: Have I done it?

~~~

Certainly, I’d like to think I’ve done something worthwhile through my work as an inspirational writer, and yet the word that occurs to me most often as I reflect back over my career is failure. Sometimes it settles in quietly, sitting in lowercase letters on my shoulder and whispering of should-have-dones. Other times it storms in and thunders aloud in all caps, with exclamation points following like flashes of lightning.

Either way, I don’t like it. I don’t like feeling as though I haven’t accomplished the tasks I set out to do.

~~~

Recently, I was having one of those down days. That’s what happens when I turn away from living my life as a love story with God, when I choose instead to listen to that cultural chorus that sings high praises to the vocational curriculum vitae. Success and accomplishments are the primary factors when it comes to calculating human worth.

So there I was, looking back over 40 years and trying to measure my life from the worldly perspective. Things did not look good. I had never striven for greatness, but I had desired to do something good—you know, there was always that deep human desire to make a difference. I had managed a few things on my to-do list, but the good I wanted to do seemed somehow mostly left undone.

It’s a deeply troubling feeling, especially considering the fact that—eventually—a person runs out of time.

~~~

In that state of mind, I picked up one of the books I was reading, Heaven by Randy Alcorn. I had just been chatting on Facebook with a few people about how there always seems to be a right time to read a particular book—that is, God brings the book to us when we need it or might most appreciate it. This was one of those times.

Two brief passages stood out to me:

“Christ’s mission was to reclaim and set free not only the earth’s inhabitants, but the earth itself. He came not only to redeem mankind as individuals, but also as nations and cultures, and to redeem not only the work of his own hands…, but also the work of his creatures’ hands….” (1) (Emphasis mine.)

“Moses prayed, ‘Establish the work of our hands’ (Psalm 90:17). The Hebrew word translated ‘establish’….means ‘make permanent.” So Moses was asking God to give permanence to what he did with his hands.” (2)

~~~

It was as though God put his hand on my shoulder and said, “You think you’re running out of time, but you don’t realize you have eternity too. Besides, what I accomplish in and through you isn’t ultimately up to you; it’s up to Me, and I will fulfill My purpose for you” (Psalm 138:8).

I don’t fully understand what all this means, but I’m beginning to understand this: I’m not limited by the time restrains of this world. I’m not expected to complete my tasks in 70-some years and then go on to a place of eternal rest and be done with it all. The work I do here will somehow carry over into eternity, a place of further work, greater work, perfect work, deeply satisfying work that is most satisfying in the fact that it doesn’t glorify us but the God who made us.

~~~

The idea of God redeeming and eternally establishing the work of my hands changes everything for me. It lifts a huge burden from my shoulders, and allows me to look forward with hope. All that God wants to accomplish—through me and through all believers—will be accomplished in the unbounded stretches of forever.

In God’s Kingdom, it isn’t success or failure that matter. What matters is faithfulness and love.

This is the thought I want to leave with you today: Cease striving. Stop measuring yourself against impossible worldly standards. Instead, love God, remain faithful, and he will establish the work of your hands.

~~~

(1) Randy Alcorn, Heaven, Wheaton IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2004, p. 97.

(2) Ibid, p. 128.

Yearbook page Senior page, Sanford School, Class of ’77

**Congratulations 2020 Graduates!**

Amazing Moments of God’s Love

Divine Moments The world is full of stories about God’s love, with new stories unfolding every day. The Lord wants these stories to be told so that believers may be encouraged, unbelievers challenged, and so that he himself may be glorified. Some years ago, novelist Yvonne Lehman started collecting true stories into what is now known as the “Moments” books. These are a chance for you to share YOUR story too. An invitation from Yvonne…

One evening after a day of participating in a writers conference, several of us gathered in the hotel lobby to visit and chat. One woman told a story that had us all gasping with amazement at how God showed up in a fascinating, almost unbelievable way. Others began sharing their stories. Some were sweet, some humorous, others serious, but all were about experiencing God’s presence in unexpected ways.

