Every spring I have ambitious plans for creating a beautiful haven in my back yard. I pour over magazines, dreaming of lush plants, tranquil water features, and sheer beauty spilling from every bed. I put on my gardening gloves and head out, ready to conquer the curse of thorns and thistles and bring beauty and order to my corner of creation.
I usually last about 4 hours before I give up.
Gardening is hard! This year we spent all of our time and gardening budget on removing poison ivy and hauling in a truckload of rich soil. None of this produced the magazine worthy garden of my dreams. Yet all of it was incredibly necessary. Gardening takes time, hard work, and patience. It requires me to commit to the long haul, to get my hands dirty, and to wear myself out investing in things no one else will see so that beauty can spring forth from a ground that is cursed. I struggle to live in the tension that exists between toil and fruition.
Digging in a Desolate Land
I am not alone in this struggle. In some of Israel’s hardest seasons, when their lives probably felt like a pile of dirt and poison ivy, God made his people a promise. He spoke of a day when, “their life shall be like a watered garden, and they shall languish no more” (Jer. 31:12). To his people living in exile, who lived with uncertainty and unrest, God proclaimed, “This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden…I have rebuilt the ruined places and replanted that which is desolate” (Ez. 36:35-36). God comforted his children in tumultuous times by reminding them that he is a gardener…
There is a short-term mission trip truth that many of us understand: The one going on the mission trip usually receives way more than the people to whom we are hoping to minister. And that was true last summer when I visited some old friends of mine in Kenya. A team of women from my church went to teach at a women’s leadership conference and put on a medical clinic. It was fantastic.
If the Lord Wills
As we arrived, we started reconnecting with women I hadn’t seen for years. It felt a little like old home week! I was laughing and chatting with a friend of mine when I remembered something about her. This woman would rarely make a statement regarding her future without ending that sentence with the phrase: “If the Lord wills.” It was like her own personal punctuation mark.
She’ll say something like, “Sue, I will see you in the morning, if the Lord wills.” My friend is a farmer and lives her life a little more hand-to-mouth than some of us do. She lost her daughter tragically and has a deep faith in the Lord. She knows exactly what it feels like to pray for rain, food, clothing, and all the Matthew 6:25-33 things. I don’t know about you, but I sometimes forget that the Lord has a plan, a sovereign plan, and everything we have is from his hand.
One of the most difficult days for me since this whole crisis started last March was when I began to clear my calendar of upcoming events, both professional and personal. I mean, I wasn’t simply postponing things or rescheduling. I was removing them from existence. It hurt. Many of us have experienced grief and loss of many kinds during this season…
If someone asked you in 2015, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” would you have said, “In the middle of a pandemic?” More than likely, it never crossed your mind. Suffice it to say we are all not experiencing what we expected. Here is the big question #1, how do we deal with the gap between what we expect and what we experience? Sometimes it feels as wide and deep as the Grand Canyon. Big question #2 follows closely behind, what will fill the gap? Since we are all riding this fluid wave of uncertainty, the potential fillers are limitless. Here is my real-time confession of what has filled my gap since March.
Fear of getting sick. Fear of suffering. Fear of disappointing others in a cancel culture. Fear a scratch church plant named King’s Cross we sought to launch in March will not flourish. Fear of the unknown. In Latin anxiety means “to choke.” There are more than a few days when these fears feel like they are strangling me. But when I look across this insurmountable chasm, I ask my Father for faith to fill the gap. I know without it, it will be impossible to please Him (Hebrews 11:6).
I am a long-range planner by nature. Last year I traveled to locations all over North America working with Hinged teams to make our conference plans. I remember praying with teams, but I am not sure any of us quoted “if the Lord wills” (James 4:15). These past six months, I have led these teams through a disappointment discipleship course. It was the class we never wanted to attend. It is a gospel classroom where we ask God to transform us in the gap. The curriculum is designed by the Spirit to produce endurance, character, and hope (Romans 5:3-5)…
The global pandemic of 2020 brought fear and uncertainty to our world. “Shelter in place” became our new normal. In the midst of this crisis, I saw someone post a picture of a black sheep in a nearby yard. As one of the Lord’s sheep, I’ve loved sheep for many years and have seen them on farms both here and in Great Britain. But I’ve but never seen any in my neighborhood.
So, I prayed that the black sheep would come through the woods and into our yard. Ten days later, I looked out the window and saw the black sheep along with a white one! They continued to come in our yard every day. They were calming and beautiful to watch, a great diversion from the news of the virus. As these sheep wandered into our yard each day, I couldn’t help but think of the comparisons in Scripture between us and sheep— between shepherds and our Great Shepherd.
Prone to Wander
The sheep wandered through the woods between our house and other houses in our neighborhood. They were lost and could not find their way home. They needed their shepherd to rescue them.
I memorized Isaiah 53:6 as a child. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” I was like the sheep in our yard who had gone astray until I trusted in Christ for my salvation at age eight. He became my shepherd who rescued me and gave me new life in Him….
I was 23 years old when I started praying daily for my husband and 33 when I met him. From the time we came home from our honeymoon, we prayed the Lord would make us parents. It wasn’t until the day before our 3rd anniversary when we finally received a positive pregnancy test.
Waiting has often been a painful part of my story, but as I look back, I can see the Lord’s hand through it all. In many ways, the waiting was and is not complete, but in that sense I feel a kinship with many familiar Bible characters, and more so, the ultimate story of redemption. We are all waiting, aren’t we? How I long to wait well and in ways that honor God!
When it comes to waiting well, the following are five helpful principles I’ve learned during long seasons of waiting:
Be Honest with God. Your Heavenly Father knows you are in a season of waiting. He hears every cry of your heart, sees every painful tear that falls, feels every flicker of hope you feel. He knows it all, yet He longs for His children to be honest with Him, to wrestle with Him, and to continue to respond to Him in prayer, petitioning and trusting that He has not forgotten you. As Elisabeth Elliot said, “Waiting on God requires the ability to bear uncertainty, to carry within oneself the unanswered question, lifting the heart to God about it whenever it intrudes upon one’s thoughts.”..
I appreciate the convenience technology affords us, especially in these times of social distancing, but there are some things I refuse to let go of. I’ll take a printed book instead of an e-version any day, still subscribe to the local newspaper, and prefer a pretty paper calendar over one connected to my email. In fact, I have some traditions associated with the latter.
I start each year by writing birthdays and anniversaries on the pristine pages. These milestones are recorded in ink. All other entries are penciled in as they come up— adventures to look forward to, savor, and then look back on as well as more mundane commitments like getting my teeth cleaned.
I suppose my habit of writing changeable events in pencil began shortly after my career did. (I didn’t have a computer, much less an iPhone in 1980!) I soon discovered there are many moving pieces to corporate life and that meetings were apt to change as were travel plans, so pencil it was. Forty years later, I’m still penciling in items subject to change.
Cancellations Here, There, and Everywhere
I never would have imagined all the times I’d reach for my trusty Pink Pearl eraser this year. One by one, activities came off my calendar — appointments of various kinds, lunches with friends, 5k races, garden tours, even Grammie days — disappearing into so much eraser stubble. The avalanche of cancellations gradually turned into a trickle, sparking tentative hope the few remaining events, further in the future, could be salvaged.
Alas, the cancellations continued. A calendar entry marking a much-anticipated family reunion in South Dakota became the latest to succumb to my eraser, another casualty of unknowns surrounding the trajectory of COVID-19…