If You Give a Monkey a Light Bulb

by Sandi Banks

You are the LORD, my only source of well-being. Psalm 16:2 NET

If there were an organization called Mischievous Monkeys Anonymous, surely Mimi would be its poster child.

 Mimi, a pet ring-tail capuchin, ruled my friend’s home throughout the 1950’s. This energetic monkey was the strong-willed, creative, hyperactive problem-child in this family of eight—the one whose inherent naughtiness could not be blamed on either side of the family.

Her antics included stuffing the bathroom sink with towels and flooding the living room carpet with the cascading water … swinging from chandeliers while cradling raw eggs … tossing bright-colored packages into the grocery cart … and shaming the next-door bully-dog with her screeching and stick flailing. Her repertoire could fill volumes. But Mimi, being half-smart, taught me one lesson I’ll never forget.

She knew the light bulb in her outdoor cage was the source of warmth on chilly nights. Smart. So, every night she unscrewed the warm bulb, wrapped it in her blanket, and held it close. The warmth lasted about as long as you could say, “Not smart.”

Mimi cut herself off from the source of her comfort. A cage finally had to be put around the bulb so it could stay plugged in and keep her warm.

If we’re honest, you and I may find we’re a bit like Mimi at times—those times when we acknowledge that the Lord is our Source yet remove ourselves from Him and try to go it alone … when we walk past our Bible on our way to look for self-help books … when we forego prayer time to pour our problems out to a friend with a willing ear.

Certainly, books and friends are important. But when trials hit, we don’t want to be half-smart, embracing something that’s been removed from the source. We want to be plugged into the ultimate source of wisdom, truth, and strength:

The Lord is the source of all my righteousness and strength (Isaiah 45:24 NLT).

I will go to…God, the source of all my joy (Psalm 43:4 LT).

He will be the source of peace (Micah 5:5 NLT). 

He is the source of all comfort: (2 Corinthians 1:3 NLT).

Your Word is my source of hope (Psalm 119:114 NLT).                                           

Whenever I find my life in a power-shortage, I think of Mimi, and turn to the Source: “God, the Father, Who is the Source of all things and in Whom we have life. 1 Corinthians 8:6 AMPC

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

About the author:  Sandi Banks is an author and devotional writer for numerous publishing houses. As a storyteller, she draws upon her years of ministry and travel in 40 countries, living abroad, leading Bible studies, and hosting Summit Ministries’ worldview conferences. Her passion is bringing the hope of Christ to hurting women through writing, speaking, and mentoring. Find her at sandibanks.com

Join the conversation: How do you plug in to the Source?

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Bedside Vigil: Finishing Well

by Sandi Banks

Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Romans 12:10 NIV

Funny thing about encouragement. Seems that when we need it most, God delights in sending an extra measure of it our way. Like the summer my daughter and I drove across Canada and spent a night in the home of our friend Tim’s grandparents.

His grandmother, once a gifted, vibrant “saint,” gracious and hospitable, full of youthful energy, charm, and beauty, was now aged, ill, and bedridden. Needy. Her husband served as her caretaker.

I recently happened upon my journal entry from that long-ago night. Running my fingers across the crinkled pages stained with decades-old tears, I remember it as if those tears were yesterday’s. Fresh ones fall as I read.

1 July 1998

Tonight I met a man’s man. He was not winning gold medals or flying jet planes. He was sitting quietly, lovingly, beside his wife of sixty-plus years, speaking softly to her, serving her meal, smiling as he touched her, assuring her of his presence. He communicated volumes to his beloved with scarcely a word.

She could not see or hear or speak, and writhed uncontrollably at times under the covers. This precious woman was no longer the lovely young “trophy” on his arm, no longer “useful” to him, no longer able to stroke his ego or keep him entertained.

I even wonder how much she was able to comprehend, as I was, of this quiet endeavor unfolding at her bedside—a gift, whose receiver is incapable of giving anything in return. For this godly husband, love transcends all outward limitations. He is in it for the long haul—in sickness, in health, in the untidy, and the intolerable. His own body is frail and moves slowly. But tonight, in my eyes, he proved himself to be an inimitable tower of strength.

His strength lies not in his carriage but in his courage. His faith is reflected in his faithfulness. His character is revealed by his care.

He is committed for life, finishing strong. He’s a man’s man.

