Lost In Translation

Ever wonder what the Psalms sounded like? Me, too. Hence, this piece was created for the October issue of In Touch magazine.

If you like this piece, I highly suggest you visit our homepage to read articles by writers much, much, much more talented than I. Better still, get a free subscription to our magazine and it shows up in your mailbox like clockwork, all shiny and whatnot.

 

What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas about this piece. Why not share them with me in the comments section below?! (I’m so serious that I used an interrobang, people! For real.)

A Tempered Faith

After many months, The Missing Persons Project comes to a close with a special report focused on a group we call “The Searchers.” This term applies to those who are seeking faith as well as those who have given up on it and those who are wrestling with doubt. As we went through planning this month, we came to a somewhat surprising “ah ha!” moment (at least for us). In some way, we are all “missing persons.” There are seasons in life where our faith wavers, gets thin, or even abandons us. There are times when it feels like we’re holding on to a gossamer string rather than a secure rope that binds us to eternity.

That’s where this piece comes from—those many moments I felt like I was on a tightrope that was one fragile string away from snapping. I hope that people who read it realize that doubt is not a bad thing because, through doubt, we come to understand what we believe and why. When we ask hard questions of God and honestly seek His face, our faith becomes our own.

This article can be read below or by visiting our super-duper-fancy microsite here. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend you click through. There are many inspiring stories told using text, photos, video, and audio. We’ve completed all the special reports and videos (from soup to nuts as they say), and it’s quite humbling to see it in its final form. Also, if you’d like to give us your thoughts on the project, please drop us a line at missingpersons@intouch.org. We’d love to hear your feedback!

Stories Matter

The author and poet Barry Lopez once said, “Everything is held together with stories. That is all that is holding us together, stories and compassion.” Over the last eight or so months, the staff of In Touch Magazine has been privileged to tell the stories of many wonderful people who God has used in a mighty way. If you haven’t already checked out our special micro-site, click on the image below and read more about them.

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We were also able to work with the amazingly talented team of professionals in our ministry’s broadcast department to produce five videos, one for each month of the project. For the folks who aren’t as into words as we are, we thought these were a great way to experience the stories and hear the hearts of the people we featured. I thought I’d collect them together here as well.

The last month’s special report–The Searcher–will be coming out in September, and with it, the project comes to a close. Looking back over it now, I can see just how much I’ve grown–both as a Christian and as a writer, and I know without doubt that none of this would have been possible if God hadn’t been in it from the start. We all had to decrease so He might increase.

Bret Lott writes in his book Letters and Life: On Being a Writer, On Being a Christian, “What I saw in [Carver’s] work was that in my own, I had to be the last one heard from in this pile of words I was arranging, and that humility was the most valuable tool I could have, because the people about whom I wanted to write mattered so very much more than the paltry desires of the writer himself. They mattered so very much more than me. My job was to get out of the way.” Here’s to hoping that with these pieces and others I’ll write, I can somehow manage to do just that—get out of the way.

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Michael and Jessica Beates (June–The Special Needs Community)

Rhonda, Faith, and Hope Slinkosky  (July–The Orphan)

Dot Hutcheson and Howard Webb (June–The Widow and Widower)

James Murray (July–The Prisoner)

Scarlett Rigsby and Truth (August–The Needy)

Hurry, But Don’t Speed

My family has dozens of terms and phrases in our quirky tribal lexicon, words like “whomperjawed,” “gaddrief,” and “joobers.” If someone is attractive, he or she is “plum purdy.” If the opposite is the case, the person is “ugly as a mud fence.”  A negative situation causes us to say, “I don’t like this, not none,” and tasty food “slaps our spot.” There are also endless inside jokes and movie quotes without number. Yes, we have an entire love language built from scraps of memories and chatter. It’s a beautiful, mismatched quilt of words we can wrap ourselves up in, something that makes us feel cozy and safe. One of my favorites is the paradox we utter whenever people are coming home for a visit. We tell them, “Hurry, but don’t speed.” In other words, we want to see them as soon as possible—but not if it means risking life and limb (or getting a speeding ticket) to get there a little earlier than expected. We’re impatient to be reunited with the people who understand us better than anyone. But can the same be said of God?

