The Angel’s Message

I had the privilege on Saturday to speak to the ladies of Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan at their annual Advent Brunch. What a wonderful morning we had! The ladies had decorated the hall for Christmas with each table beautifully set to welcome the women who gathered there. The men of the church treated us like royalty as they served our meal. There was Christmas music and good food and lots of new friends to meet. I love events like these that come early in December. They help me slow down and focus on celebrating Christ’s birth instead of racing around with a mile-long to-do list in my hand.

As I thought about what I wanted to share with the ladies, the angels in the Christmas story came to mind. One of them appeared to Mary in Nazareth to announce God’s plan for her to give birth to His Son. The angel’s message began with the words “Do not be afraid.” Another angel spoke to Joseph in a dream when he learned of Mary’s pregnancy, and once again his message began with “Do not be afraid.” A third angel appeared to the shepherds to announce Christ’s birth, and he also began his message with “Do not be afraid.” Angels must be awesome beings indeed, to spark fear each time they appear!

But I think it’s more than that. Mary and Joseph had all their plans in place. They were going to be married soon, and they probably envisioned a future much like that of other young couples in the village of Nazareth, with work and children and a new home. Then an angel appeared to announce that God was about to turn their orderly lives upside down, bringing a baby before they had a chance to marry—a baby who was the Son of God and heir to Israel’s throne. Were they willing to give up their dreams and let God’s plans go forward? The angel said, “Do not be afraid.” Trust God. Trust that He is working for good. Trust that events are taking place in the spiritual realm that they couldn’t see. Trust God, even though everything in their life is about to change. Mary’s response to the angel and to God was, “I am the Lord’s servant.”

Most of us have made a lot of plans for the future. Our calendar pages are filled with programs and events and travel arrangements. But change can come unexpectedly. Accidents, illnesses, job losses, financial problems, relationship problems—these don’t stop so we can celebrate a “magical” Christmas holiday. If only an angel would appear to us whenever our lives are turned upside down and comfort us by saying, “Don’t be afraid! Trust God! He is in control and He is working for our good.”
I’m guessing that most of us have recently experienced some sort of unwelcome change. (If you haven’t, you’re probably about to!) Whether we like it or not, change is part of life. Before we start to panic and fret and worry, what if we took a moment to listen for the angel’s message from our Heavenly Father. It’s the same one that Mary and Joseph heard: “Don’t be afraid. Trust God in this. He is in control.”

When change comes, will we wrestle and worry and try to get our own plans back on track? Or will we put our hand in God’s and say, like Mary did, “I am the Lord’s servant.”

Thanks a Lot!

Two more chapters to write and I will be able to type those wonderful words—THE END. The novel I’ve been laboring on for nearly a year is almost finished. Maybe I’ll be able to enjoy the Christmas season with my family this year without stressing over my deadline. But when I tried to start my computer yesterday morning, eager to make the final sprint to the finish line, I discovered that it had crashed. An automatic update had failed, locking everything up. The fatal blue screen wouldn’t allow me access to my computer no matter how hard I tried. I did the only thing I knew how to do—I panicked!
Unlike most writers, I am NOT computer savvy. I know enough to answer email, write my novels, and post this blog. That’s about it. I called my brother-in-law in New York who is my computer go-to person and he diagnosed the problem. The solution? I could pay a local tech $95 an hour to try to fix it (and still have an aging computer), or I could purchase a new computer and pay the tech to try to retrieve my novel and everything else from my old hard drive. I chose the new computer. (Not exactly what I wanted for a Christmas present. Sigh.) It’s going to take a few days to get my new computer back home with everything on it (hopefully) restored from my old one. In the meantime, I’m limping along at a snail’s pace with this tiny laptop.
A crashed computer isn’t the only discouraging “glitch” I’ve experienced in my writing life these past few months. On the day of my book launch—a day I waited an entire year to celebrate—the book was unavailable on Amazon. Then I learned that the members of my Launch Team wouldn’t be receiving their advance copies of the book until more than a week after the launch date. And there were several other glitches, each one frustrating and worrisome and stressful. I call them “joy stealers.” Instead of the euphoria of another successful launch or a nearly completed novel, I’m wasting my energy stewing and worrying. Joyful? Not so much.
What I needed more than a restored computer yesterday was a restored sense of perspective. I got it this morning as I read through the newsletters from several of the Christian organizations my husband and I support. People whose homes were destroyed by hurricanes and forest fires will need much more than a new computer. The children we support in Zambia and Vietnam need food and clean water on a daily basis. Christians being persecuted for their faith need prayers for their churches and families. Young girls being trafficked need deliverance and justice. I should be thankful that I can afford a new computer and still have a roof over my head and three meals a day—not to mention the freedom to enjoy them. My problem will soon be fixed. Their problems are ongoing.
This week I will celebrate Thanksgiving with my family. It’s a yearly reminder to stand back and get some perspective on how God has so richly provided for us. Have there been “glitches” and “joy stealers” this year? Of course. But in the larger view of things, my family and I have been abundantly blessed. We could have been eating Thanksgiving dinner without my husband this year if a serious health issue a few months ago hadn’t ended well. Then there are our spiritual blessings, such as God’s grace and redemption and love. The security of our heavenly home. And a calling that I love in spite of the glitches.
I think I know why the enemy tries so hard to steal our joy. Because “The joy of the Lord is our strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). I think I need to do some thanking and rejoicing while I wait for my new computer.

