Inspiration – short Stories to touch your heart
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These brief stories inspire and inform.
1 Saying Grace
Along with the laughter from the other customers nearby I heard a woman remark, “That’s what’s wrong with this country. Kids today don’t even know how to pray. Asking God for ice cream! Why, I never!”
Hearing this, my son burst into tears and asked me, “Did I do it wrong? Is God mad at me?”
As I held him and assured him that he had done a terrific job and God was certainly not mad at him, an elderly gentleman approached the table. He winked at my son and said, “I happen to know that God thought that was a great prayer.”
“Really?” my son asked.
“Cross my heart,” the man replied. Then in a theatrical whisper he added (indicating the woman whose remark had started this whole thing), “Too bad she never asks God for ice cream.A little ice cream is good for the soul sometimes.”
Naturally, I bought my kids ice cream at the end of the meal. My son stared at his for a moment and then did something I will remember the rest of my life.He picked up his sundae and without a word, walked over and placed it in front of the woman. With a big smile he told her, “Here, this is for you. Ice cream is good for the soul sometimes; and my soul is good already.”
Sometimes we all need some ice cream. I hope God sends you some Ice Cream today!
2 The Surgeon
“You’ll find Jesus there!” the boy grinned. The surgeon looked up, annoyed. “I’ll cut your heart open,” he continued, “to see how much damage has been done…”
“And when you cut open up my heart, you’re gonna find Jesus in there.” He smiled. The surgeon looked to the parents, who sat quietly. “When I see how much damage has been done, I’ll suture your heart and chest back up and there will be pain. Afterwards I’ll plan what to do next.”
“Yep and you’ll find Jesus in there. He lives there. The Bible says He does. The songs all say He lives there. You’ll find Him in my heart.” He said this quietly now. The surgeon suddenly stood up as he had had enough of this. “I’ll tell you what I’ll find in your heart. I’ll find damaged muscle, low blood supply, and weakened vessels. And I’ll find out if I can make you well.”
“Okay. You’ll find Jesus in there too,” the boy whispered with eyes downcast. The surgeon left shaking his head. What had gotten into him he wondered? Why was he determined to crush a young child’s beliefs even though they weren’t exactly his own? Even if any healing was done, it was (of course) going to be done by his hands and not by Jesus! He still did care a great deal, he just wasn’t sure why it had bothered him so. He decided he had faith in himself and not in much else and decided to shrug it off. He would fix the boy.
The surgeon sat in his office, recording his notes after the surgery, “…damaged arteries, damaged pulmonary vein, damaged… damaged… damaged… Pain relief needed. Full care required. Prognosis:” here he paused, “Death Imminent.” He stopped the recorder, but there was more to be said. There had to be more. Frustrated that he could not save the boy he shouted to the room … “Hey! Why?”
“Why did You do this?”
“You’re supposed to have put him here; so then it’s You who has put him in this pain; I thought I could help him! I didn’t want him to suffer! And You’ve cursed him to an early death. Normally, I should have been able to save him but nothing could have fixed this. Nothing!”
He laid his head down on his desk for a silent moment. Quietly the Lord answered and said, “The boy, My little lamb, was not meant to remain with you for long, for he is a part of My flock, and will forever be. Here, with me, he will no longer feel pain, and he will be comforted beyond what you could now imagine.”
“His parents will one day join him here, and they will know peace.”
The surgeon’s tears were hot, but his anger and doubts were greater. Although surprised to find his question being answered, and not quite sure he really was hearing this he went on. “You… you created that boy and You created that heart. He’ll be dead any time. I have never seen this much damage.”
The Lord answered, “The boy, My little lamb, shall return to My flock, for he has done his best. I did not put My little lamb with your flock to lose him… but to retrieve another lost lamb…. You.”
Shocked to silence he knew from the look of that heart that this had to be so. The surgeon wept. From that moment … the surgeon sat day and night beside the boy’s bed; the boy’s parents quietly sat across from him.
The boy awoke for his last few moments and in a choked whisper, avoiding the surgeon’s eyes asked, “Did you cut open my heart?”
“Yes, I did,” said the surgeon as he reached out and brushed a small wisp of hair from the boy’s forehead. Surprised and amazingly comforted by the incredibly gentle touch he looked up into a kind face.
“What did you find?” asked the boy as his eyes began to close and a hint of a smile touched his lips.
“I found Jesus in there,” said the surgeon.
3 Cost of a Miracle
A little girl went to her bedroom and pulled a glass jelly jar from its hiding place in the closet. She poured the change out on the floor and counted it carefully. Three times, even. The total had to be exactly perfect. No chance here for mistakes. Carefully placing the coins back in the jar and twisting on the cap, she slipped out the back door and made her way 6 blocks to Rexall’s Drug Store with the big red Indian Chief sign above the door. She waited patiently for the pharmacist to give her some attention but he was too busy at this moment.
Tess twisted her feet to make a scuffing noise. Nothing. She cleared her throat with the most disgusting sound she could muster. No good. Finally she took a quarter from her jar and banged it on the glass counter. That did it! “And what do you want?” the pharmacist asked in an annoyed tone of voice. “I’m talking to my brother from Chicago whom I haven’t seen in ages,” he said without waiting for a reply to his question.
“Well, I want to talk to you about my brother,” Tess answered back in the same annoyed tone. “He’s really, really sick… and I want to buy a miracle.”
“I beg your pardon?” said the pharmacist.
“His name is Andrew and he has something bad growing inside his head and my Daddy says only a miracle can save him now. So how much does a miracle cost?”
“We don’t sell miracles here, little girl. I’m sorry but I can’t help you,” the pharmacist said, softening a little.
“Listen, I have the money to pay for it. If it isn’t enough, I will get the rest. Just tell me how much it costs.”
The pharmacist’s brother was a well-dressed man. He stooped down and asked the little girl, “What kind of a miracle does your brother need?”
“I don’t know,” Tess replied with her eyes welling up. “I just know he’s really sick and Mommy says he needs an operation. But my Daddy can’t pay for it, so I want to use my money.”
“How much do you have?” asked the man from Chicago.
“One dollar and eleven cents,” Tess answered barely audibly. “And it’s all the money I have, but I can get some more if I need to.”
“Well, what a coincidence,” smiled the man. “A dollar and eleven cents — the exact price of a miracle for little brothers.” He took her money in one hand and with the other hand he grasped her mitten and said “Take me to where you live. I want to see your brother and meet your parents. Let’s see if I have the miracle you need.”
That well dressed man was Dr Carlton Armstrong, a surgeon, specializing in neuro-surgery. He completed the operation without charge and it wasn’t long until Andrew was home again and doing well. Mom and Dad were happily talking about the chain of events that had led them to this place. “That surgery,” her Mom whispered, “was a real miracle. I wonder how much it would have cost?”
Tess smiled. She knew exactly how much a miracle cost…one dollar and eleven cents ….. plus the faith of a little child. A miracle is not the suspension of natural law, but the operation of a higher law.
4 The Son
A wealthy man and his son loved to collect rare works of art. They had everything in their collection, from Picasso to Raphael. They would often sit together and admire the great works of art. When the Vietnam conflict broke out, the son went to war. He was very courageous and died in battle while rescuing another soldier. The father was notified and grieved deeply for his only son.
About a month later, just before Christmas, there was a knock at the door. A young man stood at the door with a large package in his hands. He said, “Sir, you don’t know me, but I am the soldier for whom your son gave his life. He saved many lives that day, and he was carrying me to safety when a bullet struck him in the heart and he died instantly. He often talked about you, and your love for art.” The young man held out this package. “I know this isn’t much. I’m not really a great artist, but I think your son would have wanted you to have this.”
The father opened the package. It was a portrait of his son, painted by the young man. He stared in awe at the way the soldier had captured the personality of his son in the painting. The father was so drawn to the eyes that his own eyes welled up with tears. He thanked the young man and offered to pay him for the picture.
“Oh, no sir, I could never repay what your son did for me. It’s a gift.”
The father hung the portrait over his mantle. Every time visitors came to his home he took them to see the portrait of his son before he showed them any of the other great works he had collected. The man died a few months later. There was to be a great auction of his paintings. Many influential people gathered, excited over seeing the great paintings and having an opportunity to purchase one for their collection. On the platform sat the painting of the son. The auctioneer pounded his gavel “We will start the bidding with this picture of the son. Who will bid for this picture?”
There was silence. Then a voice in the back of the room shouted, “We want to see the famous paintings. Skip this one.” But the auctioneer persisted. “Will somebody bid for this painting. Who will start the bidding? $100, $200?”
Another voice angrily. “We didn’t come to see this painting. We came to see the Van Goghs, the Rembrandts. Get on with the real bids!”
