Remember when you were ten-years-old and the only thing you wanted for Christmas was a snowboard and then you got it and never used it? Was that just me?
I was a fourth grader playing SSX Tricky on my PS2 dreaming about the day I’d finally own a real-life snowboard and how different my life would be when I did. It wasn’t long after I opened the snowboard for Christmas that I realized riding a real-life snowboard was way different than using one with a PS2 controller. And also I lived in Ohio, where snow was unpredictable and slopes like the video game’s courses didn’t exist.
Whether it’s our elementary wish lists or adulthood desires, we think we know exactly what we want. We decide what it will take to finally feel content. And sometimes, we get those things and realize they’re not as life-changing as we imagined they would be.
Other times we receive something we didn’t know we wanted and realize it’s just the thing we needed. I can think of three gifts that were completely unexpected and made me believe more deeply in the fact that I’m important to God and he loves me. So, I’ll share those stories with you and hope you believe more deeply that you’re important to God and he loves you a lot.
#1: August 2019
“I feel like I’m supposed to give you these,” my friend said, holding a pair of Ray-Ban Wayfarers in her hand. “Do you need sunglasses?”
“Not really,” I replied. It was a sunny summer day and I wasn’t wearing sunglasses, but I rarely do. “I don’t know why, but I think you’re supposed to take these,” she said again as she handed me the wayfarers. I took them, a little shocked and embarrassed to take name brand sunglasses from my friend on an ordinary Wednesday.
When we were finished hanging out, I put on the sunglasses and drove home. I was overthinking the interaction and feeling guilty for taking the sunglasses because I really didn’t need them. At some point on the drive I became very aware of the sunglasses touching my face and simultaneously could feel tears welling up in my eyes as I started to cry. Like really cry. If you haven’t had this happen before, you might think this is crazy, but hang with me. In that moment I felt like God had something to tell me: “I want to give you gifts, but you have to be open to receiving them.”
Did I need the sunglasses? No. Did I need God to teach me about his generosity and loving heart towards me? Yes – I need that all the time. So maybe my friend really was following a prompting when she felt like she was supposed to give them to me. Maybe it was never about whether or not I needed sunglasses and more about needing something sitting on my face for God to feel close enough to remind me that He loves me and sees me and provides for me in ways I’ve stopped allowing myself to hope He will.
Turns out, Wednesdays aren’t ordinary when God shows up.
#2: September 2018
Have you heard of Johnnyswim? They’re a husband-and-wife duo named Amanda and Abner who make music together and are one of my favorite artists (and according to my 2019 Spotify wrapped, my most-streamed).
At some point during the summer of 2018, Johnnyswim announced that they’d be opening for Needtobreathe in Cincinnati that fall. Before the announcement, Danny and I bought tickets to Ben Rector’s concert in Columbus that September and planned to make a weekend trip out of it. I proposed an idea to stay at a pretty upscale hotel down the street from the concert venue and Danny agreed! After Johnnyswim and Needtobreathe announced their concert and knowing I’d want to go to both, Danny said that we could go to both concerts and stay at a less-expensive hotel in Columbus, or skip the Needtobreathe concert and stick with our original hotel plan. That man loves a budget!
I work at a hair salon and the owner of the salon, Sam, happens to be friends with Amanda and Abner. I’ve been able to meet Amanda a couple times and she’s even better face-to-face than I imagined her to be when I only knew her from a stage… which makes me love them even more.
Because of their friendship, Sam will often get some free tickets from Amanda when Johnnyswim performs in Cincinnati. After my conversation with Danny, I made sure to let Sam know that I would really appreciate a couple tickets if he happened to get enough. He apologetically told me that he had already promised a couple people the tickets and knew Amanda wouldn’t get many since they were opening for Needtobreathe rather than headlining the concert. I told him it was no problem and then felt a little dumb for bringing it up anyway. He didn’t make me feel dumb, but who did I think I was deserving some free tickets to a concert, you know?