Fearless

The real-life sisters, Agnes and Margaret Smith, who inspired my newest novel, “Where We Belong,” had a favorite motto that continues to intrigue me. Whenever they were in danger or in a precarious situation they would say, “God knows when the end of our days will be. We have nothing to fear.” I borrowed their motto for my fictional sisters, Becky and Flora Hawes, to use whenever they found themselves in a sticky situation. I added a humorous twist to it in one scene when they are onboard a steamship during a ferocious storm at sea:

Flora cried out as the ship suddenly leaned so far to one side she feared it would tip over. Her body was crushed against the wall as her bulky steamer trunk pinned her there. When the ship righted itself a moment later, Becky shoved the trunk away, freeing her.

“Are you all fight, Flora?”

“Yes, I think so.” They both took a moment to steady their nerves and secure their luggage again.

Becky exhaled. “God knows when the hour of our end will be,” she said in a shaky voice. “But I sincerely hope it isn’t tonight.”

It’s one thing for me to be fearless when I’m sitting in my armchair by the fireplace, and quite another when my airplane hits turbulence midway over the Atlantic Ocean. Or when I get bad news from my doctor. I’m not afraid of dying—but I sincerely hope it doesn’t happen yet! We live in fearful times. The most frightening thing about acts of terror is that we never know when or where they may occur. We could be enjoying a concert; sitting in a restaurant; taking in a tourist attraction; attending an office Christmas party; sitting at our desk at work or at school. The suspense of continually looking over our shoulder intensifies the fear—which is the terrorists’ goal.

My niece faced a dilemma. Her fourteen-year-old son wanted to take part in an event called the Life Chain. Participants line up shoulder to shoulder along a busy street and hold up signs to remind the people driving past that “Abortion stops a beating heart,” or “It’s a child, not a choice.” It’s a peaceful, pro-life demonstration that synced well with her son’s passionate, Christian beliefs. Understandably, my niece worried about fanatics or terrorists taking aim at her sweet son and plowing into him on the sidewalk. Should she let him take part? How would you advise her? It’s one thing to be courageous when our own life is at stake and quite another to let our precious children and grandchildren be at risk.

A friend of mine, who is the director of an international prayer ministry, recently met with a group of Christian women from South Korea. She asked how they handled living with the daily threat of destruction from North Korea. The women responded that they didn’t have time to live in fear. They were too busy preparing to flood across the border to bring the hope of the gospel to their North Korean brothers and sisters once the evil regime was finally destroyed.

So, I’ve been thinking a lot about fear lately, and what the Bible has to say about it. Several favorite passages come to mind:

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4).

“The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1)

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).
These are great verses to know the next time I’m in danger. But even more, I need to know the Savior who makes those promises. If I’m ever asked to take a courageous stand for my faith, as persecuted Christians in other nations do every day, I want to be fearless, knowing without doubt that the God I know and love is with me. He knows when the end of my days will be. I have nothing to fear.

To purchase my latest book, “Where We Belong” click here.

