Posted in Living, Writing

The Gathering Stone–A short, short story

stone_tablet

The wind whipped icy fingers that cut through the knitted scarf I had wrapped around my neck before plunging headlong out of my mother’s house more than a half hour before.  If I stayed out here much longer, stamping from foot to foot, I might just freeze to death before I could even begin the grand adventure about which Mother’s caustic comments had sent me flying out the door in the first place.

I let out a puff of indignant breath, watching it billow and dissipate in front of me.  She wasn’t going to check on me.  She was going to rock in her favorite chair in the parlor, working on the cross-stitch she planned to donate to her church’s auction for some mission in Africa, carrying on as if nothing untoward had happened at all.

She could support other women’s daughters traipsing off to the far reaches of the earth as long as God’s name was attached to it, but let her own daughter propose a little trip to Central America as part of her anthropological studies, and it would seem the very heavens were destined to fall in.

“What on earth are you doing out here, Melissa?” my Aunt Gertie’s voice, sharp like a knife, split through the cold and my thoughts, making me jump despite myself.

“You don’t want to know,”  I pouted, hating that I sounded like some petulant child and doing my best to keep my teeth from chattering.

“I certainly don’t want to know out here in this freezing weather,” she shot back.  “Come back inside this house before you catch your death, and then you can vent until your lips are blue, if they aren’t blue already.”

She turned back into the house without giving me a second glance, and I followed her before I could think myself into a stubborn stance that could only end in frostbite.  Gertie was in the kitchen, pouring tea from the thick, brown pot she had purchased thirty years ago on her one trip to England.  She silently poured a second cup as I stomped my feet and tentatively felt the tip of my nose.  I wiggled it once I was sure it wouldn’t break like an icicle.

“It’s not this cold in Belize,” I muttered, watching Gertie splash a dab of milk in both cups.

She held up her hand without looking up.  “I know you prefer your tea plain, but you need it.  You could be Rudolph the Reindeer, don’t you know.”  She gestured at the chair across from her.  “Sit.  Drink.”

I obeyed robotically, feeling the smooth liquid warm my belly and slide to my toes, which tingled annoyingly.  “All I want, Aunt Gertie, is to spend the semester abroad.  It’s the most popular course in the department, and they only have the one slot left.”

Gertie poured more tea into her cup, giving me one of her famous, side-long glances.   “And you’ve got the money to pay for this popular course, I suppose?”

I sank into my chair.  Leave it to Gertie to cut to the heart of the matter.  “Isn’t that what my college fund is for?” I spluttered finally.

Gertie raised a perfectly coiffed eyebrow.  “So, you earned the money that’s in that fund?”

This would be a losing argument.  I’d already had it with Mother, who likewise refused to count all my hours of studying for the top grades I had been bringing home since kindergarten as ‘work.’  “I might as well be back out in the garden,” I exclaimed.

“To the gathering stone,” Gertie agreed, nodding absently.  Her dark eyes looked into a distance I couldn’t see.  She snapped back to the table quickly.  “You may as well settle in your mind that you won’t be going anywhere except to the campus up the street until you are a woman full grown, with your own means of taking care of yourself.  If you hadn’t noticed, the budget in this house isn’t . . .,” she stopped herself.

I grimaced.  My father had been dead for almost a decade, but between Mother and Gertie, it might have been yesterday.  “Is it any wonder I want to experience more of the world?” I asked, thinking more of my desire to be away from the sorrow, to have a day where I did not have to be reminded as if I could forget that I was fatherless.

“Just because your father’s days were cut short doesn’t mean that you have a short life to live,” Gertie comforted, patting my hand with her boney fingers.  “You will have plenty of time to travel once you have graduated.”

I ran my palm around the curve of the brown teapot.  “That’s easy enough for you to say.  At least you’ve seen a little of the world.”

Gertie stood up suddenly and began gathering the tea things, her back turned to me.  She coughed and switched the water on in the sink with more force than was necessary.  “Seeing the world isn’t all it’s cracked up to be,” she said in her cutting voice again.  “But, as I said, you’ll find out for yourself soon enough.”