But still the auctioneer continued. “The son! The son! Who’ll take the son?”
Finally, a voice came from the very back of the room. It was the longtime gardener of the man and his son. “I’ll give $10 for the painting.” Being a poor man, it was all he could afford. “We have $10, who will bid $20?”
“Give it to him for $10. Let’s see the masters.”
“$10 is the bid, won’t someone bid $20?” The crowd was becoming angry. They didn’t want the picture of the son. They wanted the more worthy investments for their collections. The auctioneer pounded the gavel. “Going once, twice, SOLD for $10.!”
A man sitting on the second row shouted, “Now let’s get on with the collection!” The auctioneer laid down his gavel. “I’m sorry, the auction is over.”
“What about the paintings?”
“I am sorry. When I was called to conduct this auction, I was told of a secret stipulation in the will. I was not allowed to reveal that stipulation until this time. Only the painting of the son would be auctioned. Whoever bought that painting would inherit the entire estate, including the paintings. The man who took the son gets everything!”
God gave His son 2,000 years ago to die on the cross. Much like the auctioneer, His message today is: “The son, the son, who’ll take the son?” Because, you see, whoever takes the Son gets everything.
[This story is similar to other stories of someone inheriting everything when buying the portrait of the son, eg from 1954 the nurser of a young boy who died bought his portrait then found the father’s will in the back lining and inherited the estate. The meaning of the story remains powerful.]
5 What would you do?
At a fundraising dinner for a school that serves learning disabled children, the father of one of the students delivered a speech that would never be forgotten by all who attended. After extolling the school and its dedicated staff, he offered a question. “When not interfered with by outside influences, everything nature does is done with perfection. Yet my son, Shaya, cannot learn things as other children do. He cannot understand things as other children do. Where is the natural order of things in my son?”
The audience was stilled by the query. The father continued. “I believe, that when a child like Shaya comes into the world, an opportunity to realize true human nature presents itself, and it comes in the way other people treat that child.”
Then he told the following story: Shaya and his father had walked past a park where some boys Shaya knew were playing baseball. Shaya asked, “Do you think they’ll let me play?”
Shaya’s father knew that most of the boys would not want someone like Shaya on their team, but the father also understood that if his son were allowed to play, it would give him a much-needed sense of belonging. Shaya’s father approached one of the boys on the field and asked if Shaya could play. The boy looked around for guidance and, getting none, he took matters into his own hands and said, “We’re losing by six runs and the game is in the eighth inning. I guess he can be on our team and we’ll try to put him in to bat in the ninth inning.”
In the bottom of the eighth inning, Shaya’s team scored a few runs but was still behind by three. In the top of the ninth inning, Shaya put on a glove and played in the outfield. Even though no hits came his way, he was obviously ecstatic just to be in the game and on the field, grinning from ear to ear as his father waved to him from the stands. In the bottom of the ninth inning, Shaya’s team scored again. Now, with two outs and the bases loaded, the potential winning run was on base and Shaya was scheduled to be next at bat. At this juncture, would they let Shaya bat and give away their chance to win the game?
Surprisingly, Shaya was given the bat. Everyone knew that a hit was all but impossible because Shaya didn’t even know how to hold the bat properly, much less connect with the ball. However, as Shaya stepped up to the plate, the pitcher moved in a few steps to lob the ball in softly so Shaya could at least be able to make contact. The first pitch came and Shaya swung clumsily and missed. The pitcher again took a few steps forward to toss the ball softly towards Shaya. As the pitch came in, Shaya swung at the ball and hit a slow ground ball right back to the pitcher. The pitcher picked up the soft grounder and could have easily thrown the ball to the first baseman. Shaya would have been out and that would have been the end of the game. Instead, the pitcher took the ball and turned and threw the ball on a high arc to right field, far beyond the reach of the first baseman. Everyone started yelling, “Shaya, run to first! Run to first!”
Never in his life had Shaya ever made it to first base. He scampered down the baseline, wide-eyed and startled. Everyone yelled, “Run to second, run to second!” By the time Shaya rounded first base, the right fielder had the ball. He could have thrown the ball to the second-baseman for the tag, but he understood the pitcher’s intentions and intentionally threw the ball high and far over the third-baseman’s head. Shaya ran toward second base as the runners ahead of him deliriously circled the bases toward home. Shaya reached second base, the opposing shortstop ran to him, turned him in the direction of third base, and shouted, “Run to third!” As Shaya rounded third, the boys from both teams were screaming, “Shaya, run home!” Shaya ran to home, stepped on the plate, and was cheered as the hero who hit the “grand slam” and won the game for his team.
“That day,” said the father softly with tears now rolling down his face, “the boys from both teams helped bring a piece of true love and humanity into this world.”
[From Echoes of the Maggid (1999) by Rabbi Paysach Krohn, told to him by Shaya’s father.]
6 You are My Sunshine
Like any good mother, when Karen found out that another baby was on the way, she did what she could to help her 3-year-old son, Michael, prepare for a new sibling. They found out that the new baby was going be a girl, and day after day, night after night, Michael sang to his sister in mommy’s tummy. He was building a bond of love with his little sister before he even met her.
The pregnancy progressed normally for Karen, an active member of the Panther Creek United Methodist Church in Morristown, Tennessee. In time, the labour pains came. Soon it was every five minutes, every three, every minute. But serious complications arose during delivery and Karen found herself in hours of labour. Would a C-section be required? Finally, after a long struggle, Michael’s little sister was born. But she was in very serious condition. With a siren howling in the night, the ambulance rushed the infant to the neonatal intensive care unit at St. Mary’s Hospital, Knoxville, Tennessee.
The days inched by. The little girl got worse. The paediatrician had to tell the parents there is very little hope. Be prepared for the worst. Karen and her husband contacted a local cemetery about a burial plot. They had fixed up a special room in their house for their new baby but now they found themselves having to plan for a funeral. Michael, however, kept begging his parents to let him see his sister. I want to sing to her, he kept saying. Week two in intensive care looked as if a funeral would come before the week was over. Michael kept nagging about singing to his sister, but kids are never allowed in Intensive Care.
Karen decided to take Michael whether they liked it or not. If he didn’t see his sister right then, he may never see her alive. She dressed him in an oversized scrub suit and marched him into ICU. He looked like a walking laundry basket. The head nurse recognized him as a child and bellowed, “Get that kid out of here now. No children are allowed.” The mother rose up strong in Karen, and the usually mild-mannered lady glared steel-eyed right into the head nurse’s face, her lips a firm line. “He is not leaving until he sings to his sister,” she stated.
Then Karen towed Michael to his sister’s bedside. He gazed at the tiny infant losing the battle to live. After a moment, he began to sing. In the pure-hearted voice of a 3-year-old, Michael sang: “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are gray.” Instantly the baby girl seemed to respond. The pulse rate began to calm down and become steady. “Keep on singing, Michael,” encouraged Karen with tears in her eyes. “You never know, dear, how much I love you, please don’t take my sunshine away.” As Michael sang to his sister, the baby’s ragged, strained breathing became as smooth as a kitten’s purr.
“Keep on singing, sweetheart. “ Karen begged. “The other night, dear, as I lay sleeping, I dreamed I held you in my arms.” Michael’s little sister began to relax as rest, healing rest, seemed to sweep over her. “Keep on singing, Michael.” Tears had now conquered the face of the bossy head nurse. Karen glowed. “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. Please don’t take my sunshine away. . .” The next, day. . . the very next day. . . the little girl was well enough to go home. Woman’s Day Magazine called it ‘The Miracle of a Brother’s Song’. The medical staff just called it a miracle. Karen called it a miracle of God’s love. Never give up on the people you love. Love is so incredibly powerful.
[This edited story, based on real events, has some details not verified concerning the ill baby born in 1992.]
7 Special Olympics
A few years ago at the Seattle Special Olympics, nine contestants, all physically or mentally disabled, assembled at the starting line for the 100-yard dash. At the gun they all started out, not exactly in a dash, but with the relish to run the race to the finish and win.
All, that is, except one boy who stumbled, tumbled over a couple of times, and began to cry. The other eight heard the boy cry. They slowed down and paused. Then they all turned around and went back. Every one of them. One girl with Down’s syndrome bent down and kissed him and said, “This will make it better.” Then all nine linked arms and walked together to the finish line.
Everyone in the stadium stood, and the cheering went on for 10 minutes.
Source: Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, A third Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul (Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc. 1996. p.70). A story based on a track and field incident in Spokane, Washington in 1976 when some competitors did stop to help one who fell and they then all finished together.
8 Everything we do is important
At the prodding of my friends, I am writing this story. My name is Mildred Hondorf. I am a former elementary school music teacher from Des Moines, Iowa. I’ve always supplemented my income by teaching piano lessons – something I’ve done for over 30 years. Over the years I found that children have many levels of musical ability. I’ve never had the pleasure of having a protégé though I have taught some talented students. However I’ve also had my share of what I call “musically challenged” pupils.