I know He is perfectly patient. Why shouldn’t He be? For Him,  past, present, and future are all wrapped up together; it’s not strung out like a thread the way it is for us. But there are moments in the Bible that make me wonder, and I can’t help but feel that God is eager to reveal Himself to us. Think about Moses’ request: “Please, show me Your glory” in Exodus 33:12-23. Moses is asking to know God, to experience Him so he can better understand Him. God could have easily told His servant, “No.” He had no reason to reveal Himself to a created thing, but that’s exactly what He did. He hides a man whose heart and soul cannot fathom His radiance in the cleft of a rock and covers him until He passes by. What must that have been like? What awe must Moses felt knowing that God’s hand was quite literally on him, protecting him from everything, including his Maker? God stooped to humanity’s level in that moment and showed a favored servant as much of His glory as He knew could be withstood. That is an action taken by a God who wants to be known, One who is just as excited to be fully comprehended by His children as we are by Him.

Image from summerlight.wordpress.com
Image from summerlight.wordpress.com

The same can be said of Jesus sitting at the well in Samaria in John 4:1-42. It was a place the Bible tells us He “needed” to go through for one woman, a lost and hurting soul whose life would be forever changed by encountering Him. I’m sure Christ sat there calmly, sanguine despite the heat, and watched His beautiful world go by. Maybe He swung one sandaled foot or hummed as He waited. Though Jesus knew exactly when the Samaritan woman would come to the place alone to draw her water, I imagine Him being giddy, looking forward to the moment and eager to interact with her. Did Jesus smile when He saw her coming as she walked with her head down, silently praying that no one would mock her for once? Did He rub His wonderful, soon-to-be-nail-scarred hands together in anticipation of the joy that was soon to come? I think so. He was a Savior who wanted to be found and made sure others could experience Him with their eyes and ears as well as their hearts.

Though the Lord’s timing is impeccable and His plan flawless, I believe He’s like we are in the moments before loved ones come home to find the surprises we have in store for them—a meal lovingly prepared, a gift purchased, and everything made ready for their comfort. He understands the anticipation we feel standing at the windows, our breath fogging the panes, because He feels it, too. Yes, He’s as eager for all of us to get there as we are. “Hurry home,” He whispers to our hearts, “but don’t speed.”

From Heavenly Harmony

A friend of mine called me into his office (where the really cool speakers are) to show me this video. Take a gander at it and just try to keep your jaw from dropping.

I love music, but my math skills are sub-par at best. And while I understand the basics of harmony, chord structure, and pitch, I don’t think I will ever fully understand the science behind harmonics. Perhaps that’s a good thing. Because I can’t see all of the scientific principles at work and don’t know the terminology, I am free to enjoy it freely from a more spiritual perspective. I don’t know about you, but when I look at those perfect patterns emerge from nothing more than tones, I see the handiwork of God. The One who drew order out of chaos and created beauty from the void is such a craftsman that even the things we cannot see are perfectly formed and balanced. I like the idea of all these beautiful patterns, like the mandalas prized by practitioners of Hinduism and Buddhism, floating around us every day, knitting our world together in a way we could never comprehend.

But unlike those beautiful works created through hours of painstaking labor, the designs made with salt happen almost instantaneously. And rather than decay or descend into chaos as the dial is turned higher, the patterns become more ornate and stunning. I’ve watched the video at least ten times, and I still gasp at some of the patterns that emerge.

