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Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Young ‘Vangelist

Gripping the stack of envelopes in my left hand, I began to shut the small door of my mailbox when I heard the cheerful voice of my four-year-old redhead. Deni* knew no strangers. “Mornin’ mister. Do ya know Jesus?”

I froze with the key still in the tiny lock. Turning my head, I saw two-year-old Jamie* holding onto her sister’s hand, beaming a toothy smile up at the startled man. Jamie never spoke in public, but Deni had no such inhibitions.

“Uh, sure I do, kid,” said the stranger, glancing around the room. “That’s the guy who was born in a manger. We celebrate his birthday at Christmastime.”

“But, is Jesus in your heart? Did ya ask Him yet?” Deni beamed up at the man, tilting her head to the right.

I locked the box and stood, but held my position at the wall of mailboxes.  I didn’t want to interrupt. Both Deni and Jamie waited for his response.

“Uh…er…I-I-I’m in a hurry, little girl. I don’t really have time to talk right now.” The color rising on the stranger’s neck and cheeks matched his red plaid shirt.

“Okay, Mister,” said Deni. “Bye.”

Though she remained silent, Jamie lifted her hand to wave her goodbye along with Deni. At this point, I joined the smiling little cherubs.

I waited a moment for one of the girls to mention the interaction with the guy, but neither did. Before I had a chance to raise my own questions, Jamie pulled me close to ask if I would buy some cookies at the grocery store. She’d remembered our next stop.

Arriving at the town’s only supplier of nutritional staples, I held open the car door. “Remember not to touch anything, girls. Stay close to me.”

“Me ‘n’ Jamie knows, Mama Dar. We don’t touch, but we can talk if we don’t yell?”

“Yup, that’s right, Deni,” I said, taking hold of Jamie’s hand. “What kind of cookies do you want, Jamie?”

Oweos!” A little jig accompanied her reply. Nevertheless, she kept hold of my hand as we walked.

Deni held the big store door open for us, greeting the lady who followed us in before entering herself. I grabbed one of the carts and retrieved my shopping list from my coat pocket.

Glancing up at the big clock, I recognized that I’d taken longer with my errands than I’d expected. I needed to hurry. “Deni? Do you remember where the bread is?” She nodded while pointing to the right store aisle. “I’m going to keep Jamie with me, but would you please bring two loaves of bread over to put in our cart?”

“Yeah!” Rushing off before her Mama Dar could remember that the kids should stay with her and not touch, Deni made a bee-line for the bread.

I heard her greeting other customers along the way, but soon my little helper placed the bread in the cart. “Sumtin else?”

“Jamie wanna hep, too,” said the African-American cutie. “Cookies?”

I remembered I’d find the next item on my list at the end of the cookie aisle. “Hmm? Gathering groceries is a big girl’s job,” I said bending down to look Jamie in the eye as I spoke. “Do you think you and Deni could fetch the Oreos without touching any of the other cookies?” Two little heads bobbed up and down. “And, you won’t open the package; you’ll just bring it to put in the cart?” More energetic bobbing. “Okay. Let’s go over to that aisle, and you two can get the cookies.”

Lifting the items on my list from the shelf, I kept an eye on the girls at the other end. How carefully they retrieved one package of Oreos. They perused the other cookie options, discussing the merits of each as they slowly made their way back to the cart.

If the line moved along, we should be on time for lunch at Carroll’s. How kind of my dear friend to watch Baby Susie* while I did my errands. And, offer us all lunch besides? I figured the least I could do was to be on time, so her kids weren’t waiting for us to eat.

“We go to the door?” Deni said, holding on to her younger sister’s hand.

“Sure. Don’t go outside, though. Stay out of the way of the people coming in and out.”

The check-out stands in the small grocery stood near the front door. I could easily keep an eye on the girls as I waited my turn. Deni loved watching the human traffic through the large door; Jamie just loved being with Deni.

“Can I asks ya sumtin?”

