“Father in Heaven,” Mary prayed. “I know I should be thankful for what I have, and I am. I praise You and thank You for the many blessings of my life. But I pray for a gift from You — a gift that will let me leave my mark on Your world. I want to know that when I’ve joined You in Heaven, Your world is a little better because I was here. Amen.”
Mary thought of all the gifts she saw in people around her. Judy was a wonderful mother. Her legacy would be her family, with Christian values and faith. Roger had built a business that provided jobs for twenty people. His employees, their families, and his customers were all blessed by Roger’s gift. Susan had just signed a publishing contract for her inspirational book. No one could guess how many thousands of people would grow in their faith when they read it. Sam volunteered several hours a week at a homeless shelter. He touched the hearts and lives of so many people when they needed it most.
The list could go on forever, thought Mary. Everyone seemed to have something to offer, everyone but her.
“My child, I have given you the greatest gift of all.” The voice echoed in Mary’s mind and in her soul. You’ll understand tonight.”
# # #
That evening, Mary entered the fellowship hall of the church for the potluck supper.
“Mary, come join us.” The welcome came from a table filled with her friends.
“Hi,” Mary said. “How is everyone?”
“Better since you’re here,” answered Sam. “I always get a lift when I see your smiling face.”
“Thanks, Sam, but I’m sure you get more of a lift from volunteering at the homeless shelter.”
Sam arched his brow in a question. “Why would you think that? I love working at the shelter, but sometimes it’s very depressing. There’s so much more that needs to be done sometimes I wonder if we’re accomplishing anything. I probably would have given up long ago if I didn’t have you to inspire me.”
“Me inspire you?” Mary leaned forward. “I don’t understand.”
“You’re the one who told me about the shelter in the first place. You were so disappointed that you couldn’t find transportation to volunteer that I said maybe I’d volunteer.” He grinned. “You were so excited that I had to carry through to keep you from being disappointed in me.”
“I didn’t mean —”
Sam interrupted Mary’s protest. “I’m not complaining. In fact, I’m very grateful to you for encouraging me to volunteer in the first place and for encouraging me to continue. Even if I do get discouraged from time to time, working with the homeless is the best thing I’ve ever done. And when I am discouraged, all I have to do is think about your smile, and it lifts my spirits.”
“Mary lifts everyone’s spirits,” Judy said. “When I had my first baby, I was practically a baby myself. Sometimes I think I cried as much as the baby did. Seeing Mary at church every week was a big help.” She turned to Sam. “Like you said, that beaming smile always made me feel better. The baby too. She’d stop crying as soon as she saw Mary. And Mary always acted like she thought I was the greatest mom in the world.”
“I do think that,” Mary said.
“I’m not, but your faith in me certainly made me a better one. When there was nobody there but the baby and me, I’d get so stressed out, I didn’t know what to do. She’d just keep screaming and nothing seemed to help. But I’d think about Mary and I’d sit in the rocker and talk softly to the baby. I’d tell her I was trying to be as good a mother as Mary thought I was.” Judy chuckled. “I don’t know whether Melody had cried herself out by then, or whether it was the rocking and the talking, or whether she recognized Mary’s name, but she’d finally go to sleep. She’s eight years old now, and she runs over to Mary as soon as we get to church. Mary makes her believe she’s the smartest, best little girl in the world.”
“I know what you mean. I remember when I had some serious business problems.” Roger looked around the table. “I thought I could solve my problems by bending my values just a little. When I saw Mary at church, she told me how she admired me for basing my business on my Christian values. Her faith in me made it much easier to resist the temptation to compromise my beliefs.”
Mary opened her mouth in a surprised O.
“What happened with your business problems?” someone asked.
“We all know the Lord works in mysterious ways. I had some tough times for a few weeks, then I got the biggest contract of my career. The businessman who signed the contract told me he had been watching me to see if I would compromise my values in order to save my business. He did business with me because I didn’t take the easy way out. I might not be as successful as I am today if Mary didn’t have so much faith in me,” Roger said.
“I would never even have finished my book, much less sold it, if it hadn’t been for Mary,” Susan said. “I’ve worked on the manuscript on-and-off for years. After Mary found out I was writing, she started asking me every week how my book was coming.” Susan turned to Mary. “You were so excited, you inspired me to keep writing even when I doubted I’d ever finish. I wasn’t going to tell you til the book came out, but this seems a suitable time to let you know.” Her voice quivered as she said, “Mary, the book is dedicated to you.”
Mary tried to wipe the tears from her eyes. “I don’t know what so say. I can’t believe . . . ”
She didn’t realize Pastor Davis had stepped up behind her until she felt his hands on her shoulders. “Attendance at this church has improved since you’ve been a member. Several people have told me that seeing you here every Sunday in your wheelchair inspires them to be more faithful in their own attendance.” The minister patted her shoulders. “Mary, you have a very special gift. God put you here to inspire and encourage your fellow man. Your smile is a beacon light of faith and love that will shine in the hearts of the many people you inspire long after that smile is lighting heaven instead of earth.”
“Father in Heaven, thank You for answering my prayer. Thank you for the gift I didn’t know I had. And thank you that now I know. Please help me continue to use the gift You have given me to Your glory. Amen.”