Finding Hope at the Donut Man

donut man strawberry donutIf you’ve never been there, you gotta go!  The Donut Man in Glendora, CA (thedonutmanca.com) has the most amazing donuts you could ever imagine.  This is just one of their delectable delights, The Original Fresh Strawberry Stuffed Donut.  It was National Donut Day last week and I couldn’t resist making the trek to get one of these beauties.  What I didn’t expect was in addition to the rush of sugar, fat and carbs, I also received a refreshing jolt of hope, joy and encouragement from my fellow sweet-seeking humans.

The Donut Man is a small donut stand on the famous Route 66.  The modest building has two walk up windows and a convenient ATM tucked alongside it.  It is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and I have never been there when there wasn’t a line stretching around the corner.  Finding parking is always a challenge.  I usually end up in the dirt lot annex adjacent to the small paved lot behind the store.  The donuts are enormous.  In addition to their stuffed treats they have tiger tail donuts and chocolate bars that are about the size of my forearm.  It’s an amazing place.

As I got in line last Friday there were about 8 people ahead of me, all different ages, races and backgrounds represented.  The young ladies at the window were giddy with excitement, cackling and giggling as they waited for their order.  They were the only ones expressing what I suspect all of us were trying to contain as the sights and smells of the donuts filled our senses.  Just as I rounded the corner to the front of the stand I noticed one of the gentlemen a few people in front of me get out of line.  He explained to those around him he needed to use the ATM.  I heard one of them say, “No problem.  We got you.”  As he left the front of the stand just a few steps away to use the ATM several other hungry patrons got in line.  He completed his transaction and as he turned and noticed the line had grown he quietly stepped to the back of it.

The couple right behind me called out to him, “Hey!  You were ahead of us.  You don’t have to get back in line.”

The man shook his head, “It’s okay.”

The man who had been holding his place chimed in as well, “Dude.  You’re up here.  Come on.”

I jumped in too, “Yeah, come on,” as I waved him over.  Reluctantly he came forward and took his original place in line, thanking everyone along the way as he did.

I don’t know if it was blend of sugary goodness that was in the air, or the anticipation of gorging myself on that strawberry glaze, but my heart soared at the way these total strangers came together.  Frankly, it was kind of shocking.  He was so quiet about going to the end of the line, everyone could have easily ignored him and allowed him to stay there.  Someone who had gotten in line while he used the ATM could have objected to our urging as well, but they didn’t.   On the other hand, he could have been insistent about his place in line as well, elbowing others to get back to the place he had left.  But none of that happened.  Everyone just did what was right.  They did what was nice.  They thought of someone else before themselves.  It was refreshing to see.

If you look at what is in the news, or listen to talk radio, or infuse yourself in social media, you would think that the very fabric of our nation is about split apart.  We are in constant opposition no matter what the topic.  We are bombarded with opinion and disagreement.  We are compelled to take a side, make our opinion known, and attack those who don’t agree.  There is very little truth, only spin, and the topic changes moment by moment.  There are tornadoes of distraction trying to suck us into their vortex and all of them lead to the same conclusion:  Abandon all hope!  Pick a side! Everyone hates each other!

But then there are these Donut Man experiences:  real people interacting with each other face to face, exchanging glances and words, smiles, and “hellos,” saving places for each other in long lines; no arguments, no harsh language, no vigilantism, just people showing kindness to one another.  What a contrast.

I recently read in the book of Colossians, “Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.  For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God.  And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.  So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you.  Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires.  Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshipping the things of this world. Because of these sins, the anger of God is coming.  You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world.  But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language.  Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds.  Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him.”  Colossians 3:2-10 (New Living Translation)

Satan would like nothing more than to distract us with the things of this world.  Get us caught up in the latest controversy or opinion poll.  It really doesn’t matter what side we’re on.  That’s never his point.  His only goal is to divide us – to make us believe our differences are more important than what we have in common; to make us believe our opinion is more valuable than connecting as fellow human beings.  Don’t fall for it!

As believers, heaven is to be in the forefront of our minds.  We don’t belong to the world anymore.  That doesn’t mean we live in a bubble and don’t engage with the world.  In fact, it’s just the opposite!  We are to be the lights, the love of God in the flesh for others to see, feel, and experience.  But we can’t do that when we are caught up in the same things that are distracting and dividing those who don’t know Him.   The world is becoming darker.  God told us it would.  Many are abandoning all hope and believing the hype they are reading.  But we know Hope personally.  His name is Jesus and He lives inside of us.