Mother showed her face in the kitchen doorway then.  “Have you talked some sense into her, Gert?” she asked.

“I’m sitting right here,” I said.  “Why don’t you ask me?”

When she turned to me, her blonde hair streaked with gray, her eyes looked more tired than usual.  For the first time in my life, I had the feeling that I had somehow failed her.  I was almost ready to give up my dream then.  Almost.

“I can see what you are thinking,” Mother blurted, pulling a chair from the table and having a seat.  “I am not trying to make you feel guilty or even trying to keep you from growing up.  We don’t have the money, Melissa, and that’s the bottom line.”

“But if I could get the money?” I asked, feeling the first glimmer of hope.

“Then you could apply it to the second mortgage we’ve taken out on the house to keep up with our expenses.”  Mother spat.

Aunt Gertie sat back down again, and we three sat looking at each other, the silence in the room so deafening that even the ticking of the clock over the kitchen sink came to me as if through a thick wall.  I could forget about Belize, about the Mayan ruins in the jungle and the weekends on the beach with handsome Mike Spears in swimming trunks.

“What did you mean by a gathering stone in the garden, Aunt Gertie?” I finally asked, unable to look at my mother any longer.

Gertie just kept herself from jumping out of her own skin.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said.

Mother shot Gertie a withering look.  “What have you been telling her?”

“There’s nothing to tell,” Gertie shot back, “as you well know.”

I stood up and pulled my coat back on, wanting, no needing, to get away from them, from my life.  “You said it was in the garden,” I said.  “What does it look like?”

Mother stood up then.  “It doesn’t look like anything because there is nothing there.”

“Then why would Aunt Gertie say something about it and then get all dreamy-eyed?” I shot back, my sympathy for our financial troubles evaporating again.

Mother sighed from her toes.  “The gathering stone,” she said, “isn’t in our garden, Melissa.  It was in the garden where Gertie and I were girls.  Take off your coat.”

I shrugged.  “I’ll go to the museum then.  It’s free today, and there’s an exhibit on shrunken heads I’d like to see.”

“Don’t be gruesome, Melissa, just because you are disappointed,” Mother ordered.

“Life is disappointment, Mother,” I said, just keeping myself from wincing at the drama in my own words, but I had gone too far to stop myself now.  “Can’t you understand how I might want to escape the disappointment, just for a little while?  Just for one semester?  Aunt Gertie did it!”

Gertie came up behind me and ripped off my coat suddenly.  “Sit down, Melissa,” she said in her sharpest voice yet.  It startled me so, I did exactly as she asked.

“I don’t know what made me mention the gathering stone today, dear,” she began in a softer tone.  “Perhaps all this talk about travel is what did it.  Your mother and I took our first travels at the gathering stone, you see.  It was a huge chunk of rock, a boulder to our young selves that we could climb upon and pretend.  That rock was a raft on the Amazon, an airplane soaring over the Atlantic, our wedding altars.”

“So, you called it the gathering stone because?” I said.

She shrugged, remaining silent.  Mother answered.  “Because our dreams were gathered there, I suppose.  Now, let’s pick out a good movie and make some popcorn.  I’m in the mood for a comedy.”

I glanced between the two of them.  “There’s more to this than you’re letting on,” I said.  “If you think I’m just going to forget something as mysterious sounding as this, you’re crazy.  What was the gathering stone, really?  Did you meet your boyfriends there or sneak out at midnight to light candles and chant like the Ya-Ya Sisterhood?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Mother scoffed.  “We were young children without Xboxes or computer games.  We had to use our  imaginations.  That’s all it was.  Now, let’s go to the living room and relax.”

I was all ready to grab my coat again and head to the museum, or the Starbucks in the Student Union.  I had at least five dollars in my left pocket and a bit of a gift at getting the boys from my classes to buy my lattes for me.  Sitting down with my Mother and Aunt for two hours watching a movie, being forced to stew in the juices of my latest disappointment was just too much to bear.

