Over the course of a summer, we entertain 2,000 guests in our hotel, The Logan, in Ocean City, New Jersey. Location is definitely part of the draw?it's a block away from the boardwalk. My husband Larry and I had first vacationed there ourselves 38 years ago. We enjoyed it so much, that Larry would always say to the owners, "If you ever decide to sell the place, let me know." I thought he was kidding.

Until 28 years ago, when we became the new owners of a turn of the century hotel. There I committed my life to Christ. From that point, our desire was to use The Logan to glorify God.

But on this particular summer day, I was having a difficult time at the reception desk. Two ladies stood before me. One did all the talking. The other never made eye contact or spoke a word.

"I wonder what's wrong with her?" I asked myself, trying not to stare.

The two had booked a room with us for several days, so I was going to be seeing them regularly. How should I handle this? I could ignore the silent woman and treat her like she was treating me, or I could treat her like I did all the other guests. I opted for the second choice.

"Hi, Nancy! How are you this morning? Did you sleep well? You must have. ? you look pretty bright-eyed and bushy-tailed!" I'd say as she came down the steps into the lobby. Inwardly, I chuckled at how funny I must have sounded. After a day or two, I heard her chuckle, too. But she never spoke.

The day the two were checking out came quickly. "Lord, is there a gift I can give Nancy that would help her to know that you love her?" I prayed. Searching my room, I found a little plaque, which I quickly wrapped in tissue paper. Frantically, I ran through the lobby, out the door, and down the front steps. I was relieved to see that Nancy and her friend were still in the loading zone, packing the car.

"Nancy, here's a little gift for you," I said breathlessly. Then, without thinking, I wrapped my arms around her and gave her a big hug in the middle of Sixth Street. She remained stiff and silent. I waved goodbye as I climbed up the steps.

What did I do?

A prayer of intercession pressed on my heart. "Lord, you know what is wrong with Nancy. Why doesn't she talk? Why was she so unresponsive when I tried to hug her? She reminds me of a puppy that's hurting. I'll probably never see her again. But you will. Please wrap her in your arms of love and heal her hurts."

I busied myself with hotel matters. My thoughts concerning Nancy were prayerful but shrouded in mystery.

A few months passed, and we moved back to our home in Maryland for the winter. One day the mailman left a lot of mail, most of it forwarded to us from Ocean City, New Jersey. One letter was from someone whose name I didn't recognize?until I began reading.

Dear Joyce,You may not remember me. I'm the lady who didn't talk. I really did love my time at the Logan Hotel last summer. You had no way of knowing but you gave me a very special gift when I left?your hug. It was the first time anyone has ever hugged me in my whole life! I know now that God really does love me and I need to get close to him again. Thanks for letting him love me through you. I will never forget.Love, Nancy

I never dreamed that God would take such a small effort on my part to bring about such big results. (All along I thought the gift was the one wrapped in tissue.) I know in my heart that it was really God who wrapped Nancy in his love that day. He only used my arms.

Multiplied hugs

More than 20 years later, Nancy and I remain good friends. We continue to send each other stationery and gifts with "hugs" on them. I never cease to be amazed when I pick up the phone and hear Nancy's cheerful voice on the other end. She still loves to tell others about the healing that God's love brought in her life.

One of her favorite pastimes is to listen to praise and worship tapes, something I believe God has used as a powerful tool to restore her feelings of self-worth and confidence.

p>After Nancy moved to Florida more than 15 years ago, she studied to become a medical technician. In 1998, she graduated from Bible school.

Nancy continues to enjoy God's hugs more than ever and gives them as well. When I attended a woman's conference in Florida, Nancy surprised me by meeting me at the airport. Her warm hug was worth a 15-year wait.

I wish I'd had my camera on Sunday morning when I accompanied her to church. I watched in amazement as Nancy, in her role as church greeter, hugged everyone who came through the door.

To this day, Nancy's life reflects Jeremiah 31:12d: "And their life shall be like a watered garden, and they shall never languish again." I'm privileged to have sprinkled those first drops of God's love into her life with a simple hug.

Editor's note: Joyce and Larry Coffin (pictured) are gradually turning over the operation and ownership of The Logan to Debbie and Marty Razzano and their four children. The Razzanos love the Lord and people?the combination the Coffins were looking for in new owners. You can contact The Logan Hotel at TheLoganHotel@Juno.com or by calling 609-399-9734.

Adapted from the book, Lighthouse Keeping, © 1999 Joyce Coffin. Used by permission.