My Newest Baby

People often ask me which of my books is my favorite. I tell them that my books are like children—I’ve labored hard for many months to give birth to each of them, so how can I choose a favorite? Yet the birth of each new book is very exciting for me. And now I can announce that my newest baby, “Where We Belong,” is here!

I wrote a brief summary of the story in my last blog, and told how it was loosely based on the true story of two remarkable, self-educated sisters, Margaret and Agnes Smith who made the discovery of an important biblical manuscript. Their story inspired me because the sisters felt God urging them to pursue a calling that was “out of the box” in their Victorian era, yet they didn’t allow the social and cultural expectations of their day to stop them from doing it. What if we all lived that fearlessly for God?

I studied very hard when I was in high school so I could go to college and become a clinical psychologist. I clearly recall the day when I met with my high school guidance counselor for advice on which colleges to apply to, and he told me I should re-think my goals. The most suitable careers for women, he said, were teaching and nursing. I didn’t listen to him.

I chose to attend Hope College because I wanted a Christian foundation for my education. And I majored in psychology. Imagine my surprise when my college advisor told me I should pursue a teaching certificate along with my psychology major. He explained that I would need a Master’s degree or PhD. to become a clinical psychologist and I would probably get married and have children before getting that far. I would be wise to have a teaching career to fall back on, he said. (The generations of women after me can be grateful that they aren’t limited to two career choices!)

In hindsight, I can see that it was God who was advising and directing me all along. I’m not sorry that I never became a clinical psychologist. And I’m glad that I worked as a teacher for several years. Majoring in psychology gave me the chance to study human behavior, which helps me immensely in creating my characters and stories.

Each of us will hear a lot of voices telling us what we should do, and what we ought to do, and what society expects us to do. We’ll also hear our own inner voice telling us we can’t, that we aren’t smart enough, or talented enough, or good enough. I hope my newest novel will encourage readers to ignore those other voices and listen to God’s. Like the sisters in “Where We Belong,” we can examine the gifts and resources we’ve been given, along with the unique passions that have touched our hearts, and then decide if we want to live fearlessly for God or not. As you read this story, I hope you’ll decide to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6). What a difference it will make!

If you would like a chance to win one of two free copies of “Where We Belong,” be sure to leave a comment below or go to my website www.lynnaustin.org to enter.

 

Congratulations to Bonnie Jean Fulcher and Patti H who were chosen by Random.org as the winners of an autographed copy of “Where We Belong.” Please look in your email for instructions on how to claim your prize.

A Wonderful Visit

I just returned from a wonderful visit with my mother and my sister Peggy and her family in the little village in New York State where I grew up. The town is nestled in the Shawangunk Mountains, and seeing the mountains again is like seeing old friends. I always forget how much I’ve missed them while living in the flat Midwest. Peggy and I had a chance to go on several hikes while I was home, taking her new rescue dog, Franny, with us.
We hiked around a mountaintop lake.
And admired the vistas of the valley, below.
We let Franny swim in this creek and she “shared” the cool water with us as she shook herself dry.
We hiked across the Hudson River on a former railroad trestle that has been converted into a rails-to-trails pathway called “Walkway Over the Hudson.”
Hiking in the woods and enjoying nature always restores me. When I take time to look at creation, I’m reminded of what a glorious God we serve. Seeing His infinite creativity renews my own urge to create. And being with my family—the people who know me the best and love me the most—helps me remember who I am and where I’ve come from.
It puts my lifelong journey into perspective and helps me see how God has shaped me along the way. I returned to my home in Michigan refreshed and ready to dig into the work that God has given me to do. My prayer is the same one that Moses prayed:
“Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting, you are God. . . .Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. . . . Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. . . . establish the work of our hands for us—yes, establish the work of our hands.” (Psalm 90)

Catching the Wind

Every spring the youth group at our church holds a banquet where they auction off an assortment of great prizes to fund their summer mission trips. I bought a ticket for a chance to win a sailboat excursion on Lake Michigan. I’ve never sailed before, but I love to sit on our beach and watch the sailboats gliding gracefully across the lake, their white sails billowing. It looks like such a calm, peaceful way to travel. I never imagined I would win—but I did! Last weekend, my husband, our son Benjamin, and I claimed my prize.