“Don’t go,” Aunt Gertie’s voice stopped me.  It was a pleading voice, not the sharp one that had greeted me an hour before.  “There’s really something you should know, Melissa.”

“If you open your mouth, Mother, to tell her to be quiet, I’ll scream until I faint,” I promised.

“Very mature,” Mother responded, but she stayed silent otherwise.

“What do you want to tell me, Aunt Gertie?”

“I’ve never been to England,” she blurted.

I blinked.  Hard.  Three times.  “What?”

“The teapot,” Gertie said, swallowing.  “The teapot is from England, Melissa, but that’s not where I got it.”

“Why would you tell me it was?” I asked, feeling sad and outraged all at once.

“Did I?” Gertie asked, her voice rising to a strange pitch.  “You’re sure I didn’t just talk about England so much that you assumed I had been there?  I’ve read an awful lot about it, you know.  I spent many an evening at the gathering stone reading about it.”

“So, why did you never go?  What would be holding you back?”

Gertie smiled a sad smile, a face that showed me more than anything the depth of my own ignorance.  It had not been an easy life for all of us, but Gertie had always been the tag-a-long, the tall, awkward sister to Mother’s attractive curves and curls, all angles and hard lines.  Mother had lost her husband, but Gertie’s only wedding altar had been the stone in her parents’ garden.

And now I knew she had never been anywhere, she who had toted the brown teapot from church social to bridal shower for decades, explaining the fine points of high tea and knitting teapot cozies as if she had not only visited the United Kingdom but become one of its citizens for a season.

“You’re trying to shock me into forgetting about Belize,” I said.  “Forget about it.  You already made your point with the second mortgage threat.  I know I might as well tuck that idea under your gathering stone and move on.”

Gertie laughed, a bubbling sound that seemed to come from her very core.  “Well, it worked, didn’t it?”

“Now, can we watch the movie,” Mother asked in her most bored voice.

The two sisters walked out arm in arm, discussing what title they wanted to slide into the DVD player.  I stayed in the chair a few moments, staring at the teapot and trying to imagine younger versions of my mother and aunt on a huge stone in their parent’s back garden.

Finally, I decided it wouldn’t matter if Gertie had made it to England in reality or only through her own imagination.  Somehow, her stories were so real that they might as well have been.

Now, if there were only a gathering stone in our own garden, even just a small one I could carry in my pocket, well then, maybe, I could dream myself into a college course of a lifetime.

Or I could check out a book at the library.

I threw some popcorn in the microwave, slipped off my sneakers, and rubbed the now cool crockery that had been the symbol of Gertie’s independence for the length of my lifetime.  It was cold comfort, but it was the closest thing to England I was likely to get in a wintertime of Sundays  tucked into the cupboard that served as our computer station, “Pinning” fantastic pictures to my board titled “Where the Gathering Stone Stayed.”

Posted in Christian Living, Christianity

Our Weapon in Secret: Practical Steps to Shine His Light

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.  Matthew 6:6

Child Praying

Do you remember the first time you tried to ride a “grown up” bike–no training wheels, just you and two wobbly tires and the hope that when your parent let loose of the seat, you wouldn’t smash immediately into the ground?  Or what about the first time you slipped behind the steering wheel of a real car, with your parents’ permission or not.  If you were smart, you knew just enough to be a little bit afraid of the almost 2,000 pounds of machinery you had in the palms of your hands.

There is almost nothing besides breathing that we humans do not do without first having some help figuring out how to do that something well.  Even though Paul explains to us that “. . . the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (Romans 8:26), we can learn much about how to pray, not only from the Bible, but also from each other:

“Let us never forget to pray. God lives. He is near. He is real. He is not only aware of us but cares for us. He is our Father. He is accessible to all who will seek Him.”
― Gordon B. Hinckley, Standing for Something: 10 Neglected Virtues That Will Heal Our Hearts and Homes

“Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one”
― Bruce Lee

“Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts.”
― Mother Teresa

“I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had no where else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.”
― Abraham Lincoln

“If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.”
― Meister Eckhart

“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love,
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved, as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
― St. Francis of Assisi

But, lessons on prayer don’t have to be from someone “famous.”  Each church meeting is a chance to listen to others pray and learn from them.  If you listen closely, you will often hear phrases from the Bible and hymns, humble requests in full recognition of God’s will, a truthfulness about ourselves and our relationships with others that is sometimes so raw as to be almost painful.  You will also hear the calm serenity of true peace that comes with the acceptance of that will.

The Bible, of course, is full of examples of prayers and advice about praying:

Philippians 4:6-7

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Rejoice always; pray without ceasing. in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Psalm 50:15

And call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me.

James 5:13-15

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praises. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him
.

And sometimes, lessons on prayer can come when you least expect them, like sitting on the floor of your office putting together a new chair and having your father-in-law ask you point-blank how you pray.  Luckily, after you stumble through your answer, he gives you three really useful pointers for your prayers that go something like this:

  1. Begin by picturing yourself in the long, flowing robe you have been walking around in all day.  The robe was clean when you put it on, but now it is dusty, dirty brown from the sandy path you have been walking.  Pray for God to wash away the grime in the name of Christ; watch the ugliness of sin melt away from your robe until it is beautifully, glaringly white.  You are in a peaceful meadow, washed clean, and ready to enter the perfect Presence of the One and Only.  Take a moment to be thankful of this opportunity to communicate with the Maker of Heaven and Earth, an opportunity purchased for you through Christ’s blood.
  2. Now that you are fully in the presence of God, you can ask to have a heart like Christ’s so that you might fulfill the commandment which encompasses all the others:   “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40).  A heart like Christ’s will embrace compassion, seek God always, see through eyes of love.
  3. Finally, you can pray for the wisdom of Christ, so that you might know the true will of God and do it.  Wisdom knows the Bible in its totality and doesn’t decide right and wrong based on what “feels right.”  Wisdom is self-aware of one’s own frailties and failings.  Wisdom is slow to anger and knows that judgment is that work of God and not of man.

When you have prepared your mind in this way as you pray, you will find that your heart and brain are working together to really pray to God with your whole self.  You are more focused on thinking about the needs of others as well as yourself.  Most importantly, you are fully aware of the privilege of standing before the throne of God.

I Will Shine His Light this week by practicing my prayers.  Knowing that, like any good thing worth doing, prayer too takes practice, I will rejoice in my opportunities to approach the Father.  I will be glad that even if my prayers are only groanings, I can be confident that God understands me anyway.

Posted in Christian Living, Christianity

Pollyanna World

Copyright http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0054195/
Copyright http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0054195/

In a culture where even our favorite “good” guys often come with a bit of a dark side, it may be difficult to fathom (if you are younger) or remember (if you are older) the days when a hero could be so good, we used terms like “syrupy” or “wholesome” to describe them. But the 1960 Disney film, Pollyanna offers just such a hero. In fact, the young girl from this film who maintained a positive attitude in the face of all things to the contrary became so synonymous with the concept of goodness that those for whom goodness is an uncomfortable concept turned her name into an actual insult: “Don’t be such a Pollyanna,” they’ll say. And what they mean by that is that you are putting your head in the sand, ignoring reality, and being just, plain stupid.

But Pollyannas are actually quite the opposite. In fact, Pollyanna is a forerunner of an idea that has been around since time began, but that cycles in and out of popularity, like so many things: the concept of CHOICE. For no matter where you turn in the pages of history, or even your Bible, those who find peace are those who master the ability to realize that we choose how the things that happen to us will actually affect us. By choosing positive, God-directed thoughts, we keep ourselves on the narrow way of Kingdom citizens. Let’s see how Pollyanna did it.