The Donut Man experience was my reminder of the value of real connection.  It was the reminder that God’s love – His undeserving, gracious love – is available and it’s available through US!  We’re His delivery system.  And when we work together as one in delivering that love, powerful things can happen – far more powerful than the tornadoes of distraction that try to keep us from loving.

Father, I thank you for experiences like the one you gave me at Donut Man that show me that there is a reason you chose people, as flawed as we are, to be the vessels through whom You are made known to the world.  Help us, as your Body, to remember that responsibility and keep us from getting caught up in the mire, distraction, and dissension of this world.  We look forward to when we get to be with You.  In the mean time, use us to spread Your powerful love so that others may be restored to you and their hope, like ours, can be in Jesus.  It’s in His name that we ask these things, amen.  

You Want Me to Show You My What?

hemofgarmentWhat is the one thing you are most ashamed of, most embarrassed about? We’ve all got something. For many of us there are probably several things. They are things we may not like about ourselves or things from our past that we want to be free from. We may be the only one who knows about them. If only someone would just heal that part of us or set us free from whatever it is that continues to haunt us.

Now imagine that Jesus is coming to visit your church. You’ve heard He can heal the sick, free the demon-possessed and even raise the dead! Certainly, He could do the same for you. So, you, along with hundreds of others, go to see Him and you hope that maybe, just maybe, your path will cross His. You also hope deep down, that maybe that will be enough – just crossing His path might be enough to bring about the healing you seek. You stand elbow to elbow with hundreds of others at the foyer of your church to welcome Him. You’ve heard He’ll be arriving soon. You’re hoping that whatever you are seeking healing from is not visible to others.  At the same time, your heart longs to at last be free from it.  The energy in the crowd begins to shift as word travels that He has arrived. You check your appearance, straighten your clothes, and take a deep breath. Your nerves tingle as you wonder if He’ll notice you and what you will do if He does.

Then the moment arrives. You see His smiling face as He makes His way into the crowd. You soak up His presence but secretly wonder if the healing within you has already occurred. Is it gone? Am I free? Will I know when it happens?   You hope He sees you as He passes through.  Then suddenly He stops right in front of you.  Your nerves surge through you as they never have before.  The crowd urges Him on towards the sanctuary but He is not willing to move forward.  You can’t take your eyes off of Him.  He turns and faces your direction.  More nerves.  The smile on your face takes a dramatic fall as His eyes catch yours.  The crowd continues to urge Him on but He has focused in on you. Your heart is pounding out of your chest but you’re not sure you’re even breathing.  You try to look away from Him but can’t.  The people around you begin moving away until there is no one between you.  You and He are standing face to face. He smiles and calls you by name.  You try to smile back as your eyes fill with tears.  The crowd is now silent and all eyes are on you. Then He says, “Show me.” The pain, shame, and hurt come surging to the surface.  You know from His question that the one thing you have been hiding from the world for as long as you can remember is what He is asking to see.

I recently re-read a few of the healing stories we find in the Gospels. There is the man with the withered hand in Mark 3:1-6; the woman with bleeding issues from Mark 5:25-24; and the man who was an invalid for 38 years sitting at the pool of Bethesda in John 5:2-9.  What I saw in these stories that I had never seen before was the fact that the one thing that these three people probably spent their lives hiding from others or carrying as their greatest shame was exactly what Jesus asked to see. To the man with the withered hand He said, “Stretch out your hand.” To the woman with the bleeding issues who touched His robe in secret He said, “Who touched me?”  And to the man who had been paralyzed for 38 years He said, “Get up and walk.” In all three of those moments, Jesus was asking each of them to trust Him with their greatest vulnerability. And, when they did, He restored them. He healed them.

Jesus asks the same of you and me. We can say that we trust Him. We can even believe that we do. But have you truly given over to Him that one thing that you don’t want anyone to know about? If He said to you, “Show me,” would you?  Just knowing that Jesus knows about our issues is not the same thing as showing them to Him.  He wants that intimacy with us, where we feel safe and secure in Him enough to share our deepest hurts.  And He assures us through His Word that His desire to see our deepest need is not to condemn us or embarrass us. It is in order to heal us, to connect with us at our most vulnerable place.

