Turning the pages of the photo album, my nephew looked up grinning. “This is an awesome graduation gift, Aunt Marybeth. Thanks so much for making it.” The snapshots inside revealed fun times my family shared with him during his four years attending a college not far from our town.
Because he spent his childhood in Southern California, we mainly saw him during holidays and at family gatherings. As much as we loved seeing our numerous nieces and nephews, big group settings rarely offered the chance to get to know them individually. When he’d chosen to come to Northern California for college, we were thrilled. As I made our nephew’s photo album I realized how much closer we’d become to him while he was in college.
His four years at Berkeley flew by, but as I looked at the many pictures of him with our family, it was evident he’d become part of our regular lives. He’d been there as my kids grew from little boys to gangly teenagers. We’d shared meals, birthdays, and other fun times waterskiing and mountain biking. He had even recuperated on our couch after knee surgery three different times. We’d met his friends, had been to his apartment and knew about the activities he was involved with at school. We’d talked about challenges he’d faced, prayed for him and watched him grow into a godly man.
My husband and I love our nieces and nephews, but circumstances have not always allowed us to get to know all of them this well. If I could, I would make a photo album for each of them, but I can’t create pictures from thin air. The only way I can do it is if they’ve been in close proximity and have allowed us the privilege of getting to know them.
There are some clear parallels between my story and the relationship each of us has with God. Like our big family gatherings, many of us enjoy God in the presence of others at church, Bible study or small group. However we may not think to include Him in the more intimate and personal parts of our lives. Yet when we choose to draw near to Him, He reciprocates with enthusiasm because He loves us individually and intimately. He longs to be part of our lives. Scripture tells us “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” (James 4:2, NIV) Like the relationship we developed with our nephew, our intimacy with God deepens by having more points of contact with Him. As you look back on different moments of your life, can you see where you’ve welcomed His presence and how it’s blessed you?
You probably remember the poem “Footprints in the Sand.” In it, a person looks back on scenes in his life and sees two sets of footprints in the sand, one belonging to him and the other to the Lord. But he also notices that during the most difficult times in his life, there is only one set of footprints. Distressed, he questions why God abandoned him during his darkest times. God replies, “During your times of trial and suffering when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”
As much as I like this poem, it’s not the way I want my life to be. When I look back on my mental photo album, I want God to appear on every page. I hope it will be obvious He was there because I was intentional about including Him. I don’t want Him to be an invisible presence hovering in the background– I want Him there beside me.
When I need strength, wisdom, encouragement or peace, it’s good to remember how God was there for me in the past. In the photo album of my mind, I see Him comforting me as I cried into my pillow my freshman year in college. I picture Him sitting at the dining room table as I prayed with my boyfriend (now husband) for the right timing to get engaged. He was an obvious presence at our wedding and later in the hospital when each of our boys was born. He met us in the early mornings as we pleaded for wisdom about whether I should return to work after the birth of our son. When a mortgage broker tried to convince us to buy a house we couldn’t afford, God was there whispering “no” and averting disaster. He was with us when we wept for family members who died and when we celebrated the miraculous healing of others. In joy, sorrow and everything in between, He has been present. The snapshots that include Him have become more numerous with every passing year. Each situation has strengthened our relationship with Him and only made me want more of Him in my life.
I realize that many people may not have this same experience. There are some who came to faith later in life. Others saw God as a distant figure to be revered or feared, but did not understand they could have a personal relationship with Him until they were much older. That’s why the “Footprints in the Sand” poem is so reassuring. It reminds us that He was there, even when we didn’t realize it (which is awesome). This is a great starting place, but hopefully it will spur us on to want more of Him in all circumstances.
Maybe you accepted Christ as your Savior long ago but you haven’t included God in your life much since then. Maybe you haven’t ever asked Jesus to be your Lord. In either case, it’s not too late. Let today be the start of a new focus. Include Jesus in your days. Invite Him to speak to you and to be present in the events of your life, both large and small. He’s ready and waiting, all He needs is an invitation from you.
“Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.” (Revelation 3:20, NLT)
The song below is the musical version of what I’ve just described. Click on the link to hear “Through All of It” by Colton Dixon. (If you follow this blog and receive this post in your e-mail inbox, you will need to go to http://www.lifeinfocusblog.com to click on the link and view the song. It’s worth it!)
Click here to read the three different versions and authors of the “Footprints in the Sand” poem: