Fingerprints on the Heart

hug_therapy“Everyone makes someone happy: some by arriving, others by leaving.” When I first heard this, I laughed because it is so true. And then I wondered, Which am I? Which are you?

Like fingerprints, each of us leaves behind evidence of our presence. Like fingerprints, we may not realize they’re being left behind—everywhere. Unlike fingerprints, the evidence we leave behind is on people’s hearts and lives, not their doorknobs.

Recently my pastor said, “Whatever Jesus touched, he transformed.” So true. He left fingerprints everywhere: fingerprints of healing, love, joy, and hope. Like the fragrance of bread baking in the morning or the lingering scent of rose petals, the beauty of a gentle and loving spirit makes life full-bodied and wonderful. The opposite is also true: a disapproving or angry spirit poisons the atmosphere like an unpleasant odor.

Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

The master of ceremonies and bridegroom at the wedding in Cana of Galilee didn’t know where the excellent wine came from, but the servants knew. They had, at Jesus’ request filled six huge jars with water and suddenly the water became wine. Did they ever forget that moment? (John 2:1-10)

Jesus and the disciples were caught in a vicious storm on the Sea of Galilee. Their boat was awash and almost capsizing when the disciples, although experienced fishermen, frantically awoke Jesus. He stood in the wildly pitching boat, quietly speaking to the storm. “Be quiet! Hush!” The wind and waves ceased. “Who is this man?” They were stunned and afraid. “Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Matthew 8:23-27)

“Suddenly, a man with leprosy approached him and knelt before him. ‘Lord,’ the man said, ‘if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.’ Jesus reached out and touched him. ’I am willing,’ he said. ’Be healed!’ And instantly the leprosy disappeared” (Matthew 8:2-3). Likely this man was universally shunned and abhorred. But Jesus touched him. Unforgettable.

Even during and after the inhumane flogging and brutal crucifixion Jesus left his fingerprints behind. “Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, truly this was the Son of God” (Matthew 27:54).

Whether it was the mothers of the children that Jesus welcomed, tousling their hair, (Matthew 19:13-14) or the woman caught in adultery to whom he said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more,” (John 8:1-11) Jesus’ purposeful kindness and warm welcome was an unexpected wind straight from heaven, refreshing everyone that was near him.

I remember a couple of my college professors who left fingerprints on my heart. Because of reasons I won’t go into here, I dropped out of college during my senior year. I had to get the signatures of each of my professors to complete the process. One professor in that Christian college was extremely disappointed in me, and said something to this effect.” You came here to serve others, and now you’re going to serve yourself?” The second professor was surprised, but not disappointed in me. He said, “I believe in you, David.” Those reactions are as fresh in my heart as the day those comments were made, and I’m eternally grateful to the second professor who valued me more than my decision.

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We don’t even have to be the ones involved in an interaction to be affected. Years ago, at Walt Disney World, we were waiting in line after a long day for the monorail to take us to the parking lot. Everyone was tired, but most of us were managing pretty well. One boy, about ten, said something to his father, who began yelling at him. We are all instantly uncomfortable, and horrified when the father cuffed the boy on the side of the head. The look of humiliation and anger on that boy’s face sticks with me still. That father didn’t only irreparably harm his son, but left a sickening cloud over the rest of the day for hundreds of people.

Interactions don’t have to be huge like these. Just a friendly smile in the cashier’s line at Walmart or a long stare at someone who’s obese can leave joy or pain in our wake. Thoughtless comments linger after we’ve left like a stench, but warm acceptance brings joy.

No Troubles, only Joys

Calvin-and hobbes--transmogrifing machineI miss Calvin and Hobbes. I especially loved Calvin’s transmogrifying machine. Really just a cardboard box, he used it to change himself—and any other willing subject—into dinosaurs, worms, or chickens. No request was too extreme or beyond the amazing ability of the transmogrifying machine to whisk away your present trouble by transforming you into whatever life form that didn’t have those problems.

Lots of times I’ve wished for that machine. Oh, not that cardboard box, of course. But something that would zap away my problems, pain, or circumstances. Or at least change them a little.

Recently I had a dream about a mother who had many handicapped children, some severely. Several were in wheelchairs, others suffered from cystic fibrosis, paralysis, or Down syndrome. Overwhelmed with the both the number of children and the complexity of handicaps, I sympathized with her and said I was sorry that she had so many burdens. She looked at me with genuine surprise and said “I have no burdens. Only joys.” I can still see her genuine smile and radiant eyes.

I am captivated by the radiant joy of that dream woman with all of the children. She wasn’t just enduring the handicapped children; she was cherishing and enjoying them. Her joy came from inside, a deep artesian well. I have known real people like her, people whose spirits weren’t crushed by pain or handicap, but rose above it somehow. Instead of wishing for a transmogrifying machine to zap away their problems, they attain a new level of life, as though their problems become stairs to a higher plane of living.

The apostle Paul wanted to escape his troubles, too. He suffered with a recurring problem that was very painful. He called it his “thorn in the flesh.” When he begged God to remove it, God replied that, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). No mention of an easy exit.

Difficulties place us in a hallway from which two doors open. We can choose the door that leads us to God and a deeper understanding through the pain or we can take the door marked Exit which in reality leaves us wallowing with questions like “If only…” and “Why me?”

God’s goal is always to move us beyond the physical to the spiritual when true victory is won. God is eternally present. No victories are won in the past or the future. He is the source of overflowing hope, joy, love, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, perseverance, and goodness. Every day He gives me occasions for gladness and opportunities to draw closer to Him. Through pain he opens doors of opportunity to learn more about Him, to meditate upon His character, and to spend time with Him. Spending time with God is the greatest gift and the one we most often squander. It’s the gift nobody seems to want.

Election Day Thoughts

I am thinking today about Percy Bysshe Shelley’s sonnet, “Ozymandias.”

“I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—’Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.'”

Shelley–and the Bible–remind us that even the mightiest human kingdoms are temporary. I remember this as I ponder the direction of our nation. I celebrate being anchored in eternal truth and remember that when Jesus says (in Revelation) “I make all things new” He is not talking about this election…or this nation…or any nation. In God’s Kingdom there is no deceit or narcissistic power-grabbing; but what our hearts long for: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.