I thought of the praise song, “Our God Is an Awesome God,” in which the words are repeated over and over. I’ve often wanted to say, “Go further. Don’t just repeat the words. Tell me the stories of your being amazed by God’s love.”

That’s what we were doing that evening. We were joyful, talking loudly, laughing, loving. Sharing those special times of our lives became a time of praise. Others joined us to hear the stories and share their own. The realization was that we all have awesome and amazing stories to share but we don’t always take time or have the opportunity to share them. I commented that “somebody” should put these stories in a book.

~~~

Two months later, Grace Publisher Terri Kalfas called me and said she was interested in that book I mentioned.

Book? I mentioned a book to Terri Kalfas? I questioned and she reminded me of that night when we had talked about God showing up in unexpected, miraculous ways.

But… I was a novelist. I didn’t write non-fiction other than an occasional article or devotion, and really didn’t care to. I hadn’t intended that “somebody” should be me. But I could at least contact people through email addresses, loops, Facebook, etc. … for Terri.

~~~

I was… amazed. Responses were immediate and so inspiring. Some of the authors were established, professional writers. Others were those in the midst of their writing journey. Several were not writers at all, but people who learned about what we were doing and they had a story to tell. Instead of trying to divide royalties between 50 authors, the decision was made to donate the royalties to Samaritan’s Purse. That compilation became an amazing book, Divine Moments.

Since that venture went so well, Terri suggested we try a book of Christmas stories. Although my preference was still fiction, I’d really been touched by these true stories, so I said, “Sure.” The second book became Christmas Moments. These ranged from light to serious, Santa to Jesus, disappointment to understanding, entertaining to edifying.

Then I was ready to return to fiction writing. But… my daughter, Lori, was asked to teach a Sunday school class. The first topic was Words of Jesus. She asked if I’d sit in and help if needed since I work with words. During the class session, members related times when someone’s words hurt or encouraged them.

Lori looked at me and said, “Mom, there’s your next Moments book.” What else can you do when your daughter is on a spiritual journey? Spoken Moments became the third one.

~~~

Though I had always preferred writing fiction, I was learning the value and great impact of non-fiction. The stories in these Moments books were changing lives – for readers and for the writers. Writers were thinking about the ways God had worked in their lives, the strength and weaknesses of their faith and the lessons learned. Beginning writers were gaining a by-line. Non-writers had a voice.

Each Moments book has been followed by another…and another…and another…each one on a different topic. For every book, I write an introduction and share my own articles on the theme of that particular book. God has taught me to remember how he worked in my life in so many different ways and know that my story may lead someone to him, or strengthen their faith.

More than what God was doing for me personally, he was showing me how he poured out his love on others. One author came to my Novel Retreat and gave her testimony of her family not listening to her talk about Jesus, but one of them read her article, shared it with others, and eventually her entire family became followers of Jesus. Others have written of hardships, loss, blaming God, turning from the faith, and how the love of God taught them lessons, was present in the difficulties, proved he had not abandoned them.  Amazing, how God uses the hardships and successes of others to show the world he is here, he does love us, and he never abandons us.

~~~

We now have 15 books in the Moments series, and more on the way. Since the first book, the authors have been excited to receive no payment for their donation of an article. Well, let me correct that. They receive no monetary payment. They’re experiencing the opportunity to share with others what God does in their lives and they witness about their faith. By donating our royalties to Samaritan’s Purse, we’re part of a ministry that cares for the physical and spiritual welfare of people throughout the world.

It’s amazing to discover the truth of the words of Jesus: “It’s more blessed to give than receive” (Acts 20:35). Sharing our stories of God’s love brings a sense of peace and joy.

Yvonne Lehman  Yvonne Lehman

Yvonne invites you to send an article (or prayer or poem that fit the theme) for one of the upcoming Moments books. Please send them to yvonnelehman3@gmail.com.

She’s  now accepting articles about:

Coronavirus (thoughts, even prayers or poems are all right too)

Can, Sir! Moments (primarily about cancer but may be any experience in which one determines, “With the Lord’s help, I can do this, or get through this.”)

