by Pam Carlson-Hetland
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“Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5 (NIV)
Are you like me? I love God. I believe that He cares about every aspect of my life. But there are days when life’s irritants and burdens seem multiplied. Instead of seeking the Lord, I temporarily unplug from my true Source and try to figure things out myself–sometimes without realizing I’m doing that. But our Father woos us to reconnect.
One day I walked into my small condo after a tiring day at work. Greeting me were piles of clutter, unpacked boxes from the last move, and a basket of unfolded laundry. Hanging my coat in the crammed hall closet, I went to the kitchen to make dinner. Canned goods rolled out as I opened a cupboard. Sighing, I shoved them back on the shelves, looking into the full freezer instead. That’s when the grumbling began. “I need a bigger house. There’s not enough room here. If I had storage space, it wouldn’t be so messy. I should get a second job then I could afford a bigger place in a better neighborhood.”
“Is that the real issue?” an inner voice prompted. I ignored it. Leftovers were popped into the microwave while I set the table.
Later that evening, a friend from church called. I always enjoyed a visit from Lucy. Although she was several years younger, we developed a bond. She had come from the Philippines newly married to an American man much older than her. His sudden death several years later left her emotionally distraught and financially bereft in a country still foreign to her. A friend referred her to our Christian singles group for support.
“Thanks for the fried rice and egg rolls, Lucy.” I said. “We had them for dinner tonight. They were delicious.”
“Oh, you are welcome. I like to cook.” She answered quietly. “I share what I have. That is the way in my culture.”
We discussed our mutual interest in cooking for a while. Lucy talked of attending a government sponsored culinary school in the Philippines; but her heart’s desire was to train at an acclaimed international culinary institute. However, Lucy worked in a local hospital laundry, her dreams of being a chef yet unrealized.
I knew some of Lucy’s life story. She had told me portions now and then, sometimes through tears, sometimes in laughter, but always with acknowledging God’s Hand in the midst of it. She grew up with an abusive, alcoholic father in extreme poverty. Leaving home at an early age to live with an aunt, Lucy worked her way through high school and post-high school training. A friend invited her to a Youth for Christ meeting where she accepted Jesus. In an attempt to escape the poverty and abuse surrounding her, she registered with a match-making service and began corresponding with a man from America. A written friendship developed. Several months later, he arrived in the Philippines to find Lucy and ask her to marry him. Unlike similar stories of young, desperate Philippina women, Lucy’s husband treated her well. His family welcomed her. After his death, they encircled her with love and watched over her. Lucy shared that God had given her the loving family that she desired. He had not forsaken her in a foreign land and Lucy never forgot what the Lord had brought her through.
Lucy is extremely careful with her money and spends wisely, often saving to purchase rather than take on debt. Tonight I found out that her washing machine wasn’t working and she was washing clothes by hand.
“Is there a laundromat near you, Lucy?” I asked. “Oh, no...that too much money! Lucy exclaimed in her accent. “It OK. I grow up washing clothes by hand. I have a brush. I tell the Lord ‘I have enough’. I can wait to buy a good machine. I am content with what I have.”
My eyes wandered to the overflowing laundry basket, the contents washed and dried by merely pushing buttons. I saw the pile of bills to be paid, one of them a credit card for emergencies. For me, a non-working washer would be an emergency. I glanced into the kitchen where the cupboards were bulging with food and dishes. And I was ashamed at my earlier tirade claiming to need a bigger house, my discontent with a perceived lack.
Long after our pleasant conversation ended, I was so convicted. “Lord, please forgive me.” I prayed “You have given me so much and I have been ungrateful.”
“What is the real issue?” Again that Holy Spirit inner prompting was asking me to search deeper. I didn’t want to, so I went to the kitchen for a glass of water. On the inside of my cupboard doors, I taped calendars, reminders, etc. There in my own handwriting was a quote from a now forgotten speaker–“Materialism is the practice of using material things to answer a spiritual need.” The words hit home.
“What spiritual need?” The voice probed. With my eyes still on those words, I saw my fears and the circumstances that occupied my thoughts lately. I felt overwhelmingly inadequate in the face of them. There were my elderly parents in the nursing home, one of them in very poor health. Lord, please comfort them in these difficult days, I prayed. I will miss them so much when they’re gone. I saw my young, teenaged daughter walking home alone from school. Please protect her, Lord. I worried about her still tender faith being continually ambushed over the past 2 years. She was becoming antagonistic toward anything Christian lately. Lord, show her that You are there and how much You love her! As a single mother, I juggled job, teenager, elder-care, finances, and my own health needs. I frequently had nagging doubts about the future.
“Will a bigger house answer these needs?” Again, that inner voice gently lead me to confront what was really inside. It was as if a light had been turned on and I recognized how I had gradually let go of God rather than letting go of my burdens. I had been looking to the things of the world to satisfy the empty places inside instead of Him.
“Cast all your anxiety on Him for He cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7 NIV Bible verses I had memorized began rising up inside. There was an earlier time in my life, so besieged with sorrows, anger, and fear that the only way to survive was to lay them down before the Lord and say “take them”. He answered every single one of them in time. Why hadn’t I done that now? I couldn’t remember the last time I prayed for strength and grace to meet each daily challenge. When did I decide to take it all on myself?
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” Proverbs 3:5 “I trust you, Lord!” I said. “Do you trust Me with those you love?” I paused in this two-way conversation. Did I? Did I trust the maker of heaven and earth with my beloved parents and child? I would be a fool not to. I made a decision. “Yes, Lord, I trust you.”
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 And there it was...my life verse claimed when I was at an all time low. Like Lucy on American soil, I, too, felt like a foreigner dealing with situations that I had never encountered before. I remembered how Jesus lead me through the wilderness of divorce. He was faithful. He would meet me in this foreign territory, as well.
Finally, I closed that cupboard door, my spirit reassured, reconnected. My home seemed different-- cozy perhaps. I started up the stairs with the basket saying “Thank you, Lord, for your grace, your mercy, for your plans for me, and for these clean clothes.” Then I stopped and picked up the phone.
“Hi Lucy. I was thinking that maybe this weekend you could bring your laundry over here to do. I’ll make supper. And, let’s pray about that culinary school for you. OK?”
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Pam, this is such a wonderful message that ministered to my own "cluttered" heart, today. Your experience reported here makes me feel that we are kindred spirits in many ways. I love your Lucy character. What an inspiration she is! You are the Pam we know at "Minnesota Nice," aren't you? I'm so glad we connected! Thanks be to God.
Beth, I seldom leave comments, yet this one really struck home. Thanks for sharing. Chuck
This is excellent! A gentle nudge--very thought-provoking. Thank you! Beth