Just wondering, Lord, what is it that causes one man to obey his desires and another to desire to obey? How I long to be the latter, to be obedient in the dailies, to endure hardships to the end, and to hear Your words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

I slowly close my journal and open my heart to what God is trying to teach me in the revisiting of that scene. It had unfolded just after my own husband of twenty-two years announced that he no longer loved me and decided to toss out the wife of his youth in pursuit of others.

So, that night, in all its poignant contrast, was a beautiful, living portrait of a man in pursuit of his God, who enabled him to love well, endure well, and finish well.

May we all open our hearts to Him, that His light might shine so sweetly and faithfully. And may we all draw near to our loving Heavenly Father, who holds us close in our brokenness, tending to our needs, encouraging our hearts. 

He simply loves us. No expectations. No rejection. No pointing out any frailties, failures, or faults. Pure love. Unconditional love. Everlasting love.  

Lord, please help us all to love like You.

Serve one another in love. –Galatians 5:13 NIV

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

About the author: Sandi Banks is an author and devotional writer for numerous publishing houses. As a storyteller, she draws upon her years of ministry and travel in 40 countries, living abroad, leading Bible studies, and hosting Summit Ministries’ worldview conferences. Her passion is bringing the hope of Christ to hurting women through writing, speaking, and mentoring. Find her at sandibanks.com

Join the conversation: Have you ever seen someone serving in unconditional love? With no hope of anything in return?

The Desert: Where Peril Meets Peace

by Sandi Banks

Did you know there are people who actually love the desert? My dear friend Susie is one of them, and she was determined to turn this mountain-stream girl into a desert-lover. She invited me on a grand adventure—a day in the Arizona desert.

Stepping out of her Volkswagen bug, Susie and I began our trek across the barren wasteland. As I gagged and dragged my body through the dry, dusty air, I envisioned ravenous vultures circling overhead. (This does happen. I’ve seen it in the movies.)

I tried putting on the proverbial rose-colored glasses, but no amount of positive thinking could hide the prickly, parched, and colorless surroundings.

“Honestly, Susie, everywhere I look I see … well … brown.”

“Ah … but consider all the shades of brown,” she countered.

I could do that. Milk chocolate. Dark chocolate. Fudge Dreamsicles.

Okay, so brown can be good. But when it accompanies the blistering, cracked, harsh and hostile? Not to mention the slithering, scaly and scorching? I don’t think so.

Being an optimist by nature, surely, I’d find some redeeming feature, right? Something living among the dead? A tiny rose amid the thorns?

No sooner had I pondered these questions than a jumping cholla cactus latched onto my hand and, within seconds, thrust its fish-hook-like barbs into my skin. The harder we tried to remove it, the deeper it dug. We had to leave our grand adventure in the dust to seek help.

Alas, the desert was not for me. Or was it?

Years later, as I began a deeper dive into the Bible, I gained a new perspective on the desert, and its relationship to God and His people.

I learned that the Hebrew word for desert is the same basic word for speak. I discovered how often God spoke to His servants in the stillness and desolation of a desert to give them a greater vision of Himself or the work He had for them to do. And I marveled at the goodness of God toward His wayward children in the desert.

Moses’ song in Deuteronomy 32:10, 11 (NLT; bold added) reminded them and reminds us:

            He found them in a desert land, in an empty, howling wasteland. He surrounded them and watched over them;             he guarded them as his most precious possession. Like an eagle that rouses her chicks and hovers over her young, so he spread his wings to take them in and carried them aloft on his pinions.

What a beautiful picture of their Father God, shielding them like a loving shepherd, guarding them as the apple of His eye, and protecting them like a mother eagle through the perilous desert. The Lord alone guided them. And He alone guides us today.

We may be in our own kind of “desert” right now: confined to a prison of fear or failure; suffering the devastation of a broken heart or broken home; grieving painful losses; struggling with shame or forgiveness; facing “impossible” circumstances. But no matter where we are or how we got there, God is with us. He cares. He guides. He encircles us—not like a vulture we fear, but like an eagle we trust.

I wonder. What if we were to invite our loving Shepherd into our desert, and trust Him to lead us through the barren wasteland, and to an oasis of His healing, refreshment, contentment … and life?  

I believe we could all learn to love the desert as we keep our hand in His and allow our God of Peace to guide us, especially through the prickly parts.