One such student was Robby. Robby was 11 years old when his mother (a single mom) dropped him off for his first piano lesson. I prefer that students (especially boys!) begin at an earlier age, which I explained to Robby. But Robby said that it had always been his mother’s dream to hear him play the piano. So I took him as a student. Well, Robby began with his piano lessons and from the beginning I thought it was a hopeless endeavour. As much as Robby tried, he lacked the sense of tone and basic rhythm needed to excel. But he dutifully reviewed his scales and some elementary pieces that I require all my students to learn. Over the months he tried and tried while I listened and cringed and tried to encourage him. At the end of each weekly lesson he’d always say, “My mom’s going to hear me play some day.” But it seemed hopeless. He just did not have any inborn ability. I only knew his mother from a distance as she dropped Robby off or waited in her aged car to pick him up. She always waved and smiled but never stopped in.
Then one day Robby stopped coming to our lessons. I thought about calling him but assumed because of his lack of ability, that he had decided to pursue something else. I also was glad that he stopped coming. He was a bad advertisement for my teaching! Several weeks later I mailed to the student’s homes a flyer on the upcoming recital. To my surprise Robby (who received a flyer) asked me if he could be in the recital. I told him that the recital was for current pupils and because he had dropped out he really did not qualify. He said that his mother had been sick and unable to take him to piano lessons but he was still practicing.
“Miss Hondorf . . . I’ve just got to play!” he insisted. I don’t know what led me to allow him to play in the recital. Maybe it was his persistence or maybe it was something inside of me saying that it would be all right. The night for the recital came. The high school gymnasium was packed with parents, friends and relatives. I put Robby up last in the program before I was to come up and thank all the students and play a finishing piece. I thought that any damage he would do would come at the end of the program and I could always salvage his poor performance through my “curtain closer.”
Well the recital went off without a hitch. The students had been practicing and it showed. Then Robby came up on stage. His clothes were wrinkled and his hair looked like he’d run an eggbeater through it. “Why didn’t he dress up like the other students?” I thought. “Why didn’t his mother at least make him comb his hair for this special night?”
Robby pulled out the piano bench and he began. I was surprised when he announced that he had chosen Mozart. I was not prepared for what I heard next. His fingers were light on the keys; they even danced nimbly on the ivories. He went from pianissimo to fortissimo. . . from allegro to virtuoso. His suspended chords that Mozart demands were magnificent! Never had I heard Mozart played so well by people his age. After six and a half minutes he ended in a grand crescendo and everyone was on their feet in wild applause. Overcome and in tears I ran up on stage and put my arms around Robby in joy. “I’ve never heard you play like that Robby! How’d you do it?”
Through the microphone Robby explained: “Well Miss Hondorf . . . remember I told you my mom was sick? Well actually she had cancer and passed away this morning. And well . . . she was born deaf so tonight was the first time she ever heard me play. I wanted to make it special.”
There wasn’t a dry eye in the house that evening. As the people from Social Services led Robby from the stage to be placed into foster care, I noticed that even their eyes were red and puffy and I thought to myself how much richer my life had been for taking Robby as my pupil. Robby was killed in the senseless bombing of the Alfred P. Murray Federal Building in Oklahoma City in April of 1995. No, I’ve never had a protégé but that night I became a protégé of Robby’s. He was the teacher and I was the pupil. For it is he that taught me the meaning of perseverance and love and believing in yourself and maybe even taking a chance in someone and you don’t know why.
One day, when I was a freshman in high school, I saw a kid from my class walking home from school. His name was Kyle. It looked like he was carrying all of his books. I thought to myself, “Why would anyone bring home all his books on a Friday? He must really be a nerd.”
I had quite a weekend planned (parties and a football game with my friends Saturday afternoon), so I shrugged my shoulders and went on. As I was walking, I saw a bunch of kids running toward him. They ran at him, knocking all his books out of his arms and tripping him so he landed in the dirt. His glasses went flying, and I saw them land in the grass about ten feet from him. He looked up and I saw this terrible sadness in his eyes. My heart went out to him. So, I jogged over to him as he crawled around looking for his glasses, and I saw a tear in his eye. As I handed him his glasses, I said, “Those guys are jerks. They really should get lives.”
He looked at me and said, “Hey thanks!” There was a big smile on his face. It was one of those smiles that showed real gratitude. I helped him pick up his books, and asked him where he lived. As it turned out, he lived near me, so I asked him why I had never seen him before. He said he had gone to private school before now. I would have never hung out with a private school kid before. We talked all the way home, and I carried some of his books. He turned out to be a pretty cool kid. I asked him if he wanted to play a little football with my friends. He said yes. We hung out all weekend and the more I got to know Kyle, the more I liked him, and my friends thought the same of him.
Monday morning came, and there was Kyle with the huge stack of books again. I stopped him and said, “Boy, you are gonna really build some serious muscles with this pile of books everyday!” He just laughed and handed me half the books. Over the next four years, Kyle and I became best friends. When we were seniors, we began to think about college. Kyle decided on Georgetown, and I was going to Duke. I knew that we would always be friends, that the miles would never be a problem. He was going to be a doctor, and I was going for business on a football scholarship.
Kyle was valedictorian of our class. I teased him all the time about being a nerd. He had to prepare a speech for graduation. I was so glad it wasn’t me having to get up there and speak. Graduation day, I saw Kyle. He looked great. He was one of those guys that really found himself during high school. He filled out and actually looked good in glasses. He had more dates than I had and all the girls loved him. Boy, sometimes I was jealous. Today was one of those days. I could see that he was nervous about his speech. So, I smacked him on the back and said, “Hey, big guy, you’ll be great!”
He looked at me with one of those looks (the really grateful one) and smiled. “Thanks,” he said. As he started his speech, he cleared his throat, and began. “Graduation is a time to thank those who helped you make it through those tough years. Your parents, your teachers, your siblings, maybe a coach … but mostly your friends. I am here to tell all of you that being a friend to someone is the best gift you can give them. I am going to tell you a story.” I just looked at my friend with disbelief as he told the story of the first day we met. He had planned to kill himself over the weekend. He talked of how he had cleaned out his locker so his Mom wouldn’t have to do it later and was carrying his stuff home. He looked hard at me and gave me a little smile. “Thankfully, I was saved. My friend saved me from doing the unspeakable.”
I heard the gasp go through the crowd as this handsome, popular boy told us all about his weakest moment. I saw his mom and dad looking at me and smiling that same grateful smile. Not until that moment did I realize its depth. Never underestimate the power of your actions. With one small gesture you can change a person’s life. For better or for worse. God puts us all in each other’s lives to impact one another in some way. Look for God in others.
“Friends are angels who lift us to our feet when our wings have trouble remembering how to fly.”
Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is mystery. Today is a gift.
[Rewritten inspirational email story from 2000 based on “A Simple Gesture” by John W Schlatter reproduced in Chicken Soup for the Soul (1993) where Mark helps Bill who tripped and dropped his books and was going to commit suicide that day, but does not and only tells Mark.]
10 Coming Home
A great prison warden, Kenyon Scudder, often this story of a modern-day miracle: A friend of his happened to be sitting in a railway coach next to a young man who was obviously depressed. Finally the man revealed that he was a convict returning from a distant prison. His imprisonment had brought shame on his family, and they had neither visited him nor written often. He hoped, however, that this was only because they were too poor to travel, too uneducated to write. He hoped, despite the evidence, that they had forgiven him.
To make it easy for them, how- ever he had written them to put up a signal for him when the train passed their little farm on the outskirts of town. If his family had forgiven him they were to put up a white ribbon in the big apple tree near the line. If they didn’t want him back they were to do nothing, and he would stay on the train, go far away, probably becoming a hobo.
As the train neared his home town his suspense became so great he couldn’t bear to look out the window. His companion changed places with him and said he would watch for the apple tree. In a minute, he put his hand on the young convict’s arm. “There it is,” he whispered, his eyes bright with sudden tears. “It’s all right. The whole tree is white with ribbons.”
In that instant all the bitterness that had poisoned a life was dispelled.
Christian Herald, New York, January 1961.
Kenyon J. Scudder wrote the book Prisoners are People. Unchained is the 1955 prison film based on the book. The film portrays the career of Kenyon Scudder, former supervisor at Chino, California. It tells of a band of prisoners living in the innovative 2,600-acre prison at Chino. The prison takes a humanistic approach to reform with no armed guards, no lockups and no uniforms. The film won an Oscar for its theme song, “Unchained Melody”.