Christmas Moments 2020 – (Santa, Jesus, light, serious)

Broken Moments (humorous or serious)

Lost Moments (humorous or serious)

Grandma’s Cookie Jar (warm, cozy articles about grandma, or a stereotypical grandmotherly feeling)

Beckie’s Story: From Blindness to Greater Vision

At the age of 33, Beckie Horter began to lose her sight. As her vision narrowed and the world grew darker, the Lord opened her eyes…and her heart…to His love for her. Here is Beckie’s story…

glasses-1246611_1920 Twenty years ago, my life changed radically. The diagnosis of a blinding retina disease put a stop to life as I knew it. Plans for the future got iced. I grappled with the impossible realization that over time my central vision would be erased bit by bit. First one eye, then the other. My condition would progress slowly, but predictably, and always with the threat of total blindness. I was 33 years old.

As I struggled to come to terms with vision loss, practical matters took precedence. Obviously I could no longer continue my job proofreading the newspaper; the pace was too hectic. I stopped driving a car, and ouch! That hurt. Daily matters like reading my mail and quick stops at the grocery store became arduous tasks.

~~~

About that time, my sister hosted a birthday party for my mother. I looked across the room where my big family was gathered, and I couldn’t tell who was who. I felt sick as I contemplated my blurry future.

I started to wonder…

Why had God allowed this to happen? Was I being punished? What type of future could I have as a legally blind person?

~~~

The grieving process set in. From denial to bargaining; anger to depression, and then back again, my emotions ricocheted. Peace eluded me. The final step—acceptance— came after much wrestling with God.

One morning as I searched the Scriptures for answers, I read Psalm 34:18: “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (NIV).

The verse leapt off the page! Surely this was written just for me. Although King David penned the words centuries ago, they fell fresh on my heart that day at the dining room table.

The words “brokenhearted and crushed in spirit” perfectly described my mood. But there was good news, too. The Lord was close, and He would save me.

~~~

Up until this point, my relationship with God was based on head knowledge alone. I had graduated from a Christian college. I believed. I had always believed, but now I knew more was necessary. God was calling me deeper.

I had come to the end of myself, and doctors provided no hope. My fear of going deeper with the Lord dissolved as I felt the words of Scripture tear down walls built over a lifetime.

The Holy Spirit moved in. The Bible came alive as never before. I realized God wasn’t mad at me or punishing me. The entire planet was under a curse. Our bodies included. Death was inevitable, but God was in the midst of the broken. He felt the pain and entered into it.

A crazy thought took root in my brain: Maybe I can do this blindness thing with God’s help. For the first time in years, a ray of hope poked through the gloom. A future seemed possible.

~~~

I prayed in earnest, and God brought committed Christian women into my life. I heard three simple words: “Jesus loves you,” and they no longer felt like a cliché. I found a Bible-believing church and got baptized. The pastor’s wife asked me to speak at a women’s gathering. There an older saint specifically prayed for writing opportunities to open up for me. A short time later, a shy friend said she felt led by God to tell me about a ministry seeking proofreaders for devotions. I applied and got the position.

These days I sit in front of a large screen television monitor, which doubles as a computer screen. I have published many articles. I have proofread many devotions and continue on my writing journey—albeit slowly.

Over the past fuzzy years of walking with God, I have learned that His love is far different than a Hollywood script. It is so much deeper and more surprising than the turn of a man-made plot.

Like a messy bird’s nest I recently discovered above my desk outside the window and under a metal awning, God’s love is uniquely formed for my situation. It’s personal.

Sometimes I marvel that twenty years have passed since my diagnosis. I remember how long and difficult the days were at first. I remember saying, “I can’t live like this.”

Although my physical sight is now worse than before, my spiritual vision is 20/20. When I look down on the bird’s nest as I stand on a chair beside my desk, I don’t see a mess. Instead, I see four fragile blue eggs huddled close. I watch the mother bird coming and going, carefully tending her clutch. I see new life about to burst forth, and I smile at the irony of God placing this nest where only I can see it.

Beckie Horter Beckie Horter

 

Love in the Time of Coronavirus*

hospital corridor Our lives have been interrupted. The world has rammed up against a hurdle we didn’t expect, and the plans we had for ourselves only a few months ago have been derailed. Now what?

