Thankful for Brokenness

A year ago this week, we had just finished our homestudy, and were anticipating an adoptive foster care placement by the end of the year. This Thanksgiving, we’re still waiting. No longer for a foster care placement, but to fly half way around the world to adopt a small boy and a girl waiting in an orphanage.

It seems like we’ve lived through five years in the last one. We’ve experienced some of the worst of humanity, and even more of the best.

Our children are also experiencing some of the worst of humanity, and we hope to bring some of the best to them. We don’t know the circumstances surrounding their being orphaned, but there’s simply no way that they’re anything short of tragic.

I find it remarkable that out of brokenness, theirs and ours, is the beginning of a beautiful story.

And it was out of Christ’s brokenness, and my brokenness, that the beauty of our adoption into the family of God began.

“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” Titus 3:4-7 NIV

The brokenness of the last year sits heavy on my soul, but for this, I am thankful: Brokenness begets beauty.

Thankful Thoughts: The Stars in the Night Sky

A guest post by Ken

Ancient sailors, aided by sextants and nocturnals, used the stars in the night sky to help them navigate.

Romantics and superstitutious folk wish on falling stars (which are nothing more than meteorites burning up in earth’s atmosphere, but I don’t want to appear to be lacking in romanticism).

Constellations have been inspiring scientists, casual viewers and cult members since the beginning of time.

Today we have GPS cellphones and navigational devices that rely upon geosynchronous orbit. We have mapped and named much of the celestial night sky that is visable to the naked eye. We can tell the atomic composition of individual stars across massive expanses of space merely by examining their light spectrum.  Perhaps stars have lost some of their mystery and intrigue.

 

However, in the Old Testament, when God would want to reveal Himself or His purposes, He would often use the stars or the heavens as a tool to explain His ideas.

 

King David, who didn’t even have a telescope, looked up into the heavens (where all the stars hang out) and penned these words:

“The heavens declare the glory of God;

   the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Day after day they pour forth speech;

   night after night they reveal knowledge.

They have no speech, they use no words;

   no sound is heard from them.

Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,

   their words to the ends of the world.” (Psalm 19:1-4)

 

When God was entering into a covenant with Abram, God promised, “I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky” (Genesis 25:17). In the Milk Way galaxy alone (which is where you and I live) astronomers estimate there are between 200 and 400 billion stars (http://www.universetoday.com/21563/milky-way/). And thanks to Edwin Hubble, we know that there are countless galaxies beyond our own. That’s a lot of Bar Mitzvahs. But I think God’s point was, “Abe, you’re going to have a whole lot of kids!”

 

When the writer in Psalm 8:3-4 wants to describe the power and majesty of God, He asks,

“When I consider your heavens,

   the work of your fingers,

the moon and the stars,

   which you have set in place,

what is mankind that you are mindful of them,

   human beings that you care for them?”

The beauty of the heavens and the stars reflect the God’s wonder.

 

Through His prophet Isaiah, God puts mankind in His place:

“As the heavens are higher than the earth,

   so are my ways higher than your ways

   and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9)

As was mentioned before, there are between 200-400 billion stars in our galaxy. Some scientists estimate that there could be as many as 500 billion galaxies in the universe (http://www.universetoday.com/25145/interesting-facts-about-stars/). If you multiply those two numbers for fun, you get 200,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars. This should boggle the mind and cause one to reflect upon what a great and awesome Creator is our God. It seems to me that these stars were brought into existence simply to remind us that our God is worthy of all praise and adoration. That fact that he COULD do that is an act of a mighty God. That fact that he CHOSE to do that is an act Creator who defies description.

On average the Sun (which is the closest star to us) is (on average) 92,960,000 miles away. But the NEXT closest star, Alpha Centauri C (part of a binary star system) is 4.24 light years from our Sun (a little over four years away if you were traveling at the speed of light, 299,792,458 meters / second). I think God’s message is, “I am WAY over your head!”

 

But perhaps my favorite thing that stars remind us of is just how BIG God is and how MIGHTY he is. Remember that song that you might have sung in children’s church? It was one of my favorites:

My God is so BIG!