I looked up from my checkbook to see Deni talking to a couple that had just come into the store. The duo smiled back at the girls.

“Sure you can, Honey,” said the woman. “Do you need help finding something?”

“Nope. We’s done shoppin’,” said the freckled-face preschooler.

Jamie said nothing but pointed over to me; the couple followed her gaze. I smiled and waved.

Me wanna know if Jesus’s in your heart,” Deni said, brows furrowed and lips a thin line.

“Oh my! Now, that’s a question we’ve not been asked in a grocery store.” The lady laughed. Her husband chuckled but said nothing.

“It’s ‘portant. Jesus loves ya and wanna forgive ya, too. All’s ya gotta do is tell Him you’s sorry. If ya ask Jesus, Him come to live in you heart.”

Again, I stood back, waiting and praying for the little girl and the couple. Okay, maybe I felt a little out-of-place, too, I had no idea what to do.

“Hmm? Well, you’ve really given us something to think about today, Honey,” said the lady.

“I reckon you’re ‘bout the youngest evangelist I’ve ever come across, Missy,” said the man, reaching out for a handshake.

“Me’s Deni and her’s Jamie,” Deni corrected the man. The girls smiled and shook the tall stranger’s hand.

As the couple moved forward, I joined the little group. “Hello!” I said to the couple. “We need to go, girls. Carroll and the kids are waiting for us.”

“Is she serious?” The man directed his question to me.

“Absolutely! She wants everyone to know about Jesus.”

The couple smiled and headed for the shopping carts.

Back in the car on the way to Carroll’s, Deni asked the question she’d been chewing on since we left the store. “The man said I a vangel. What that, Mama Dar? It bad?”

“Oh my, no, Deni,” I said. “He said you are an evangelist. Evan-gel-ist. That’s a very good thing for the man to say.”

“It is?”

“Yes, Sweetheart. An evangelist is a person who tells people the good news about Jesus.”

“So everybody a vangelist?”

I laughed. “No, but we should be.” I reached across the console and gave her shoulder a squeeze. “I’m so proud of you, Deni. You just keep asking people and telling them about Jesus.”

Jamie began to sing her favorite song, so the two of us joined in. “Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so.”

Honestly, I never said a word to Deni about telling people in the streets, stores, or post office about Jesus. She just did it. I found it as amazing as each of the people did. There can be no other explanation than this: Deni loved Jesus and knew He loved her, too.

*Name changed.

You might enjoy reading Deni’s first time of sharing Jesus—with a three-year-old playmate:

Story thread begins here: With Just One Phone Call

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Jamie’s Prayer

The sound that pulls every mother out of a deep sleep hit me like a rocket: the pitter-patter of two-year-old bare feet on the wooden floor. I leapt from my cozy bundle of warmth, sprinting for the bathroom door I’d neglected to open.

Every night, Jamie* left her bed to go to the bathroom. She seemed to manage the entire event without waking upunless I failed to reopen the door Deni* closed. When that happened, I woke up to the sound of the little African-American thudding into the door—suddenly fully awake and crying.

For some reason, my four-year-old foster daughter wanted the bathroom door shut before she went to bed. Roaming boogie men coming out of the toilet? I had no idea why this activity needed to be part of her bedtime ritual; it just did. No problem. I opened it on my way to bed.

Whenever I heard the nighttime footfalls, I rousted my mind a second to ask myself if I opened the door. On those nights with a negative answer, I shot out of that bed to get to the door ahead of Jamie.

On this particular night, my hand hit the door one second before Jamie’s pajama-clad body walked through it. I backed over to the bathtub, watching to be sure the petite ebony beauty could get her pj bottoms down and lift her body onto the toilet. When she’d accomplished this, I sat on the edge of the empty tub, waiting for her to finish.

To my utter surprise, Jamie opened her eyes and looked right at me. I smiled but said nothing. With her baby sister asleep not far from the bathroom door, I feared entering into a conversation with my little Chatty-Cathy may wake Susie*.