The song “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree” tells a similar story of a convict returning on a bus. The song concludes with: “I can’t believe I see a hundred yellow ribbons round the old oak tree. I’m coming home.”
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11 Red Marbles
During the waning years of the depression in a small southeastern Idaho community, I used to stop by Mr. Miller’s roadside stand for farm-fresh produce as the season made it available. Food and money were still extremely scarce and bartering was used, extensively. One particular day Mr. Miller was bagging some early potatoes for me. I noticed a small boy, delicate of bone and feature, ragged but clean, hungrily appraising a basket of freshly picked green peas. I paid for my potatoes but was also drawn to the display of fresh green peas. I am a pushover for creamed peas and new potatoes. Pondering the peas, I couldn’t help overhearing the conversation between Mr. Miller and the ragged boy next to me.
“Hello Barry, how are you today?”
“H’lo, Mr. Miller. Fine, thank ya. Jus’ admirin’ them peas … sure look good.”
“They are good, Barry. How’s your Ma?”
“Fine. Gittin’ stronger alla’ time.”
“Good. Anything I can help you with?”
“No, Sir. Jus’ admirin’ them peas.”
“Would you like to take some home?”
“No, Sir. Got nuthin’ to pay for ‘em with.”
“Well, what have you to trade me for some of those peas?”
“All I got’s my prize marble here.”
“Is that right? Let me see it.”
“Here ‘tis. She’s a dandy.”
“I can see that. Hmmmm, only thing is this one is blue and I sort of go for red. Do you have a red one like this at home?”
“Not ‘zackley ….. But, almost.”
“Tell you what. Take this sack of peas home with you and next trip this way let me look at that red marble.”
“Sure will. Thanks, Mr. Miller.”
Mrs. Miller, who had been standing nearby, came over to help me. With a smile she said: “There are two other boys like him in our community, all three are in very poor circumstances. Jim just loves to bargain with them for peas, apples, tomatoes or whatever. When they come back with their red marbles, and they always do, he decides he doesn’t like red after all and he sends them home with a bag of produce for a green marble or an orange one, perhaps.” I left the stand, smiling to myself, impressed with this man.
A short time later I moved to Colorado but I never forgot the story of this man, the boys and their bartering. Several years went by each more rapid than the previous one. Just recently I had occasion to visit some old friends in that Idaho community and while I was there learned that Mr. Miller had died. They were having his viewing that evening and knowing my friends wanted to go I agreed to accompany them. Upon our arrival at the mortuary we fell into line to meet the relatives of the deceased and to offer whatever words of comfort we could. Ahead of us in line were three young men. One was in an army uniform and the other two wore nice haircuts, dark suits and white shirts … very professional looking. They approached Mrs. Miller, standing smiling and composed, by her husband’s casket. Each of the young men hugged her, kissed her on the cheek, spoke briefly with her and moved on to the casket. Her misty light blue eyes followed them as, one by one, each young man stopped briefly and placed his own warm hand over the cold pale hand in the casket. Each left the mortuary, awkwardly, wiping his eyes.
Our turn came to meet Mrs. Miller. I told her who I was and mentioned the story she had told me about the marbles. Eyes glistening she took my hand and led me to the casket. “Those three young men, who just left, were the boys I told you about. They just told me how they appreciated the things Jim ‘traded’ them. Now, at last when Jim could not change his mind about colour or size… they came to pay their debt.
“We’ve never had a great deal of the wealth of this world,” she confided, “but, right now, Jim would consider himself the richest man in Idaho.” With loving gentleness she lifted the lifeless fingers of her deceased husband. Resting underneath were three, exquisitely shined, red marbles.
We will not be remembered by our words, but by our kind deeds.
Life is not measured by the breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath.
12 Surprise Hidden in Plain Sight
For more than twenty-five years, Dr. Thomas Shipp was pastor of a great and caring congregation that began in his living room and grew to more than eight thousand members. Although in constant demand as a speaker, Dr. Shipp often went to small churches on preaching missions.
One Sunday evening he drove from Dallas to a small town to preach at 8:30. Some people standing around in front of the church said, “Preacher, see that house over there (next-door to the parsonage, which was next-door to the church)? A woman lives there with her seventeen-year-old daughter. A man drives up at ten o’clock every night. He leaves the next morning at two-thirty.”
They told Shipp that the girl was going to Kansas City and that everyone knew why she was going — she was “in trouble.” Furthermore, they implied that the man who came each night was responsible. Shipp watched. Sure enough, at exactly ten o’clock, a man drove up and went inside. But he was gone in the morning. Next day, almost everywhere Dr. Shipp went, people talked about this girl. Shipp asked the local pastor: “Have you ever been over to see the family that lives next-door?”
The pastor protested, “Man, I wouldn’t be caught dead in that house!” So Shipp decided he would go himself. He introduced himself at the door, “You don’t know me; I’m Tom Shipp from Dallas, Texas. I’m over here preaching in the church. I understand that your daughter left town this morning. I just wanted to come by and let you know that I was thinking of you — this must be a difficult day for you. I don’t even know your name, but I’m saying a prayer for you today.”
The woman broke down in tears. When able to regain her composure, she explained, “I don’t know what I am going to do without my daughter.” Once inside the house, Tom discovered a third person, the eighty-five-year-old grandmother. The girl’s father had died some years back. So the mother and daughter had come to this house to live with Grandma because Grandfather was also dead. Then Grandmother suffered an illness that demanded round-the-clock care lest she strangle to death. So the mother was completely confined to the house. No one in the community saw her. The daughter did all the shopping. That evening, Tom arranged for a sitter for the grandmother so the mother could attend the revival meeting.
Tom introduced the woman to the congregation. “I want you to meet your neighbour and my new friend. This is a great night in her life. She lives next-door to the parsonage. Her daughter had to leave home this morning because they no longer had food to eat, and no one in this town would give the girl a job. Therefore, the daughter had to go to another town to work and send back money for her mother’s and grandmother’s living. Grandmother, who lives in the same house, is eighty-five years old and requires constant care. Your neighbour says she doesn’t know what she would do, if it weren’t for her brother who drives 120 miles every night and stays with Grandma between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 2:30 a.m while my friend gets four and a half hours of sleep. The reason this night is special to her is because it’s the first time she has been back in this church since she was six years old, when her father was the founding pastor of this church.
Michael is the kind of guy who is always in a good mood and always has something positive to say. When someone would ask him how he was doing, he would reply, “If I were any better, I would be twins!” He was a natural motivator. If an employee was having a bad day, Michael was there telling the employee how to look on the positive side of the situation. Seeing this style really made me curious, so one day I went up to Michael and asked him, “I don’t get it! You can’t be a positive person all of the time. How do you do it?”
Michael replied, “Each morning I wake up and say to myself, you have two choices today. You can choose to be in a good mood or … you can choose to be in a bad mood. I choose to be in a good mood. Each time something bad happens, I can choose to be a victim or … I can choose to learn from it. I choose to learn from it. Every time someone comes to complaining, I can choose to accept their complaining or … I can point out the positive side of life. I choose the positive side of life.”
“Yeah, right, it’s not that easy,” I protested. “Yes, it is,” Michael said. “Life is all about choices. When you cut away all the junk, every situation is a choice. You choose how you react to situations. You choose how people affect your mood. You choose to be in a good mood or bad mood. The bottom line: It’s your choice how you live your life.” I reflected on what Michael said. Soon thereafter, I left the Tower Industry to start my own business. We lost touch, but I often thought about him when I made a choice about life instead of reacting to it.
Several years later, I heard that Michael was involved in a serious accident, falling some 60 feet from a communications tower. After 18 hours of surgery and weeks of intensive care, Michael was released from the hospital with rods placed in his back. I saw Michael about six months after the accident. When I asked him how he was, he replied. “If I were any better, I’d be twins. Wanna see my scars?” I declined to see his wounds, but I did ask him what had gone through his mind as the accident took place. “The first thing that went through my mind was the well-being of my soon to be born daughter,” Michael replied. “Then, as I lay on the ground, I remembered that I had two choices: I could choose to live or … I could choose to die. I chose to live.”
“Weren’t you scared? Did you lose consciousness?” I asked. Michael continued, “… the paramedics were great. They kept telling me I was going to be fine. But when they wheeled me into the ER and I saw the expressions on the faces of the doctors and nurses, I got really scared. In their eyes, I read ‘he’s a dead man’. I knew I needed to take action.”
“What did you do?” I asked. “Well, there was a big burly nurse shouting questions at me,” said Michael. “She asked if I was allergic to anything.”
“Yes, I replied.” The doctors and nurses stopped working as they waited for my reply. I took a deep breath and yelled, “Gravity.”
Over their laughter, I told them, “I am choosing to live. Operate on me as if I am alive, not dead.”
