Small Gestures

My mother is famous (in our corner of the world, at least) for sending greeting cards–hundreds each year for birthdays and anniversaries.  Nearly every day, she sits down and chooses birthday cards, signs them, puts them in envelopes, addresses them, stamps them, and dates them to put in the mail box.  She has learned over many decades just how long it takes for cards and letters to travel to various parts of the country and world, and times each card to arrive as close to the actual date of the event as possible.

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As a girl growing up, I found this ritual time-consuming, wasteful, and bizarre.  The calendar was a crowded mass of names, copied faithfully from last year’s calendar and crammed full of new births and recent marriages.  Once the card had been chosen and signed, Mom would have to look up addresses in an ancient address book crammed with scraps of paper and index cards with changes, notes, and other esoteric information.   Mom sent cards to people I had never heard of or met– old friends she knew from school, people my father knew from his army days, distant cousins, people who used to live in the neighborhood from before I was born.  Each year, there would be cards returned to sender as people we barely knew moved and mom lost contact with them, often for good.

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When I was old enough and sassy enough, I asked her why she bothered.  What value did she see in doing something so simple, yet so complicated– who cared whether someone they had never met (or barely remembered) sent them a 2-cent greeting card?  She patiently answered that perhaps no one cared (though she hoped it meant something), but she did it because one year, when she was young and times were very tough, she had received a beautiful birthday card from an unlikely source– the only card she received that year.  It came from her “uncle” Ralph, who was not actually her uncle, but a dear friend of the family.  “Uncle” Ralph had grown up in an abusive home, and had lost two sisters in childbirth.  He knew the pain of being forgotten on his own birthday, and wanted to make sure it didn’t happen to his “niece.”  Mom’s birthday wasn’t “forgotten” that year, but there was no money for fancy cards that year– just enough for a small, unfrosted cake and many good wishes.  Mom faced other “tough” years as a young wife and mother, when she couldn’t afford gifts or cards for birthdays.  This one small gesture so impressed my mother that she made it her mission, when she could afford to do so, to send as many greeting cards as she could to as many people as she could.  As a follower of Christ, moreover, she does it from a heart that wants constantly to show love to just one more person for whom Christ died.

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In the many years since my impertinent question, I have seen the incredible ministry my mother has had, and have heard from some of the many lives she has touched with her cards and her kind thoughts.  Time after time, I have heard of people who were strengthened and encouraged by her example and her thoughtfulness.  She is the living extension of God’s heart as she lovingly signs each card, walks it out to the mail box, and sends it on its way.

Many people have stopped sending greeting cards– we are more likely to send a text message or tweet a birthday greeting– if we think about it, or if it pops up in our news feed and we can just click a button. Yesterday was my birthday…I received three actual paper greeting cards (and yes, one was from my mother, one from my mother-in-law, and one from the ladies’ group at church).  I was blessed and touched by each one– and by the dozens of on-line greetings and random birthday wishes in the days before (and probably after), as well as the hugs and special time spent with my husband and other family members.

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I don’t send cards through the mail as my mother does, but I find myself typing Happy Birthday greetings on all my friends’ news feeds– sending happy thoughts to them,  their children and grandchildren; their spouses and cousins (though I’ve never met them)–and each time, I am reminded that even a seemingly small gesture can make an enormous difference in someone’s life.  And, because of Mom’s example, I write every name in my prayer journal.  As I turn the pages each day, I see the names of two, three, or even ten precious souls– all infinitely and passionately cherished by the creator of the universe–and I have the honor to lift each one up in prayer to the One who knows and loves them best.

Memorials

Memorial Day weekend is coming up.  For anyone who is unfamiliar with the American holiday, also known as Decoration Day, it is a day set aside primarily to honor soldiers who were killed in battle.  In recent years, it has come under some criticism from those who feel that it celebrates a culture of war, or that it places too much focus on the past– especially a past that has been idealized at the expense of progress.  Instead, it has become a time of recreation– backyard barbecues, beach parties, and bargain hunting at flea markets and yard sales.

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But much of the real focus of Memorial Day has been lost.  Memorials should not be used to idolize or idealize the past; but they serve a purpose in reminding us of hard lessons and the need to keep learning from them.  Memorial Day is not about being thrilled or puffed up by our past– it is to be reminded of both the good and the bad, and the need to see the larger picture.  We have inherited both freedoms and frustrations; triumphs that came at the expense of others, and trials that will impact future generations.  It is right and good that we take time to reflect on such things.

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The Bible gives us several examples of memorials– signs and altars and ceremonies that are meant to call things to memory.  Some of the memorials involve battles, but many more involve both promises and prophecy.  We are to remember God’s faithfulness; His power to rescue, redeem, and restore.

Our greatest memorial as Christians, is not a soldier’s tomb– it is the Empty Tomb!  It is the reminder that our greatest battle has already been won, and the one who died to bring us the victory has conquered both Sin and Death.

For God so Loved the world, that He gave His only Begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting Life.   (John 3:16  KJV)

Memorial Day is also a good time to remember others in prayer– pray for those who have lost loved ones in the service of our nation; but also those who sacrifice daily for their families, communities, and around the world.  Pray for wisdom and opportunity to serve others around us better.  Pray for healing and grace– for those who fight internal battles with unforgiveness, betrayal, guilt, vengeance, and more. And don’t forget praise– thank God for His redemptive plan; for the victory won; for the sufficiency of His grace.  Thank others around you for their services and sacrifices. Finally, as we honor the sacrifices of others, let’s look for ways we can serve one another better.

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*Please note:  I will not be posting for the next couple of days due to the holiday.  I will return on Tuesday of next week.

 

Looking Back

In my pursuit of prayer, I have found it helpful to keep a Prayer Journal.  One of the reasons is that I can look back and see what prayer concerns and issues I prayed for weeks, months, or even years ago.  I also save space in my journal to go back and fill in how God answered those requests, or what the progress has been in those areas of concern.  see also: Proactive Prayer Points

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The Bible warns us to be very careful about looking back…the most famous example is the tragedy of Lot’s wife (Genesis 19).  In looking back, she lost her chance to rebuild a life after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and was turned into a pillar of salt.  In the book of Exodus, the newly freed Israelites grumbled about their circumstances and looked back with fondness on their lives in Egypt, forgetting their oppression in their homesickness for certain foods (Exodus 16).  Spending too much time and energy on the past leaves us with little motivation and energy for the present or future.  The past should never become more important to us than moving forward.  If we long for the past, if we romanticize it or cling to it, fearing the changes and opportunities to come, we can stagnate, and miss the blessings playing out right before our eyes.

But we should take some time periodically to look back in order to gain perspective.  The same Children of Israel who grumbled about leaving Egypt, once they arrived in the Promised Land, were commanded to remember their wandering in the wilderness, and told to teach their children about the past (Deuteronomy 8).  Holidays and religious rites were instituted as reminders of the past.  But this kind of looking back gives us renewed encouragement, incentive, and momentum to keep going by showing us how far we’ve come, and reminding us of God’s faithfulness.

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I am especially encouraged when I see how God has answered prayer–so often, I’ve forgotten about trials and struggles that have come my way–issues that seemed huge in the moment, but in hindsight look insignificant.  Sometimes, God’s answers were immediate and breath-taking.  Sometimes, they were subtle and were revealed in several stages.  Sometimes, the answers revealed how God was working beyond anything I imagined!  Often, the requests reveal how I have grown (or not!) to trust him more or to listen better to those around me.

And, just like that, I have material to add to today’s prayers– gratitude for prayers answered, hope for new growth, praise for God’s faithfulness, and confession for times I have doubted or looked back in envy or regret.

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