As the next scene played out, I looked on in amazement. Jamie bowed her head and clasped her hands before the slender body, still teetering on the edge of the open toilet seat. “Jesus, please forgib Jamie of duh stuff I did wong. I sorwy. I weely is. I want You to come into Jamie’s heart, to live dere fowever. Amen.”

I quickly closed my gaping jaw as Jamie looked up and over to me. She smiled, saying, “Dere. Dat’s done. Jesus in Jamie’s heart now.”

I couldn’t speak. The tiny child wiped her bare bottom, slid off the toilet seat, and yanked up her pj bottoms in what looked like one smooth move. Dumbfounded at what’d just happened, I sat glued to the edge of the bathtub.

I calculated her age in a whisper. “Jamie is two years and…uh…seven months old. How in the world could she know what she’s doing?” I decided the child had been dreaming and probably wouldn’t recall the event in the morning. That had to be it, didn’t it?

Busy getting the day underway the following morning, I forgot all about Jamie’s middle-of-the-night surprise. Jamie loved waking up, kicking into high gear by the time she’d danced her way to the kitchen to see about breakfast. I noticed the extra-long smiles and loved the spontaneous leg hugging but missed the middle-of-the-night connection.

Later that morning, the image of Jamie’s toilet-bowl prayer popped back into my mind. I laughed and called to Jamie. “Hey, Princess, do you remember anything special about last night?”

Jamie’s grin filled her small face, bobbing her head like one of those goofy dolls teens put in their jalopy’s back window long ago.

“Can you tell me about it?”

“Jamie asked Jesus in her heart, and He came.”

“Yes, that’s what you prayed but why?”

Jamie began to giggle. “Oh, Mama Da. You know. Cuz Jesus forgibs kids when we asks. Jesus lubs us, too. He want to live inside kids’ hearts, just like gwoanups. Jesus lives in here,” Jamie said tapping one delicate finger against her chest. Make Jamie so happy.”

Undeniably, the precious little girl did know what she was doing. I scooped her up in my arms and swung her around--an activity she loved. “It makes Mama Dar so happy, too, Jamie! Jesus loves you, and so do I!”

Jamie gave me a quick squeeze, laughed, and squirmed her way out of my grasp. Kids got stuff to do, you know? Can’t stay there hugging grownups when there’s books to read and a dog needin’ pettin’, right?

I never discovered the reason Jamie prayed what we know as the “Sinner’s Prayer” that night in the bathroom. Deni said she didn’t mention anything to her sister about Jesus. Perhaps, watching Sally’s experience earlier, Jamie’s young heart felt the Lord’s touch and her own need for forgiveness? Maybe, Jesus showed the child through a dream that He wanted to live in her heart, too?

I only know that her experience had been as real as my own. Who am I to say a child who has yet to live even three years on this planet can’t ask Jesus to forgive her and come live in her heart? She did, and He did; that’s all there is to the story.

*Name changed.

Original story thread began here: With Just One Phone call

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Surprising Answer to Question

I’d just opened my mouth to reply to Phyllis* when singing, dancing three-year-old Sally* interrupted. Noticing her daughter’s lively entrance, Phyllis said, “What’s got into you, girl? Carrying on like that. What’s made you so happy this afternoon?”

“Jesus came into my heart today, Mommy! He really did. Jesus’s in my heart right now,” the little girl said as she pointed to her chest.

“Oh yeah? Well, go get your coat and shoes on. It’s time to go home.”

“She’s not kidding, Phyllis,” I said. “This morning Sally prayed and asked Jesus to forgive her of things she’s done wrong and come into her heart. I wish you could have seen the joy she had as soon as she said ‘Amen.’ It was really impressive to see the difference in your girl.”

“Humph! I usually tell her she’s got the devil in her heart; she can be an ornery kid.”

“Now, when she’s acting up, you can remind her that Jesus can help her.”

