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.  

SUGAR!

c-h-granulated-sugar-lrgEvery Sunday morning about 25 members of a small Spanish-speaking church gather in their meager church kitchen to make burritos.  Using a combination of food taken from their own refrigerators as well as donations they’ve received, they cook whatever they have and form an assembly line to make as many burritos as they can.  They pack up whatever they’ve made and travel to one of the poorest neighborhoods in the area.  There they meet those who are homeless and give them everything they’ve made.  They set up tables and chairs and shade covering so that everyone has a place to sit and eat and fellowship with one another.

When I asked if I could come with them one Sunday I asked the leader of this small group, Gloria, if there was anything I could bring.  She said simply, “We need sugar.”

“Sugar?” I asked.

“Yes, for the coffee.”

It seemed so simple and so small.  I knew that this church was poor.  Gloria told me that herself.  She told me they would come together on Sundays never sure how much they would have to give.  I felt guilty.  I persisted in asking her, was there something more I could bring?  Was sugar enough?  She assured me it was.

I have to admit I struggled a bit with this task.  In the days leading up to that Sunday it just didn’t seem like I was bringing enough.  I reluctantly went to the store but the whole time I wondered if I should be doing something else, something more.  Even that morning I was a little embarrassed to only be carrying a 5 lb. bag of sugar as I walked through the back alley to the church.

As I walked up to the kitchen one of the ladies spotted me and the bag I was carrying from several yards away.  She yelled out, “SUGAR!” as she came running out of the kitchen.  She joyfully grabbed the sugar from my hands, graciously patted me on the back, then called out to Gloria in Spanish, “We’ve got SUGAR!”  before running back inside.

It was the warmest and most unusual greeting from a stranger I have ever gotten.  It also put me completely at ease.  So much joy from a simple bag of sugar.  It was what they needed and I was so glad I didn’t let my doubts sway me from following through with that simple request.

That morning was an unforgettable experience.  The amount of food this small group was able to provide was amazing.  Although Gloria had told me they were never sure how much they would have each week she also told me they always had enough.  God provided enough each week, sometimes from the most unusual sources.  She said she would often get calls the day before from bakeries or markets asking her to come by to pick up food that would otherwise go to waste.  Every Sunday was a surprise as to where the food would come from, but there was always enough.  God made sure of that.  That week I was a small part of God’s miracle.  They had no sugar until I arrived.

I recently read the story in John 6 where Jesus fed the five thousand.  What stood out to me most in this story was the faith of Jesus’ disciple Andrew.  After seeing the large crowd gather Jesus challenged his disciple Philip with this question, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” (Jesus already knew what he was going to do.  He was only testing Philip with his question.)

Philip responded, “Eight months wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”

But then, here comes Andrew.  Andrew said, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far with they go among so many?”

5-loaves-2-fishEven though Andrew wasn’t sure how far it would go, he at least had faith enough to see the potential in this boy’s lunch.  How easy it would have been for him to ignore those measly scraps,  chalking it up to impossible and joining Philip in the “we don’t have enough” rant.  But Andrew didn’t do that.  He brought to Jesus what he had.  As we know from the story it was more than enough.  With that small offering, Jesus was able to feed the 5,000 (which was most likely 15,000 if you include women and children) and have 12 baskets of leftovers to boot!

How many opportunities have I missed because I think what I have to give is too small?  Whether I am coming from a place of wealth or a place of poverty nothing is too small for God to use in miraculous ways.  After all it’s not about me!  It’s all about Him and bringing Him glory.  It’s about offering what we have no matter how big or how small and giving it to the Lord to do with as He wishes.

Lord, forgive me for the times that I have missed being a part of your miraculous touch in someone else’s life. Forgive me for making it about me.  All I have is yours.  Help me to live that way, not just say it.  Lord, put me in tuned with your Spirit so intimately that I know His nudge, His voice, His urging to reach out with little or with much to show others your great love for them.  Continue to bless Gloria and the ministry you started in that little church to make an eternal difference in the lives of so many.  Thank you for their faithfulness and their example.  Use me and what you have given me everyday for your glory.  In Jesus name, amen.

Better Together

I1411588361000-USAW-FLEETWOODMAC01-092814 had the thrill of seeing Fleetwood Mac in concert last weekend.  It was incredible!  I have been a fan of theirs for as long as I can remember.  They were the first band I ever saw in concert and after more than 30 years, they sounded just as good as they did the first time I heard them live.