As the story opens, Pollyanna has every reason to curl in the fetal position and hide in the attic room her aunt has stuck her in following the death of the young girl’s missionary parents. She could be angry that her aunt owns the town and yet sees her as a charity case. She could even be cowered by the servants who snarl at her and warn her not to get in the way.

But Pollyanna has been raised to be made of sterner stuff. First, she introduces to anyone who will listen the “glad game,” a way of thinking her father had taught her when the missionary barrels brought crutches instead of dolls to play with. If any situation comes up that might make Pollyanna feel down, instead she looks for a way of thinking about the circumstances that could be a good thing. She CHOOSES to be glad.

Guided by Pollyanna’s aunt, the local minister spews fire and brimstone from the pulpit each Sunday that leaves his congregation with a case of indigestion to last for the rest of the week! One day, as the preacher is alone at the top of a hill worrying himself over how little he seems to reach that congregation, up comes Pollyanna with a folded note to deliver from her aunt. As the preacher finds himself sharing his lamentations with the young girl, she has a bit more wisdom to impart from dear old dad.

If you look for the evil in mankind, expecting to find it, she tells the preacher, you surely will.

“Abraham Lincoln said that,” Pollyanna concludes. She goes on to explain that about the time her father found that quote, he had begun his study of what he called the “glad texts.” These were the verses where God instructed us to be happy, to find joy, to embrace love. Pollyanna tells the preacher there were 800 of them. “My dad said, ‘If God told us 800 times to be glad and rejoice, He must have wanted us to do it,'” she tells him.

The next Sunday, the preacher has obviously done some thinking about choice. He delivers the happiest sermon of his career. And, he lets Pollyanna know there are actually 862 glad verses. He knew because he had spent the better part of the night before staying up to count them.

Last week, I offered the roadmap to beginning your walk with Christ. With Christ in your life, you’ll soon discover that CHOOSING a Pollyanna world is more than possible, mainly because you are no longer facing the challenges of this world alone. The moment you accepted Christ as your Savior, repenting of the sinful life you have led, that we have all led, you were open for the entrance of the Holy Spirit, our Helper in this world to shine the light of Christ for those still in darkness.

There are many places in the Bible that likewise show a CHOOSING plan of action. Here is one of them, from Romans 12:9-21:

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Each day, you are exposed to messages from television, the music you listen to, the billboards on the street. Many times, you don’t even have control over the messages that you are being bombarded with. But you do have the ability to CHOOSE which messages you will accept as truth. And you will have a growing understanding of God’s truth the more you study His word, communicate with fellow believers, and spend time in earnest prayer. Don’t forget, the devil has a real stake in making us believe the things that will keep us down, like “God can’t forgive me,” or “Nobody cares about me,” or “the Church will just judge me.” But God’s truth is about love and a believing community. Don’t let the devil make you confuse what feels good with what is good (but more on that another time).

For today, embrace the “glad game.” Choose to see the light in your situation instead of the darkness. Pollyanna managed to affect her entire new community in a positive way. It may have been a typical Disney ending, but it’s an ending God gives us the right to CHOOSE. Just open your hand and reach for it.

Posted in Christian Living, Christianity, Faith

The Promise We Carry

A Christian Treasure Map (clipartlog.com)
A Christian Treasure Map
(clipartlog.com)

It was a sunny, summer afternoon, but a cloud of sadness and worry and death hung over our house like the proverbial monster in the closet that nobody wanted to talk about. My grandfather had died eighteen months earlier at the young age of 52 in a faraway hospital in the big city. My grandmother had lived with us for a time, gone to help my aunt on her mission trip in Mexico, and was now going to live in the used but serviceable mobile home we could afford to get her with the small proceeds from the sale of my dad’s “ancestral” home and the pittance of a widow’s salary from social security, which for a carpenter who charged just what he thought a job was worth came to a whopping $400 a month in 1981.