Michael lived, thanks to the skill of his doctors, but also because of his amazing attitude. I learned from him that every day we have the choice to live fully. Attitude, after all, is everything.
“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” After all today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.
14 Prayer PUSH
A man was sleeping at night in his cabin when suddenly his room filled with light, and God appeared. The Lord told the man he had work for him to do,and showed him a large rock in front of his cabin. The Lord explained that the man was to push against the rock with all his might. So, this the man did, day after day. For many years he toiled from sun up to sun down, his shoulders set squarely against the cold, massive surface of the unmoving rock, pushing with all of his might. Each night the man returned to his cabin sore and worn out, feeling that his whole day had been spent in vain.
Since the man was showing discouragement, the Adversary decided to enter the picture by placing thoughts into the weary mind: “You have been pushing against that rock for a long time, and it hasn’t moved.” Thus, he gave the man the impression that the task was impossible and that he was a failure. These thoughts discouraged and disheartened the man. Satan said, “Why kill yourself over this? Just put in your time, giving just the minimum effort, and that will be good enough.” That’s what the weary man planned to do, but decided to make it a matter of prayer and to take his troubled thoughts to the Lord.
“Lord,” he said, “I have laboured long and hard in your service, putting all my strength to do that which you have asked. Yet, after all this time, I have not even budged that rock by half a millimetre. What is wrong? Why am I failing? The Lord responded compassionately, “My friend, when I asked you to serve Me and you accepted, I told you that your task was to push against the rock with all of your strength, which you have done. Never once did I mention to you that I expected you to move it. Your task was to push. And now you come to Me with your strength spent,thinking that you have failed. But, is that really so? Look at yourself. Your arms are strong and muscled, your back sinewy and brown; your hands are calloused from constant pressure, your legs have become massive and hard. Through opposition you have grown much, and your abilities now surpass that which you used to have. True, you haven’t moved the rock. But your calling was to be obedient and to push and to exercise your faith and trust in My wisdom. That you have done. Now I, my friend, will move the rock.“
At times, when we hear a word from God, we tend to use our own intellect to decipher what He wants, when actually what God wants is just a simple obedience and faith in Him. By all means, exercise the faith that moves mountains, but know that it is still God who moves the mountains. When everything seems to go wrong … just P.U.S.H. When the job gets you down … just P.U.S.H. When people don’t react the way you think they should… just P.U.S.H. When your money is “gone” and the bills are due… just P.U.S.H. When people just don’t understand you … just P.U.S.H.
P = Pray
U = Until
S = Something
H = Happens
[See Luke 11:1-13; 18:1-8]
15 Cracked-pots: a story from Africa
A water bearer in Africa had two large pots, each hung on the ends of a pole that he carried across his neck. One of the pots had a crack in it while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water. At the end of the long walk from the stream to the house, the cracked pot arrived only half full. For a full two years this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots of water to his house. Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, for which it was made. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do. After 2 years of what it perceived to be bitter failure, it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream. “I am ashamed of myself, because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house”. The bearer said to the pot, “Did you notice that there are flowers on your side of the path, but not on the other pot’s side? That’s because I have always known about your flaw, so I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back, you water them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate the table. Without you being just the way you are, there would not be this beauty to grace the house.”
Each of us has our own unique flaw. But it’s the cracks and flaws we each have that make our lives together so very interesting and rewarding. You’ve just got to take each person for what they are and look for the good in them. To all of my crack-pot friends, have a great day and remember to smell the flowers.
16 A Girl’s prayer
One night I had worked hard to help a mother in the labour ward; but in spite of all we could do she died leaving us with a tiny premature baby and a crying two-year-old daughter.
We would have difficulty keeping the baby alive, as we had no incubator (we had no electricity to run an incubator) and no special feeding facilities. Although we lived on the equator, nights were often chilly with treacherous drafts. One student midwife went for the box we had for such babies and the cotton wool the baby would be wrapped in. Another went to stoke up the fire and fill a hot water bottle. She came back shortly in distress to tell me that in filling the bottle, it had burst. Rubber perishes easily in tropical climates. “And it is our last hot water bottle!” she exclaimed.
As in the West it is no good crying over spilled milk, so in Central Africa it might be considered no good crying over burst water bottles. They do not grow on trees, and there are no drugstores down forest pathways.”All right,” I said, “Put the baby as near the fire as you safely can; sleep between the baby and the door to keep it free from drafts. Your job is to keep the baby warm.
The following noon, as I did most days, I went to have prayers with any of the orphanage children who chose to gather with me. I gave the youngsters various suggestions of things to pray about and told them about the tiny baby. I explained our problem about keeping the baby warm enough, mentioning the hot water bottle. The baby could so easily die if it got chills. I also told them of the two-year-old sister, crying because her mother had died. During the prayer time, one ten-year-old girl, Ruth, prayed with the usual blunt conciseness of our African children. “Please, God,” she prayed, “send us a water bottle. It’ll be no good tomorrow, God, as the baby will be dead, so please send it this afternoon.” While I gasped inwardly at the audacity of the prayer, she added by way of corollary, “And while You are about it, would You please send a dolly for the little girl so she’ll know You really love her?”
As often with children’s prayers, I was put on the spot. Could I honestly say, “Amen”? I just did not believe that God could do this. Oh, yes, I know that He can do everything. The Bible says so. But there are limits, aren’t there? The only way God could answer this particular prayer would be by sending me a parcel from the homeland. I had been in Africa for almost four years at that time, and I had never, ever received a parcel from home; anyway, if anyone did send me a parcel, who would put in a hot water bottle? I lived on the equator!
Halfway through the afternoon, while I was teaching in the nurses’ training school, a message was sent that there was a car at my front door. By the time I reached home, the car had gone, but there, on the verandah, was a large twenty-two pound parcel. I felt tears pricking my eyes. I could not open the parcel alone, so I sent for the orphanage children. Together we pulled off the string, carefully undoing each knot. We folded the paper, taking care not to tear it unduly. Excitement was mounting. Some thirty or forty pairs of eyes were focused on the large cardboard box. From the top, I lifted out brightly colored, knitted jerseys. Eyes sparkled as I gave them out. Then there were the knitted bandages for the leprosy patients, and the children looked a little bored. Then came a box of mixed raisins and sultanas—that would make a nice batch of buns for the weekend. Then, as I put my hand in again, I felt the . . . could it really be? I grasped it and pulled it out – yes, a brand-new, rubber hot water bottle! I cried.
I had not asked God to send it. I had not truly believed that He could. Ruth was in the front row of the children. She rushed forward, crying out, “If God has sent the bottle, He must have sent the dolly, too!” Rummaging down to the bottom of the box, she pulled out the small, beautifully dressed dolly. Her eyes shone! She had never doubted. Looking up at me, she asked: “Can I go over with you, Mummy, and give this dolly to that little girl, so she’ll know that Jesus really loves her?”
That parcel had been on the way for five whole months. Packed up by my former Sunday school class, whose leader had heard and obeyed God’s prompting to send a hot water bottle, even to the equator. And one of the girls had put in a dolly for an African child – five months before – in answer to the believing prayer of a ten-year-old to bring it “that afternoon.”
“Before they call, I will answer!” Isaiah 65:24
See Blog: Before they call I will answer
CTA Video – Mama Luka Comes Home – films her return to Zaire (formerly Belgian Congo).
17 A Boy’s insights
One day, a rich dad took his son on a trip. He wanted to show him how poor someone can be. They spent time on the farm of a poor family.
On the way home, dad asked, “Did you see how poor they are? What did you learn?”.
Son said, “We have one dog, they have four, we have a pool, they have rivers, we have lanterns at night, they have stars, we buy foods, they grow theirs, we have walls to protect us, they have friends, we have encyclopedias, they have a Bible.” Then he added, “Thanks dad for showing me how poor we are.”
18 Shirley & Marcy
A mother was concerned about her kindergarten son walking to school. He didn’t want his mother to walk with him. She wanted to give him the feeling that he had some independence but yet know that he was safe. So she had an idea of how to handle it. She asked a neighbor if she would please follow him to school in the mornings, staying at a distance, so he probably wouldn’t notice her. She said that since she was up early with her toddler anyway, it would be a good way for them to get some exercise as well, so she agreed.
The next school day, the neighbor and her little girl set out following behind Timmy as he walked to school with another neighbor girl he knew. She did this for the whole week. As the two walked and chatted, kicking stones and twigs, Timmy’s little friend noticed the same lady was following them as she seemed to do every day all week. Finally she said to Timmy, ‘Have you noticed that lady following us to school all week? Do you know her?’
Timmy nonchalantly replied, ‘Yeah, I know who she is.’ The little girl said, ‘Well, who is she?’ ‘That’s just Shirley Goodnest,’ Timmy replied, ‘and her daughter Marcy.’
