We think we know where our lives are going, but we don’t. We think if we invest conservatively, spend responsibly, think positively, plan wisely, tithe weekly, and obey God completely, we can plan our lives, and everything will turn out as we desire. But God has not promised us an easy life.
That certainly hasn’t been our story, and I’m glad. If my life had turned out the way I prayed, begged God, and whispered in blessing over my children morning, noon, and night, we would be in a very dark place, for I prayed then out of fear.
“Lord, please don’t let this happen….”
“Lord, keep them safe from….”
In my mind I pictured a very different type of life than God has given us. This life was safe and healthy, peopled with sunshiny Christians and governed by tidy bullet-pointed lists of rules telling us how to obey God and live a holy life. All we had to do was follow the guidelines, tithe, teach our kids enough Scripture, show them how to do what’s right, serve faithfully in church, and all would be well. Everyone would be safe.
At that point in time I never prayed, “Lord, do whatever You must to turn our hearts toward You, to draw us to know You, love You, and trust You. Lord, break down our pride and make us more like Jesus. Lord, humble us and convict us of sin, so we put You first, rather than ourselves.”
I couldn’t have even thought that prayer, for my entire life was governed by fear. My childhood was spent in the epicenter of Tornado Alley. Sexual harm had struck young. Betrayal had destroyed my sense of trust. God had seemed vindictive then. I didn’t know His character or trust Him.
Rule-keeping was my attempt to appease what I then viewed as a lightning-bolt-hurling Zeus-like god and to somehow earn his protection. I had no idea then that those early hurts had twisted my life and shaped my beliefs.
But Jesus loves me, so He had to teach me to trust Him.
He broke down my false sense of control and unraveled my flawed theology by allowing my world to fall apart and then rebuilding it. These have been His most effective tools for millennia. He humbled me, strengthened my family, and tore out the roots of fear.
In 1993 it began with my surgery. Then the rain began to fall.
It didn’t stop for four months. Kansas turned into water, a five-hundred year flood. Dams overflowed. Houses floated down the river. Our foundation cracked and bowed inward. Inspectors proposed an impossible repair plan, eliminating all options.
A son blew his knee, a father-in-law died, a mother got cancer. A child was hit by a tram while we were on vacation. Horribly painful physical therapy and debridement followed. Three hit-and-run car accidents and piles of medical bills rocked our pocketbook.
A few months later another child was spared, knocked down somehow but not hit by a speeding car, prompting the police officer to call it a miracle. A son faced a crisis of faith that would wreak havoc in his life for the next fourteen years. My overprotective mother instinct went into full alert. Thus ended year one. On it went.
Blessings in the middle: A baby on the way. A promotion. A child’s mission trip. Our precious children. These kept us alive and breathing.
The new baby needed four eye surgeries. The already struggling son was assaulted by a gang. Bravely, he testified in court. My husband’s salary was frozen for eleven years out of the next twenty, no C.O.L.A. in a household with growing children. The house was lost. Our tires were slashed. We became poor. I quit praying.
In our new community a neighbor invited me to a Kay Arthur Bible study that posed the question: Lord, Where are You When Bad Things Happen? Good question. I studied. I threw that book across the room. I shook my fist in God’s face. We hurt. We questioned. Answers began to come, but I didn’t like them. I couldn’t comprehend.
We went bankrupt. Two kids left for college, one after another, hurt, angry, and paying their own way. My health broke, the beginnings of my current autoimmune diseases. Uncontrollable diarrhea created an anxiety disorder. But no break. We moved again. My husband needed promotions to keep up with the cost of living.
A child fell, a CT scan, back and forth to a doctor in the next state, and then neurosurgery followed by a terrifying life flight. This was the final straw. I cracked. Try as I might, I couldn’t keep my kids safe. I begged God for help, to let us keep this child, to give me real faith for I had none of my own. He did.
A corner had been turned, but I didn’t know it then.
A child’s wedding. Three moves in one year, putting us near the best rehab facility for the recovering child. We lived across the street from Columbine when the massacre happened. It changed us.
But blessings: Our HS-age child had chosen not to attend there. Our bills from all the previous disasters were paid off that year. Our first grandchild. Another child in college. Two more moves. Our family and our faith kept us going.
God chiseled away. He was patient and thorough. Much talking, repenting, and apologizing. Wounded children needed to recover. My panic disorder pinned me in the house, where I stared at Jesus’ words, listening to His answers. God began rebuilding my theology on Biblical truth.
My legalism was uprooted, my fear teased loose, my faith strengthened. The work continues.
Our story of hardship used to be unique. Now these stories are everywhere. You may have a similar story.
Could it be that the way to revival is for everything to come crashing down upon us?
Must the restoration of people to the Lord begin with the eradication of all our props and artificial hopes?
Could it be that the Lord is preparing His people to be courageous?
The life I had envisioned was a puny and frightened one. In it my grown children lived next door where I could keep them safe, rather than stretching their wings wherever God takes them, proving their courage, and using the gifts God has given. In this dream, I was in control, rather than ever learning to yield to my God and entrust all of us to Him.
But God had a better idea. He always does.
Occasionally, I find myself tugging toward the old dream, feeling out of kilter in this brave new world. And then I remember God’s goodness. He loves me so much that He couldn’t leave me in that broken state. As the One in charge of my sanctification, He knows what I truly need.
My need is Jesus and the realization that my eternity is secure in Him, no matter what happens to me and mine on this earth.
Romans 8:26-39 is true. When we love Jesus and commit our lives to Him, God orchestrates everything that touches our lives to come together for our eternal and our spiritual good. No trial, no matter what it is, can separate us from God’s love. We are His forever.
The Lord continues to work it out. It continues to be surprising and unexpected. It is always above and beyond my weak and puny dream. Sometimes it’s messy. But I wouldn’t change it.
I only wish I’d cracked sooner.