Ready to Celebrate
NOTES FROM THE VALLEY
January 6, 2008
"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil for you are with me." Psalm 23.
Ready to Celebrate
This was definitely the quietest New Year's Eve I've spent ever. I
was certainly ready to celebrate. I had the Christmas lights on, a
bottle of Irish Cream with some crushed ice to pour it over (Cathy
and I have finally decided to admit that we don't really like
champagne), and one of those musical countdown shows on the
television. All I needed to make my small party a success was
Cathy. And miracle of miracles, Cathy didn't have to work on New
Year's Eve this year. So, things were all primed for a small but
warm and loving welcoming of the New Year. And then about 9:00 pm,
Cathy just dozed off on me. After a wonderfully busy week of
Christmas celebrations with children and grandchildren and then a
four day sequence of ten hour night shifts at the foster childrens'
group home, she just couldn't stay awake any longer.
I have to say that when Cathy is sound asleep, she is the most
angelic looking of all the women I have ever known. Curled up all
happy and warm, a faintest hint of a smile on her face. So my New
Year's plan was modified once again this year. Oh, I did wake her up
just as the ball was ready to drop in Times Square. We hugged and
kissed at the appointed time, toasted each other with a sip of Irish
Cream, and then (God love her) back to sleep she went. I closed up
the house, pushed our dog Nikki over (not easy with 60 pounds of
reluctant lab) so I could get into bed, and then spent some special
time like last year, laying next to her in the darkness just
listening to her breathing settle into a slow rhythm has she slipped
into a deep sleep. After all these years, I still find it difficult
to fall asleep without her there. Without the lullaby of her
breathing. So my real celebration was a prayer thanking God for this
very special woman, thanking Him for the year we shared together and
the new year that had just begun.
The whole New Year's ritual put me in mind of another celebration I'd
like to talk about this week. In the Book of Luke, Jesus tells some
parables about three individuals: a shepherd, a housewife, and a
father. And about three losses: a sheep, a coin and a son. And when
the lost are found, three celebrations, three parties with everyone
in the neighborhood invited. The lesson of those parables is amazing
to me. You see, I was once lost. But through the grace of God and a
caring soul He sent after me, Richard Hastings, I was found. And on
that day, the very moment that I accepted Jesus as my Lord and
Savior, everyone in heaven stopped what they were doing and had a
party. They celebrated over me. Just as they celebrated over each
of you. What an awesome thought. What a tremendous blessing when
you're feeling down and alone. And there is more . . .
In the book, "Just Like Jesus" Max Lucado writes, "Why do Jesus and
his angels rejoice over one repenting sinner? Can they see something
we can't? Do they know something we don't? Absolutely. They know
what heaven holds. They've seen the table, and they've heard the
music, and they can't wait to see your face when you arrive. Better
still, they can't wait to see you. When you arrive and enter the
party, something wonderful will happen. A final transformation will
occur. You will be just like Jesus. Drink deeply from 1 John
3:2; `We have not yet been shown what we will be in the future. But
we know that when Christ comes again, we will be like him.' Of all
the blessings of heaven, one of the greatest will be you! You will
be God's magnum opus, his work of art. The angels will gasp. God's
work will be completed. At last, you have a heart like his. You
will love with a perfect love. You will worship with a radiant
face. You'll hear each word God speaks. Your heart will be pure,
your words will be jewels, your thoughts will be treasures. You will
be just like Jesus."
What a message of hope as we prepare for the new year ahead. Hidden
in words God penned to us thousands of years ago; revealed in a
instant by His Holy Spirit. The whispered promise to those who will
listen, "No matter where you are or what you are struggling with
today, because of Jesus there is a day coming that all of heaven is
preparing to celebrate. The day we welcome you home."
Celebrating being under His wing . . . overwhelmed by His love,
HE WILL FIND YOU
John Powell, a professor at Loyola University in Chicago writes about
a student in his Theology of Faith class named Tommy:
"Some twelve years ago, I stood watching my university students file
into the classroom for our first session in the Theology of Faith.
That was the first day I first saw Tommy. My eyes and my mind both
blinked. He was combing his long flaxen hair, which hung six inches
below his shoulders. It was the first time I had ever seen a boy with
hair that long. I guess it was just coming into fashion then. I know
in my mind that it isn't what's on your head but what's in it that
counts; but on that day I was unprepared and my emotions flipped. I
immediately filed Tommy under "S" for strange . . . very strange.
Tommy turned out to be the "atheist in residence" in my Theology of
Faith course. He constantly objected to, smirked at, or whined about
the possibility of an unconditionally loving Father-God. We lived
with each other in relative peace for one semester, although I admit
he was for me at times a serious pain in the back pew. When he came
up at the end of the course to turn in his final exam, he asked in a
slightly cynical tone: "Do you think I'll ever find God?"
I decided instantly on a little shock therapy. "No!" I said very
emphatically. "Oh," he responded, "I thought that was the product you
were pushing." I let him get five steps from the classroom door and
then called out: "Tommy! I don't think you'll ever find him, but I am
absolutely certain that he will find you!" He shrugged a little and
left my class and my life. I felt slightly disappointed at the
thought that he had missed my clever line: "He will find you!" At
least I thought it was clever.