St. Paul brought to the Lord three times his “thorn in the flesh” and specifically asked for God to remove it from him. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10) In each case, God’s answer was not to remove it, not to heal Paul of it. But what did the Lord say? “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (v. 9) Paul didn’t receive healing, but He received God’s grace and a greater dependence upon God’s power. Like the three other examples, Paul had that intimate, personal moment with the Lord over his greatest weakness.

Being vulnerable with our Lord isn’t about what we get out of it. It is about Who we get out of it. I am not suggesting there is a magic formula for healing. If you just show God your most vulnerable issue, He’ll set you free – guaranteed! That’s not it. God calls all of us to an intimate and personal relationship with Him. He does heal. There are countless examples not only in the Bible but in our world today. But beyond healing, God seeks to transform His children. I propose that what Paul received was far greater than a physical healing.  He was forever changed to be more deeply connected to and dependent upon God.  He wants that for us. He is always moving us closer and closer to Him.

Will you trust Him with your deepest vulnerability?   He may grant you a miraculous healing or freedom from it.  If not healing, He will bring you to a new level of intimacy you never thought possible with the God of the universe.

Thank you, Lord, for your depth and desire to grow more intimately with us. Thank you for the examples of faith you preserved for us in your Word. Each one of those men and women were willing to risk showing You what brought them pain, shame, and disgrace. Help each of us to have the faith to trust You with our greatest weaknesses that we may grow closer to You. Thank you for loving us more deeply than we can even imagine and for always wanting to transform us into being more like Your Son. In His precious name, amen.

How Simple It Can Be

It was two weeks ago, when I first noticed her.  She is a young gal in her late teens, early twenties, pretty girl with long blonde hair.  She was sitting in the same section I sit in at church.   Just before the service began I saw her go over to a gal about her same age who had just sat down by herself a few rows in front of me.  The young blonde made her way down the stairs from where she was sitting, greeted the other gal with a hug and invited her to sit with her and her friends.  They both made there way back up the stairs and sat together with a group of about 4 others.  I thought nothing of it at the time until this past Sunday.  A similar scenario… a young gal, rather heavyset came in a sat down by herself.  Not more than 30 seconds had passed before the young blonde came to the gal’s row.  This time though instead of inviting her to where she had been sitting, she asked if she could sit next to her.  The gal agreed and I saw the blonde introduce herself and shake hands.  It’s so simple – but so powerful.

This gal has a ministry!  It may not be to preach in front of a congregation.  It may not be to teach a Sunday School class, or to visit the sick in the hospital and pray for them.  But you can be sure, this young woman has a ministry.  As I thought of her it dawned on me that about a year ago she sat with me too!  I usually sit alone on Sunday mornings and this same gal came and asked to sit with me.  (I’m embarrassed I don’t remember her name and it didn’t dawn on me until just a couple days ago that I too was a recipient of her kindness.)  She was delightful!  She asked me how long I had been coming to the church and if I was involved in any of the ministries.  She was kind and loving and just didn’t want me to sit alone that day.

What an incredible gift this gal gives every Sunday.  How many of us are thinking on a Sunday morning… “Gosh I hope the sermon doesn’t run too long,” or “Could the music be any louder?” or “What am I going to have for lunch?”  But not this gal.  She is looking for opportunities where she can bless someone else.  She is secure in knowing that she has something to offer… herself.  She’s not preaching the gospel to the people she’s sitting next to.  She’s merely offering her presence as a gift – a smile, a handshake, a simple conversation.  And the Lord is using that offering to touch others with His love.

I haven’t talked a lot of “being the glove” in recent posts.  But when I saw this example, how could I not be reminded of how the Lord wants us to be the glove on His hand!  What an amazing example of how simple it can be.  She is open.  She knows God has equipped her.  She is looking for opportunities and not focused on herself, or her comfort, or her needs, or what she wants from everyone else.  And she gives what she has to give… herself.  God does the rest. 

We have the same opportunity each an every day!  Every person that crosses our path is a person we can touch with the love of Christ.  It doesn’t have to be reciting scripture to them or preaching to them.  It is being available to let His love touch them through us.  What an amazing privilege we have every second we’re alive IF we’re willing, we’re open, we believe that He can use us, and we’re actively seeking the opportunities He gives us.

Lord, bless this young gal!  Thank you for letting me be blessed by her and for allowing me to be a witness of her incredible example.  May we all keep our focus on you, not ourselves, and may we be actively seeking ways in which you can use us to touch the lives of others.  Thank you for wanting to love others through us.  Help us to never take that for granted.  We love you.  Thank you for loving us so much that you fill us to overflowing.  In Jesus’ name, amen.