John Dryden wrote one of my favorite poems called “A Song for St. Cecilia’s Day” in which he praises music, the force God used to call the world into being. The opening stanza reads:

From harmony, from heavenly harmony
This universal frame began.
When Nature underneath a heap
Of jarring atoms lay,
And could not heave her head,
The tuneful voice was heard from high:
“Arise, ye more than dead!”
Then cold and hot and moist and dry
In order to their stations leap,
And Music’s power obey.
From harmony, from heavenly harmony
This universal frame began;
From harmony to harmony
Through all the compass of the notes it ran,
The diapason closing full in Man.

Music—harmony, sound, tones, pitches—is how order emerged from “the heap of jarring atoms.” Dryden imagines it is what God used to build the “universal frame” of our world, and he might not be too far off base. Genesis 1:2 says, “The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.” He called forth light, water, earth, sky, stars, birds, beasts, and man. I can’t help but imagine them coming together like the patterns in the video—order out of nothingness, called into being by the very voice of God.

The Almighty is present in everything. We just have to be ready and willing to see Him, even in the places we least expect. This was one of those places for me, and now that I’ve witnessed it, I know my God a little better. In some small way, I see Him, and I’m left clapping my hands like a child, overwhelmed by the revelation.

What do you think of this video? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below. Oh, and if you’d like to hear it with just the tones and vibrations rather than the lovely soundtrack, you can watch the video below. Beware, it’s super loud toward the end!

Kermit Gosnell and the Greatness of Grace

It seems like the news has been a veritable cornucopia of awful lately. Everything from the IRS targeting certain groups claiming tax exempt status and spying on reporters to the whomperjawed situation surrounding Benghazi leave me wondering if a move to Bora Bora wouldn’t be advisable. Add the Jodi Arias and Kermit Gosnell trials, and I’m left wondering why God has any patience with us at all.

But it’s the Gosnell verdict—and the reaction to it—that most piques my interest. I am glad he is being brought to justice for his crimes and that another pro-life legal precedent has been added to the books. However, I can’t help but feel that Christians, by and large, missed an opportunity to witness to the world when his guilty verdict was announced.

Image from huffingtonpost.com

I don’t read the comments and discussion threads that follow articles because they’re usually a cesspool of hatred and vitriol. (And yes, the purple prose is merited. Go read a few threads sometime. You’ll see. It makes me lose faith in humanity.)

While I wish I could say believers fare better in this department, when it comes to hot button issues like this, we’re just as bad as non-Christians.

The comments ranged from those who were glad justice had been done to folks who were more than a little happy to “gouge out the other eye” themselves. Comments like, “There’s a special place in hell for this dog of a devil. I hope they vote to send him there soon” and “I hope they snip his spinal cord with scissors” just left me shaking my head.

I’m glad that abortion is being addressed in a new light and that this trial (and the awful details that were revealed during it) made many women considering abortion change their minds. I’m glad a man like Kermit Gosnell is no longer practicing “medicine,” if that term can be applied at all. But the thought that has stuck with me, that has resonated longer than my disgust is this—God’s grace will always be greater than sin. It is great enough to cover this man who has done things most of us find unspeakably horrifying, and if Mr. Gosnell truly accepts Christ as his Savior today, tomorrow, or the day of his death, I will see him in heaven along with my family and friends. He, like the vineyard laborer hired in the eleventh hour, can expect the same rewards I do because God’s grace is His to do with as He sees fit.

The thought humbles me, but apparently, some folks don’t agree. Over dinner a week or so ago, I discussed this revelation with a friend, and she recoiled from me like Kuato had grown out of my abdomen.

“I don’t agree with that at all,” she told me. “I can’t imagine that THAT man can go to heaven the same way I can…especially after all he’s done.”

The debate went back and forth and finally ended with, “We’ll just have to agree to disagree on this point.” And her refusal, I think, stems from two sources. The first is that she believes, like many people, in hierarchically arranged sins. Some, like little white lies or envy, are minor infractions. After all, don’t we all commit them? So that makes them hardly worth confessing in prayer. Yet the whammer sins—murder, adultery, theft, and the like—are somehow beyond the pale. What we forget oftentimes is that sin is sin is sin.