So STRONG and so MIGHTY!

There’s NOTHING my God cannot do!

The mountains are His.

The valleys are His.

The STARS are His handiwork to!

Perhaps this isn’t just a child’s song after all.

The largest known star (radius) is VY Canis Majoris and is estimated to be between 1,800 – 2,100 times the size of our sun. Because it’s exact distance from us is also unknown it’s difficult to pinpoint it’s true girth, but trust me it’s BIG! In comparison, my personal favorite star, Betelgeuse (which can be found in the constellation Orion the hunter; it’s his right shoulder) is a mere 1,180 times bigger than our sun. If it were substitued with our sun, Betelgeuse would extend out to the asteroid belt in our solar system and completely engulf Mercury, Venus, Earth and even Mars! That’s a serious sun burn!

 

So the next clear night you get, take a moment to look up into the night sky. Find the big dipper (which will point to the North Star). But also take a few moments to praise the all-powerful Creator. Thank Him for the beauty and majesty of His creation including the stars.

Thankful Thoughts: Breathgiving

Today, I’m thankful for the gift of breathing.

It’s hard not to take breathing for granted. Most of us inhale and exhale over 20,000 times a day. 

Five years ago this month, I woke up with trouble breathing. My lungs felt like they were on fire, I had a hard time catching my breath. I thought it was a simple case of bronchitis. But it wouldn’t get better, and the medicines didn’t really help. Over the next four months, I would get a little better, and then much worse. By the first week of April, my lung function tests were at 28%, and I was sent home with intensive outpatient therapy. But I didn’t stay there long. By Good Friday, I was in the hospital, because the work to breathe had become too hard, and my muscles were at the point of exhaustion. Eleven days later, and thousands of dollars of tests later, I was sent back home with 14 different medications to keep me alive, unable to even walk even 20 feet to my kitchen.

As I laid in bed, struggling for every breath, I had no idea if I would ever be able to leave my home again, work again, or go to church again. All I could do was wait. Wait to breathe, wait to get on with my life, or even to know that things would never return to normal. Not only was I struggling with breathing physically, I was struggling with breathing spiritually. I felt like I was holding my breath waiting for God to heal me, teach me, or provide answers to why this sickness stayed so persistently, and somehow redeem the suffering I was going through.

In Ezekiel 37, God brought Ezekiel to look over the Valley of Dry Bones. I can feel the hopelessness that Ezekiel felt, in the middle of the dry dusty lifeless valley, because I felt I was in a similar valley myself.

Ezekiel 37: 1 The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

I said, “O Sovereign LORD, you alone know.”

Have you ever been led to your own valley of dry bones? Refreshment is no where in sight, despair is surrounding you, the parched wind is drawing the very life breath out of you? God seems to be distant, and your only sense of Him is His allowance of the bleak situations and unanswered questions. You are at the mercy of His mercy, and answers don’t come quickly.

I wonder how long Ezekiel wandered among the bones in that valley. There were a great many of them– a great many glimpses of lives that had gone to waste.

How many widows were left by what happened in this great valley of bones?

Were those the bones of a great warrior laying there?

Those bones seem so small – was he just a boy?

A great length of time had passed while God let the bones parch, dehydrate, desiccate. The bones were very dry. The instant healing had not taken place in their lives. Hope had been snuffed out.

I’m sure the bones were a bit foreboding for Ezekiel. So this is what God allows to happen to His people. . . I wonder if Ezekiel expected that He might soon be the next set of bones.

I know I wondered. I waited months for improvement, answers, hope . . . Six months in an arid valley not only suffocated my lungs, but suffocated my spirit. All I could do was wait.

And in the waiting, God began to speak. Not in a bolt of lightning, or in a fierce windstorm, but in a whisper. Almost as if God had to pin me down in breathless exhaustion before I could hear Him speak.

While the events of my life were very uncertain, I learned that God is not. Instead of wrestling with God and wondering what would happen to me, I discovered the balance of living in a state of expectant uncertainty. The questions of why God was allowing me to become so sick, or if or when my illness would end, were indications that I, in fact, was not fully surrendered to God.

