Simon

 

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“God is still speaking. Today I will be quiet and listen. Whether through the Bible, others with whom I share my faith journey, or the world around me, God is still speaking to me. I want to be sure to listen.”

A recent posting from one of my Facebook friends.

 

The last time I saw him would have been about 5 or 6 years ago. A good man—a gentle giant. He was our personal handyman, so to speak. He grew up in the home of a skilled woodworker who had his own carpentry/cabinetry business. Simon learned his father’s trade at an early age—and he became a gifted, meticulous craftsman.

We hired Simon to rebuild our kitchen, to remove tiles and refinish our floors with hardwood, to add custom crown molding throughout our house. He became like family and even brought his young son Sebastian with him to our home. Sebastian would sit quietly and play with his toy cars and planes as his father worked. He was just 3 years old then, smart, articulate, precious.

But then we lost contact with Simon. We sold our home and moved to another city.

About 3 years ago, Ron and I decided to make some cosmetic changes to the inside of the new home we were building. And we tried to get in touch with Simon. We called his cell phone but his number had been disconnected.

We called the only other person we knew who also knew Simon and asked how we could reach him. The response we got was “Simon is not reachable.” It was a mystery. And we worried that Simon might be ill—or something worse.

Then a remarkable thing happened about a month ago. We had dinner at the home of one of our former neighbors who lived next door to us. We stepped outside into their yard and met the couple who now lives in our previous home. They invited us to come and look inside.

As we walked from room to room, they stopped in the kitchen and showed us a problem with their cabinets. A guest had accidentally damaged the wood on several of the doors and the new owners asked if we could help them find the cabinetmaker to do the repairs.

So I tried once more to locate Simon. This time I googled his name—and discovered that he was incarcerated.

I was shocked and deeply troubled. This shy, gentle man was now in prison. I couldn’t stop thinking about him, his wife and his son Sebastian who would now be about eight years old. How does an eight-year-old boy deal with having a father who is in prison? How can his wife be coping? What must Simon be going through?

Call it a prompting, a nudge, a whisper, like my Facebook friend who posted the message at the beginning of this blog, I believe that God does speak to us, to me—sometimes in the form of nudging or prompting, and yes, sometimes in the events and circumstances that are placed before us.

This past week, I was tidying up the church sanctuary—going through the pews, replenishing offering envelopes and prayer request cards. About half way through the rows, I felt a nudging to fill out a prayer request card for Simon.

I stopped what I was doing, pulled out a card and pen and wrote, “Prayers for Simon who is in prison.” I carried the card with me until I finished my work in the sanctuary, then left the card in the hands of our pastor as he greeted me in the office.

Last night, in an email to the Prayer Warriors team in our church, I saw my prayer request for Simon, modified to read “Pray for Simon, a prison inmate who needs to stay strong.” God’s touch, I am absolutely certain!

Today, I was nudged once more to write this blog and ask for my readers’ prayers as well.

“Remember those in prison as if you were together (in prison) with them…”  Hebrews 13:3

Please pray for Simon today as though you were there in prison with him.  Pray for him to stay strong.

There is power in the prayers of the Faithful.

 

 

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The Beggar

 

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Inside the Forbidden City

In 2007, the year before the 2008 Olympics, I made my 12th business trip to China. I was blessed with the privilege of traveling to many wonderful countries in my work—Germany, China, India. I even went to Africa.

Beijing is one of my favorite cities and whenever I was there, I always visited the Forbidden City—where the emperors of China once lived many years ago.

There’s a small fee to get inside the walls of the ancient city—and it was there in line to buy my ticket that I had an experience that forever touched my heart.

While I was waiting in the long, long line to buy my pass, I saw a tiny, emaciated, one-legged beggar using a crooked tree branch as his crutch—standing right beside me.

He didn’t say a word, just stood there, eyes focused on the ground. And when I stepped forward as the line moved, so did he. I admit I felt a bit uncomfortable, and I ignored him.

When I finally reached the front of the line and made my purchase, I turned around and almost knocked him over. He whispered, “One dollar. Just one dollar. Please.”

I was surprised he could speak English. But I was even more surprised by his humble nature, his sad eyes, and the sincereness of his request.

I gave him what he asked for—just one dollar. To which he didn’t say a word—he just slowly limped away.

I entered the gates to the inner city and walked around as a tourist for about 3 hours. When it came time to leave, I walked out through the same gate that I had entered.

And there he stood. And when he saw me, he looked me in the eyes and simply bowed his head. A silent gesture of thanks.

His presence was unexpected. His humble gesture touched my heart. I looked back at him and nodded my head in return—and once again, he hobbled away.

Later that night as I sat alone in my hotel room, I thought, why didn’t I give him more?

Well, the next year, the year of the Olympics, I was in China once again—this time a few weeks after the event was over. I went back to the Forbidden City, hoping to see the beggar. He wasn’t there.