Image from kseamericanlitblog.wordpress.com

Dante wrote entire books detailing a very elaborate system involving the levels of the inferno, purgatory, and paradise, but none of it is biblical. Truth is, there is no sliding scale, no ranking system, no way for us to justify our judgment of one another. We want to believe that if we only commit minor ones, we’re good on our own and don’t need grace, but that’s not true. James 2:8-10 tells us, “If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” Yeah, one sin is just as great as another. And all of them separate us from the Lord.

But that’s where grace comes in.

For those who accept Christ as Savior, there is no reason to worry about the law. Yes, we should always strive to do those things that are pleasing to God and avoid those things He hates. But the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross wiped the record books clean and made it possible for us to be truly free and enjoy a relationship with the only One who is worthy of praise. We had nothing to do with it.

The second reason she couldn’t understand the idea of grace applying to Gosnell is the allure of work-based salvation. She said more than once, “I’m a good person. He is not a good person.” She listed all the right things she had done as well as all the wrong ones she had avoided. In her mind, her faith was more valuable because of what she did (or didn’t) do when the truth is the only reason we have value is because of who Christ is and what He has done. None of us is innocent. None of us can hurl stones at a fellow sinner because, if we’re willing to look closely enough, we’ll see that we’ve done something just as awful as far as God’s law is concerned (John 8:1-11). That’s why we should fall down on our faces before Him and thank Him for the grace and mercy He’s shown us rather than point fingers at one another. He gives us hope and purpose in a world that can offer us neither, and that’s what we should be shouting about.

Image from dailybibleplan.com

Before we parted ways, my friend told me that I was foolish for thinking that a man like Gosnell would ever be saved. He was a murder. He was evil. He had done unspeakable things, and God wouldn’t dare use such a wretched human being to do His work here on earth.

But all I could think about was the apostle Paul—a man who, when he was named Saul, was a persecutor without equal. He went after Christians, be they men, women, or children, “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1). He sanctioned (and perhaps even participated in) Stephen’s stoning. But God saw fit to smack him down on the road to Damascus and change him forever (Acts 9:1-31). And what did He use Paul to do? To preach to the Gentiles, to plant churches in cities across Europe and the Middle East, and to write over half of the books in the New Testament.

God took a murderer of Christians and turned him into one of the most powerful and persuasive warriors of the faith. Millions upon millions have come to salvation because of Paul’s writings, and we continue to study and learn from them today. If God can change the world to such a degree with one man, who are we to say he can’t do it again with one who is just as feared, just as reviled, and just as lost in his own incorrect beliefs? That’s the story we should be telling on those message boards. That’s what people need to know about.

I’d be interested on hearing your thoughts on this topic. Do you agree with my friend or me….or have another opinion entirely? Please share your questions and ideas in the comments section below. I always look forward to discussions!

Pure and Undefiled Religion

My article in the June issue of In Touch Magazine is one for the record books. Not only is it a feature, it is also the longest piece I’ve written for the publication to date—a whopping eight pages. It was the first multi-interview piece I’ve ever done (10+), and it also included copious amounts of statistical and personal research. Because of it, I learned better interviewing skills, how to conduct an interview that’s tailored for broadcast, and how a video feature is made. I worked with amazingly talented people ranging from transcriptionists, web designers, and graphic artists to five-person a video crew. Five wonderful people were willing to share their stories with me, and I have no doubt that, through what they shared, lives will be changed. God is going to do something supernatural in the lives of at least one or two people who read this. I know because He did a number on me through the process of constructing it.

I began brainstorming for this piece back in November of 2012, and I have to say that it proved several things to me. One, nothing is impossible for God. There were several times in this process that I nearly threw up my hands and quit, but it was in those moments that God taught me something about reliance and His sufficiency. When I needed the words, they came. And when I trusted Him to provide the resources needed, He never failed to show up.

Two, people matter to God. He wants children to be in families, and He wants us to provide the homes they need. I spoke with brilliant and resilient children who have been hurt more in their short lives than I will ever experience, and I felt my heart growing in response to their stories. Also, I learned that when we grieve, our God grieves with us. I spoke to a widow of 30+ years and a widower who just lost his wife three years ago. The pain was so fresh in his heart that he cried several times during our interview, but he still said without hesitation, “God is good. He keeps providing.” That is the very definition of faith to me.

Third, though I have never wanted children before, God has impressed on my heart that it is time and that adoption is the route my husband and I will take. We’ve made some tentative first steps in that direction, and I firmly believe that I was given this assignment so God could shape and mold my heart to make that choice possible. I guarantee you that there will be MANY blogs posted on this subject in the upcoming year.

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The article has also been posted on our shiny new microsite, which can be seen in all its glory at http://www.intouch.org/missing-persons/widows-and-orphans/. There are some web exclusives there as well as the video and audio/photo slideshow that was produced as a part of the project. It’s a website designed by the wonderful team at Hampton Creative. Go look. Seriously. It looks spectacular.

It will also hit homes this week in print form, which you can read below. If you like this piece and are interested in a free subscription to our publication, please visit our subscription page and give us some info. There are three more months to go in the Missing Persons Project in addition to the two reports that have already been published as well as some exciting interviews and articles coming in the future.

All in all, this has been one of the most challenging, most humbling, and most awe-inspiring things I’ve ever had the honor to experience. God has blessed me in so many ways over the last two years since I started at In Touch Ministries, and words cannot express how I feel right now.

I’d love to hear your feedback about the article, the website, the videos, and whether or not any or all of it changed your thinking on the matter. We love hearing from our readers, so please leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

To Be Worthy of Our Words

When I was working on my article for the September issue of In Touch Magazine, I stumbled across a lovely tome called Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me by Karen Swallow Prior. Part memoir, part theological treatise, and part literary criticism–it is a marvelous explanation of why books should matter, especially to people of faith. So far, I agree with her. Rather than ban books, we should read every one we can get our hands on because it is one way we can do as the apostle Paul advises—“Test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thess. 5:21). She agrees with John Milton’s assertion that books should be “promiscuously read.” This has nothing to do with the sexual connotation we apply to the word today, but instead means that we should engage in, as she puts it, “indiscriminate, disorderly reading. And lots of it.”

I haven’t finished the book yet. In fact, I’m only three chapters in, but I’m loving her mix of memory, story, and application. If you’re a person of faith who loves to read everything you can get your hands on and books have helped shape you into the person you are today, I suggest picking this one up. You might not agree with everything she says, but like the pear on the cover, it’s juicy food…for thought.

One passage in particular caused me to stop, to re-read (at least five times), and to ponder. It reads:

“All words are names, for all words signify something. The power of naming is a subset of the power of all language. God spoke the universe into existence and, in giving us the gift of language, He gave us a lesser, but still magnificent, creative power in the ability to name: the power to communicate, to make order out of chaos, to tell stories, and to shape our own lives and the lives of others.

The Book of Proverbs says that death and life are in the power of words. To choose a good word, to assign the right name, to arrange proper words in the best order: these are no easy tasks. Such work requires the creative power, the brooding, the birth pangs of a mother. Names, words, and language: they shape and create our souls the way a mother’s body shapes and creates our bodies. We describe the country of our origin as our fatherland, but our language we call our mother tongue. Indeed the words that often wield the greatest power in and over our lives are those spoken by our mothers, from our names, to words of encouragement, to words that define and shape our characters, words of truth spoken in love. This power of words is akin to the creative nurturing role a mother plays in our lives.”

There are three separate yet equally important ideas here.

1. God values words. It’s how He made the world, and we can create using them, too. Words are an amazing gift from a God who loves us.

