*a guest devotional post by author Jennifer Slattery*
It was crazy hot. The kind of hot that makes your muscles feel like pulled taffy, your skin tight and tingly. Itchy. And it’d been a long day. A long three days, actually, and we still had four more to go.
So when, a few hours before an open-air crusade, my daughter chose to sit on the cement steps rather than play soccer with the rest of the mission team and a group of local El Salvadorans, I understood. And yet, I wondered… was she behaving selfishly? Should I force her to get up and engage? We were on a mission trip, after all. Wasn’t that what it was all about—dying to self, spending yourself completely for the sake of another?
That’s a hard line to find, and often, I worry that my momma heart—my nurturing and compassionate side—overrides my God-given responsibility to teach and to train. Other times, I wonder if, in my determination to train, I risk missing the big picture that God is trying to do in my daughter’s life.
On this day in June of 2011, I chose compassion, or perhaps compliance, over training. Or so I thought. What I didn’t realize was, sitting in that hot, El Salvadoran sun, God was laying the groundwork for what would later become a beautiful outlet of service and praise.
To back things up a bit…
Earlier that week, our team had stopped at a local mall to get much needed medical supplies—think Imodium and Pepto! While there, some of us did some shopping. My daughter found a lovely bracelet made from twine.
On the night of the crusade, whenever I glanced her way, I noticed she was looking at that bracelet, turning it over, tugging on it, running her fingers along the threads… as if she were studying it. But I didn’t think much of it, nor did anyone else.
Well, that’s not entirely true. Others from our team did appear to notice, and based on the looks on a few of their faces, they’d formed judgments regarding her behavior. I assumed they wondered why she was sitting by herself, playing around with a $2 bracelet, when she could be playing soccer—serving in their way.
But no one said anything, and the night wore on, as did the next, and soon, we all returned home to our clean homes, full pantries, and hot showers. And that afternoon my daughter spent inspecting her bracelet was quickly forgotten.
By me. She, however, hadn’t forgotten, nor had God.
Flash forward a few months. One afternoon, she came to me and extended her hand. Nestled in her palm was an intricate bracelet made of twine and beads.
Looking up at me with tender, green eyes, she asked, “Do you think the homeless women down at Takin’ it to the Streets would like this?”
A lump lodged in my throat, and tears blurred my vision as the memory of El Salvador rushed back—the memory of my artistic, problem solving, engineer-like daughter studying that simple yet beautiful two-dollar bracelet.
Wrapping an arm around her shoulder, I nodded. “I think they’d love it.”
“I want to make one for each of them,” she said.
And she did. 30 in all, in under a week, each bracelet made with love and care. Then, the following Friday, we went down to Takin’ it to the Streets, an Omaha Metro ministry that serves the working poor and homeless. While there, I watched my daughter go from one dirty, beaten-down woman to the next, offering to them her treasure.
Because, as she put it, she wanted them to feel beautiful.
This gift God began on that hot El Salvadoran day didn’t end at the homeless ministry. The following summer, she and her friend raised funds, largely through jewelry making and selling, to go on a mission trip to Jamaica where they loved on disabled orphans.
But this precious act of service God began in the summer of 2011 didn’t stop there. Now she’s determined to pass her gifting on, and in so doing, she longs to bring hope to at risk kids. To give them a sense of achievement. To bring something beautiful into their ugliness.
Starting Tuesday, she’ll be teaching art at the Hope Center, an Omaha Metro ministry that brings loves on deeply wounded children. Her first project? Teaching them to make friendship bracelets.
And it all began that hot, late-afternoon day when she chose to sit it out, to “play” with that $2 bracelet, while the majority of her team members kicked around a soccer ball.
And here’s what I learned from this experience. God has a plan for my child, and He’s working out that plan, even now, often in the most unexpected ways. I have to be careful not to get in His way, not to allow my ideas on what appropriate service looks like to staunch the fire He’s birthing within her. As her mom, I need to give her the freedom to explore and follow God’s lead, even when I don’t understand.
What about you? Is it easy for you to cherish and nurture the unexpected and maybe unconventional gifts God’s given your child? Do you see them as gifts that one day could be used to further His kingdom? What are some ways you can help them use their unique skills and passions for God’s glory?
We can all learn from each other! Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Jennifer Slattery writes soul-stirring fiction for New Hope Publishers, a publishing house passionate about bringing God’s healing grace and truth to the hopeless. She also writes for Crosswalk.com, Internet Café Devotions, and the group blog, Faith-filled Friends. When not writing, Jennifer loves going on mall dates with her teenage daughter and coffee dates with her handsome railroader husband.
Visit with Jennifer online at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud.