Love Hangs On

There is an image that will forever be imprinted on Cindy’s mind.  It is what keeps her going when she wants to give up.  Recently, her son had been acting up at school and she was struggling to deal with why he was taking what didn’t belong to him and lying about it.  She had been crushed by such despair that she just wanted to throw in the towel and resign herself to the idea that it was no use trying to fix this problem.  She and her husband had talked to him many times about the consequences of wrongdoing. They read Bible stories to him stories to illustrate how important it was to do what was right.  But it seemed to be a waste of time.  She cried when she read the teacher’s note, wondering what had happened to her precious little boy who would never have thought of taking other people’s things and telling lies.

She had prayed to God about it but the discouragement and disappointment were overwhelming.  During her morning worship one day, she was frank with the Lord, telling him that she didn’t know what else to do.  Talking to Joey, reading verses from the book of Proverbs which urged children to listen to their parents and even spanking him didn’t seem to be working.  She had run out of options.  Then, the image which she always held dear to her heart, filled her mind.  She saw her son in the hospital, wrapped in a blanket, his head covered and only his tiny face  was exposed.  She would never forget looking into those big, beautiful eyes as they stared up at her.  This was her child.  The son she and her husband had prayed for.  This was God’s precious gift to them.

As the image lingered, she heard the Lord say, “Do it for him.”  God was encouraging her not to give up on that little baby who was looking up at her with such trust.  He was seven now but somewhere in there was that sweet child that had filled her heart such love.  It was this love that she was to tap into to help him.  God doesn’t give up on His children, no matter how long it takes or how hard, so she couldn’t give up on Joey.  Joey was a loving, kind and thoughtful child but he was doing bad things. She and his Dad had to find out why and then deal with it with God’s help.  God told her to talk to Joey, not at him and then listen to him.

She realized that lately she had been lecturing Joey and talking while he was trying to say something.  And it had been a while since she had spent any time with him.  Was it her fault that Joey was acting up?  Then, she pushed that thought away.  The enemy would love for her to blame herself but she wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction.  She knew that she and her husband were raising Joey the best they knew how, in a Godly home.  They would do whatever was necessary to help him but the choice, decision to stop doing what was wrong was his.  She was not going to give up without a fight, though.  Armed with hope and a mother’s fierce love, she was going to hang on to her child and not let go until it was safe to do so.   And one day he was going to thank her for not letting go of the child he used to be so that he could become the exceptional man God knew he could be.

Love suffers long and is kind; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never fails – 1 Corinthians 13:4, 7, 8

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Keeping Up Appearances

They had been together for twenty years.  The first ten had been relatively happy but after the loss of their child, their marriage started to crumble.  They went for counseling and things improved but only for a while.  They tried unsuccessfully to have other children.  They thought of adopting but decided not to.  The wait period was too long.

They thought of going for more counseling but felt too embarrassed to do so.  At church they acted like there was nothing wrong with their marriage.  When people looked at them, they saw a couple who were still going strong in spite of their loss.  They didn’t see the pain that was beneath the surface as Sarah watched other mothers holding their children or as husbands put their arms around their wives, their faces reflecting the love in their hearts.  All they saw was the artificial smile on her face when she and Bill walked through the front door of the church and were greeted by the elders at the entrance to the sanctuary.  No one knew the turmoil that had become a daily part of her life.

How much longer could she continue with this charade?  She wanted a real marriage not an artificial one.  She was tired of keeping up appearances.  Either they were going to make this marriage work again or they were going to call it quits.  The latter terrified her.  She couldn’t imagine being on her own again after being with Bill for twenty years.  The idea of starting all over again at the age of forty-nine was daunting.  She thought of what the people in church was say if she and Bill were to split up.  Neither of them had committed adultery so, why end their marriage?  Why not get counseling?  Why not try to work things out?  In their eyes, she and Bill had no grounds for divorce.  And what if they decided that they wanted to end their marriage and then, later on down the road, one of them decided that they wanted to get married again?