2. Writing is hard. It should be hard because it’s important. And that is a good thing.

3. Names are important.

**A fourth point I took away from it is that if/when I become a mother, I’d better be careful about what I say, but that’s fodder for another blog.**

My brother and his wife are having a baby girl later this year, so there has been much discussion of names in our family. Some have been quickly discarded, others have fallen in and out of favor, and a few–like bathing suits–have survived the horrendous “three way mirror examination.” Currently, the front-runner is Olivia, which was my suggestion. I have firm plans to call her Olive, buy her love with Disney Princess dolls, and school her in the ways of sarcasm.

Some of these look like good ones. Others….not so much.

After reading this passage, I sat back for a minute and thought about my name. For many years, I wasn’t fond of it, especially my first name. Jamie. It’s really a boy’s name, and I was often referred to as “Mr.” on the first day of classes when the roll was called. (Never a good thing when you’re the tall/fat/awkward girl.) However, the name itself has some meaning in my family. My great grandfather was named James, as was his eldest son, my great uncle. I was named for my great grandfather because he died just a few months before I was born. My mother said he was very excited to meet me, so much so he used to talk to me through her stomach. She attended his funeral while pregnant with me, and it was then that she decided to change my name to honor him. (Until then, she had planned to name me Allison.) I’ve always thought that the choice was rather cool on my mom’s part.

Uncle James, who died last year, was a pastor and served as the minister for my parents, my aunt and uncle, and Wayne and me. He was the spiritual rock of our family for many years, and I’m proud to share a name with him. He taught me what it meant to be a man after God’s heart, to be good and honest and loving. When we attended his funeral, I realized that I’m the last James. And the thought made me more than a little melancholy.

James signing his name to our wedding license.

My middle name, Anita, is one I share with my maternal aunt. However, she was not the first to have the moniker. That honor belongs to my great grandmother’s sister, so both of my names actually go back two generations. “Anita” means “graceful,” which is a term I don’t apply to myself. But I do so like the thought. It was the name I asked my teacher to call me in Spanish class because I liked the way it sounded when she said it– “Ah-knee-tah.” It was soft and round in the mouth. Much better than Jamie, which came out “Jai-may.”

Both names are of Hebrew origin, which is another plus in my book, and when I think about where they come from, I realize that each holds something of my family’s history. My mother’s side. The one I resemble both physically and with regards to attitude. I have my great great grandmother’s spunk. A great aunt’s long fingers. A distant second cousin’s sense of humor. And when I think about this, I can’t help but marvel about how talented God is—how He wove together a family and made us alike both in bone and brain, tendency as well as tendon. Each one of us is indeed “fearfully and wonderfully made” by a master Artisan (Ps. 139:14).

Names matter. Words matter. And I’d love to hear yours. Tell me about your name in the comments section below. Do you like your name or hate it? Does your name tell a story? Please share it! Do you feel differently about names because of Ms. Swallow Prior’s quote?

At Story’s End

As hard as it is to believe, April is almost upon us. That means the new and improved In Touch Magazine has hit homes! We have new departments, a new layout, look, and feel, and have gained eight pages in length. That means there is more room for Bible studies, articles, and photos! If you don’t already receive a free copy from us via mail each month, I encourage you to visit our website and register. If you prefer the electronic version, you can visit our homepage.

This one, I’m not going to lie to you, was downright painful to write. It went through several substantial revisions before arriving in the form you see before you. However, I can say that it was worth all the wailing and gnashing of teeth I had to go through because the version that came out ended up being much better than the first one I submitted. This proves two things to me that I’ve long believed but need to be reminded of time and time again. One, God is in control. It’s His talent I’m using on borrowed time, and if I ever begin to think it’s mine, He reminds me with a challenging piece like this. And two, as wonderful and rewarding as the writing process is, it will always be hard. But then again, if it were easy, I might not love it so much.

