“Jesus Really Loves You, Shirley!”
By Maria Fontaine
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It was my birthday and I was returning a phone call from one of my relatives. I was surprised when an unknown voice answered the phone.
The woman on the other end sounded groggy and weak, she seemed to barely have the energy to respond to my questions. “No, you must have the wrong number. Yes, that is my number, but there’s no one here by that name.”
I sensed that she was weighed down with some great problem. My first reaction was to try not to inconvenience her more than I already had, so I was hastening to politely say goodbye. “I’m very sorry for bothering you.” Then I realized that this was no accident. It was not a coincidence; the Lord had intentionally put me in contact with this woman, and I shouldn’t be worried about taking a little more of her time in order to offer some encouragement or witness.
The day before, I had reread an article that I’d written a few years back where I had described how I’d nearly missed my chance to give a witness to someone because I was waiting for a “good opening,” which didn’t seem to come.
I knew the Lord was saying, “Don’t risk missing it this time! Do it now! Make the connection!”
My mind raced, trying to think of what to say, but all that came to me besides “God bless you” (which sometimes doesn’t seem to mean much to people) was “Jesus really loves you.”
That seemed trivial to me. Couldn’t I come up with something more profound? But nothing else came, and I had to say something, so I sympathetically told her, “God bless you. Jesus really loves you!” I paused and waited, half expecting to hear the click of the phone being hung up. But all that I heard was silence.
Finally, with a halting, faint voice, the woman said, “You have no idea how much I needed that today,” as she started to weep uncontrollably.
This began a conversation that lasted for over half an hour as she told me her name was Shirley and poured out her heart about how her closest friend, her older sister, had just died, leaving her life shattered. Shirley is 71 and was experiencing some serious health problems herself. The other two people she shared a house with were moving on, leaving her with no idea of where to go and no finances to move.
I told her I couldn’t offer her any easy solutions to her troubles, but I knew the one who could help her. I encouraged her to look to her Savior, trusting Him to carry her through this dark time and back into the light of a new day. I said, “I know Jesus loves you. That’s why you picked up your phone today, because He wants you to know that too. He cares about your every need, and He is going to get you through these hard times.”
Having learned from Shirley that her sister was saved, I shared some things about heaven with her. I emphasized that I was certain that her sister was waiting for her there where they’d never be apart again. Finally, I prayed for her and in the prayer quoted several verses from John 14 where Jesus comforts His followers and tells them He’s going to prepare a place for them. I asked the Lord to hold on to Shirley during this very difficult time, reminding her of Jesus’ promise that He will never leave us nor forsake us. I explained that Jesus wanted her to look to Him and trust Him, because He alone has the power to turn even the terrible experience she was facing at the moment into something good.
By the end of our phone call, Shirley seemed like a new woman. Her voice had become clear and strong, and she seemed to have regained her hope and faith that there was a solution coming to her problems.
What had seemed to me to be such an inadequate and almost clumsy way to witness, because it wasn’t the “smooth” and “professional” approach that I wanted it to be, turned out to be exactly what this dear woman desperately needed to hear.
There are so many who are struggling with hardship, grief, and troubles of all kinds! Sometimes, there seems to be no way out of their dark canyons of sorrow and despair. But even though we in ourselves don’t have the answers to fix their problems, we do have the truth and a living, active connection with the one who knows exactly how to bring His people through the hard times and into new and greater victories.
Following this phone call I was curious to understand how this whole mysterious set of events could have happened.
Shirley had told me that she almost didn’t answer the phone because she saw that it was an unknown number, which she would normally never answer. On top of that, she was feeling so hopeless that she couldn’t stand the thought of talking to anyone. But for some reason she went ahead and answered.
Thinking that somehow the number for my relative must be incorrect, I called her husband and got through to her that way, sharing the amazing story of Shirley. I discovered that the number I had called had been my relative’s number in the past. She’d changed it recently and had forgotten to tell me.
This experience turned out to be a wonderful blessing, a memorable gift from Jesus to me on my 71st birthday. There is nothing better that I would have wanted to do on my birthday!
I was in awe at how He prepares situations to coincide with the needs of His children and to encourage us and show us that He’s an active part of our lives.
It also shows how even a simple phrase—and one so familiar to us—can be very powerful and can start a witness that can transform a person’s life in a moment of great crisis or desperate need. It gave me a renewed vision to do whatever I can to stir myself up to witness to and pray for those who are facing such dire circumstances and almost overwhelming struggles.
This motivates me to look for any opportunity that comes along to be faithful to my calling as an ambassador of Jesus—to be His instrument to reach out and touch lives. This manifestation of His love for me confirmed once again that in regard to my own needs and those of others, He will always do whatever it takes to care for us, just as He’s going to answer my prayers for Shirley!
One thing I’m sure of: He will use each of us in unexpected ways if we’re open to His directions. Something this experience reinforced in me was that I need more humility; I can’t be worrying about what people will think or how something will sound. If I’m truly wanting to follow Jesus and His example of making Himself of no reputation, then I need to be willing to do the same.1
He’s already done the hard part: making the gift of salvation available to all. We just have to be willing to embrace every opportunity He brings our way to share His truth and love with others. Whatever approach He chooses to use, it’s a chance to leave others’ lives strengthened and our own lives more fulfilled and blessed. Praise the Lord!
Originally published December 2017. Adapted and republished August 2020.
Read by Carol Andrews.
1 Philippians 2:7.