Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Sometimes, God's Gift is an Empty Box

For Christmas this year, God gave me an empty cardboard box. Doesn't sound like a very good present, does it? (Unless, of course, you're a 3-year-old who likes to build box forts, or a very curious puppy.)

But for me, it was the right gift at the right time. Lately, I've wondered, "Do I have any faith whatsoever? Do I even have a mustard-seed worth of faith?" And my own answer to those questions was: Maybe not.

That's because my own faith hadn't been tried and tested lately--or at least, not that I was aware of. Then God gave me that empty box.

A couple months ago, I learned about a church-run program that helps women break their addictions to drugs. Some were battling against heroine, meth, and the like. Others were fighting addictions to codeine, Valium, and other prescription drugs. And all were squeezing out every bit of their faith, doing their best to keep believing God could help them overcome. Day by day. Hour by hour.

As I listened to the stories of a few of these women, their deep trust in God blew me away. I remembered how I'd had to trust God in the past. Through tough times, my faith got stronger. At that moment, I prayed one of those crazy prayers, "God, I want to trust you more. Just like these women do, every day."

Ever prayed like that, then wished you hadn't? I'm usually afraid to ask God for strength in any particular area of my life. It's almost like I'm asking him, "God, please send some bad or uncomfortable situation so I can learn from it." And I wondered what awful mechanism God might use--plague, plight, or pain--to make my faith stronger.

What a puny, human brain I have, to think God only could use some "punishment" to teach me! Well, he sent me an empty box.

Let me explain. I'd found out the women from the drug rehabilitation program loved Christian music. I used to be a Christian music reviewer, so I had tons of CDs. When I heard about their desire for music, it was a no-brainer: I would donate some CDs from my personal collection to their program.

I selected perhaps a dozen CDs, and that was gonna be that. Then I got to thinking, "Hmm, I wonder what Christianbook.com might have on sale." Again, I know a little bit about Christian music, so it didn't take me long to search their catalog for the good deals. I found some great stuff in their clearance section priced at 99 cents and less, so I ordered a bunch of CDs. And that was gonna be that. All I needed was a cardboard box so I could mail them off.

The Christianbook.com CDs arrived in a cardboard box. So I figured, "Hey, God even sent me a free box! How convenient!" But after placing my old CDs inside with the new ones, about two-thirds of the box was still empty. I stuffed packing paper inside, which just made my donation look even littler. Pitiful.

There seemed to be two options: 1) fill this box, or 2) get another box. With the first option, I'd need to donate every Christian CD I owned to fill up that 12-by-15 inch box. And the second option, well, that just seemed like a cop-out. But donating all my CDs? That would be a big, painful sacrifice. I'd lent CDs out and given some away over the years, used them for writing inspiration, and just enjoyed listening to them in my car. We don't get good reception on any Christian radio stations out here by the beach, so if I gave away all my Christian music, that would mean I'd have ... nothing.

I was willing to make the sacrifice. Yet in my heart, I felt that wasn't the point of this box. It seemed God was telling me, "I'll fill it up. You'll just have to trust me."

I sent an e-mail out to friends and family, asking them to donate Christian CDs. And then, I waited. I'd given everyone a deadline of December 10 to give me CDs for the box. The deadline came and went. On December 11, my "box of faith," as I'd named it, had a mere four more CDs in it.

"Be patient," God told me. "I told you I'd fill the box, and I will."

But when? Surely the box could get filled if I waited 10 years. I wanted to give these CDs to the women's program before Christmas, and that seemed impossible. It would take another 50-some CDs. And where were all those gonna come from? Would they just fall from the sky?

On December 11, I almost abandoned the box of faith. Yet something inside me--something very small--told me to hang in there a little longer.

On December 12, someone gave me three CDs. On December 13, several others gave 35 more. I thought, "Wow, God might really do this!" On December 17, another person brought another five. Now, there was only space for eight more. I decided I'd grab eight from my own collection. But God told me, "Just wait. Remember, this is about you trusting me."

Last night, I went to my parents' house to pick up some CDs my uncle had dropped off earlier in the day. As we popped them into the box--one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight--even I was a bit astonished to see the box of faith had been completely, perfectly filled to capacity.

I'll be taking 86 Christian music CDs to the drug rehabilitation program this week. I know the women there will be thrilled to get this gift for Christmas.

And I received a special Christmas present, too. It was an empty box. I never told anyone the size of the box or how many CDs were required to fill it. It was filled on faith: my weak, imperfect, tiny faith. It was filled by a God who's bigger than my doubts, bigger than my smallness. And so much bigger than an empty box.

To ponder:
1) What is your "box"? In your life, what things seem too big for God to handle?

2) Are you ever afraid to ask God to make you stronger? What causes that fear?

3) Do you believe spiritual growth always has to be a painful process? Think about some positive ways God has helped you to grow. (For example, perhaps you've looked at a rainbow in the sky or watched a beautiful sunset and realized something about God's character. Or perhaps you heard some encouraging words in your pastor's sermon, or got an unexpected hug at just the right moment and knew it came from God.)


Anonymous said...

Absolutely awesome Holly, I am so blessed that your mom felt compelled to share this with me. Thank you for your faithfullness and may God continue to richly bless you and all that you do. Blessings, Paulette

Unknown said...

I am soooo proud of you! I am so glad that you are walking in faith with God. "He" is so good, loving, and the best friend than you will ever find here on earth. Keep up the faith and "He" amaze you in what things "He" can accomplish through you. I love you, but God loves you even more! MOM