[From] A psalm of David. When he was in the Desert of Judah:  You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water. Psalm 63:1 NIV

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

About the author: Sandi Banks is an author and devotional writer for numerous publishing houses. As a storyteller, she draws upon her years of ministry and travel in 40 countries, living abroad, leading Bible studies, and hosting Summit Ministries’ worldview conferences. Her passion is bringing the hope of Christ to hurting women through writing, speaking, and mentoring. Find her at sandibanks.com

Join the conversation: What have you learned from God in the ‘desert’?

“…And He Tells Me I am His Own”

by Sandi Banks

I lift my fingers from the strings of Mom’s grand old concert harp. The lilting strains of the beloved hymn “In the Garden” linger in midair, as I wipe fresh tears with the back of my hand and breathe a bittersweet sigh. How I miss her.

Memories flood my mind, as the lyrics soothe my soul:

“I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses, And the voice I hear falling on my ear, the Son of God discloses.” Without warning, my mind punches “rewind,” to a day long gone: August 20, 1956. My 10th birthday.

Our family was in crisis since Daddy had left several months earlier and Mom had moved her three daughters to Denver. A difficult transition. But on this day, I bubbled with excitement at the thought of having friends over.

We cleaned house, picked fresh roses from our garden, and began greeting our guests. Instantly, all seven girls gathered like magnets around Mom’s harp and begged her to play.

So, there in the living room of our tiny duplex, Denver Symphony’s harpist gave her daughter a beautiful gift: a mini concert for her new little friends.

They were awestruck. I was overjoyed. “Thank you, Mommy,” I whispered. “My very first slumber party! It’ll be so much fun!”

In her warm and winsome way, Mom welcomed everyone and began presenting the party plan. “After dinner, we’ll play games and open presents, and—”

“Hey, where’s your daddy?” my new best friend Sheila interrupted, facing me squarely. “Oh … he’s … he’s working,” I lied.

“Where’s he sleep?”

“Umm … in there.” I pointed to Mom’s closed bedroom door.

Sheila burst into the room, the others trailing behind. A single bed; flowers and lace. “This is your mommy’s room. Where’s your daddy sleep?”

I felt my face burn red hot. A lump formed in my throat.

“Well, see, Daddy works really hard and comes home really late, and he loves us so much, he doesn’t want to wake us so he … umm … sleeps downstairs.”

No sooner had the words tumbled out my mouth than The Sherlock Seven, relentless in their pursuit, descended the basement steps, only to find a wringer washer and a pile of old newspapers. The truth became painfully clear to them all.

Incensed, Sheila strutted toward me, knuckles on her hips, eyes ablaze. “You don’t even have a daddy, do you!”

Her words pierced my heart. I burst into tears, raced upstairs, locked myself in my room, and made Mom send all the girls and their gifts back home. I sobbed into the night.

And He walks with me, and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own …” Slowly, I lower the harp to the floor. It’s been over fifty years since that day, yet the sound of Mom’s gentle voice through that door remains a poignant memory.

Oh, Mom, I never considered what you went through that night. I only knew my pain. Now I understand, and I love you all the more.

“Where’s your daddy?” I answer now with a grateful smile, pointing to my Heavenly Father. The day I finally did open the door—the door to my heart— a few years later, He came in and drew me close. I embraced His truths and became His beloved daughter.

The love of a mother. The love of a Heavenly Father. Priceless.

“And the joys we share ,as we tarry there, none other has ever known.” Those joys, His promises, give us all hope:

“For God has said, ‘I will never leave you; I will never abandon you….’ ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5,6 GNT).

“Nothing can ever separate us from God’s love…revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38,39 NLT).

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

About the author: Sandi Banks is an author and devotional writer for numerous publishing houses. As a storyteller, she draws upon her years of ministry and travel in 40 countries, living abroad, leading Bible studies, and hosting Summit Ministries’ worldview conferences. Her passion is bringing the hope of Christ to hurting women through writing, speaking, and mentoring. Find her at sandibanks.com

Join the conversation: What promise of God gives you the most hope?

Pardon Me for Staring, But…

by Sandi Banks

Have you ever wondered what people watched before Netflix, You Tube, or Direct TV? For me, it was something far more entertaining: People.

How so? Journey back with me to a time when God first taught me a simple but profound truth by watching folks going about their daily lives. It’s the 1960’s and I’m in high school in Las Vegas—a town full of fascinating people. Yet, for me it’s not so much the celebrities who intrigue me, but the “ordinary” people—those who pass by as I sit on my usual bench at Vegas Village.