Lake Michigan was wonderfully calm, perfect for a first-timer like me. We set off in the afternoon with our host Bob Carlson on his sailboat named “Joy.” After a quick lesson, Benjamin served as his crew member as we navigated the channel at Port Sheldon, Michigan and sailed out into the big lake. The voyage was every bit as serene and lovely as I had imagined it would be as we headed north on a gentle wind. I began to dream of buying my own boat and learning how to sail it.

Eventually, the time came to turn around and sail home. Except that the wind had died down close to shore where we were sailing, and we came to a halt. We drifted for several minutes, unable to catch a good breeze, going nowhere. In order to get home, Bob said we needed to steer the boat farther out into the lake where the wind was stronger. I liked staying within sight of land where it seemed safe, but I also wanted to return home before nightfall. So we fired up the motor for a minute and steered out into deeper water. Sure enough, within a few minutes, our sails filled once again and we began moving swiftly toward home.

I was amazed by how a skilled sailor like Bob could “feel the wind,” as he put it, and use its power to go in whatever direction he chose. I recalled how Jesus compared the wind to the Holy Spirit, and I wondered if there were some lessons here on Lake Michigan for me. I know from experience that when I labor on my own, without the Spirit’s power, I get nowhere—just like our drifting sailboat. I also know the feeling of soaring with the Spirit’s help and accomplishing so much more than I could ever do on my own.

So why don’t I learn to “feel the wind” of the Spirt and harness its power more often? I suspect that sometimes it’s because I want to stay safe near the shore instead of venturing out into deeper, more dangerous waters. I feel more in control that way. What might God ask me to do if I surrendered control to Him? Yet with the wind’s power, we got to our destination much faster than we ever could have by rowing. And oh, what a glorious feeling it was when the wind filled our sails and we began to move! I imagine it was how Peter and the other disciples felt on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirt blew on them like a mighty, rushing wind.

The same power that changed the world is available to me. All I have to do is let it fill my sails.

Time to Pull Weeds

I know there are people who love to garden. They enjoy nurturing seeds, planting bulbs, and planning perennial beds so that gorgeous flowers flourish in every season. My neighbor is one of them. I walk past her home (in the photos above and below) and sigh with envy at her creativity and diligence.

I am not one of those people. While I do love the end result when my garden looks pristine and welcoming, I don’t enjoy doing the work to make it so. Nevertheless, I was forced to become the family gardener when my husband pulled a muscle in his shoulder. The weeds had no pity on his injury and quickly staged a take-over. Can anyone explain to me why weeds are so hearty and fast-growing while their beautiful, cultivated cousins need pampering? Or why the deer and the rabbits ignore the weeds and munch on my plants as if they’re a salad bar?

As I tackled our overgrown garden last week, it occurred to me that the process has some similarities to the way I write. My first drafts are usually an overgrown tangle of words. My strategy is to conquer the blank page and get something down, no matter how bad, and then go back and fix it later. It takes away some of the anxiety if I don’t stop to critique my work as I write. But the day eventually comes when I have to weed out the overgrown mess. Finding weeds in the garden is usually simple: if the roots seem to go down to China, it’s probably a weed. If it pulls out easily—oops! That was probably something expensive. And when I make my first editing pass on my manuscript, it’s easy to find the weeds, especially if I remind myself of the rules of good writing.

I ended up with a large recycling bin full of weeds by the time I finished pulling them, but the garden still looked overgrown. I needed to go back with my shears and trim away some of the good bushes and plants, too. I hate doing that because I’m always afraid I’m going to cut too much and kill the plant. It’s the same with my manuscript. Even after the weeds of poor grammar have been pulled, my beautiful prose sometimes needs to be trimmed. If I’m in an especially critical mood, I can come dangerously close to chopping away too much and ruining it. But it has to be done.

The photos above and below show the results of my gardening efforts. And while I hated to sacrifice writing time for the task, when I finally sat down to write again I was able to tackle some much-needed editing with renewed fervor.

Now what about weeding my spiritual garden? Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches” and “my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” That sounds a lot like gardening and editing, doesn’t it? God is looking for fruit like love, joy, and patience—and not weeds like anger, gossip, and bitterness. If I hope to look like my neighbor’s garden in Jesus’ eyes, I think I have some work to do.

When Plans Change

My husband and I planned our summer vacation months ago. All spring, we’ve looked forward to exploring the wilds of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with our friends, seeing Tahquamenon Falls, the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, the historic Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, and taking a boat tour through the Soo Locks. But then a family medical emergency cancelled our plans. We’re thankful that God answered our prayers and the emergency ended well, but our trip will have to be postponed until next summer.

Our change in plans has started me thinking about some of the summer vacations we took with our children when they were small. One of the most memorable was a trip from our home in Winnipeg, Canada to Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, towing a borrowed pop-up trailer. We awoke after our first night of camping to find that all four of the trailer’s tires had gone flat. After a trip into town to buy four new ones, we were on our way again. Once we arrived in the Rockies, we discovered that the trailer had a broken heater, so after a few very cold nights, we changed our plans and headed south to the Grand Canyon and warmer weather.

Somewhere around Durango, Colorado, several warning lights on our car’s dashboard began flashing. We made a detour to a repair shop and learned that the pop-up trailer had a faulty electrical system, which was draining our car’s battery. After more repairs and a new battery, we were on our way again.

We showed up at the canyon at sunset, which is a beautiful time to arrive unless you need a campsite. All of the campgrounds were full. Signs throughout the park threatened enormous fines for camping anywhere except in designated sites. And it was a long, hot drive back to the nearest town.

Weary and desperate, we pulled into a parking lot behind a restaurant for the night. We didn’t dare to “pop up” the pop-up and risk a costly fine, so we decided to sleep in our car. All five of us. In our Toyota station wagon. Our sons Joshua and Benjamin slept in the two front seats, reclining them back as far as they would go. Ken and I emptied the luggage from the back of the car, folded down the rear seat, and slept there with our daughter, Maya. I use the term “slept” very loosely. “Dozed” is more like it as Ken and I folded ourselves around the wheel wells and tried to avoid Maya’s flailing arms and legs.

All night long, I expected to hear a dreaded knock on my window, and to face an angry park ranger ticketing us for not camping in a designated area. I planned to reply, “Does this look like we’re camping? If we were camping I would be asleep in the trailer behind us, not folded like a pretzel in our Toyota!” The long night ended without any fines. In fact by morning, the entire parking lot was filled with cars and trailers and rumpled families just like ours. I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know how hard it would be to find a campsite at the Grand Canyon.

We saw a lot of beautiful sites on that trip and had a lot of fun. For Ken and me, it was memorable because of the costly tires, the new battery, the electrical work, and the sleepless night. But when we asked the kids what they enjoyed most about that trip, guess what they said. “Sleeping in the car!” One of them asked if we could do it again.

I dislike change, especially when it collides with my well-laid plans. But it seems as though the unplanned, unexpected changes that come our way leave a deeper imprint in our memories than when everything goes according to schedule. I will get to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula another year. But in the aftermath of our medical emergency, I saw how beautifully our family pulls together and shows our deep love for one another. Our faith has been strengthened after sensing God’s presence throughout the crisis and knowing that He hears and answers our prayers. In the end, that’s worth much more to me than a pile of vacation photos.

Where have you seen God at work when your plans were changed?

The Sabbath Table

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One of my favorite weekend pastimes is celebrating the Sabbath with our Jewish family and friends. In the hours before I arrive, they will have been hard at work baking bread and preparing enough food to last for the next 24 hours. The table is beautifully set, and the aromas that waft from the kitchen make my stomach rumble. I sit down to enjoy the long, leisurely meal with a huge sigh of relief, knowing that a full day of rest lies ahead of me, one in which I don’t have to race around multi-tasking or accomplishing everything my to-do lists. All of the preparations have been completed.
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The host begins the meal by saying a blessing over the bread. There are always two loaves as a reminder that when the Israelites wandered in the wilderness with Moses, God provided twice as much manna on the eve of the Sabbath so the people could enjoy a day of rest. Our host breaks the bread into pieces and passes it around to everyone at the table. Next he says the blessing over the wine, which is also passed around. The rituals of bread and wine remind me of communion and Christ’s command to “Do this in remembrance of me.” I can easily picture Jesus’ disciples remembering His words and His sacrifice every Sabbath as they repeated this tradition.

