We were enjoying Sunday brunch with a group of friends from the church, when one asked, “Does anyone have suggestions for something Brian and I could do today?” After several suggestions from others, I blurted out , “Come to our house for dinner.”
Tom and I prepared a simple dinner of grilled veggies, salad and fresh catfish. Our friends brought an ice cream cake. We had a relaxed meal and good conversation and several euchre games, all of it laced with laughter. My spontaneous invitation resulted in a blessed evening for the four of us.
With a full calendar, I don’t often do spur of the moment things anymore. When I have an afternoon or evening with nothing already planned, I try not to fill it up with more busyness. Spontaneity has disappeared. I’ve lost track of the fact that Jesus enjoyed a good time. I believe that God has fun and fellowship waiting for us always. Consider the last few lines of the Twenty-third Psalm, “Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Maybe God enjoys the freedom of last minute plans as much as we do.
One thing I know for sure. If I had stopped to consider the state of my house, or what was available in my freezer and fridge, or that this was the first day with nothing in it we’d had all week, I wouldn’t have extended the invitation, and the four of us would have missed out on enjoying God’s goodness. So, I encourage you to open your eyes to the unexpected. God’s goodness and mercy does follow us. All that is required is our choice to turn and receive it.
When I visited the Yukon, my friend, Carol took me “panning for gold”. Like the prospectors of the gold rush in the 1890’s, I stood in the middle of a creek. The icy water rushed past my rubber boots, chilling my legs and feet to the bone. I used a giant pan, shaped like a pie plate, to scoop gravel from the bottom of the stream. Clumsily, I moved the pan back and forth, sluicing water and sand over the edges until all that was left were tiny stones on the bottom of the pan. My eyes narrowed as I searched for that tiny particle of gold. Nothing. I dumped the gravel and scooped again. After twenty minutes, my back ached. My hands and feet felt frozen. “Enough,” I called to Carol. I went away empty-handed.
Sometimes, helping others who are making destructive choices in their lives is a lot like panning for gold. I have a friend who seems determined to ruin her life. No matter what I do, I cannot fill her endless sink hole of need. I have been sucked dry. I know God has created her filled with nuggets of gold. The panning, the loving of her, often leaves my heart aching from the effort. After a while I call out to God, “Enough, I can’t do it anymore.”
I have to leave her to God and to someone else. I can trust that God will always love her and send people into her life to continue panning for the gold in her being. My job is finished. God has other work for me. It’s true that I will not reap the riches of her emotional health, but that is not mine to have.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful.” John 15:1-2
For more than twenty years, I’ve had to write something for Thanksgiving. Often, I’ve used the Biblical story of the “Ten Lepers” for inspiration. If Jesus wondered why only one leper was grateful for his healing, what must God think of us when we take our blessings for granted? This year, I’m beginning with Tom’s words, “Every time I turn around, there’s another pleasant surprise from God.”
As we left for Tucson last month, our minds were riddled with worry and sadness. Our grandson had been injured playing rugby and needed surgery and the day before we left my nephew was killed in a car accident. Staying home was out of the question. I was conducting my mother’s memorial service in Tucson. We packed our bags and drove first to my sister’s home six hours away and then back to Buffalo Airport. The next morning, Tom opened the drapes in our hotel room and said, “Every time, I turn around there’s another pleasant surprise from God.”
What was he talking about? He pointed to the idyllic country scene just outside the hotel window and began ticking off the list of blessings we had received over the past twenty-four hours. He started with the previous night. When we crossed the bridge at Niagara Falls, we needed gas immediately. He asked a taxi driver for directions to the nearest gas station. That stranger not only led us to the nearest open gas station, but also all the way to the Buffalo airport. He even paid our toll as we crossed a toll bridge. As he disappeared into the night, we gave thanks to God for his kindness. Tom finished his list with the unexpected Jacuzzi tub in our hotel room.
Yes, God had given us little blessings here and there, as we set out on this journey, our hearts full of sadness and worry. I needed to give God thanks. I offer you this tip. God offers small blessings, surprises, even on the worst days. We can follow St. Paul’s instructions, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18)