As my friends and I waited for the concert to start we decided to Google the band members to figure out how old they were. We knew the band had been in existence since the 60’s but we were shocked at what we discovered.  These five, incredibly talented people range in age from 65-71.

I want you to imagine the 65-71 year olds you know.  Do you picture them on stage for 2+ hours, performing non-stop, rock and roll music?  Do you picture them traveling all over the country and the world on tour?  Do you picture adoring fans of all ages reaching up to touch them on stage?  Those aren’t the pictures that come to mind for the 60-somethings in my life.  I will even admit when the concert was a little late in starting I jokingly said, “Perhaps they’re napping.”  But boy was I wrong!  These five people showed amazing, incredible energy… timeless, flawless performances!  I was the one who needed a nap!

06ab23c36e1ec927610f6a7067004569_r620x349Those of you who are fans know that this was the first time in 16 years that the entire band was together.  Christine McVie had not performed with the rest of the group since the late 90’s.  Throughout the performance each band member remarked how happy they were to have “their musical family” back together again.  And the fans of course went wild each time they did.

My friends and I talked about how talented each band member was on their own.  Most of them over the years have ventured out at some point and enjoyed success as solo artists.  They are each so uniquely talented and gifted.  BUT, TOGETHER THEY ARE SPECTACULAR!!!  There is nothing like the five of them using their individual talents together.  The sound they create together is like no other. And age has not changed that sound.

I couldn’t help but think of the church as I watched this incredible group.  First of all, each of us has been uniquely gifted by God.  He has given us our own set of talents, skills, and abilities.

Second, these talents have no expiration date!  The gifts He has given us don’t diminish over time.  Even though we may physically decline over time, His gifts are still there.  They are in us.  They are a part of us.

Third, we can venture out and use these talents and skills on our own, following our own plans and dreams, using them as we see fit.  But, that is not what those talents were designed for.  God designed us to be united as one body… His body here on earth.  Each of us has a role to play in that Body.  We are a complex living organism just like a human body.  Every molecule is important.  Each plays a unique and significant role.  It is when all of those pieces are working together that we are most spectacular.  That is when our “musical family” comes together and the sound we make is like no other.

Do you know you’re part?  I believe the biggest victory of Satan is when Christians believe they don’t have a role to play in the body of Christ.  It is a lie!  It is not true.  Every person has been uniquely gifted by God Himself and you have a part to play in carrying out His mission on earth. No matter what your age or stage in life… you have been given a gift to use in His kingdom.  If you don’t know what that role is, ask Him.  He will be happy to reveal it to you.

We must be united in purpose.  My heart has been heavy lately over the division among the body of Christ.  It’s sad to see churches competing against each other for membership or grumbling against one another over differences in religious practices that are insignificant in the scheme of things.  We are one Body.  We are His Bride.  And yet, too often it’s hard to tell that that is true.

I believe it is our responsibility as individual believers to know our purpose, our role in the body, and then to look for every opportunity to unite with other believers in carrying out that purpose and mission.  It goes beyond what church we attend.  We are apart of something much bigger than the biggest mega-church.  We are The Body.  And together we can be SPECTACULAR servants of the Lord, advancing His kingdom, and delivering His love to a world who does not know Him.  It is when we as believers recognize that we are One with Jesus as our Head, regardless of what church or denomination we belong to, that we can begin to fulfill that purpose.

Lord, show each of us the talents and skills you have given to us.  Unite us in your Spirit that we may embrace the calling you have on us as your Body, your Bride.  Lord, make us ONE!  Thank you, Father, for making us better together.  In your Son’s most precious name, amen.

Attending to Nudges – Not Always Convenient, but Blessings Await

for-lease-sign-304xx600-400-0-1I drove through the parking lot slowly and stopped in front of the vacant store front. Where did it go? I doubled checked my surroundings to make sure I was in the right place. I pulled into an empty parking stall and walked up to the locked doors. As I peered through the windows, I saw that it was true… the place where I had gotten my hair cut for more than a dozen years was gone. There were small remnants of the paint decor still visible on the walls but all the mirrors had been taken down. There were no sinks, no chairs, no cash register. The place was completely vacant.