The words of Jesus came flooding through her mind, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her.  And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (Mark 10:11, 12).  She didn’t want to be labelled an adulteress should she decide that she wanted to find happiness with someone else. 

Should she do as her mother did?  Her parents’ marriage was not a happy one yet they stayed together.  There had never been any divorce in the family and they didn’t want to break that tradition.  She had watched how miserable they both were, the love between them fade until it was gone.  All the while, they pretended that things were fine between them when they were around friends, other family members and in church.  Only she and her brother knew that it was all a charade, that their marriage was artificial.  She didn’t want that for herself.  She didn’t want to pretend like her parents did. She saw what years of pretending had done to them.  It wasn’t until after her father’s death, that her mother started to live again.  The spark was back in her eyes.  She never remarried but she lived the rest of her life in content.

Sarah had vowed that she would never go through what her parents did and yet, here she was, twenty years later facing a tough choice about her marriage.  What should she do?  Divorce Bill and be happy or stay with him and be miserable?  Getting up from the bed, she knelt down beside it, her head bowed and her hands tightly clasped.  “Lord, please tell me what to do.  I love Bill but we are no longer happy together.  I don’t want us to continue to live like this.  I know you hate divorce and I never imagined that our marriage would end like this but I know that you want us to be happy even if it means that we can’t be happy with each other.  Please help me to make the best choice.  Please…”

The tears started to fall so she reached over to grab a handful of tissues from the box and something fell on the carpet.  She picked it up.  It was last week’s church bulletin.  She had left it on the bedside table, meaning to read it when she had the time.  She turned it over and her eyes fell on an announcement.  It read:

Courageous Hearts

The pace and pressures of life place enormous strains on a marriage. Couples often find themselves merely coexisting. They share the same house and split the bills, but that’s about it. Courageous Hearts helps couples rebuild vital connections in their marriage through clear communication and healthy ways of resolving conflicts.

Our Courageous Hearts Retreat is designed to restore communication and rekindle affection encouraging you to have a healthy Christian marriage.

Listed below the announcement were the dates of the retreat and a phone number. She got up from the floor and left the room, holding the bulletin, her mind racing.  That evening after dinner, Bill sat next to her on the sofa.  “Morris gave me this” he said, handing her a small card.  Morris was their next door neighbor and an elder in their church.  She took it and glanced down at it, her eyes widening.  It was the same announcement that was in the bulletin.  She looked up at him and asked, “Do you think we should go?”

He nodded.  “I am willing to give our marriage another try, if you are.”

“I am.”  It was worth another try.  She felt that this was what God wanted and she trusted Him to know what was best for Bill and her.  She had heard of marriages almost on the brink of divorce being restored because of one of these retreats. Perhaps, the same miracle could happen for Bill and her.   After all, with God anything was possible…

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Broke to Blessed

He sat in a corner under the bridge.  It was raining so he huddled against the wall, wrapped in his dingy blankets, trying to keep warm.  He longed for a cup of coffee but he didn’t want to go out into the wet to beg.  From where he sat, he could see the busy street and the heavy traffic.  He watched the people walking to their jobs, schools, slipping into coffee shops or heading down to the subway.    He used to be like that.  He used to be going somewhere.  He didn’t walk though.  He was driven wherever he needed to go.  He used to watch the crowds from the back of a limo, tapping his fingers impatiently as he had to sit in traffic.  While they were out in the cold or rain, he was warm or dry in the limo.  Life treated him very well.  He had it all but then he lost it all…

He started when he saw a van approach and stop.  It sat there for a couple of minutes before the doors opened and two young people emerged.  Slowly, they approached him.  He was not thrilled about this intrusion.  He was never one for socializing.  He only dealt with people when he had to.  His relationships had failed because he was not ready for any commitments and marriage was not on the radar.  He didn’t have any friends—only acquaintances.  He was satisfied with how life was.  It had been lonely at times but he had his millions to keep him comfortable.  Then, he had lost it all through bad investments…

They went under the bridge and stood opposite to where he sat.  The girl smiled at him.  She looked about twenty.  Under the grey hood were wisps of blonde hair.  She was pretty in a simple sort of way.  Not the type he would have been interested in or even considered dating.  Coming closer, she said, “Hi, I am Jenny and this is Mark.  We are with the Hands of Love program.  We are a ministry that provides sandwiches and hot tea to the homeless.”  She reached into the bag she was carrying and took out something wrapped in foil.  Mark had a cup in his hand.  They both held out their hands for him to take what they were offering.