‘Shirley Goodnest? Who is she and why is she following us?’
‘Well,’ Timmy explained, ‘every night my Mum makes me say the 23rd Psalm with my prayers, ‘cuz she worries about me so much. And in the Psalm, it says, ‘ Shirley Goodnest and Marcy shall follow me all the days of my life’, so I guess I’ll just have to get used to it!’
The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace. May Shirley Goodnest and Marcy be with you today and always.
[Reproduced from John Mark Ministries, by Rowland Croucher.]
1. Give God what’s right — not what’s left.
2. Our way leads to a hopeless end — God’s way leads to an endless hope.
3. A lot of kneeling will keep you in good standing.
4. Those who kneel before God can stand before anyone.
5. In the sentence of life, the devil may be a comma — but never let him be the period.
6. Don’t put a question mark where God puts a period.
7. Are you wrinkled with burdens? Come to the church for a face-lift.
8. When praying, don’t give God instructions — just report for duty.
9. Don’t wait for six strong men to take you to church.
10. We don’t change God’s message — His message changes us.
11. The church is prayer-conditioned.
12. When God ordains, He sustains.
13. WARNING: Exposure to the Son may prevent burning.
14. Plan ahead — It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark.
15. Most people want to serve God, but only in an advisory position.
16. Suffering from truth decay? Brush up on your Bible.
17 . Read the Bible — It will scare the hell out of you.
18. Never give the devil a ride — he will always want to drive.
19. Nothing else ruins the truth like stretching it.
20. Compassion is difficult to give away because it keeps coming back.
21. Whoever angers you controls you.
22. Worry is the darkroom in which negatives can develop.
23. Give Satan an inch and he’ll be a ruler.
24. Be fishers of people — you catch them and He’ll clean them.
25. God doesn’t call the qualified — He qualifies the called.
26. Exercise daily — walk with the Lord.
What we do in life echoes in eternity.
20 I Choose
It’s quiet. It’s early. My coffee is hot. The sky is still black. The world is still asleep. The day is coming. In a few moments the day will arrive. It will roar down the track with the rising of the sun. The stillness of the dawn will be exchanged for the noise of the day. The calm of solitude will be invaded by decisions to be made and deadlines to be met. For the next twelve hours I will be exposed to the day’s demands. It is now that I must make a choice.
Because of Calvary, I’m free to choose. And so I choose……
I choose love …
No occasion justifies hatred; no injustice warrants bitterness. I choose love. Today I will love God and what God loves.
I choose joy …
I will invite my God to be the God of circumstances. I will refuse the temptation to be cynical…the tool of the lazy thinker. I will refuse to see people as anything less than human beings created by God. I will refuse to see any problem as anything less than an opportunity to see God.
I choose peace …
I will live forgiven. I will forgive so that I may live.
I choose patience …
I will overlook the inconveniences of the world. Instead of cursing the one who takes my place, I’ll invite him to do so. Rather than complain that the wait is too long, I will thank God for a moment to pray. Instead of clenching my fist at new assignments, I will face them with joy and courage.
I choose kindness …
I will be kind to the poor, for they are alone. Kind to the rich, for they are afraid. And kind to the unkind, for such is how God has treated me.
I choose goodness …
I will go without a dollar before I take a dishonest one. I will be overlooked before I will boast. I will confess before I will accuse.
I choose faithfulness …
Today I will keep my promises. My debtors will not regret their trust. My associates will not question my word. My wife will not question my love. And my children will never fear that their father will not come home.
I choose gentleness …
Nothing is won by force. I choose to be gentle. If I raise my voice may it be only in praise. If I clench my fist, may it be only in prayer. If I make a demand, may it be only of myself.
I choose self-control …
I am a spiritual being. After this body is dead, my spirit will soar. I refuse to let what will rot, rule the eternal. I will be drunk only by joy. I will be impassioned only by my faith. I will be influenced only by God. I will be taught only by Christ.
To these I commit my day. If I succeed, I will give thanks. If I fail, I will seek His grace. And then, when this day is done, I will place my head on my pillow and rest.
Max Lucardo, When God Whispers Your Name, (1994)
21 Gold and Ivory Tablecloth
At Christmas time men and women everywhere gather in their churches to wonder anew at the greatest miracle the world has ever known. But the story I like best to recall was not a miracle — not exactly. It happened to a pastor who was very young but his church was very old.
Once long ago it had flourished. Famous men had preached from its pulpit and prayed before its altar. Rich and poor alike had worshipped there and built it beautifully. Now the good days had passed from the section of town where it stood. But the pastor and his young wife believed in their run-down church. They felt that with paint, hammer, and faith they could get it in shape. Together they went to work.
However late in December a severe storm whipped through the river valley and the worst blow fell on the little church — a huge chunk of rain-soaked plaster fell out of the inside wall just behind the altar. Sorrowfully the pastor and his wife swept away the mess but they couldn’t hide the ragged hole. The pastor looked at it and had to remind himself quickly, “Thy will be done!” But his wife wept, “Christmas is only two days away!”
That afternoon the dispirited couple attended an auction held for the benefit of a youth group. The auctioneer opened a box and shook out of its folds a handsome gold and ivory lace tablecloth. It was a magnificent item, nearly 15 feet long; but it, too, dated from a long vanished era. Who, today, had any use for such a thing?
There were a few halfhearted bids. Then the pastor was seized with what he thought was a great idea. He bid it in for $6.50. He carried the cloth back to the church and tacked it up on the wall behind the altar. It completely hid the hole! And the extraordinary beauty of its shimmering handwork cast a fine, holiday glow over the chancel. It was a great triumph. Happily he went back to preparing his Christmas sermon.
Just before noon on the day of Christmas Eve as the pastor was opening the church, he noticed a woman standing in the cold at the bus stop. “The bus won’t be here for 40 minutes!” he called and invited her into the church to get warm. She told him that she had come from the city that morning to be interviewed for a job as governess to the children of one of the wealthy families in town but she had been turned down. A war refugee, her English was imperfect.
The woman sat down in a pew and chafed her hands and rested. After a while she dropped her head and prayed. She looked up as the pastor began to adjust the great gold and ivory cloth across the hole. She rose suddenly and walked up the steps of the chancel. She looked at the tablecloth. The pastor smiled and started to tell her about the storm damage but she didn’t seem to listen. She took up a fold of the cloth and rubbed it between her fingers. “It is mine!” she said. “It is my banquet cloth!” She lifted up a corner and showed the surprised pastor that there were initials monogrammed on it. “My husband had the cloth made especially for me in Brussels! There could not be another like it.”
For the next few minutes the woman and the pastor talked excitedly together. She explained that she was Viennese and that she and her husband had opposed the Nazis and decided to leave the country. They were advised to go separately. Her husband put her on a train for Switzerland. They planned that he would join her as soon as he could arrange to ship their household goods across the border. She never saw him again. Later she heard that he had died in a concentration camp. “I have always felt that it was my fault — to leave without him,” she said. “Perhaps these years of wandering have been my punishment!” The pastor tried to comfort her and urged her to take the cloth with her. She refused. Then she went away.
As the church began to fill on Christmas Eve, it was clear that the cloth was going to be a great success. It had been skillfully designed to look its best by candlelight. After the service, the pastor stood at the doorway. Many people told him that the church looked beautiful. One gentle-faced middle-aged man — he was the local clock-and-watch repairman — looked rather puzzled. “It is strange,” he said in his soft accent. “Many years ago my wife — God rest her — and I owned such a cloth. In our home in Vienna, my wife put it on the table” — and here he smiled — “only when the bishop came to dinner.”
The pastor suddenly became very excited. He told the jeweler about the woman who had been in church earlier that day. The startled jeweler clutched the pastor’s arm. “Can it be? Does she live?”
Together the two got in touch with the family who had interviewed her. Then in the pastor’s car they started for the city. And as Christmas Day was born, this man and his wife who had been separated through so many saddened Yule tides were reunited.
To all who hear this story, the joyful purpose of the storm that had knocked a hole in the wall of the church was now quite clear. Of course, people said it was a miracle; but I think you will agree it was the season for it!
“The Gold and Ivory Tablecloth”; was written by the Rev. Howard C. Schade, pastor of the First Reformed Church in Nyack, New York; and published in the December 1954 issue of Reader’s Digest; and reproduced in Alice Gray’s Christmas Stories for the Heart in 1998. The Internet-circulated version of this tale adds many additional details not present in the original: the setting is Brooklyn, the tablecloth features an embroidered cross at its center, the woman identifies the tablecloth by her crocheted initials in one of its corners, the woman mentions that she had made the tablecloth 35 years earlier (which places the story in the mid-1970s), and the account is attributed to a “Pastor Rob Reid.”