 I watch. And I wonder.

I watch the young mom juggling bouncy kids and bulging bags. I wonder how she’s managing, if she’s happy in her “mom” role, and if she has a husband at home to help her.

 I watch the teen “hoods” strutting by in black leather jackets and upturned collars, streaming smoke and vulgarities. I wonder how they got here, where they’re going, and who waits for them at home.

I watch an elderly couple, shuffling slowly by, arm in arm. I wonder what they were like at my age, what they did, what they dreamed of doing. I wonder how they met, and what life in the early 1900’s was like for them.

I watch, and I wonder, about the stream of “ordinary” people passing by—where they’re headed, what’s brought them to this town, what makes them laugh, or cry—and occasionally, what’s in their shopping bags.

Many of them fascinate me to the point of wishing they would come sit by me so we could chat, and I could listen to their stories. Thankfully, my people-watching at Vegas Village led to a degree in psychology rather than an arrest for voyeurism.

Today, over 50 years later, I picture that young mom’s kids with their own bouncy grandkids … those black jacket guys with silver hair, or no hair, on Medicare … and that elderly couple together in eternity.

Life passes by quickly, and the people who file past us day in and day out are far from ordinary. Each has a unique story. God can use them to enhance our lives, and teach valuable lessons, if we look beyond what our eyes can see, to what God sees.

“The Lord does not look at the things man looks at.  Man looks at the outward appearance, the Lord looks at the heart.”  1 Samuel 16:7 (NIV)

I wonder who God will put in my path, and yours, today, to plant a new thought or spark a new interest, or add some new dimension to our remaining days.

In this new year, what if we were intentional about looking, and listening—seeing beneath the surface. We just might find extraordinary treasure hidden in the hearts and lives of ordinary people.  

“Everyone has something extraordinary that can change you. A different perspective, a unique experience, a gift. We’re all ordinary people, but we are all extraordinary in our own way.” Skip Pritchard

 This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

About the author: As a published author, international traveler, and inspirational storyteller, Sandi delights in pointing people to Christ, by weaving insights and hope from His Word into her stories—her struggles, adventures, and humorous misadventures—through forty countries and forty-plus years of life. She inspires others to mine the Bible’s treasures for themselves, and fall in love with Jesus. (Stop by for a visit, at http://www.sandibanks.com)

Join the conversation: Who has God placed in your path recently that has enhanced your life?

The Lopsided Poinsettia

by Sandi Banks

With Christmas waiting in the wings, my 10-year-old heart bubbled over with excitement—not at what I’d be getting, but what I’d be giving.

Our Girl Scout Troop 362 busily prepared for an outing to the Denver Convalescent Home—a memorable night of caroling and gift giving. Our annual visits seemed special to those folks. Even when we messed up lyrics or sang off-key, they still liked us. We made them smile, and they did the same for us.

I dubbed that year, “The Year of the Poinsettia.” We labored for weeks, crafting our crimson wonders out of crepe paper, flowerpots, colored foil, sphagnum moss, wire, and ribbons.

I wanted my gift to be perfect, but I had a problem. My artwork was usually the object of someone’s best guess: “Oh look, our little Sandi sculpted a rooster out of clay;” “No, dear, I think it’s a buffalo, or maybe a dump truck.” This time, I longed for someone to say, “Oh look, a poinsettia, a perfect gift!”

So, I worked extra hours, meticulously molding, gluing, and tending to every detail. At last, I deemed it perfect. I couldn’t wait to give it away.

The night finally arrived, and so did the fifty-two of us, sporting our green uniforms and clutching our red poinsettias, completing the Christmas palette beautifully.

Moving down the corridors, room by room, we caroled our hearts out, while I diligently searched for that special someone—the one who most needed my perfect gift.

Entering the doorway at the end of the hall, singing the first strains of “Joy to the World,” I spotted her: an elderly woman in the far corner bed. She looked sad, and alone. My heart melted. I made my way across the room.

“Merry Christmas!” I beamed, stretching out my gift-laden arms. But when I looked down, I noticed one leaf was loose, and the plant lay lopsided in its pot. Oh no! Quickly, I tried pulling it back, but it was too late.

The woman’s dim eyes brightened, her mouth quivered into a smile, and tears trickled down her cheeks. As her frail, trembling hands reached out to take the foil-covered pot, our eyes met. We grinned. And for a few precious moments, we spoke volumes without a word.