Later I heard that Tommy had graduated and I was duly grateful. Then
a sad report , I heard that Tommy had terminal cancer. Before I
could search him out, he came to see me. When he walked into my
office, his body was very badly wasted, and the long hair had all
fallen out as a result of chemotherapy. But his eyes were bright and
his voice was firm, for the first time, I believe. "Tommy, I've
thought about you so often. I hear you are sick !" I blurted out.
"Oh, yes, very sick. I have cancer in both lungs. It's a matter of
"Can you talk about it, Tom?"
"Sure, what would you like to know?"
"What's it like to be only twenty-four and dying?"
"We'll, it could be worse."
"Well, like being fifty and having no values or ideals. Like being
fifty and thinking that booze, seducing women, and making money are
the real 'biggies' in life."
I began to look through my mental file cabinet under "S" where I had
filed Tommy as strange. (It seems as though everybody I try to reject
by classification God sends back into my life to educate me.)
"But what I really came to see you about," Tom said, " is something
you said to me on the last day of class. (He remembered!) I asked
you if you thought I would ever find God, and you said, 'No!' which
surprised me. Then you said, 'But he will find you.' I thought about
that a lot, even though my search for God was hardly intense at that
time. But when the doctors removed a lump from my groin and told me
that it was malignant, then I got serious about locating God. And
when the malignancy spread into my vital organs, I really began
banging bloody fists against the bronze doors of heaven. But God did
not come out. In fact, nothing happened. Did you ever try anything
for a long time with great effort and with no success? You get
psychologically glutted, fed up with trying. And then you quit.
Well, one day I woke up, and instead of throwing a few more futile
appeals over that high brick wall to a God who may be or may not be
there, I just quit. I decided that I didn't really care . . . about
God, about an afterlife, or anything like that. I decided to spend
what time I had left doing something more profitable. I thought about
you and your class and I remembered something else you had said: 'The
essential sadness is to go through life without loving. But it would
be almost equally sad to go through life and leave this world without
ever telling those you loved that you had loved them. So I began
with the hardest one: my Dad. He was reading the newspaper when I
"Dad . . . "
"Yes, what?" he asked without lowering the newspaper.
"Dad, I would like to talk with you."
"I mean . . . It's really important."
The newspaper came down three slow inches. "What is it?"
"Dad, I love you. I just wanted you to know that."
Tom smiled at me and said with obvious satisfaction, as though he
felt a warm and secret joy flowing inside of him: "The newspaper
fluttered to the floor. Then my father did two things I could never
remember him ever doing before. He cried and he hugged me. And we
talked all night, even though he had to go to work the next morning.
It felt so good to be close to my father, to see his tears, to feel
his hug, to hear him say that he loved me."
"It was easier with my mother and little brother. They cried with me,
too, and we hugged each other, and started saying real nice things to
each other. We shared the things we had been keeping secret for so
many years. I was only sorry about one thing: that I had waited so
long. Here I was just beginning to open up to all the people I had
actually been close to.
Then, one day I turned around and God was there. He didn't come to me
when I pleaded with him. I guess I was like an animal trainer holding
out a hoop, 'C'mon, jump through. 'C'mon, I'll give you three
days . . . three weeks.' Apparently God does things in his own way
and at his own hour. But the important thing is that he was there.
He found me. You were right. He found me even after I stopped looking
"Tommy," I practically gasped, "I think you are saying something very
important and much more universal than you realize. To me, at least,
you are saying that the surest way to find God is not to make him a
private possession, a problem solver, or an instant consolation in
time of need, but rather by opening to love. You know, the Apostle
John said that. He said, "God is love, and anyone who lives in love
is living with God, and God is living in him."
"Tom, could I ask you a favor? You know, when I had you in class you
were a real pain. But (laughingly) you can make it all up to me now.
Would you come into my present Theology of Faith course and tell them
what you have just told me? If I told them the same thing it wouldn't
be half as effective as if you were to tell them."
"Oooh . . . I was ready for you, but I don't know if I'm ready for
"Tom, think about it. If and when you are ready, give me a call."
In a few days Tommy called, said he was ready for the class, that he
wanted to do that for God and for me. So we scheduled a date.
However, he never made it. He had another appointment, far more
important than the one with me and my class. Of course, his life was
not really ended by his death, only changed. He made the great step
from faith into vision. He found a life far more beautiful than the
eye of man has ever seen or the ear of man has ever heard or the mind
of man has ever imagined. Before he died, we talked one last
time. "I'm not going to make it to your class," he said.
"I know, Tom."
"Will you tell them for me? Will you... tell the whole world for me?"
"I will, Tom. I'll tell them. I'll do my best."
So, to all of you who have been kind enough to hear this simple
statement about love, thank you for listening. And to you, Tommy,
somewhere in the sunlit, verdant hills of heaven: "I told them,
Tommy . . . as best I could."
Copyright © 1998 - 2008 by Stephen J. Hall - Letters of
encouragement to Christians written by Stephen J. Hall unless
otherwise indicated. Notes from the Valley and Humor from the Valley
are meant to brighten your day and encourage you along the way. If
you are blessed by them, please feel free to make copies and pass
them along to others. If you have something you'd like to contribute
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please contact us at: steveh.rbis@...
Your love, God, is my song, and I'll sing it! I'm forever telling
everyone how faithful you are. I'll never quit telling the story of
your love . . . (Psalm 89:1-2 The Message)