In prepping the lot beside my great-uncle’s house for my grandmother’s trailer to set upon, my uncle, just 33, developed what appeared to be an appendicitis attack. When the doctors opened him up in the nearby Lamesa hospital, what they discovered was cancer, an overwhelming amount of it. They sewed him back up and sent him home with pain medications and hospice care. He had a three-year-old son, a four-year-old marriage and a handful of months to live.

When you are 11 years old, these things tend to happen more around you than to you, swirling around you in black clouds of that which cannot be defined. On this particular afternoon, alone at home with my sister somewhere in the house, I couldn’t stand it anymore. I had to do something.

I knew just enough about the Bible to be dangerous. I believed in God. I prayed to God. I had often wanted to go forward to be a part of what the preachers were talking about at the end of every sermon I attended. But, as my dad explained to me, I wasn’t old enough yet to really understand what it was I was stepping forward for. You’re fixing to agree with him.

Because what I knew about God included the use of sacrifices, I figured, why not give it a try? I thought about what meant a lot to me. My practically-flattened teddy bear, “Sugar Bear,” came to mind. (My sister to this day takes great delight in comparing her plump version of this same bear to the one I slept with and on, apparently, each night, as he resembles my sister’s version on permanent Weight Watchers). So, with not much assurance of what I was doing, but with the optimism born of ignorance only youth can bring, I snuck into the back yard with Sugar Bear, placed him on a pile of cinder blocks, and offered him as an exchange for my uncle’s improved health.

This take on theology was bad on so many levels, I don’t even know where to begin. Also, note that since I wasn’t allowed around matches, I didn’t even think to light the teddy bear on fire, so who was I kidding? I thought the sacrifice would work by God just reaching down and taking my teddy bear? It may have been the most egotistical moment of my life. (Unfortunately, for me, it probably wasn’t the most egotistical moment in my life. I’m sure I’ve done worse.)

Luckily for me, I have since learned much more about the meaning of sacrifice in our relationship with God and the exact role of Christ in that relationship. Within a year of my ill-fated attempt at “miracle making,” I was indeed baptised into the family of God. And then the real learning began.

In my first adult Bible, a KJV from 1977, I have marked the step-by-step guide of verses to share with somebody who is ready to be led to Christ. I want to share those verses with you in case you have never seen them in this particular order before, or if you yourself have been wondering what all this Jesus “stuff” is all about. We begin in Romans 3:10:

As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:

Romans 3:23 reiterates:

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

After establishing that none of us are blameless before God, we need to understand why blamelessness is so important:

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:(Romans 5:12)

For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6:23)

And how is Jesus a gift to us? Turn to Romans 5:8:

But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Now, we understand why we needed something to get closer to God, which is because we all have sinned, and we see that God’s plan was that Christ’s sacrifice would wash away that sin once and for all. So, what do we have to do? The next steps come in Romans 10: 9-13:

That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Even 31 years later, I can remember sitting in class with my Sunday school teacher, Patty Taylor, who had us all mark these verses in our Bible, including our starting point and the verses to go to next, like a treasure map to the greatest prize of all time! I have quoted this treasure map in the KJV from the original Bible where my young hands marked this all out, full of anticipation of being able to share this very map with somebody else some day.

Today, I’m sharing it with you. Anyone who knows me personally knows that I talk about God all the time because He is a part of my life (though, believe me, I am NO saint). However, in 31 years, I think this is the first time I have actually shared the treasure map I have offered to you today. Thank you for allowing me this opportunity.

I grew up in the era of fire and brimstone from the pulpit, and I tend to lean in that direction way too often, seeing the cup half empty instead of half full. But, the whole point of our Gospel Treasure, this thing we carry within us every day and everywhere, is that our cup is overflowing! What a wonderful gem to shine. No wonder Christ emphasized His role in casting Light into the darkness.

So, I say to that 11-year-old trying to pray away a teddy bear in the cool breeze of a summer afternoon many years ago, focus on the promise we carry, which is the love of God. The ultimate sacrifice has already been made. Now is the time to pay it forward.