If there is one thing I have learned over the years, it is that when you obey God you will often be asked to give up a ton. Over the course of my husband getting through medical school and residency I have been brought to what I have thought was my total breaking point. I have felt like I couldn't give up anymore or sacrifice another minute...
During medical school we were forced to walk away from our home because in order to stay in it meant Tim would have to quit. There were lonely times when I thought quitting may be a viable option but God always carried us beyond the point where we didn't think we could take anymore.
We came to the point where medical school was behind us and I foolishly thought life would be 'easier.'
Ha ha... Twenty-seven weeks pregnant with baby number five we moved 2,400 miles across the country to begin residency. I would love to say it was 'easy,' but friends I felt incredibly lonely, isolated and broke. We were far away from everyone and everything we knew and my husband was working what seemed to be non-stop. We didn't see him much, we could barely pay for necessities and I was emotionally and mentally exhausted.
So many Christmas's had come and gone without us being able to purchase a single gift for our kids. During our second year of residency the bill collectors were waiting no longer and began to sue us for every extra cent we had. About ten days before Christmas, Tim had a day off from work and I was so excited to share with him that we could drive to pick up each of the kids something small. I managed to shove away $200 over the months. We went on a date to purchase our kiddos something to put under the tree.
As we sat in the clothing store parking lot, my phone rang. As soon as I answered, I immediately wished I hadn't. "Mrs. Howes, you must make a $195 payment on your outstanding debt immediately or we will file paperwork with the court in the morning" said the man on the other end.
My heart dropped. I knew he was serious because we had so many creditors take us to court and we couldn't afford another one. So with tears in my eyes I read the numbers from my debit card. My husband clutched my leg as we sat in the cold and knew all of our money was once again gone.
I hung up the phone and cried. We processed the pain and decided we would talk with the kids when they arrived home after school. I felt like we'd had this same conversation so many times with them and dreaded saying those words, "I'm so sorry, but we can't afford..." I dreaded it so badly that I decided to not do it again.
When they came in the door, I sat all of them down and shared what happened. I also asked them to look around. I asked them to look in our fridge and to look at each other.... We were no longer prisoners to the words "We can't afford..." and all of us felt incredibly blessed that our rent was paid, we had power, heat and food. We realized how blessed we were. Just when I thought I couldn't give up anymore to say 'yes' to God he calmed my heart and filled me with joy.
Our kids said "It's okay mom. It really is." Somehow they understood the big picture. They understood and accepted that they wouldn't open any gifts on Christmas morning. They comforted me and with their hugs reminded me that we were on this journey together.
Seeing how understanding and unselfish they had been for so many years broke me. Later that evening I went to my room and just cried. I cried an ugly cry. I cried that kind of cry that no one should ever see...
The next day I received a phone call from a friend I had met at a conference I attended the previous summer. She said, "Nicole, I'm working on something for your family. I want to make sure you have gifts this year and the Lord has asked me to respond" (She didn't know any of the events that had just taken place). Her husband had been out of work for quite some time but she was willing to say 'yes' when God stirred her heart. This dear friend sent out an email to all her friends and the response was overwhelming. She told me she didn't know exactly what the Lord was up to but told me to hold on for something awesome.
Over the next couple of days bit by bit she began to tell me some of what her friends were doing. People, normal everyday people were saying yes to God and reminding us that he hadn't forgotten about our family. God had stirred the hearts of so many and my friend called and said "Nicole, one of my friends wants to bless your family with a night in a hotel on Christmas Eve." Tim actually had Christmas day off this year and to experience this blew us away!
|Family photo at the hotel|
A few days later, early in the morning, I received a text from a number I didn't recognize. The message read, "Hello Nicole. This is your Christmas elf. I want to get your kids Christmas wish list. Tell me a little about each of them and something they really want." I sat up in my bed and woke Tim up. I cried and couldn't believe what I was reading.
As I cried I heard the Lord speak to my heart, "Thank you for saying 'yes' so many years ago. Thank you for giving up your comfort and security to pursue my best. Thank you for being obedient. I haven't forgotten about you for a single minute. I'm carrying you. I'm taking care of my kids."
We were completely overwhelmed as parents. We were overwhelmed by the love and obedience of others.
We told our kids about the hotel and they were on cloud nine. We decided not to share anything about gifts because we weren't sure of the details and wanted it to be a surprise.
The day before we were scheduled to leave I realized that we had $4 in our bank account, an empty gas tank and the hotel was 80 miles away. I didn't tell anyone but I was scared. Again, I cried... "Lord, I don't want to tell the kids we can't go. Help."
That evening my mom received a message that read, "Merry Christmas! Go check your mailbox!" My mom immediately went outside and came in crying. Inside the envelope was $80 and a $25 Walmart gift card. Again the Lord provided!!! Through the obedience of yet another person we had gas money to make the trip.
On the morning of Christmas Eve we loaded up our kids and headed for an unexpected Christmas adventure.
|Totally shocked by their gifts|
|New bike he wanted for so long|
I tell you this story because I have seen God show up in some of the most hopeless situations. I have seen God use the obedience of others to encourage our hearts. I have seen God provide when there seemed to be no possible way.
Often we think what we have to offer someone else can't compare with what the next person can offer.
Let me tell you friend.... You aren't called to be someone else. You are called to be obedient to God and what He asks you to do.
The person who gave the $80 and gift card thought it was nothing. They thought it wouldn't make a dent on our Christmas... We wouldn't have been able to leave our house without them saying 'yes' to Gods stirring of their hearts. They didn't know any of the story that was playing out, yet they responded.
|Modeling her new outfit she received. |
She may try and fit into those boots until she's 20.
My friend didn't have a lot of money and her husband was unemployed, but she had an obedient heart. God asked her to take a step of faith and get the ball rolling. She had no clue that God would use her obedience to encourage and speak to this mommas heart. She had no idea how desperate we felt. The people who gave didn't know that they were investing in a family that said 'yes' to God so many years before and felt like they were holding on by a thread.... BUT GOD DID!!!
It is never your job to solve someone else's problems or provide for them financially but you will be greatly rewarded for your obedience. If God speaks to your heart and it is within your power to respond... Respond! No matter how big or how small... Be obedient!
|Opening his gift (gift card for a basket ball hoop)|
Perhaps God is asking you to write a text, send a card or pick up the phone. Maybe it's to bake cookies, take a meal or buy 'that' family some gifts. If God stirs your heart, respond.
The friendships our family has gained as a result of this magical Christmas are eternal. The gifts were amazing but the love, thought and continued support is sustaining. We have learned over the years that people need people.
People need people because God uses His people to encourage, buildup and love others.
Will you allow Him to use you today? Will you say 'yes' to God and trust that He is already working out the details.
Saying 'yes' to God (entering medical school) was terrifying... But the relationships built, generosity of others and love of God has revealed something so incredibly valuable.
God delights in the sacrifice of His kids.
He delights in you!
God wants to use your obedience in the life of someone else today.
You are a valuable part of someone else's story. Allow God to write something beautiful......