In a busy, crowded hospital, I felt like the only person on the planet. I sat on the edge of my hospital bed overwhelmed with sadness and fear - feeling abandoned and completely alone. That afternoon I had been rushed to the ER in severe pain only to discover my gallbladder was about to burst.

“Why now, Lord?” I sighed. My mother had passed away just two weeks ago, I didn’t have health insurance, and my marriage of nearly thirty years was in shambles. My life was at such a low point. I didn’t know if I could face this surgery alone. Mom had always been there for me and now she was gone.

With tears streaming down my face, I cried out to God for help in getting through this surgery. I was desperate to know that I wasn’t alone; that someone cared about what I was facing.

As I finished my prayer of desperation, a young nurse quietly entered my room. She said her name was Serenity. When she asked about my unexpected surgery, I told her about the excruciating pain, the paralyzing fear, and the overwhelming loneliness. Serenity listened and nodded as I poured out my feelings of sadness and loss. Her gentle smile reminded me of her name.

She sat down next to me on the bed and took my hand. “Your mother is with God now she said, “and your surgery will go well.” Then she prayed with me and reminded me that God loves me more than I will ever know. A deep sense of peace came over me.

My surgery did go well and the next day another nurse was taking my blood pressure when I asked if Serenity was on duty. She gave me a curious look. “There’s no one here by that name,” she said. “And I’ve been here for nearly twenty years.”

After my discharge, I checked with the personnel department to confirm that no one named Serenity had ever worked or volunteered at the hospital. I smiled and realized that God had sent an angel to encourage me - a young, scared, lonely woman who needed to know that God was real and that He loved her.

For he will command his angels concerning you; to guard you in all your ways. Psalm 91:11

Contrasting Lives

How can two people have so much in common and lead such different lives? I have two friends with young families. Both of them are younger than me (about age 30) and married to caring, devoted, hard-working men who are attentive to their wives and work hard to ensure their happiness. My friends both live in nice houses and enjoy incomes that are well above average. They each have two children and are financially able to be full-time, stay-at-home moms. They are also blessed with husbands that are great fathers who love their children and are actively involved in their lives. But that is where the similarities end.

One of my friends knows of God but does not yet acknowledge his presence in her life. In spite of her idyllic circumstances, her life is filled with strife and unrest. She is easily and frequently upset, never satisfied, and rarely appears to be happy. Much of her frustration and anger is directed at her husband and two children, who work diligently to please her and appease her anger.

My other friend’s life is a complete contrast. She knows, loves, and serves God actively, with all of her heart, soul, mind, and strength. Her life radiates a powerful sense of joy, peace, and contentment. I have never seen her visibly upset and she exudes a constant and unending attitude of gratitude for everything in her life – especially her husband and two children, who work diligently to please her and make her happy.

My second friend chooses to be a stay-at-home mom who works very part time from home (10-12 hours a week). She goes to great lengths to create a loving and peaceful atmosphere in her home and provide her family with a safe and welcoming place of refuge and retreat from the battles of life.

She demonstrates sincere respect for her husband and expresses her love for him in word and in deed. She is kind and loving to her children and enjoys spending time with them - playing games, reading to them, engaging them in conversation, and teaching them about life. They are a tremendous source of blessing that bring deep joy. The love and unity she creates in, for, with, and through her family is evident, constant, and growing.

A life full of meaning, purpose, fulfillment, love, gratitude, and contentment is something we all desire. Both of my friends want and need these things in their lives. My first friend is frantically searching – desperately looking for these things in all the wrong places. My second friend has them. The difference lies in their relationship with God, the creator of life and sole source of meaning, purpose, fulfillment, love, gratitude, and contentment.

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. ~ Matthew 6:33 (NIV)

New Beginnings

We all have them in some form or another, don't we? A new baby, a wedding, a new job, the first day of school… Each day is a new beginning, another chance, a clean slate. New beginnings are not always good but they can teach us something about life - who we are, where we are going, and who God is.

One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Jeremiah 29:11 - "For I know the plans I have for you," says the Lord. "They are plans for good and not for evil, plans to give you a future and a hope."

In today’s world, especially in this economy, it is so easy to wonder where God is. Is he real? Does he care about my situation? Where do I go from here? The questions are endless but the truth is that God is right where he has always been, right here in the midst of our life with all of its joys and disappointments, happiness and sorrows, pleasure and pain, struggles and uncertainties. His loving arms are stretched out to all who will take his hand and trust him to love and guide us on the path he has set before us. He is there to walk with us every step of the way.

The Prize

I am so blessed to spend four days each week with my two grandsons. The six-year old is in kindergarten until noon so I have alone time each morning with his little brother, who will celebrate his first birthday next month.

The other day my youngest grandson was playing near his toy box with some of his favorite toys spread out around him. His little rocking horse and a few other larger toys were next to the toy box.

Suddenly he saw it – his favorite ball. It had somehow been pushed out of the toy box and was stuck between the rocking horse, the toy box, and the wall. His initial attempts to get his ball were unsuccessful and he plopped down on his little bottom in frustration.

I was torn. I knew what he wanted and was tempted to get the ball for him. I also wanted him to think and learn and grow and succeed – so I watched and waited.

His desire was strong and soon he was back at it again. He pushed and pulled and twisted and turned. As he maneuvered his little body one way and then another, his favorite ball just seemed to wedge itself more tightly into its inaccessible position.

Soon it was time for another break. He sat down and simply stared at the ball. I sensed he was trying to figure out a way to reach his goal. Suddenly he stood up, moved to the far side of the rocking horse, and pulled that little horse away from the toy box and the wall.

A huge smile lit up his face as he realized he had figured out how to get to his favorite ball. I watched him pick up the ball and toddle away with the prized possession clutched tightly in his little hands. He was still beaming with the joy of success and his sense of accomplishment was the real prize.

I was so glad I had not intervened and stolen his joy. Perhaps God sometimes watches and waits as we think and learn and grow and succeed. He may allow us to figure out how to reach a goal without “doing it” for us every time. What if the God-given ability to think and to work are the answer to some of our prayers?

The Bible tells us to run the race with perseverance; to press on toward the goal, striving for the prize, and fighting the good fight as we keep our eyes on Jesus. We are to fight discouragement and battle against the desire to give up when things are difficult.

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. ~ Philippians 3 :14 (NIV)

Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. ~ Hebrews 12:1b-3 (NIV)