22 Behold The Man
Nicolaus Ludwig Zinzendorf
Nicolaus Ludwig Zinzendorf (six days before his nineteenth birthday) climbed the stone steps of the art gallery in Dusseldorf. The doorman bowed low, and Zinzendorf nodded in recognition of the gesture. It was May 20, 1719, and this was the fifth art gallery he had been to since setting out on the trip a week before. Zinzendorf strolled around, taking in the various masterpieces that were on display. With him were his new tutor, Herr Riederer, and his older half-brother, Fredrick, who had joined him for the early portion of the grand tour of Europe. The excursion to the art gallery was much like the others Zinzendorf had made on the trip, until he came to one particular painting. for some reason he felt attracted to it. He stopped and studied it closely. The painting, by Domenico Feti, was titled Ecce Homo (Behold the Man) and it showed Jesus with a crown of thorns on His head. At the bottom of the picture, the artist had painted the words: This I have done for you. What have you done for Me? The question astonished Zinzendorf. It seemed to hang in the air as he pondered what, indeed, he had done for Christ. The usual answers came to mind. He had loved Him, read the Bible, prayed and sang hymns, but somehow these things seemed insignificant compared to all Christ had done by dying on the cross. Zinzendorf repeated the question to himself: What have you done for me? “I will do more,” Zinzendorf vowed quietly as he stood in front of the painting. “My life will not be spent in idle touring and visiting.” “Don’t you want to see the rest of the gallery?” Fredrick asked, his voice breaking into Zinzendorf’s thoughts. “You’ve been standing here in a trance for fifteen minutes.” “Oh, yes, I suppose I must go on,” Zinzendorf replied, taking one last look at the painting. Zinzendorf went on to view the work of famous Dutch and German artists, but he could not get out of his mind the idea that it was time to do something for Christ. Shortly thereafter, he caught a vision of his life’s work. What could he do for Christ? It was so obvious to him now: he could use his life and his money to try to bring all Christians together into one family – one fellowship that would accept and tolerate one another’s differences. And so, that was what he did from that moment on.
Frances Ridley Havergal
As a young woman, Frances Ridley Havergal travelled from her home in England to advance her education in Dusseldorf, Germany. While on the continent, in a pastor’s study, she saw a motto printed beneath a painting titled “Ecce Homo”.
The portrayed scene is Christ at his trial, whipped mercilessly, wearing a crown of thorns and a purple robe meant for mockery. He’s standing between a crowd demanding death and Pilate, who says, “Ecce Homo (Behold the Man)”. This arresting depiction of Jesus’ trial struck Havergal, who paused to contemplate the biblical event. Before leaving the scene, she copied the caption-phrase, translated: “I did this for you. What have you done for me?” Later, back home in England, she noticed the line in her notebook, recalled her emotional response to the painting, and quickly embellished the caption. She wrote a poem of five stanzas, each ending with a pointed challenge: What have you given to . . . left for . . . borne for . .. brought to . . . the Christ? Pausing to read through her completed verse, Havergal thought poorly of her endeavour, and threw the paper into the fireplace. Yes, into the fire. But it didn’t burn. Retrieving the lines, she eventually showed them to her father, who suggested they be saved. Years later, she wrote what would become one of her most famous hymns, “Take My Life”. Have you lived your life fully for God as He did for you?
I gave My life for thee, My precious blood I shed,
That thou might ransomed be, and raised up from the dead
I gave My life for thee, what hast thou given for Me?
I gave My life for thee, what hast thou given for Me?
Words by Frances R. Havergal Music by J.E. White
23. Family Worship
Beautiful account of a 9 year old boy’s experience with Jesus.
This is a true story of my grandson’s encounter with Jesus. Blessings, Lois Wauson
My 9-year-old grandson Reno had an experience with Jesus that most people have never had. I know that I have not had one like this.
Last week, Reno’s father played his guitar, and sang worship songs, as his fiance and their four children, ages 6 to 9, worshiped the Lord. The four children stood there, with their hands upraised, eyes closed, as the two adults sang and worshiped. The children did not move, but continued to stand worshiping God. The power of God came into the room. Holy Spirit fell like a mighty heavy blanket.
Reno fell to his knees crying, and knelt there, great waves of love flooding his soul, and crying huge buckets of tears. The other children looked at him, and seemed not to notice, and continued worshiping. The air was so thick, no one in the room could move for a long time, including the small children.
This nine year old boy continued to cry and weep, and as he sat on the floor; his lap was filled with tears. His father kept asking him if he was okay, and he would say “yes”, and then when his Dad asked the children if they thought Reno was alright, they all spoke out, “Yes, yes. It is good.” They all knew it was from God. And they were children. This continued on for over three hours!
After a long time of this wailing and crying, Reno got quieter, and got up and came over to where they were all sitting, and began to lay his hands on each of them, one by one. No one prompted him, or told him to do this. He kept on crying and weeping. Then he told his father, “God says He loves you very much, Dad. He said he likes your singing, especially the one about the Song of the Lamb.”
The two little girls went on to bed, finally, but Matthew brought a blanket in and wanted to stay in the presence of God and lay down on the floor and went to sleep. Trent continued to play his guitar and sing, and the Lord continued his ministry to Reno. After over three hours of this experience with God, he fell asleep in his Dad’s arms. Since that time, the relationship between this son and his father has been so close, and extraordinary.
Several days later, when they came to visit, he and his father were telling us about what happened. He then told us that Jesus had taken him up into heaven and that Jesus introduced him to the “Family of God” (his words – Reno has a learning disability, and has difficulty expressing himself in words; in communicating). He said that Jesus introduced him to Mary, his mother, and the Holy Ghost, and there were angels all around. When asked what heaven was like, he said, it was beautiful, with water, and doves and angels. He also told us that when the Holy Ghost talked to him, two doves came and sat on his (Reno’s) shoulders.
We asked him what was happening when he was crying so hard all that time, and he said, “God was taking all the bad stuff out of me. Bad stuff. Like demonic things.” He told us that Jesus was there and that all the bad things were leaving and that it was good. He told us that he didn’t want it to stop, because it was so good. Then we realized maybe we should tape this and I went to get a recorder and from then on we asked him some more questions. I have transcribed his words here:
When you were taken up into Heaven, can you tell us what Jesus, looked like? “His hands were like red, and white, and there was holes in his hands, from the nails, and his head had lines all over it, from those thorns, and his feet had holes in them. And his back. He had lines all on his back.”
What did his hair look like? “It was brown and gold.”
What did he have on? “He had on, like a robe.”
What colour? “White.”
What did his eyes look like? (pause), “White, green or blue; don’t know.”
Did his eyes look at you? Did they make you feel good? “Uh huh”
What did his mouth look like? “He was smiling, and he was happy, (pause) with me.”
Did he take you around heaven? “Yeah, he showed me Mary, and Angels, and there was God, and Jesus, and Mary, and the Holy Ghost.”
Did you see the Holy Ghost? “Yeah, but I couldn’t see him real good. He was there, and he was saying good things to me.”
What was he saying? “He was saying things like; I’m sorry for the devil saying like; you’re Mom and Dad are going to get divorced again.”
Did he say anything about your Dad? “He said that He liked your singing about Him, and said he liked your singing the one about the Song of the Lamb.”
Did you see anything else in Heaven? “I saw white doves, water, and I saw that everything was good; it was covered with angels.”
Why did you come pray for us? Did the Holy Spirit tell you to? “He said to just come up to them and give them some of Me; when I thought about Him; of God.”
How? “By touching them.”
So you did, you just laid your hands on us? “Yes, He was just, He was holding my hand.”
Who was holding your hand? “Jesus”
Was his hand big or little? “Big!”
When he held your hand, how did you feel? “It felt like God’s hand combined into my heart.”
And you wanted it to go on forever, huh? “Yes.”
We kept asking him, Reno, do you want this to stop. And he would say, … “No.”
Why? “Because it was just getting gooder and gooder!”
What would you want to say about God? “I had fun with God!”
And what would you like for people to know about God? “That he loves people. He doesn’t want people to get hurt, and die. He wants this world to be good and protected.”
Anything else? “That’s all.”
From: Azusa emails, 24 Aug 2001, by Lois Wauson.
He started early, usually before dawn, and he wandered through all the streets of Sydney. Every morning he was somewhere else, Wynyard, Glebe, Paddington, Randwick, Central Station. As he said – where God directed him. Every night the message appeared in his head. He was a very little man, bent, grey-haired, only five feet three inches tall and just seven stone. He looked frail enough to blow away. Then with the formality of another generation he always wore a grey felt hat, tie and prim double-breasted navy blue suit. Sometimes in the dawn light he would be seen around Wynyard Station. He would nod to the drunks still left on the pavement and he would look at the debris of the affluent society stretched out on the park benches, trying to keep warm under newspapers. If he detected any movement there would be a pat on the head or a warm greeting. He had the air of a man who understood.
