The Olive Press
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. ~ Hebrews 4:12 (NIV)
I will never forget the first time I saw a Scripture verse and it actually meant something to me… when God spoke to me through His Word, and I heard Him loud and clear. As usual, His timing was perfect.
It was a few months after September 11, 2001, during the holiday season. I was alone in the mall, shopping for the few Christmas presents that I would buy that year. At that time in my life, being in the mall was unbearably painful. Shopping was agonizing. Everywhere I turned, I was blasted by reminders of Jim: his favorite clothing stores, Structure and The Gap… the kiosk where he had just bought his new cell phone… Mrs. Field's cookies, which he could never resist… Lenscrafters, a frequent stop because his eyeglasses always needed some kind of adjustment. I was only in the mall for an hour, but it was excruciating, and I couldn't wait to leave.
On my way out, there was no escaping the Salvation Army guy. A large group of people was ahead of me, and the exit became congested as they all fumbled for change. I let out a heavy, aggravated sigh. Get me out of here. I hate Christmas. I hate my life. I hate the world. I just want to go home and cry for the rest of the day.
I reached into my pocket for the car keys and discovered a dollar bill I had stuffed in there a few days before. The crowd in front of me finally cleared out, and I put my dollar bill into the distinctive red donation can. The Salvation Army man smiled and thanked me. I grinned back, instinctively, and he handed me the classic red flower and a small card. I clutched them both in my fist along with my keys and made a mad dash for my car.
The emotional shopping experience and the aching emptiness of the holiday season were too much to bear. I remember walking through the parking lot holding my breath and looking down at the ground so the other shoppers couldn't see the strain on my face as I tried not to explode into tears. Don't lose it. Don't lose it. Hold it in just one more minute, almost there. I finally reached my car, struggled with the keys that were now tangled with the red flower, got in, slammed the door, and took a deep breath. I desperately needed a distraction from the pain. I looked down at the small card that the Salvation Army man had given me. On it was a picture of the American flag, a silhouette of the towers bearing the words "9-11-01…We Will Not Forget You," and this Scripture verse:
"For I know the plans I have for you… plans to give you hope and a future" (Jeremiah 29:11).
It was the first time in my life - ever - that I had taken notice of a Bible verse. Sure, I had seen Bible verses before… but I never paid attention to them. This time was different. This time I actually felt like I had a dialogue going with God. This time He broke the silence and spoke to me - through a little piece of cardboard with some powerful stuff written on it. His words - so unexpected - were His response to my despair. They went straight to the very core of my soul and planted themselves there.
This realization - that God Himself had just spoken to me - became the drop of water that broke the dam. I sat in my car, looking at the Salvation Army card and crying until my tear ducts once again ran dry. I knew God was there beside me. He heard every sob, saw every tear.
I keep that Salvation Army card in my wallet to this day.
Because of that verse, I actually opened the Bible and started reading it. At that time, my post-9/11 anger and bitterness were beginning to cool off. Family and friends continually offered spiritual support, but I was not always receptive to it. That Scripture verse changed things. Funny how God knows exactly when you're ready to hear Him. He knows when you've hit bottom. He knows when you're so desperate you'll try anything to find answers - even read a Book that you've never had any interest or desire to open before…
Now I can't put it down.