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Roads Go Ever On And On

In Isaiah 55:8, God reminds us, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” and He’s proven that to me time and time again. Back in 2004, when I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, I had no idea what kind of transformational process the Lord was going to begin in me. Having this thorn in the flesh brought me back to reality and compelled me to destroy the foundations of the empire I’d planned.

In 2007, I took a job teaching English at a Christian school, and while there, I started to get comfortable in my “Christian skin” as it were and began digging more deeply into what it means to be a born-again believer.

Fast forward to 2013. Today, I work for one of the most beloved and recognized pastors in the world, Dr. Charles Stanley—first as a copy/content editor and now as a member of the In Touch magazine staff. For many years, I dreamed of being a writer, and that’s exactly what I am today. Every day, I am privileged to work alongside some of the most amazing, godly people I’ve ever known. We perform many functions–everything from buffing a floor to editing a broadcast. But we share one goal, getting the good news of the gospel to as many people as possible through radio, television, web, and print.

Yes, a woman who, nine years ago, was a nominal Christian at best is now a part of an international ministry.

It should have been impossible, but God brought it to pass. Why? Because He enjoys drawing a perfectly straight line with a crooked instrument like me. I could never have guessed I would be as close to God as I am today or that He would allow me to use my talents in such a way. But that’s what He tells us to expect in His Word: For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope” (Jer. 29:11). Every day, when I sit down to work, I marvel at what He’s done in my life. I did nothing to earn this favor, and I am not worthy of it. I can never be.

But He doesn’t stop there. Sometimes, God blesses me beyond measure and teaches me more about His excellent greatness.

Proverbs 16:9 says, “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” I know the truth of that statement better than most. God has used many people to influence my Christian walk, and He’s now using me to grow up others in the faith. A few weeks ago, I got this letter from a reader. (If you click on the image, it should give you a larger version to read.)

letterfromreader

I’ve checked into this, and this person exists. He is indeed in prison for a host of crimes I don’t care to detail here. I can’t imagine what life must be like for him or what led him to such a desperate place. But God knew. The same heavenly Father who pulled me away from the trappings of the world did the same for him. God found him in one of the lowest, darkest, loneliest moments of his life and spoke to him through a 48-page, digest-sized magazine.

I often wonder about the journey that magazine took. I know how it was made of course, but when it was printed, how many hands at In Touch Ministries did it go through? How many people carried it with them or passed it on to some else before it finally found its way under that mattress? Did any of them know who it was meant for or what a difference it would make? There’s no way of knowing. One thing I do know, however, is that no one could orchestrate such an intricate journey except the Master.

That magazine lay in the cell where he would be placed, hidden where only he would find it, and opened precisely to the page he needed to read—a page I had written. (The article is here if you’d like to take a gander at it yourself.) The precision of it all is simply astonishing. There’s just no other word for it. It still boggles my mind when I try to think it through.

I’m willing to bet this man and I have little in common, but that didn’t matter to God. He made me walk through the darkest valley of my life to begin my own process of sanctification. Years later, He placed me in a position where my testimony could be shared with millions of people and helped me to write an article about physical illness. And He used those words to touch the heart of a man and pull him out of an entirely different sort of darkness. According to the legal system, he was beyond help. But he wasn’t beyond God. The Lord met him where he was and spoke to him through an article written by a woman frightfully far from perfect and still searching for answers herself.

The word “humbled” doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel every time I read this letter. It proves to me that God doesn’t make mistakes. I may feel like a cracked and crooked thing, but in His hand, I am a precise tool that helps to repair or shape another person. There is no telling how many people this man will impact where he’s been placed. His walk with God is just beginning, and that is a wonderful place to be. And I can’t wait to hear every page of his story when we meet in heaven.

Never doubt that the things you do and say make a difference or that God isn’t using you to impact someone else’s life. He loves surprising and delighting His children after all.

I’d love to hear your stories. Has God used someone to impact your life or directed you to bless another? Please tell me all about it in the comments section below!