The truth is, God is not as concerned with my comfort, health, or happiness as He is with who I am becoming in Him. The purpose of my relationship with God is not for Him to heal me, bless me, or even inspire me, but to develop my understanding of Him and my love for Him. I do not want to overlook the enjoyment of God today while waiting for healing to take place. I want to desire Him more than His healing.

The truth is, the dry valley may not be as much about the bones, as the journey God took with Ezekiel through them.

Ezekiel 37:4  “Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! 5 This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath (or spirit) enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’ ” 7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’ ” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.”

God put breath back in me. In May of 2007, my health began to improve. My doctors and I surmised that a strange combination of a lung-remodeling virus, medication side effects , and new onset of allergies to all trees, grasses, and weeds, corn, potatoes, carrots, almost all raw fruits and vegetables, fish, nuts, and dust mites, as well as irritants like perfume and household cleaners had kept me in a persistent state of breathlessness. Obviously, I am much better today. After avoidance, careful living, and God’s healing, my allergies have dwindled. Today, the only dangerous allergy that remains is to tree nuts.

But God also breathed new life into me spiritually. God taught me much about living in a state of expectant uncertainty, and loving each individual breath of life He has given me.

So today, and every day, I’m thankful for the gift of breathing.

The Miracle of the Empty Nets

In the last chapter of the Gospel of John, the disciples returned to their pre-discipleship occupation: fishing. Maybe it was because they needed breakfast. Maybe in the disillusionment from the crucifixion, they returned to what they knew they were familiar with: fishing.

Only there were no fish that night. All night. Talking about kicking a disciple when he’s down! The whole disciple thing hadn’t worked out, and now these fishermen couldn’t even catch a single fish!

I think the vague memories of the last time this had happened ruminated in Peter’s mind. It was the day Jesus had called Peter to follow Him. Only then, he was Simon. And this man, this Messiah, came aboard his boat and caused him to have the catch of a lifetime.

How long ago!

How many things had changed!

It all seemed like a dream, now relived in the context of the frustration of a fishless night.

Or so Simon Peter thought.

But Jesus stood at the shoreline and shouted to them to throw their nets to the other side of their boats. They did not recognize Jesus by seeing Him. They did not recognize His voice. They only recognized Jesus when He repeated the miracle that He had called Peter by 3 years earlier (Luke 5), by overwhelming their nets with fish. In the midst of disappointment, their senses had been clouded, until Jesus brought the clarity of a miracle.

At the first miracle, Peter had fallen to Jesus’ feet and asked Him to go away because he was ashamed of his sin. This time, Peter leapt out of the boat– perhaps in an effort to walk on water again– ultimately to run to Jesus.

But what if that disappointment had not been there? What if they had been catching fish all night long? What if they used all their fisherman tricks and really packed the fish into the boat?

Would they have longed for the miracle? Would they have even recognized the miracle?

Just as Jesus was in the overload of fish, I think Jesus allowed the empty nets too.

There have been many times when I’ve thought: God I’m doing all the right things, I’m seeking your will, and I even think that I know what that is, but You’re not cooperating!

Perhaps in my disappointment, I have trouble seeing God already at work. God invariably shows up in His own time, and in a way that not only provides for my every need, but fills me with joy because His hand becomes all the more evident in the contrast of frustration and disillusionment. And when He brings the miracle, I begin to see that He’s been standing at the shore of my life waiting for just the right time to provide the miracle. Waiting for me to recognize and run recklessly to Him.

I think God allows times of disillusionment to make the miraculous moments all the more meaningful.

God, as I wait for Your Hand, help me to see that the times of disappointing deficiency are still a precious part of what you have in store for me.

Shhhhhhhh

I wrote this original post on October 11, setting it to autopost on the 13th. Even in the brief time in between, our story has quickly changed, but I thought the original post still had merit. The update follows:

——————————————————

Our dossier is now being forwarded to the Democratic Republic of Congo for translation and court approval. We now won’t hear anything about our case until it comes out of court. The cases that are just coming out of court now were submitted in April. Nearly six months of silence. Our case could take as little as one month, or as many as six or more. All we can do is wait.

In silence.