Sally’s mother’s laughter didn’t sound like she believed me. I prayed Jesus’d remind the pretty little blonde girl.

Finally, I had the opportunity to speak privately with my four-year-old about what led up to Sally’s request for Jesus to come into her heart. Baby Susie* and two-year-old Jamie* had already dropped off to sleep when I noticed Deni* setting her shoes by the piano bench.

“Deni? I’d like to speak with you a minute before you go for your nap.”

The freckled little redhead released her shoes and came to sit by me on the sofa. I wrapped her up in a hug before asking the question that refused to leave my mind.

“Sweetheart, how is it that Sally wanted to ask Jesus into her heart? Can you tell me what happened in the playroom?”

“Oh, Mama Dar. Sally was being so mean to the other kids. Me told her she shouldn’t act like that, but her didn’t care. Her just wanted to be bad.” I smiled and nodded my understanding, freeing Deni to continue. “Well, me said, ‘Come out on the steps with me, Sally,’ and her did. We sat on the top step, and me asked her why she acted so mean.”

“Did she have any reason?”

Her did like this,” Deni said, shrugging her shoulders. “I don’t think her knew why.”

“Okay, then what did you say?”

Me  said, ‘You don’t gotta act like that, Sally. Jesus can help you. You just tell Him you’re sorry and ask Jesus to come into your heart. He gonna help you not be so bad. You’ll see.’”

While tears fought to escape my lower lids, I felt dumbfounded. I’d never ever in my wildest imaginations anticipated my foster daughter would spontaneously evangelize one of the three-year-old charges that spent the weekday in our home.

“Honey, you did the right thing. It’s wonderful that Sally prayed. How did you know to say those things to Sally?” I knew I’d never told the children.

“Heard you on the phone.”

“You did? When? What did I say?”

Me and Jamie was ‘sposed to be takin’ a nap. Me wanted to, but my eyes didn’t want to. You telld the lady--” Deni dropped her gaze and hesitated.

“It’s okay, Honey. Sometimes we can’t sleep, and we just rest on our beds. You didn’t do anything wrong. What did you hear me say?”

Me thinks the lady had trouble ‘cuz you telled her Jesus could help her. You said she could ask Jesus to forgive her of the stuff she did wrong, and Him wanted to forgive everything no matter what her did. It didn’t matter to Jesus; He waited for her to ask Him. You telled her she’d feel better if her asked Jesus into her heart.”

“Okay,” I said when Deni paused, searching my memory for just who and when that would have happened. As Deni continued, I dropped my memory search.

“Well, Mama Dar, me still not sleepin’, me said, ‘You needs to do that, too. So me did it.”

“You asked Jesus to forgive you and come into your heart?” I fought back the tears and tried not to show my surprise.

Deni nodded; her beautiful little red curls bobbing up and down rapidly. The huge smile filled her face. “Yup! Me did it. Jesus came into my heart, and Him’s still there!” The youngster thumped her chest over her heart.

Pulling Deni onto my lap, I squeezed her tightly. “I’m so happy that you did that, Deni. Yes, Jesus is still there, and He’ll always be there. Wherever in the world you are, Jesus will still be right in there,” I said tapping her chest. “He’ll help you not to be afraid. He’ll help you to do the right thing. You just ask Jesus!”

I slid my index finger from her heart to her tummy and began tickling her. Deni reached around my arm, returning the tickle. Both of us giggled like two little friends.

“Okay, Sweetie. You need to have a rest. I must do a couple of things before Susie wakes up from her nap. Try to sleep, okay?”

The freckled arms gave me a squeeze and said, “Me try,” before slipping off the sofa.

Who would think such a young child could understand the Gospel message so easily? Little did I know, I had an even bigger surprise just around the corner.

*Name changed.

