I met Beth in 2009 while on a trip to Australia and New Zealand. A member of our traveling group, she was younger than I, tall, thin and perky. I liked her immediately. Although I knew her only briefly, she has had a lasting impact on my life.
We had lively, sparkling conversations throughout that trip. She was from Illinois, outside of Chicago, owned a small gift store and was well traveled. Beth also was the mother of twin daughters, now 30, and she wanted desperately for them to marry so she could hold and love grandchildren. As we talked, it became clear that my new friend was a devout and practicing Christian. Our group traveled together for a month and Beth's vitality enhanced the trip for everyone.
A year after our return, Beth was diagnosed with advanced bile duct cancer. She was as surprised as everyone when she heard the news. When I got word of the news, I could barely reconcile the energetic, adventuresome, enthusiastic woman I had met with this bleak diagnosis.
We talked several times on the phone after her treatments started. Once, my call interrupted a Bible study being held at her house. I prayed while I knitted a prayer shawl for her. On a regular basis, I checked the website where her daughters posted updates on her condition.
Despite her doctor's best efforts and her own indomitable spirit, Beth died in May 2011. When she died, we did the things people do to show respect. We sent cards, donated to the organization identified by her family and prayed for her loved ones. But closure didn't come to me. I continued to think about her.
Several months after Beth's death, a package arrived from her husband. Inside was the book "Jesus Calling" by Sarah Young. A note accompanying the gift said that "Jesus Calling" had been the devotional guide Beth was using at the time of her death. I was touched by this kind gesture, leafed through the book, and then -- given the press of daily life -- laid it on my desk.
Each time I passed my desk, I saw it and thought about the title. Before long, the book had indeed lived up to its name, and I couldn't resist "Jesus Calling" any longer. As I read each day's devotion, I soon discovered the strength and reassurance the book must have given Beth. Written as if Jesus himself is speaking, the devotionals gave me strength and reassurance, too. With each one, I felt peace in my soul and a powerful sense of Christ's undergirding love and constant attendance upon us.
So meaningful did my devotional time become that like all good things, I wanted to share it with my family and friends. I was hesitant at first. I have seldom discussed my beliefs with friends, but my conviction to share this book was strong. Eventually, I felt an urging I couldn't ignore and ordered seven copies as Christmas gifts. I sent one to our daughter, one to our daughter-in-law and others to our five close friends. With each, I enclosed the story of how "Jesus Calling" came to me and what reading it daily had meant.
Comments from those who received the book told me my risk had been worth it. Our daughter-in-law said, "This is a lovely gift," and for my birthday she gave me a sharing gift, "Devotions for Grandmothers." A friend who had received the book wrote, "The book is perfect and I love reading the daily messages. They help me especially in tough times." Another said, "Thank you for your thoughtful gift and accompanying heart-felt note. I will begin tomorrow with the Jan. 1 devotion. I am trying to focus more on my spiritual life."
In the note accompanying each gift, I described Jesus Calling as the gift that keeps on giving. In the Christmas spirit of giving, I wanted to share this book with you, my readers.