Sometimes silence is enjoyable. Sometimes it is frustrating. Sometimes it is absolutely painful.

I tend to think of spriritual silence as being the latter two. To want to hear something from God, anything from God, but to only be met with silence is difficult. I wonder: Have I done something wrong? Is God punishing me? How can I get the lines of communication open again?

I read these words from My Utmost for His Highest today:

“When you cannot hear God, you will find that He has trusted you in the most intimate way possible— with absolute silence, not a silence of despair, but one of pleasure, because He saw that you could withstand an even bigger revelation. If God has given you a silence, then praise Him— He is bringing you into the mainstream of His purposes. A wonderful thing about God’s silence is that His stillness is contagious— it gets into you, causing you to become perfectly confident so that you can honestly say, ‘I know that God has heard me.’ His silence is the very proof that He has.”

These words reminded me that spiritual silence is a blessing. I don’t have to be frustrated or hurt. God has heard me, and His silence implies trust, not punishment.

Lamentations 3: 25-32, NIV

 The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him,
   to the one who seeks him; 
it is good to wait quietly
   for the salvation of the LORD.
It is good for a man to bear the yoke
   while he is young.

 Let him sit alone in silence,
   for the LORD has laid it on him.
Let him bury his face in the dust—
   there may yet be hope.
Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him,
   and let him be filled with disgrace.

For no one is cast off
   by the Lord forever.
Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
   so great is his unfailing love.

 

Welcome silence. Feel free to stay a while. Indeed, God has heard me, and His love is unfailing.

Shhhhhhhhh.

___________________________________________________

Update: At the time of the writing above, I wasn’t even sure if our mountain of paperwork had made it to the Democratic Republic of Congo, and our social worker emailed me this afternoon to let me know that not only had it made it, but it was already translated into French, processed in court, put before a judge, and today he approved it! We passed court!

The wait that I mentioned above that might take six months took just DAYS! The judge is new, and very pro-adoption. It was taking him a while to learn the process, but now that he has, he is processing cases in RECORD time. Four families, including ours, passed court today.  I can hardly believe it!

Our hearts are pounding, our heads are spinning, and our hands are lifted in praise to the God who cares deeply for the fatherless!

The Reward of Becoming the Right Person

“Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Would he not rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’ ” Luke 17:7-10, NIV

We have only done our duty. It’s interesting that this scripture is in stark contrast to much of what we’ve talked about recently in popular Christianity: the rewards of serving God, or even the positive outcomes of difficult times in the life of the Christian.  Whether overtly or imperceptibly, we often have a sense of entitlement in all sorts of ways.

Whether we consciously think it or not, our attitudes are often, “I went through this hard thing, so God you owe me.” After times of suffering, illness, or wandering, we want God to “pay up” for difficulties we’ve gone through, or at the very least, give us a break and let us “sit at the table” for a while.

Or maybe we want recognition from God after difficult service: overseas, outside our comfort zone, under difficult circumstances. As if even a person’s ministry puts God in the position of owing us, and God will surely reward our good acts with extra blessings. We should have an easier time in life, a less painful path paved for us, our grief given purpose, and our prayers answered on own timeline.

The problem is, this sense of entitlement robs us of our joy. Much like a child who insists on “the toy of the year” when their parents can’t afford it, or the Christmas bonus that becomes so expected, it becomes just the 53rd paycheck of the year.

In contrast, if we see ourselves as unworthy servants, just doing our duty, rewards are seen as that: actual rewards. Not that God doesn’t promise rewards. He does, often, but these are not necessarily the wealth and health that the “Jabezers” purport.

Perhaps the greatest reward for being obedient, for doing our duty, for recognizing our position as servants, for doing the right thing is becoming the right person. Being obedient is not to earn favor so God will give me what I want, so that He will provide for those who love Him, or for Him to necessarily find a place of fulfillment for each of those who are called to serve Him. The reward to obedience is first and foremost developing an obedient character.

I may not be entitled to an easy path or convenient answers, but I do have assurance that the Master is also my Father and my friend, and I can trust in His mystifying, unmerited, well-lavished love.