I placed the poinsettia where she could see it, and I watched her carefully study it, top to bottom, flaws, and all. She seemed to smile from the inside out. Suddenly the words flawed and lopsided didn’t seem so bad somehow. I had made a sad person happy with my less-than-perfect gift.

Rejoining the group for the final line, I sang out with a thankful heart, and fresh understanding of the words, “…And wonders, wonders of His love.” Joy to the world, indeed!

It was a night I’ll never forget: the imperfect gift, the joyful receiver.

Now, with a sense of awe, I reflect on that first Christmas night over 2000 years ago, when God gave His perfect Gift to us: the Baby in the manger, the Savior of mankind.

In a world where “buy-one-get-one-of-equal-or-lesser-value” reigns supreme, we wrestle with the very idea: How could God incarnate give His perfect life, in exchange for our flawed and sinful ones? That kind of love will always remain a sweet mystery to me, I suppose.

Christmas is the season of giving, but it’s more than that. It’s looking into the face of our Savior, and with a thankful heart, seeing His gift as the ultimate Gift, then reaching out to receive it with joy.

This Christmas, may we all be generous givers—and grateful receivers.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 NIV.

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

About the author: Sandi Banks is an author and devotional writer for numerous publishing houses. As a storyteller, she draws upon her years of ministry and travel in 40 countries, living abroad, leading Bible studies, and hosting Summit Ministries’ worldview conferences. Her passion is bringing the hope of Christ to hurting women through writing, speaking, and mentoring. Find her at sandibanks.com

Join the conversation: Do you have a Christmas memory of a gift you couldn’t wait to give?

When the Bough Breaks

by Sandi Banks

C-r-r-r-a-c-k! The eerie sound startled us awake at midnight. From our window upstairs, we watched in horror as our 45-foot-tall Bradford pear tree crashed to the ground—splayed, as if by a giant pie slicer, by the weight of ice from a sudden storm.

Stunned, we silently surveyed the scene from above, as our neighbors ran out to witness the spectacle. That stately tree was all any of us had ever known in the front yard. Over the years it had provided welcome shade, a sanctuary for birds, and a stunning array of seasonal colors and beauty. Now its ice-laden limbs lay in a heap on the gray, barren ground.

Stillness hung in the air for a time. Then my father’s soft words dispelled the darkness of our world, and ushered in a ray of glorious light.

Four words, simple but profound: We’ll plant fruit trees.

Ah, yes. We’ll plant fruit trees.

I don’t know your story. You may be weathering a storm much like this one, where your world has crashed down around you and, like a giant tree, your life lies shattered and crumpled: Someone you had known and loved…something that had brought you joy, fulfillment, shelter, provision or hope…something or someone you thought would always be there…now gone. And you’re devastated. You ask heart-wrenching questions like, What do I do with my pain? Can anything good come from this? Will I ever be whole again?

We don’t know about our tomorrows. But our Heavenly Father knows. And in that desperate moment when it seems we are without hope, He wraps His comforting arms around us and whispers to our hearts: O beloved. We’ll plant fruit trees.

And we will, as we lean on Him and let Him lead us through the storm. He is in the business of rebuilding, of “bringing beauty from ashes…turning our mourning into dancing…restoring what was lost.”  (See Isaiah 61:3; Psalm 30:11; Isaiah 58:11)

And in the process, we learn who He is, and who we are in Him.

Remember, He is the King of Kings; we are His daughters. Royal Princesses! He longs to bring hope to our hearts—even joy.

The next time you feel anxious, overwhelmed or burdened by the weight of a life storm, picture your loving heavenly Father caring for you: with one hand under you, holding you, sustaining you… and His other hand over you, protecting you, covering you, as you nestle in and prepare your heart for something special.

“The Lord is good, a stronghold in a day of distress; He cares for those who take refuge in Him.” Nahum 1:7 HB

 This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

About the author: As a published author, international traveler, and inspirational storyteller, Sandi delights in pointing people to Christ, by weaving insights and hope from His Word into her stories—her struggles, adventures, and humorous misadventures—through forty countries and forty-plus years of life. She inspires others to mine the Bible’s treasures for themselves, and fall in love with Jesus. (Stop by for a visit, at http://www.sandibanks.com)

Join the conversation: Are you in a storm right now? To what hope are you clinging?