Scripture as Truth: Learning James 1:17

by Mary Jane Keppler

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Observing our lives through the grace of God we learn to see things in a way that differs profoundly from the way the world see things. The experiences others call "coincidences" become for us the "God incidences" of our lives. We see clearly the truth at the heart of the matter.

With the same grace we discover scripture passages as truth when we observe their unfolding in our daily lives. For example, the experience I had in gathering little gifts to take along with me on my pilgrimage to Medjugorje, Yugoslavia revealed to me the truth of James 1:17. Let me share it with you.

Revised Standard Version: James 1:17 Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
New American Bible: James 1:17 all good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no alteration or shadow caused by change.

Besides preparing spiritually for my trip I packed and unpacked my suitcase a number of times, trying to not only determine what to bring, but how to pack it all into one suitcase and one travel bag. In the midst of my packing one day my husband had a suggestion.

"Why don't you just take the necessities and leave some room to pack a few gifts for your host family?"

"Okay, why not?" I responded.

I took out the extras I really didn't need and left an empty corner to fill with gifts. But what kinds of things should I take? They had to be small, unbreakable and inexpensive.

Without giving the matter a lot of thought I picked up a few items the next time I went shopping. I bought a terrycloth kitchen towel with a bright red strawberry printed on it. (Strawberry Point, Iowa, after all is the home of the world's largest plastic strawberry on a flagpole!) I bought a gold cross pendant on a chain, a box of animal crackers and a woman's hairclip. I repeat, I did not give the matter a whole lot of thought!

When I told a friend of mine what I was doing she gave me a small box of new pencils and small novelty erasers in the shapes of farm animals. (I have weird friends!) Looking through my closet one day I came across a new t-shirt no one had worn so I took that along, too.

What a strange assortment of gifts, I thought. But that was that. I wrapped them in giftwrap and packed them in the suitcase.

I didn't even pray about what to bring along. Little did I know that the Holy Spirit was involved in this aspect of my pilgrimage as well.

I had no idea which family I would be staying with while in Medjugorje. When we arrived by bus we were picked up by some village men and deposited on the doorstep of Ivan and Sheema Vasilji. They had two children. Marija was five. Matte was three.

The first morning when I arose for breakfast the whole family happened to be in the kitchen so I distributed the appropriate gifts. Sheema appeciated the kitchen towel. I would have liked to explain to her about the strawberry, but she couldn't understand English. Touching it to her face she let me know she thought it was soft.

Ivan put the chain around his neck, smiled and nodded. Little Marija in her childish way ripped off the wrapping paper on her gift, spilling out the little cow and pig erasers, which bounced all over the kitchen floor. She bounded after them. In a flurry of Croatian words to her mother I could tell it was the right gift for her, too.

The three-year old had some help opening his animal crackers. When he saw what they were he wanted to have one then, but it was time for breakfast. They were put up in the cupboard for a later time and little Matte didn't put up a fuss about it at all. I was impressed already with my host family.

The hairclip and the t-shirt stayed in my suitcase. There was no one else in the family to give them to. I could give Sheema the hairclip and suggest she let her hair grow, I thought. No, that wouldn't work.

The t-shirt was probably a big mistake anyway. A pale yellow, it sported an advertisement for Hormel, the company which makes canned hams, hotdogs and microwave dinner entrees. On the front pigs sitting in deck chairs sunning themselves with the slogan "Pigs in Paradise". How corny! Well, it was a free promotional item from our feed dealer on the farm. I remind you, I couldn't spend alot of money on these things.

One of those remaining gifts was destined to leave my suitcase shortly. One afternoon I gave Marija a piggyback ride to the backyard to play in her wading pool. She splashed some water on my legs from a plastic bucket and I teasingly got her back. When I looked up a young man about twenty had been watching us from the next yard.

He struck up a conversation in fairly understandable English. We chatted for a while. When I told him I was an Iowa farm gal and was curious about their farming operations he offered to give me a walking tour of some nearby farms.

I said I'd love to, but had to go inside first to get something. Out of the suitcase came the t-shirt. If the opportunity arose, I'd give it to him.

The tour was fun. He showed me among other things a small tractor, one milkcow, a flock of sheep and an honest-to-goodness haystack. Everything was on such a small scale, so different from North American farms. The one cow was tied with a rope and tethered to a stake in the ground. There wasn't a fence anywhere to be seen. It reminded me of the one Jack (from beanstalk fame) sold for the magic beans. The sheep roaming freely among the tobacco plants were freshly shorn. Although they were white sheep, strains of "Baa Baa Black Sheep" leaped across my mind.

And the haystack was gorgeous! It was about fifteen feet across the bottom, maybe ten feet high, beautifully arched and a light yellow gold. It seemed to come right out of the nursery rhyme "Little Boy Blue".
"And where is the little boy who looks after the sheep? He's under the haystack, fast asleep!"
The whole scene seemed like a fairytale.

Well, speaking of "Little Boy Blue", how about "This Little Piggy Went to Market"? I thought to myself. I reached into my bag and pulled out the whimsical t-shirt and showed it to my gracious young tour guide. He thought it was corny, too, but accepted my gift with honest gratitude.

Just the hairclip remained. Five days went by and no one crossed my path who needed such a gift. The day before our departure I was walking alone toward my guesthouse when I noticed a group of teenage Croatian girls. They were standing near some patio tables in front of a small newly built restaurant. I didn't think anything of it until my eyes focused on two of the girls.

In the manner of young girls the world over one girl was trying to put the other's long brown hair into some kind of twist. It wasn't staying in place. They were laughing and talking to each other, not paying attention to me. But when I noticed what they were doing I stopped in my tracks. The hairclip!

I didn't know how I was going to explain this to the Croatian girls, but I walked over to them and tried my best. Using my own long hair to demonstrate, I pulled it back and up to let the girl with the drooping hairdo know I could give her something to hold her hair in place.

When I motioned repeatedly for her to come with me to the guesthouse within sight, she grinned, shrugged her shoulders at her friends and went with me. When we arrived I sat her in one of the patio chairs outside and motioned for her to say there.

I hurried to my room, tore open my suitcase, took out the last gift and unwrapped it myself. On returning with the hairclip I showed the package to her with the illustratoin on the front showing how it should be worn.
Now she understood. And was she thrilled!

I brushed her hair back and clipped it in place. After taking her picture I gave her a hug and wished her well. I never saw her again.

When I went back to my room I did some reflecting. The unusual gifts I had tucked in my suitcase turned out to be not so unusual after all. They all had a place in God's plan. The towel. The cross pendant. The pencils and erasers. The t-shirt. The hairclip. It all made sense in retrospect.
Without evn praying for the Holy Spirit's guidance He had orchestrated the whole thing. I reflected again. Even though we don't specifically ask for His help many times we discover afterwards that He has guided us in spite of ourselves.

Thank you, Holy Spirit, for being with me as I travel through this life. Thank you for the gifts you have tucked away for me. You know just what I need. You know just when to give them. Truly "Every gift, every perfect gift comes from above. . ."

My name is Mary Jane Keppler and I live an a farm in northeastern Iowa. The farm economy being the way it is, we've sold most of our land to hang on to what was once our dream. My husband and I both work in town now. We have five children ranging in age from 11 to 29, three of which we homeschooled. I've always loved to write and keep journals. Most of the time I write down my experiences and tuck them away, knowing that some day the Lord may want me to share them with others. Such is the case here. Isn't it wonderful the way the Lord works?

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