I’ve spent my career writing stories set against a backdrop of turbulent times in American history: the era of Prohibition in the 1920s, the Great Depression of the 1930s, the two World Wars, Vietnam, the civil rights era of the 1960s.

My newest novel, written last summer and as yet unpublished, takes place in part during the worldwide Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-19. While writing it, I had no idea that, only months later, our country—and indeed the whole world…and I myself—would encounter another deadly pandemic.

But here we are.

~~~

What I have loved most about researching the background of my fictional stories is coming across the true stories of human courage, resilience and faith. Across the years, men and women have faced the unthinkable and not only survived but thrived, becoming deeper and richer and stronger in heart and mind and faith.

Now it’s our turn.

~~~

Today, as I write this, thousands of people are sick and dying. Refrigerated trucks are lined up as temporary morgues outside the hospitals in New York City, the epicenter of the virus in our nation. The loss of life around the world is devastating, the grief immeasurable.

And then there are the economic ramifications. Untold thousands have lost jobs. Businesses will fail or have already closed. Homes will undoubtedly be lost. Some predict we are headed for a second Great Depression.

~~~

I confess I do my share of worrying. Every day I worry about my loved ones and pray they won’t become sick. I have been laid off my part-time job at the university, and don’t know whether I will ever be going back. In publishing, I work primarily with two small publishers. Book sales are down, and on top of that, all small businesses have been hard hit. What is the future of publishing and will I have a place in it?

~~~

One night not long ago, I lay awake pondering these things. Life seemed broken and I didn’t know how to fix it. This isn’t how the days were supposed to play out. A pandemic and fear and uncertainty were never part of my plans.

But then, neither were the stock market crash and the bombing of Pearl Harbor part of the plans of my parents and grandparents. What generation hasn’t seen their hopes and dreams side-swiped by the crises of life on a broken planet?

In an odd sort of way, maybe we should realize that the unexpected is only normal.

~~~

With that in mind, I’d like to offer you three thoughts. The first is this: God never changes.

Just this morning, I read these words of Billy Graham, “People change, fashions change, conditions and circumstances change, but God never changes. His love never changes. His holiness never changes. His purpose never changes. His glory never changes. He is the same yesterday, today and forever.” (1)

~~~

The second is this: No matter the circumstance we find ourselves in, we can choose our response to it.

Viktor Frankl spent years in a Nazi death camp. In his memoir, he wrote, “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s own attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” (2)

~~~

And third: We can choose to entrust our lives to a sovereign God who always does what is right.

When I was writing about the Japanese internment camps here in America, I interviewed a woman named Toshi Ito. When she was teenager in 1942, her Japanese-American family was interned at the Heart Mountain camp in Wyoming for the length of the Second World War. This imprisonment cost them their home and their livelihood—all of life as they had known it before Pearl Harbor. But it didn’t cost them their faith.

The Itos were Christians, and had been for many years. Toshi told me that what helped her get through the experience of the camp was looking up to Heart Mountain and dwelling on the words of Psalm 121: “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth.”

~~~

In the end, it isn’t the success of my own plans that matters, it’s the steadfast love of God that matters, and the steadfastness of my own faith. This present situation is my Spanish flu, my Great Depression, my World War. This is my opportunity, and your opportunity, to stand strong in our love for God, and to place our hope in his love for us. I pray that future generations will say we remained steadfast in our time of trial.

 

(1) Hope for Each Day, by Billy Graham, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2002, p. 128.

(2) Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl, NY: Simon and Shuster, 1959, p. 86.

 

*With a nod to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, author of Love in the Time of Cholera

Martin’s Story: Surviving Divorce

Only too often human love, even the love of a spouse, fails us. In the midst of divorce, one man learned that God’s love never fails. Here is Martin Wiles’s story…

49b67884b78c91929caa3cbd29f61f01 Life was good—until I heard the words, “I don’t love you anymore.”

I had met Brandi* when I was 24 and had fallen head over heels in love. Within a couple of years, we were married. In the meantime, after a rebellious youth, I had also got myself back on track with God.