The day of the concert arrived and I tried really hard to ignore the fact that we weren’t going. When I got into the salon, Sam told me that I was. He explained that one of his clients, Rich, was in his chair that morning and said that he had two extra tickets to the Needtobreathe concert that night. Sam told Rich about Danny + I and mentioned that we lead Young Life. Rich’s son was involved with Young Life at Madeira at the time and he decided on the spot that he wanted us to have the tickets.
AND these weren’t just any tickets — they were in the pit! Can you believe that Danny and I ended up with better tickets than the tickets Sam got from Amanda? It sounds silly, but those concert tickets reminded me that God’s love is lavish — the best of the best. Not only did we stay in that nice hotel while we were in Columbus to see Ben Rector, but we also got to see Johnnyswim and Needtobreathe from right below the stage.
What meant the most to me about this gift is that it came from a couple who didn’t even know us! Rich and Kellie could have given their tickets to just about anyone, but they chose to give them to strangers, and it meant much more than they knew.
I didn’t deserve the nice hotel AND two concerts, but God is in the business of generosity and He delights in giving us what we don’t deserve.
#3: January 2020
I sunk into my seat and hoped I would eventually sink far enough into the cushion to completely disappear. I was at the annual Young Life leader weekend as the two guys on stage pointed to the screen and announced that the following leaders should run up to the stage to be part of the game. People around me started yelling and pointing at me as it registered that my name was one of the 3 they wanted to join them on stage.
Young Life games are always embarrassing. And this particular time I would be broadcasted through a close-up camera onto a screen to over 900 leaders who watched from multiple rooms. I can’t think of a single thing that sounds less desirable than people watching a screen with a blown-up image of my face turning more and more red.
The program guys explained that we would play a game where I had to choose a wrapped box, see what was inside, and then decide if I wanted to keep it or swap it for another unknown prize. A Young Life water bottle turned into a $50 gift card from Massage Envy turned into a full-service house cleaning turned into a 50-inch 4K flat screen TV.
I can’t imagine what my (blown-up, more and more red) face must have looked like the entire time as I was sure it would all end with a punchline. But there was no punchline. It ended with Danny and I loading a 50-inch TV into our car that night and taking it home.
Best Young Life game ever.
I’m not sure how I was picked or those program guys decided that this would be a game where no one left embarrassed, just confused about the fact that they won a really nice prize without doing anything to win. Walking off the stage with a 50-inch flat screen TV was similar to hearing about Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection for the first time. I felt like I won the world’s most costly gift without doing anything to deserve it.
I think it’s hard for us to believe that Jesus died for our salvation when it’s hard for us to accept a pair of sunglasses. We’ve been wired to understand that we get what we deserve. So, it’s confusing when we get things that we don’t. Karma is easier to comprehend than a God we don’t deserve paying our debt by dying the death that we do.
Sometimes our Karma mindsets leave us wanting more because we think we were short-changed based on our accomplishments. Other times it makes us say no to the things God might want us to say yes to.
Are you setting your expectations of God’s generosity too low? Do you believe that Jesus gives you things that you don’t deserve? When I remember that he died on a cross in order to win our eternity, I know that he’s incredibly generous, unbelievably sacrificial, and wildly committed to giving us immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine.
Danny and I have been hoping to get pregnant for 18 months now. In the middle of the waiting, it’s really easy to believe that God is holding out on us. But, remembering the ways he’s shown up through people in my life realign my heart to know that He’s more generous than I imagine him to be, and more loving than I can understand. All three stories I shared above happened within the last 18 months. I think the gifts felt especially personal and kind because they were small reminders that God isn’t holding out on us and He hasn’t forgotten me.
It’s easy to put God into a box that we can understand. So, when we don’t get something we want, we compare Him to a parent who ignored an item on our Christmas wish list. We try to rationalize why we didn’t get the gift and wrestle with feeling unimportant and unloved. But God isn’t a human and His ways are above our ways. Sometimes His timing and His gifts line up with exactly what we want when we want them. But more often, we’re desperately hoping for a snowboard and He’s waiting to give us an entire mountain.