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” John 15:13-15 NIV

Leaving the Orphanage

On an otherwise ordinary day, sometime in the next year, two foreigners will arrive at a place where dozens of children call home.

The foreigners don’t look the same as everyone else. Their skin is different. Their hair is different. Their clothing is different. They even talk different.

They have a few gifts: a doll, a toy car, some candy. They share something with all of the children, but it is clear that they are there for only two. A slender shy young boy, and a chubby cheeked little girl, who are brother and sister. They take the boy and girl aside and begin to tell them of a wonderful place. They show them pictures of a brick house with green shutters, and two rambunctious dogs. They show them glimpses of the playground at their church, and pictures of many people with smiling faces.

These foreigners seem nice. They smile. They hug. But they also try to convince the boy and girl that there is a better home — the one in the pictures — that they want to take them to.  They will be leaving everything they know, riding in a big bus that flies in the air to a new continent, a new country, a new home. And they may never return to what they know.

The language barrier is difficult. There are translators, but they don’t seem to be doing an adequate job because the children seem afraid. If only they knew what was waiting for them on the other side of the world, they would never hesitate to leave their home, their orphanage.

Will the orphans ever trust the foreigners enough to leave their orphanage behind?

Over 2000 years ago, a foreigner came to earth. He looked different. He talked differently. He brought with Him small glimpses of the home where He had come from: miracles of healing, wholeness, fullness. But the miracles were merely representations of the place from which He had come, not the destination itself.

In fact, He has come to adopt us, to set us free from our captivity to sin and to give us the freedom and comfort of a son, rather than the imprisonment and rejection of an orphan.

Yet in spite of the glimpses of wholeness and healing that He has brought to the orphanage to demonstrate our real home, the temptation is to remain in the orphanage. The walls have become familiar. What could feel like imprisonment has come to feel more like, well, like . . . home.  

Even if we do leave the orphanage, the temptation to return is powerful, especially when we are challenged to live beyond what is natural to us. After all, it’s hard to believe there is a Kingdom waiting for us when the orphanage is all we have ever known.

“We don’t fully believe that our new Father will feed us, so we hang on to our scraps and long for the regimented schedules of the orphanage from which we’ve come. And when our Father pushes us along to new tastes, we pout that he’s not good to us. But he’s readying us for glory, preparing us to take our place on thrones as heirs.” — Russell Moore in Adopted for Life

We all have been invited out of the orphanage, and into Adoption, but we must decide: Are we willing to leave the orphanage behind?

“It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on.

   This isn’t the first time I have warned you, you know. If you use your freedom this way, you will not inherit God’s kingdom.

 But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.”

Galatians 5: 19-23, The Message

Good Is Not Always Best

Two quotes have had me thinking lately:

“We must continually remind ourselves of the purpose of life. We are not destined to happiness, nor to health, but to holiness. Today we have far too many desires and interests, and our lives are being consumed and wasted by them. Many of them may be right, noble, and good, and may later be fulfilled, but in the meantime God must cause their importance to us to decrease. . . His only goal is to produce saints.” Oswald Chambers in “My Utmost for His Highest”

Susanna Wesley penned a similar thought another way in a letter to her son John, “Take this rule: whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes off your relish of spiritual things; in short, whatever increases the strength and authority of your body over your mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may be in itself.”

Both of these authors point out a very important point: There are things in our lives that may in and of themselves be noble or innocent, but if they are in any way diminishing our sensitivity to following God’s leading, or decreasing our desire to be more like Him, then they must be surrendered.

Good is not always best.

Is there good in my life that needs to be given up for the best?

Blessings of Discomfort

 May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships,

so that you may live deep within your heart.

 May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,

so that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.

 May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, and starvation,

so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.

 And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world,

so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.

–A Franciscan Blessing

 

What injustice, brokenness, or tragedy has God used to stir your heart? We often pray for blessings of health, happiness, or prosperity, but perhaps the greatest blessing God could ever give us is a uncomfortable yearning  that He has laid uniquely on our hearts — a burning desire that sparks the flame of our individual calling. And while the burden may be painful or poorly understood by others, it should be welcomed and well-tended. For only in accomplishing His purposes, which always begins with a burden, will we ever find the true blessing of fulfillment.