I had seen the same hair dresser for those 12 years as well. The idea of having to start over with someone else was not what I had in mind that day. What I loved about my hair dresser was that I never had to make an appointment, I could just drop in and usually within 30 minutes or less my hair was washed, cut, dried and styled. She was amazingly fast. Not only that, she knew me. She knew my hair. She knew what I liked and she just did it. I loved it every time. I’m not sure I’d even know where to begin if I had to explain what I wanted to someone new.

I had several errands to run that day so I continued to check them off my list while I contemplated my hair dilemma. I thought about ways I might track down my stylist but I wasn’t sure where to start. I had no idea how long ago the store had closed or how to get a hold of her. With each errand I gave up a little more hope. I just wasn’t sure I’d be able to find her and frankly I didn’t have time to look. I couldn’t wait another week to get it cut.

The place that had closed was a part of a chain. I remembered that there were two other stores in the area. One near my work and the other near my home. As my hope unraveled of finding my hair dresser, I decided I would just go the one near my home and start over. If I had to start over at least it will be convenient to start over close to home.

There was still one more task on my list I needed to get done. I needed to mail a package. My original plan had been to go to a postal annex place close to my work. I had used them the week prior and was impressed with their customer service. But since the hair dressing dilemma had thrown a wrench in all my plans I decided I was much closer to the local post office. So off I went.

I pulled into the parking lot of the post office and took the package from my back seat. Before I left my car I sensed a nudge in my spirit. It wasn’t strong but it was nagging. My own words echoed in my head. “You said you were going to that other postal place.” I rationalized my decision to myself. “Yeah, but I’m already here.” Still the nudge persisted.  Enough so that it stopped me in my tracks. Was this a God thing? Did He want me to go to the other postal place for some other reason? It was so persistent that I put the package back into the car, left the post office and drove several miles to the other postal store.

My experience at the postal store was nothing spectacular,  I sent off the package and went back to my car. “Well, Lord?” I asked. Nothing. “Was there something I was supposed to do there?” Nothing. I pulled out of the parking stall and as I made my way through the parking lot I saw the other haircut store. I had already resigned myself to the fact that I wasn’t going to find my hair stylist. I had already decided I would go to the one near my home, not this one. So, now what? Finally I decided, “Well, I’m here now I may as well go in.”

The gal took me right away and I sat down in her chair. She was polite and made small talk as she cleaned up her station and began to get me ready. She asked if I had been there before. I explained I used to go to the store that was now closed and I mentioned my hair dresser’s name. Her eyes lit up. “I know her!  And I know where she went.” Now my eyes lit up. Then she asked, “Do you want to see her instead?” I said yes and before I knew it she was on her way to the front desk to make a phone call. As she looked up the number she asked me my name. When I told her she said, “She told me about you! She told me if Chris Wolff ever came in to my store that I should tell you where she was!” Within a few moments she was on the phone with my hair dresser making an appointment for me. And… about 30 minutes later, I was sitting in my hairdresser’s chair getting my hair cut. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier or more thankful for a haircut in my life.

It was the nudge that made the difference. I do believe it was from the Lord. And I believe He cares about who cuts our hair! It would have been so easy to rationalize it away. I had already done that!  The post office was more convenient! The hair cut place near my home was more convenient! Trying to find my hairdresser was too much of a hassle – not convenient. But that wasn’t what God had for me. He had a blessing waiting for me. He prepared the whole way. It was amazing to hear my name come out of this perfect stranger’s mouth. She didn’t know me but she remembered my name. God did that. He prepared the way for me. I had given up. But that wasn’t His plan. He had a blessing in store for me but I had to be obedient to His nudging.

Obedience to God is not always convenient. In fact, I’m not sure it ever is. If it was I think a lot more people would be doing it. But when we attend to the nudges of the Holy Spirit within us God will come through. He will bring us His blessings. He knows us. He knows what we like. He knows every detail about us.  He knows our name. And He has a plan that He has prepared for us in advance.  We just need to follow Him.  At times that means giving up what is convenient and rational… His ways are not our ways. 

Lord, help us to pay more attention to the nudging of your Spirit.  Only you know how many blessings we have missed by engaging our rational minds instead of being faithful in following your lead.  Give us the faith to pursue you wholeheartedly in everything we do.  And help us to pay attention to the opportunities you give us to share you with others… even those who cut our hair.  Thank you for knowing us so well and desiring to bless us.  In Jesus’ name, amen.