Growing up as a PK (preacher’s kid) riled me. After all, I was born at the beginning of several revolutions: sexual, civil rights, political. It appeared I had the rebellious gene too—although not inherited from either of my parents. They were straight-laced and obeyed the rules. Not me. When I was 14 the rebellious gene broke loose and stuck around until I was a young adult.

When God turned me back to Him, I remembered the call He had placed on my life when I was 12 years old, a call that entailed full-time preaching and full-time teaching. I had no idea how those things would work out, but I was ready to find out.

Now, to tell the new wife.

~~~

Six months after we married, I shared the news with Brandi: “I think God’s calling me into the ministry.” She seemed excited—and I was glad. I sure didn’t want to melt down a six-month-old marriage to pursue God’s will. Then came the hard part: an education I had not wanted after high school.

One and a half years after we married, we packed our things—and our ten-month-old daughter—and headed to a college eight hours away. No jobs lined up. No savings. Just a place to stay on campus, the clothes on our backs, and a few belongings. Four years later (and with one more child in tow), I graduated. Six months later, a church called me as pastor. One year later, I took a job teaching history at a local private high school. God had worked out the teaching and preaching thing after all.

Five years later, another church issued a call—one closer to our home—and we moved again. Things went well…for four years. By this time, our daughter was a senior and our son beginning high school. Old enough to care for themselves. Old enough that my wife no longer felt she was needed at home. Brandi wanted a job. The first she’d had outside the home since we’d married.

That’s when the trouble began.

~~~

Her work peers didn’t share her beliefs…or her lifestyle. Temptations poured in on her in record time and with unbelievable intensity. Whispers and questions arose at church. “Is everything okay with Brandi?” “Have you checked up on her lately?”

I knew something wasn’t right, but checking up? Didn’t that constitute distrust? “No, I haven’t,” I answered. Only to hear, “I think you need to.”

As Brandi moved up to assistant manager, her work hours lengthened. She filled in at other stores. Sometimes, she didn’t come home at all. When she did, I smelled aromas I recognized from my rebellious years. I saw things that made me suspicious. But she always had a good excuse, and I believed her. Until…

One night behind our closed bedroom door, out of earshot of our kids, she said the words I’ve never been able to dismiss completely from my mind: “I don’t love you anymore.” She didn’t want counseling. She wanted a divorce.

~~~

After one last attempt at reconciliation—reconciliation she didn’t want—I told her goodbye and said hello to three years of the darkest depression I’d ever experienced.

I had lost the person I considered the love of my life. The divorce also led to the loss of my job, as my church led me to understand that they wanted my resignation as pastor. So in addition to deep grief and loneliness, I faced great financial difficulty. If ever I had needed the Lord, I needed Him now. I read and studied my Bible more than ever . I prayed longer. I went to church more. Nights were the worse times. The verse that got me through was Psalm 4:8: “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe” (NLT).

Although few of my pastor friends reached out to me, many other friends, relatives, and family members did. God showed me His love through them, and His healing work began in my heart. The Lord also provided me with a secular job where my work peers didn’t care that I had been divorced.

I had given up on the thought of continuing in any kind of ministry until two things happened. First, I met a woman named Michelle who became my wife. Through her, God taught me to love and trust again, something I thought would never happen. Second, Michelle encouraged me to try to get back into ministry.

With her support, I sent out hundreds of resumes to churches. Most of them were ignored, but eventually one church gave me an opportunity, and, as time has passed, more have done so. I no longer depend on that for my full-time income (I teach at a Christian school), but I pastor bi-vocationally.

Eighteen years after I heard those fateful words, “I don’t love you anymore,” I have forgiven my ex-wife, established speaking terms with her, share several grandkids with her, and am doing what God originally called me to do. Proof that divorce can be survived—even though painful life changes and depression might be a part of the process.

The dark years after the divorce brought me closer to God and gave me a deeper understanding of His love, from which nothing in this world can separate us.

*Name changed.

Martin Wiles  Martin Wiles is a pastor, teacher, author and editor. You can read more from Martin at Love Lines From God.

Shonda’s Story: Not the Life I Imagined

Shonda blog photo I never imagined I would be the mother of a convicted felon. My husband and I celebrated the love of Christ with our children both in church and at home. We dedicated our sons to the Lord and taught them how to live according to Scripture.

I watched and learned from parents in our circle of influence. Their children did well in school, then proceeded to earn college degrees, find gainful employment, marry godly spouses, and start their own families.

Following the examples modeled for me, I made my loving mother checklist:

  • Christian education
  • Regular church attendance
  • Sports activities
  • Family vacations

I anticipated the same outcome I witnessed over and over again. After all, I stood on the promise of God that as a parent if I train them up in His ways, then they will never depart from it (Proverbs 22:6).