He hesitated.  This seemed a little too good to be true.  He eyed them with suspicion.  He was never one to believe that you get something for nothing.  And he couldn’t believe that people would go to all of this trouble for someone in his situation.  He never lifted a finger to help anyone in need.  He had looked at the homeless with disgust, thinking that they had gotten themselves in that mess and that he wasn’t going to waste his hard earned money on the likes of them.  Little did he know that one day he would be in their shoes.   And here were these two perfect strangers who were offering him something to eat and drink and his old selfish nature was struggling to grasp this reality.  They must want something in return, but what could he possibly give them?  He had nothing.

“What do you want from me?” he demanded, his eyes challenging as he looked at the girl.  Her smile didn’t waver.  She didn’t seem at all put out.  “Nothing,” she assured him.  “I don’t want anything from you.  I am here to show you that you are not alone and that there is a Savior who loves you.”

His expression grew hard.  “Savior who loves me?” he asked.  “Where was He when I lost everything?”  He knew that he wasn’t been fair.  Bad investments got him where he was.  He had had not use for the Bible or Jesus when he was enjoying his millions.  Now that he was broke, he felt an irrational anger toward God.

The girl said to him, “He was there all the time.  It was not His will that you should lose everything and end up here but it is not too late for Him to help you.  All you need to do is trust Him.  I will leave you a Bible and there’s a story that I think you should read.  It’s about the rich young man.”

The rich young man?  His curiosity was piqued.  He wanted to read the story.  “Okay, I will read the story but I would like to have the sandwich and tea now.”  He took the sandwich and tea.  He carefully set the cup down and ripped open the foil.  He hungrily bit into the sandwich.

The girl went over to the van and came back with a small Bible which she set down next to the cup of tea.  “We have to go now,” she said.  “Before we leave, would you like us to pray for you?”

He shook his head.  “No thanks,” was all he managed to say as he devoured the sandwiches.

The young people turned and headed back to the van.  They drove away and he was alone again.

In no time the sandwiches were eaten.  He carefully crunched up the foil and tossed it away.  He wished he had asked them for money.  He was going to be hungry again.  He reached for the cup of tea, savoring the heat against his fingers.  As he sipped the hot liquid, he thought of the two young people, especially the girl, who intruded upon his world.  She was not intimidated by him or discouraged by his rudeness.   Her demeanor had not changed.  Her face was filled with a joy and peace that he had never experienced.  Where did she get it from?  He remembered the Bible she had left and he picked it up.  He saw that she had marked the page where the story of the Rich Young Man was.  Why that story? He wondered.  Why did she pick that particular story?  She couldn’t have known that he was once a rich man could she?

He opened the Bible to Mark 10 and began to read.  When he got to the end of the story, he felt that it was speaking about him.  He had put his millions before God.  His money had become his god.  Then, he lost it all and now he was homeless.   If he had only accepted the invitation to accept Christ, he would not be here.  Was it too late?

“When you seek me, you will find me.  I am always here.”  Those words brought tears to his eyes and he found himself sobbing.

“Lord, forgive me for loving my money more than you.  Forgive me for being selfish and uncaring to others.”  A peace that he never knew existed came over him and he knew that God was there with him.  He was not alone.  His life was about to change again but this time it was for the best.  It had to take becoming broke and losing everything before he would accept the blessings of God.  It was a hard lesson to learn but it paid off.

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