Misplaced Roots

photo 1(1)It was a beautiful rose bush still in its plastic container.  At some point while the house was vacant it must have tipped over.  The bush laid on its side for who knows how long.  I was amazed that somehow it stayed alive.  Just a few weeks ago there were dozens of roses in full bloom bursting from the thick branches.  But now it was finally time to prune it and plant it in a place in my new garden where it could grow and flourish and be enjoyed as it should be.  I had hoped it would be as easy as picking up the plastic container and moving it… I was wrong.

It seems the reason this abandoned bush had bloomed so abundantly was because its roots had sprung from the thin plastic container and made their way deep into the soft, moist soil.  I was literally unable to budge it from any angle so I began to dig around it.  Surprisingly the camouflaged roots were thick – nearly twice as thick as the large branches on the surface.  The paving stones that surrounded this toppled plant seemed to provide no space at all but these roots were determined to settle in.  They found all the room they needed beneath the heavy stones.  Dislodging a half dozen or more led me to the end of one set of roots, but when I tried to move the plant I found another set stretching in another direction… and then another.  Some roots were more than 6 feet long traveling under the dead sod and whatever else stood in their way.

If you had only smelled the flowers and examined the roots of this bush you would have photo(3)sworn this was a healthy plant in a beautiful rose garden.  Instead, it was a topped mess in a pile of dead weeds and stones with the remnants of a plastic container still around it.   And what is left of the beautiful bush…. just a few empty branches and whatever roots I could salvage.

This plant with misplaced roots reminded me of something that happened to me while I was house hunting this past Fall.  I was a few months into the search and already growing anxious and impatient.  I decided to look at a very old home (100 years old) that had been on the market for months.  Its description was enticing and I knew it would be a fixer-upper, but I wasn’t quite prepared for what I saw.  There isn’t enough space in this blog to describe the problems with this home.  But, here’s the worst part… I actually considered it!

“Why?” you might ask.  Was I really that desperate?  I will admit it may have been desperation that nudged me, but it was something else that made me think about it seriously.  I tend to be a little on the creative side, crafty, and a do-it-yourself kind of gal.  I certainly noticed all the flaws of this place but that DIY side of me saw projects and potential in endless supply.  Looking back at it now “endless” is an understatement!  In all of eternity that house would have never been finished and no guests I know would have ever stayed there.  But I really was tempted until the Lord got my attention.

Thankfully, later that same day He showed me a house that was beautiful… the nicest one I had seen so far.  It was exactly the distraction I needed to get my mind off of “The Money Pit.”  What He taught me from that experience was that I could have “bloomed” at that 100 year old house.  I could have laid down some roots and used the gifts of creativity He had given me to work on it.  But my roots would have been misplaced.  It’s not where He wanted me to be.  It’s not how He wanted me to spend my time, money and energy.  And if I had laid down roots there I would have turned out just like that rose bush… laying on my side in a pile of rocks and weeds with flowers blooming that no one would enjoy.

I believe each person is uniquely gifted by God.  He places talents, skills, and abilities in each of us and He has a plan to use them.  He wants to use what He’s given us to bless others and He knows precisely who, what, when, where and how.  He has a plan for each of us, a plan that will bring glory to Him and His love to others.  But sometimes we allow our roots to get misplaced.  We may entrench ourselves in the comfortable.  Even though we know He wants to move us out of our comfort zone we stay put, letting our roots dive under rocks and weeds.  Or, we get impatient.  We lay down roots even when we know the Master Gardener’s got a plan to move us to a perfect spot.  We may at times bloom using the gifts He’s given us.   But if they are used without Him and outside of His plan, they are like the blooms of a toppled rose bush in a vacant yard.  No one enjoys them.

Where are your roots?  Are you content in your plastic container waiting for the Master Gardener to move you to the perfect place?  Or, are you entrenched in your comfort zone sending more and more roots down to keep you secure for fear you might be moved?  Or are you firmly planted where the Lord wants you to be, growing and blooming with Him as your Master Gardener, pruning you when needed and constantly nurturing and feeding you?

Lord, thank you for caring about where our roots are planted.  Show us where you want us to be and where we can be the most effective for you.  Thank you for having a plan for our lives.  In your Son’s most precious name, amen.