As he walked every so often he would stop, pull out a crayon, bend down and write on the pavement in large, elegant copperplate – Eternity. He would move on a hundred yards then write it again, Eternity, nothing more, just one simple word. For thirty-seven years he chalked this one-word sermon and he wrote it more than half a million times.
He did not like publicity. He regarded his unique style of Evangelism as a serious mission, something between Arthur Stace and his Maker, so for a decade these Eternity signs mystified Sydney. They were an enigma. Sydney columnists wrote about it, speculated on the author, and several people walked into newspaper offices and announced that they were the author. The real man kept quiet.
The mystery all came clear in 1956 and the man who cracked it was the Reverend Lisle M Thompson of the Burton Street Baptist Church. Arthur Stace was actually the church cleaner and one of their prayer leaders. One day Lisle Thompson saw Stace take out his crayon and write the famous Eternity on the pavement. He did it without realising that he had been spotted. Thompson said: “Are you Mr Eternity?” and Stace replied “Guilty Your Honour”. Lisle Thompson wrote a tract telling the little man’s extraordinary story and Tom Farrell, later had the first interview. He published it in the Sunday Telegragh on 21 June 1956.
Arthur Stace was born in a Balmain slum in 1884. His father and mother were both drunkards. Two sisters and two brothers also were drunks and they lived much of their time in jail. The sisters ran brothels and one of them was ordered out of New South Wales three times. Stace used to sleep on bags under the house and when his parents were drunk he had to look after himself. He used to steal milk from the doorsteps, pick scraps of food out of garbage and shoplift cakes and sweets.
His schooling was practically non-existent; so much so that this was noticed by Government officials. At the age of twelve he became a state ward. Not that this helped him greatly. When he was fourteen he had his first job – in a coal mine – and his first pay cheque he spent in a hotel. Already he had learned to drink at home so like the rest of the family he became a perambulating drunk, living in a fog of alcohol. He went to jail for the first time when he was fifteen, then it became a regular affair.
He was in his twenties when he moved to the seedy inner suburb of Surry Hills. There his job was to carry liquor from the pubs to the brothels, and particularly his sister’s brothel. Then there were other jobs such as cockatoo at a two-up school, that is the character who gives warning of the approach of the police. He was mixed up with various housebreaking gangs and because of his size he was splendidly useful as a look out man (1).
During the first world war he enlisted in the 19th Battalion, went to France and returned home gassed and half blind in one eye. Back in Surry Hills he took up his old habits, drink in particular. He slipped from beer, to whisky, to gin, to rum, to cheap wine until finally living on hand-outs. All he could afford was metholated spirits at sixpence a bottle. His alcoholism was so extreme his mind began to go and he was in danger of becoming a permanent inmate of Callan Park Mental Asylum (2).
He told Tom Farrell that in 1930 he was in Central Court for the umpteenth time. The magistrate said to him: “Don’t you know that I have the POWER to put you in Long Bay jail or the POWER to set you free.”
“Yes Sir,” he replied, but it was the word POWER that he remembered. What he needed was the power to give up drink. He signed the Pledge but he had done that many times before. He went to Regent Street Police Station and pleaded with the Sergeant to lock him up. “Sergeant, put me away. I am no good and I haven’t been sober for eight years. Give me a chance and put me away.” The Sergeant said: “You stink of metho, get out!”
This was the depression time and a metho drinker, dirty, wretchedly dressed, had to be the least likely of any to get a job. Outside the Court House there was a group walking up Broadway. The word had got around that a cup of tea and something to eat was available at the Church Hall. In the nineteen thirties one would endure almost anything for free food.
The date was August 6th and it was a meeting for men conducted by Archdeacon R.B.S. Hammond of St Barnabas’ Church on Broadway. There were about 300 men present, mostly down and outs, but they had to endure an hour and half of talking before they received their tea and rock cakes. Up front there were six people on a separate seat, all looking very clean, spruce and nicely turned out, a remarkable contrast to the 300 grubby-looking males in the audience. Stace said to the man sitting next to him, a well-known criminal: “Who are they?” “I’d reckon they’d be Christians,” he replied. Stace said: “Well look at them and look at us. I’m having a go at what they have got,” and he slipped down on his knees and prayed.
After that, he did find it possible to give up drink and he said: “As I got back my self respect, people were more decent to me.” So he won a job on the dole, working on the sandmills at Maroubra one week on, one week off at three pounds a week.
Some months later in the Burton Street Baptist Church at Darlinghurst he heard the evangelist, the Reverend John Ridley. Ridley was a Military Cross winner from the World War One and a noted “give-‘em-Hell” preacher. He shouted: “I wish I could shout ETERNITY through the streets of Sydney.” (3) Stace, recalling the day, said: “He repeated himself and kept shouting ‘ETERNITY, ETERNITY’ and his words were ringing through my brain as I left the church. Suddenly I began crying and I felt a powerful call from the Lord to write Eternity. I had a piece of chalk in my pocket and I bent down there and wrote it. The funny thing is that before I wrote I could hardly have spelled my own name. I had no schooling and I couldn’t have spelt Eternity for hundred quid. But it came out smoothly in beautiful copperplate script. I couldn’t understand it and I still can’t.”
Stace claimed that normally his handwriting was appalling and his friends found it illegible. He demonstrated this to a Daily Telegraph reporter. He wrote Eternity which snaked across the pavement gracefully with rich curves and flourishes, but when he wrote his own name ‘Arthur’ it was almost unreadable. “I’ve tried and tried but Eternity is the only word that comes out in copperplate,” he said (4). After eight or nine years he did try something else “OBEY GOD”, and five years later, “GOD OR SIN” and “GOD 1st”, but finally he stuck with Eternity.
He had some problems. There was a fellow who followed him round and every time he wrote Eternity this other character changed it to Maternity. So he altered his style to give Eternity a large, eloquent capital E and maternity took a dive. The City Council had a rule against defacing the pavement and the police “very nearly arrested” him twenty-four times. “But I had permission from a higher source,” he said.
He lived with his wife Pearl in Bulwarra Road, Pyrmont and this was his routine. He rose at 4 am, prayed for an hour, had breakfast, then he set out. He claimed that God gave him his directions the night before, the name of the suburb came into his head and he arrived there before dawn. He took his message every 100 yards or so where it could be seen best then he was back home around 10am. First he wrote in yellow chalk, then he switched to marking crayon because it stayed on better in the wet. He did other things. On Saturday nights he led gospel meetings at the corner of Bathurst and George Streets. At first he did it from the gutter but in later years he had a fine van with electric lighting and an amplifier.
Aruther Stace died of a stroke in a nursing home on July 30, 1967 (5). He was 83. He left his body to Sydney University so that the proceeds could go to charity. The remains were finally buried at Botany Cemetery more than two years later (6).
There were suggestions that the city should put down a plaque to his memory. Leslie Jillet of Mosman said that there should be a statue in Railway Square depicting Stace kneeling chalk in hand (7).
In 1968 the Sydney City Council (8) decided to perpetuate Stace’s one-word sermon by putting down permanent plaques in “numerous” locations throughout the city. Sir David Griffin, a former Lord Mayor, tried to perpetuate what he called “a delicious piece of eccentricity”, but a team of City Commissioners killed the idea. They thought it was too trivial (9).
But finally Arthur Stace did get his plaque. It happened ten years after his death and was all due to Ridley Smith, architect of Sydney Square. He set the message Eternity in cast aluminium, set in aggregate, near the Sydney Square waterfall. The Sydney Morning Herald Column 8 said: “In letters almost 21cm (8in) high is the famous copperplate message Eternity. The one word sermon gleams in wrought aluminium. There’s no undue prominence. No garish presentation. Merely the simple Eternity on pebbles as Arthur Stace would have wanted it (10).
Ridley Smith did have an interest in Arthur Stace, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. As a boy he used to hear him preach on the corner of Bathurst Street. Even more interesting, Ridley Smith was named after the fire-breathing Reverend John Ridley, the very man who converted Arthur Stace back in 1930 (11).
(1) Sunday Telegraph, 21 June 1956.
(2) Reverend Lisle M. Thompson, The Crooked Made Straight.
(3) Daily Telegraph, 12 June 1965.
(5) Sydney Morning Herald, 1 August 1967.
(6) Daily Telegraph, 8 October 1969.
(7) Sydney Morning Herald, 9 May 1968.
(8) Daily Telegraph, 30 April 1968.
(9) Sydney Morning Herald, 20 November 1976.
(10) Ibid, 12 July 1977.
(11) Ibid, 13 July 1977.
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