What discomfort has God blessed you with?

The Miracle on Nebraska Street

His name was Norman. Norman Sikes. He was only in his forties, but he lived in the nursing home at the north edge of Gas City, Indiana. He lived in the home because he had recently become blind from diabetic retinopathy, and needed help with most daily tasks.  Those who are blind from birth know no other way of life, but those who become blind later in life have a difficult time adjusting, especially Norman.

I was assigned to Norman when I called the nursing home, asking if I could volunteer there. I had pictured myself sitting around with a group of older ladies knitting, or maybe painting fingernails, or taking a resident for a leisurely stroll around the property.

But I was assigned Norman.  My task was to pick Norman up once per week and take him to a grief support group fifteen minutes away. Someone else would come to pick him up after the group. So every week for months on end, I drove to the nursing home to get Norman and took him to his support group.

I felt bad for Norman. I was a terrible guide. We would be walking and talking and I would forget to tell him about things like: curbs, bushes, doors. All of these are very important obstacles for a blind person to know about.  I also realized how often I used phrases like, “You see . . .” or “The way I look at things . . .” I use sight-based clichés way too often.

As difficult as our time together was for Norman, it wasn’t easy for me either.

Norman was the very definition of a curmudgeon. I asked Norman if he would like me to describe the scenery as we drove, so he could picture in his mind what was going on. No. He had been a driver around the streets of Marion for years, and he did not need me to tell him where we were. He knew.

I asked him if he would be interested in me picking up some books on tape for him at the local library, so he could enjoy wonderful literature. No. He was just fine with his TV and his radio.

Most days, there wasn’t a whole lot to talk about with Norman. It seemed like most subjects just upset him. He had lost so much. He had lost his sight. His job. His family was unwilling to let him live with them, so he moved into a nursing home, in his forties. There simply weren’t a whole lot of positive elements in his life.

No wonder he needed to attend a grief support group.

On one clear fall day, I was making the trip with Norman, and somehow we came upon the subject of death. It wasn’t surprising, given his morose personality.

“The thing is Miss Robin, I don’t even know if I died if I would go to heaven or not.”

I couldn’t believe those words had just left his mouth. It was a perfect opportunity. It was as if the light of heaven shone down on our car as we drove down Nebraska Street. The very words to answer his question were dancing on my lips. It was definitely a moment when the Holy Spirit was prompting both Norman’s heart, and mine.

I pulled the car over to the side of the road, walked him down the Roman’s road, prayed the sinner’s prayer with him, scales fell from his eyes, and he could see again! Healed and saved in the same moment!

At least that’s how it should have gone, in my mind.

Instead, I muttered something like, “Well, um, if you ever want to talk about that, we can.” We continued down the road in silence. The car arrived at our destination, and I walked Norman inside, and said good-bye.  The opportunity slipped away.

It wasn’t long after that I stopped picking Norman up every week. Scheduling conflicts, he decided not to go, or a combination of the two. I never got another chance to talk to Norman about his relationship with Christ.

The following summer, I was scanning the newspaper for something, and I came across Norman’s brief obituary. He had died. His funeral was over by the time I even read the column. I was devastated, and filled with deep regret. How could I have missed the opportunity that was so clearly put in front of me by the Holy Spirit?

I don’t know where Norman is spending eternity. I pray that someone more eloquent and courageous answered his questions for Him.

In spite of my regret and uncertainty, I have come to realize that God didn’t need me in order to have saved Norman’s soul.

But I could have been used by God.

God doesn’t need me to accomplish His purposes. He allows me to be a part. And if I’m not careful, an opportunity that He presents to me will remain an eternal regret.  

I learned an important lesson about lost opportunities from Norman. The sincere regret over not sharing my faith has forever changed the way I view potential possibilities to share Christ with my students, my friends, and my patients. I never want to miss another moment to share what the Holy Spirit lays on my heart.

I think in a strange way, what happened that day on Nebraska Street was one of the best things to have ever happened to me. Maybe there was a miracle on Nebraska Street after all.

“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.  Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”  Colossians 4:5-6 NIV