~~~

After my older son, Stephen, graduated from high school, he went to work and moved into his own apartment. His choice of friends raised concerns on my radar. When I shared this with other godly parents, they encouraged me not to worry as young adults go through a phase. “It will be all right,” they said. So, I turned my worries into prayers.

But then we got the call—he was in jail charged with serious crimes—murder and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Shocked, I couldn’t process the news.

With my heart ripped apart, my first prayer after learning about my son’s arrest came from Romans 8:28, which reads, And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them (NLT).

I petitioned the Lord because only He could take something so traumatic and somehow turn it for something good.

~~~

Due to the nature of the crimes, there were those who suggested that I forget about him and let him rot in prison. But when I thought about my son, how could I let him go, just left to rot and waste away? What about God’s promises to me?

Standing at the crossroads of these two choices, I chose to love him as God loves—unconditionally.

Regardless of the consequences my son faced, even if that meant the death penalty or life in prison on this side of eternity, I did not want him to suffer eternal separation from God.

Because of His love for us, Christ took the death penalty for each one of us. And because of love, God promises to forgive us of our sins if we confess them. I wrote the promise from First John 1:9 on paper and sent it to my son. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness (NLT).

I cried out, “Lord, if I have to live separated from my son in this life, I don’t want to be separated from him in eternity.”

~~~

Love for my son compelled me to write letters to him five days a week sharing God’s love. Every day I sat with my Bible in my lap determined to receive an encouraging word from the Lord. As I read familiar passages, I saw God’s words through new filters.

The Bible is filled with testimony of people our present society would label as thugs and outcasts. Many biblical heroes started out as scoundrels. The Lord redeemed and restored the lives of liars, cheaters, adulterers, thieves, murderers, womanizers, prostitutes, and prisoners and used them to fulfill His purposes. This filled me with hope, and I shared this hope with my son.

Two months after his arrest, my son sent a letter with his decision to fully surrender his life to Christ. From that moment, I knew that no matter what happened, if we depart this earth or Jesus returns, we will be together in eternity. Peace filled my heart.

As we navigated the legal process with my son and his attorney, I noticed the Bible contains judicial themes. Particularly how we are invited to raise our petitions into the courtroom of heaven. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most (Hebrews 4:16 NLT).

~~~

Because of the Lord’s unconditional love, He desires to show us mercy. God granted mercy to Stephen with a twenty-year sentence, though he was eligible to be sentenced to life in prison. Even as a lawful captive to the state, he lives in a freedom that does not depend on a location, but on the Spirit of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:17).

Stephen admits that our love for him led him to choose Christ and allows His light to shine through him in a place filled with darkness. He explained that inmates who are rejected by outside family often turn to gangs and violence.

Hebrews 13:3 says, Remember those in prison, as if you were there yourself. Before this, I never thought about prisoners, but now I remember them, as a part of me is in prison.

Over these years, God has demonstrated His faithfulness. Step by step, I witness the amazing love of God working everything together for good out of an excruciating situation.

Though this is not the life I imagined for my son, the Lord called me to live my life as a love story.  Because of His love, I share His unconditional love at times and in places that some avoid or may never give a thought to it—loving those in prison and their hurting families.

Shonda Savage Shonda Whitworth writes, teaches, and speaks at conferences and retreats to share the hope of healing and restoration we have in Jesus. After her son landed in state prison, she realized the hardships families of prisoners encounter. She and her husband, Eldon, founded Fortress of Hope Ministries, a nonprofit organization that offers hope to families affected by incarceration. Shonda transparently shares her testimony of living with a son in prison at ShondaWhitworth.com and FortressofHopeMinistries.com.

Shonda book

Shonda’s book is also available at ShopLPC.com and BarnesandNoble.com.

 

A Reminder from My Six-Year-Old Self

First writing

I still remember it, though the edges of the memory are cloudy after more than 50 years. I am sitting at the classroom desk, fat No. 2 pencil clenched in my six-year-old fist as I labor over my writing tablet. Our second-grade teacher was allowing us a few quiet moments of free time. I must have felt inspired to write.

That afternoon in 1966 I composed my first “ode to life,” if one can call it that, pencil point scratching against cheap paper as I poured out all that I loved about life. I loved my “mama and dada,” the birds that sing for us, the schools, the teachers too. I loved the whole world around me.

“But most of all,” I concluded, “I love God.”