China, in an effort to “clean up” their streets for the Olympics, had removed/relocated all of the beggars.  I’m not really sure where they went. All I know is this: There were no beggars anywhere to be found.

I had so wanted to see him again. And the fact that I didn’t, honestly, troubles me still. He gave me so much more than I came close to giving him.

At the time, I wasn’t yet a follower of Jesus. But I am a follower now.

I sometimes wish I could return to that moment—and do more. Be kinder, more respectful, give him a hug—I’m not sure what.

But one thing is certain for me after all these years: I’m grateful that I’m here now with a heart that is eager to help and a Lord who nudges me to reach out.

It’s not always about giving money; sometimes it’s sharing a smile or a moment of one’s time—chatting with a lonely nursing home resident or thanking a check-out clerk at the grocery store who seems to be having a difficult day.

My hope is that every time God presents an opportunity to love a neighbor in the days to come, these words will continue to stir my heart:

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Matthew 25: 35-40

May God bless you with the opportunity to reach out and selflessly help someone in need.

 

A Christmas Tradition

 

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I started a tradition four years ago with the birth of my first grandchild—a grandson. And now I also have an almost 2-year-old granddaughter.   They are both sweet, loving children—and quite normal, for they love receiving presents.

While I cherish the fun of buying them special Christmas gifts, I truly longed for a way of showing them the real meaning of the Christmas season.   I know from my own experience the joy that comes from giving to someone who is in need, and I wanted my grandchildren to have this experience as well. Thus the tradition: buying a gift for someone in need each year as one of their Christmas presents.

Here’s my hope: As they begin to grow older, they will be just as excited on Christmas morning to discover who they helped this year as they will be for any of their other presents. And as young adults and eventually a father and mother themselves they will continue this tradition of giving a Christmas gift to others.

My grandson’s presents over the past 4 years have been 2 chickens to a family in Africa, a doll to a child in need in the USA, a warm coat for a refugee boy in Syria, and this year—a winter care kit for a refugee child in Europe facing a freezing winter.

For my granddaughter, her gift last year was 2 weeks of milk for a hungry baby—and this year, a loving-care package for an orphan girl in India.

I read a devotional earlier today entitled, “Life is Best Lived When You’re Awake.” The author’s premise: Appreciate all that God has given you. Pay attention to the wonder of being alive. Notice and help the people around you—especially those in need. Then he asked, “Are you awake?”

God bless you as you think about and give to others in need this glorious season—as we celebrate the Birth of our Lord! Merry Christmas.

Gift ideas for children in need all over the world can be found at samaritanspurse.org and worldvisiongifts.org. You can make a difference for a child or a family in need for under $25.

 

A Thanksgiving Wish

A painting purchased in China years ago in support of a struggling artist.

A painting purchased in China years ago in support of a struggling peasant artist.

It was almost 1:00 before Ron and I headed for lunch at a little Italian sandwich place just around the corner.

We drove separately—I would return home to do some work; Ron would head to the store. As I parked in the lot in front of the restaurant, I noticed a woman sitting alone in a truck next to my car. I thought nothing of it.

We walked into the restaurant, sat down to enjoy our sandwiches, and finished about 40 minutes later. As we headed back to our cars, I noticed the truck still parked in the space next to my car. But this time the door to the truck was ajar and the woman inside was crying.

I was in a hurry to get home, but felt compelled to stop. I asked, “Do you need some help?”

“Yes,” she said, “I can’t get my truck to start. And I can’t reach my husband. I don’t know what to do.”

I saw Ron backing out of his parking space and raced over to flag him down. When he saw me, he pulled over and I explained that a woman in a truck needed help. He parked his car and walked on over.

The woman looked relieved and grateful.

Ron got into the truck, tried to turn it over, but he couldn’t get it out of park. There was no electrical power. He opened the hood, pushed, pulled, and shook a couple of wires (admitting he had no idea what he was doing), then got back into the truck and turned the engine over. It started! With the power restored, Ron shifted out of park and into gear and the truck was ready to go!

The woman was ecstatic. She asked if she could give us each a big hug and we accepted. Ron warned her as she drove away not to turn the engine off under any circumstances until she was safely home.

We followed her in both cars as far as we could until she only had about a half mile to go.

Later in the day, I told Ron he did a good thing. He said he had no idea what he was doing, but glad it had all worked out.

So here’s my Thanksgiving wish for all of you: May you be blessed with the opportunity this holiday season to help someone in need or share with others who are less fortunate.

Maybe it’s comforting a child who has fallen off a bicycle, or slipping twenty dollars to a young mother in line at Walmart who is short the cash to pay her bill and has to decide whether she should return the milk her children need or the baby’s diapers, or buying an inexpensive print to help a struggling artist.

The tiniest act of kindness pleases our Father in Heaven. It says so in the Scriptures:

Hebrews 13:16 “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”

Proverbs 19:17 “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.”

Matthew 25: 35-40  “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Happy Thanksgiving!