One of the Ten Commandments says to “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy,” meaning it should be different and set apart from ordinary days. The Sabbath food is special and often costly. We dress in our nicest clothes. There is singing and laughter and joy as we take our time eating and enjoying our family members and friends. Or to use an old-fashioned word, “communing” with them. I usually don’t want the Sabbath meal to end.
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Last Sunday we celebrated Communion at our church. I arrived frazzled and overwhelmed after a terrible week. I felt wounded and defeated. Then our pastor repeated Christ’s words over the bread and wine, and invited the congregation to come to “Christ’s table.” This traditional invitation struck me in a brand new way. I heard Christ inviting me to His table—a Sabbath table. He had completed all the work. The bread and wine had been bought with a great price. Now He invited me to come and to enjoy a time of close fellowship with Him. I heard His words as an invitation to rest, and more importantly, to rest in Him. I could stop struggling and striving. I was His beloved. I didn’t have to do any work to earn His favor except to believe and accept His invitation.
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My picture of the Sabbath table merged with the Communion table. I now think I understand Christ’s invitation in Matthew 11:28 a little better: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” It’s an invitation well worth accepting.

Apple Pie and Other Treasures

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It was supposed to be a fun excursion to do research for my next book, but icy rain poured from the winter sky as our friends, Paul and Jacki, drove my husband and me through the Michigan countryside.  Paul is a lifelong resident of Western Michigan and knows just about every back road and fun, out-of-the-way place on the map—and a few places that aren’t on the map. “I want to show you something,” he said, as we pulled into a little town I’d never heard of. “Do you like pies?”

Of course! Who doesn’t? We drove past humble houses, down streets without traffic lights or sidewalks, and pulled into the driveway of a small, unassuming, brick home. The garage door stood open but there weren’t any cars in it, only a nice-looking riding lawn mower and the usual clutter found in most garages, hanging from hooks and heaped around the perimeter. “Who lives here?” I asked.

Paul shrugged. “I don’t know.”

We piled out of the car and dashed through the rain into the open garage. I like to think of myself as adventurous but walking into a stranger’s untended garage, uninvited, seemed odd. I expected the door leading into the house to open at any moment and for the owner to ask us what we were doing.

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Two huge, ancient-looking chest freezers stood along the rear wall of the garage. Paul opened the lid of one and asked, “What kind of pie do you like? There’s apple, cherry, blueberry, pecan . . . Ooo, and homemade apple dumplings!” A hand-lettered sign listed the prices. A battered cardboard box collected the money on the honor system. “We’ve had these pies before,” Paul said. “You just take them home and bake them. They’re delicious.”

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He explained that this was a fund-raising effort on behalf of a local church. The women gathered together every so often like an old-fashioned quilting bee and spent the day baking in the church kitchen. The finished pies were sold out of this garage. I glanced around but didn’t see any security cameras. The entire endeavor operated on trust, and had become well-known in the community and surrounding area. Everyone for miles around knew where the small, brick house was, and that the garage door would always be open. The freezers would always be filled with pies. The cardboard moneybox would be waiting.

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I felt like I’d stepped back through time into a kinder, gentler era. “I don’t believe it!” I said. “Who does this kind of thing?” Until two years ago, I lived in the Chicago area along with six million other people. This pie-selling setup would never work there. No one would ever agree to leave their garage door open all day, and their lawnmower and other household goods unguarded, with only a flimsy door leading into their home—not to mention leaving several hundred dollars-worth of pies in unlocked freezers. And with soaring energy costs, no one would ever volunteer to pay the electric bill for two huge, non-energy-efficient freezers.

So, what sort of people would ever be this generous, this trusting?

People who had faith in God and wanted to support their church. People who put serving Him ahead of their material possessions. People who trusted that even if the worst happened and thieves broke in their home, God would somehow use the situation for His glory. People who believed that their “neighbors” included strangers they’d never met who might be in need of a pie.

Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven . . . For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” I’m guessing these trusting, pie-selling homeowners will have a whole pile of treasure waiting for them in heaven.

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We chose a plumb an apple pie and put a $10 dollar bill in the money box. It turned out, Paul was right—the pie was delicious!