“Sometimes in the country, you will see an old water-wheel outside of a mill. The water fills its buckets, and all day long it turns round and round in the sunshine. It seems to be working in vain. You see nothing that it is doing by its constant motion. But its shaft runs through the wall; and within the mill it turns the stones which grind the wheat, and the bolts which prepare the flour for the bread that feeds hundreds; or runs the looms which weave the fabrics that keep many warm in winter. There are lives which with all their ceaseless toiling, seem to be accomplishing nothing; and yet they reach through the veil into the sphere of the unseen world, and there they make blessing and benefit which value is incalculable. There is a success which is not measured by the standards of this vain world. There is an invisible sphere in which values are not rated by dollars and cents, but by their spiritual and eternal character.” ~ J. R. Miller, 1896
I’ve been awake since 4:20 this morning. We just returned home from China with Lilyan and are still marveling over her story and the wonder of the actual, real-life “her.” She’s amazing, and I’ll try to share more about her and our trip to China in future posts, but for right now I’m struggling with a terrible case of jet lag, and ashamed to admit that I’m quaking in my boots this morning as I think about the year or so I know we have ahead of us.
Lilyan’s medical needs are even more severe and unclear than we expected, and tomorrow we will face the first of an unending stretch of appointments as we begin to get a better picture of where our life will go from here.
But the memories of our son Jaden’s first year at home are fresh enough that I have a pretty good idea what’s coming at us now.
And I feel tired. And scared.
As I was trying to focus my foggy brain on a quiet time this morning, I came across the quote above, and it reminded me of something I wrote almost exactly a year ago, during that really tough time with our new son. I haven’t posted it here, yet, so I’m doing that now.
Re-reading it today encouraged my heart as I try to stop flinching and just rest in the knowledge that whatever is waiting on the horizon for us is part of God’s beautiful story. He already has it well in-hand.
Maybe it will encourage someone else, too.
“You guys must walk a life of faith. I felt the presence of God the minute I walked into your home. You and your husband are so alive with the power of God, and I’m so blessed and a better man just because of meeting your family today.”
As I sat in the back of the ambulance with our little Jaden and listened to the ambulance attendant say these words, I felt so confused. I wanted to hang my mouth open and say, “Seriously??!! I mean, are you kidding me?”
I remember not so many years ago, feeling like God was painting a beautiful masterpiece as He built our family and ministry, The Shepherd’s Crook, and how He had seemed to be working through our lives to show Himself to other people.
It was a hard life, and some years were harder than others, but most of the time God’s presence was so tangible, and we felt like we could see the incredible piece of artwork He was creating as He wove the threads of our life together day by day.
We felt like His fingerprints were so visible to a watching world, and we regularly asked Him to make us worthy to serve as His ambassadors.
This was what we had longed for when we made that commitment to give God every aspect of our lives as a sacrifice and when we told Him that we would follow Him anywhere He led us—even if we couldn’t see where we were going.
But during the year or two leading up to this encounter in the back of the ambulance, we felt we had been battered about so severely that we were just scrabbling to survive every day and to maintain some kind of a grasp on God and our faith.
There were times when we clearly felt His hand moving through our lives as He brought new children into our home and still sometimes brought big answers to our huge prayers for help. But more and more it seemed like we were asking questions we felt we should’ve been mature enough to already know the answers to, and fighting with doubts concerning truths of God’s character that shouldn’t still be a part of our Christian walk.
We were tired. We were discouraged. We were dealing with some big behavioral and spiritual issues with a few of our children that challenged our confidence as parents; we were fighting medical crises one after the other with no end in sight; we couldn’t pay some of our bills; we hadn’t been able to attend church for six months; The Shepherd’s Crook was in serious financial trouble and on the brink of folding; and weariness seemed to just be waiting for us, hovering in the air each day as we climbed out of bed.
Just the day before this ambulance ride, I had gone out for my early morning walk and prayer time.
My prayers that morning were nothing but whimpers for help, as I poured my heart out to God, telling Him that I just didn’t know what He was doing or what had happened to the beautiful testimony we thought He had been sharing through our family.
I cried out to Him, “God, what happened to that beautiful work of art You were creating? Everything is such a mess now. Where are You? I feel like we’re nothing but just a big ol’ smashed mud pie now!”
I had come home from my walk with a heavy heart and unanswered questions.
And suddenly here was this sixty-plus-year-old ambulance attendant stating that during the ten minutes he had been in our home placing our son on a stretcher while Jaden’s siblings watched and encouraged their baby brother, he had seen and felt God’s presence and that his life had been changed! How could that be?
As I pondered this over the next few days, I was ashamed of my arrogance in thinking that I was the best judge of what God was doing through us. And I began to regain my perspective.
We shouldn’t spend too much time wondering if God is using us. We shouldn’t be focusing on ourselves at all. Instead, we should just be looking at Him and trying to keep doing the work He puts before us no matter how hard or how useless it seems to be.
It just might be that, when we see nothing but messy, watery, flattened mud pies, God is causing a watching world to see fabulous sand castles built in His name, created by His hands.
Are we willing to let God smash us and make a mess of the pictures we create in our minds when we think we’re smart enough to have His plans all figured out?
If we can reach a place of letting go in this area, then He will squeeze and squish and shape us into something that will allow the world to see past us so that they will be able to look into the face of the Living God.
“. . . But he who calls in secret on his God—who spends much time in holy retirement—who delights to meditate on the words of the Most High—whose soul is given up to Christ—who delights in his fullness, rejoices in his all-sufficiency, prays for his second coming, and delights in the thought of his glorious advent—such a man, I say, must have an overflowing heart; and as his heart is, such will his life be. It will be a full life; it will be a life that will speak from the sepulcher, and wake the echoes of the future. ‘Keep thine heart with all diligence’ (Proverbs 4:23), and entreat the Holy Spirit to keep it full; for, otherwise, the issues of thy life will be feeble, shallow, and superficial; and thou mayest as well not have lived at all.” ~Charles Spurgeon