~~~

The words of the six-year-old resonate deeply with one who has now turned 60. If only I could have kept that truth as the central pillar of my life! But like so many others, I suppose, as I grew up I began to move away from the simplicity of loving God to the complexities of loving the world, and consequently experienced all the heartache that entails.

I didn’t live a wild and dissolute life—not at all. My whole life was spent in what I hoped was sharing the Gospel message, first as an editor with Billy Graham’s “Decision” magazine, and then as a writer of inspirational fiction. And I never stopped loving God; He was in fact the love that would not let me go.

But the problem was this: As an adult I tried to build my life on the pillar of success rather than on the pillar of God’s love. After all, isn’t that what the world tells us to do? “Seek success. Be the best. Achieve at all costs. Be somebody!”

~~~

Years of senseless striving followed, filled mostly with feelings of intense failure. The very irony of trying to be somebody is that it blinds us to the fact that we are all born somebody simply because God created us and we are His. Our worth as men and women and the meaning of our lives are found only in Him.

~~~

Another memory: I am sitting by a roaring fire, singing songs with the Vanderbilts. Yes, the Vanderbilts of the Biltmore House. The great granddaughter of George Vanderbilt, the original owner of the Biltmore House, is a woman who goes by the nickname of Dini. Her father-in-law, also named George, is a friend of mine.

Some years ago, George invited Bob and me to a large gathering at his home outside of Asheville NC. While there, Bob and I joined George, Dini and others gathered by the fire. Dini offered me her chair, saying it was more comfortable than the one I had just sat down in. Someone had a guitar, and we all began to sing. Mostly gospel songs, like “I’ll Fly Away.”

Some glad morning, when this life is o’er, I’ll fly away, to that home on God’s celestial shore, I’ll fly away… When I die, Hallelujah, by and by, I’ll fly away.

So there I was, with some of the most successful and wealthiest people in America, while my own accomplishments and worldly assets would barely fill a gnat’s ear. But what difference did it make? We all had the one important thing and we were all going to the same place.

George has told me this many times: “When you get the news that I’ve died, the first thing I want you to say is Hallelujah!” Certainly, George enjoys his kinship with the Biltmore House, but his heart is set on another Home.

~~~

Rubbish, is what the Apostle Paul called it—all his accomplishments, successes, worldly possessions. All rubbish compared to knowing Christ (Philippians 3:8). We all have work to do in this world, but work was never meant to be a means of self-advancement but a gift of service to God and others.

~~~

Another man of God, David Wilkerson, said this: “We are not called to be successes—to be free of all trouble, to be special, to ‘make it.’ Many are missing the one focus that is central to their lives: to become fruitful in the likeness of Christ.”*

~~~

Now at 60, I am fully back to the first love I knew at 6. Thank God and Hallelujah. There’s nothing quite like coming home. Peace prevails as I cast aside the thought that my life has to be a success story. Instead, I realize the one thing that matters is loving God most of all, and so I live my life as a love story with Him.

 

* God is Faithful by David Wilkerson, p. 349.