Story thread began with this link: With Just One Phone Call

Saturday, December 5, 2015

From Interruption to New Life

I peeked in on Susie* curled up and deep in sleep against the back of her crib. Snatching up the phone nanoseconds after the ring began, I felt relief at the sound of Carroll’s greeting. “Good morning,” I whispered as softly as I could. “Am I ever glad to hear the sound of an adult voice; I spent the night in the rocking chair with a screaming baby. How ‘bout you? Chip ever keep you from sleep?”

“Not often. He’s finally over that stage. Teething will end one day, even though it doesn’t feel like it.” Carroll’s laughter always lightened up my moments of distress.

The mother of three, my close friend had a lot of experience with cranky infants and sleepless nights. I trusted her counsel. Her encouraging words provided a lifeline for my sanity.

For the next few moments, Carroll shared a portion of Scripture she’d run across in her morning reading. I loved participating in these brief exchanges that centered on God’s Word. The Lord blessed us with His nuggets often revealed —both to instruct and to encourage us. As I listened, another sound caught my attention—little footfalls descending from upstairs.

“Sorry to interrupt you, but my bedroom doorway has just filled with a mini-crowd of kidlets.” I sighed, struggling to get a grip. “The last time the kids presented themselves en masse at my door, someone had broken a lamp upstairs. Hang on a minute.”

I pressed the receiver to my chest and said, “What’s happening, Kids?” Silence. “Deni*? What happened?” Silence; eight small pairs of eyes stared at me.

My smile faded, and I spoke directly at my four-year-old redhead. “Deni, you’d better tell me what’s happened, and you’d better tell me right now.”

I watched as the oldest member of the group drew in a big breath. In a rush, the problem exploded from the preschooler’s mouth. “Sally wants to ask Jesus into her heart!”

I nodded at the silent youngsters and put the receiver to my ear. “Uh, Carroll? I gotta go. Sally wants to ask Jesus into her heart over here.”

“What! Are you kidding? Sally’s three years old, isn’t she?”

“Yes, that’s right. I gotta—“

“You better call me back as soon as you can. This must be a great story, and I can hardly wait to hear the details.”

Returning the receiver to the cradle, I followed the assembly to the living room. I sat on the sofa, patting the area next to me. Sally sat on the edge. Some kids crammed into the open spaces of the couch and others dropped to the floor near me.

With all eyes on me, I addressed Sally. “Do you know what it means to ask Jesus into your heart, Sweetie?” The blonde locks bobbed with her nodding affirmation. “What does it mean? Can you tell me?”

“It means I ask Jesus to forgive me for all the stuff I did wrong and…then I tell Him I want to give my life to Him, and then…Jesus comes into my heart.” The beautiful little girl tapped the area over her heart as she voiced the final phrase.

“And, that’s what you want?” I said.

“Yeah,” Sally said, accompanied by those bouncing curls.

“Okay. Would you like me to pray and you can say the words after me?”

The pre-schooler clasped her tiny hands together, bowed her head and nodded as she squeezed her eyelids shut. Carefully, Sally articulated each phrase of the sinner’s prayer—children’s edition—as I prayed. I must admit I wondered if she genuinely knew what she was doing… until the Amen, that is.

Once Sally’s voice repeated the final word of the prayer, the petite preschooler leapt from the sofa and began to dance. “Jesus’s in my heart! Jesus’s in my heart,” she sang, twirling around and jumping like a ballerina. “Jesus loves me! Jesus loves Sally!”

Truly, there is simply no other way to describe what I witnessed in this child: Joy unspeakable overflowed her young soul.

In fact, Sally’s joy spilled over, splashing the other kids. All of them began dancing around the room, making up their own songs of praise to God. After about half an hour, the little gang stopped dancing and singing, returning to the playroom and their games.

For moments after the little feet stopped pounding the wooden steps to the playroom, I sat in stunned silence. An enormous smile filled my face. What just happened here? I felt glued to the sofa, moving when I heard Susie’s stirring in her crib. The call to Carroll would have to wait.

One thing I knew for certain: The first chance I had to get Deni alone, I’d find out what prompted this extraordinary event.

*Name changed