Have you ever felt taken by surprise? Started down a road with “great promise” only to find the road to the promised result is a lot longer and bumpier than you thought it would be?
Normal life events take us by surprise: marriage, children, moving, all of them throw curve balls at us that we had no training on how to catch. More often than we care to admit, we arrive at those events unprepared.
Many of us dream of having children, building a family, something like a Norman Rockwell painting of days gone by: a house, white fencing, a playground in the back for the kids, a dog, and good jobs to sustain it all. What a surprise for the new parents when baby comes home! I remember years ago when we were expecting our first child. We did everything right from the get-go; we wanted the best for our baby. In those days, some of you may remember, Lamaze was all the rage and peer pressure dictated that we attend Lamaze classes to prepare for the baby’s arrival. There, we learned breathing techniques, positions to take to ease the pain of labor and delivery, and were encouraged to have a totally natural birthing experience. In addition to following Lamaze, there was a real push for “supernatural childbirth” in some churches. A cassette tape of teaching accompanied by a small book encouraging women how to believe for a pain-free delivery was circulated. I diligently followed the teachings of both: Lamaze and the process for a pain-free supernatural delivery expecting things to go smoothly.
Fast-forward a few months (mind you I was deep into preparation mode by that time) and one Monday afternoon while walking around in the mall, I felt a strange twinge in my lower back. This came a bit earlier than my due date so initially I thought it was false labor – until the twinges became full-blown knife-in-my-lower-back-put-me-out-of-my-misery pain. My husband, wrapped up in his Monday night football said, “You’re not having that baby!” To which I replied, “Oh yes I am!” It was as if a fire alarm went off and he jumped into action, up and down the stairs, “I’m going! Where is your suitcase?” This was my first undeniable indication that things were not going to go as planned…at all.
It was nearly midnight by the time we cut through all the red tape of checking into the hospital. When I was finally examined, I was told, “Oh this is going to take some time yet.” The night was young, I was strong, and I was determined to follow directions: breathe right, lay on my side, rub a tennis ball on my back, and pray, pray, pray. The minutes turned into hours and the pain, contrary to my great hopes and prayers, went from my determined announcement of, “This is very hard but I’m gonna do this!” To my begging, “Give me SOMETHING!!!” Before my son was delivered the next morning just after 7, I had had two injections for pain and wanted a third but was told when I asked for that third shot that I was too far advanced for more painkillers. Each of my preconceived ideas for a smooth, pain-free delivery went out the door. There was no breathing technique known to man that could’ve helped me – and I wondered how could I have possibly been so ill prepared? Taken by such a surprise? How could I have failed so miserably?
And…the surprises kept coming. My baby had colic for the first full year of his life; sleep was a rare commodity in those days. Slowly, very slowly, I began to predict the unpredictability of parenthood. I threw out books and tapes on perfect parenting and simply listened to other mothers who had walked longer in those shoes than I had. By the time my boy was three, I woke from my disappointed slumber, no longer berating myself for my naiveté, and wanted more children! What was wrong with me? I went through two more deliveries, still unprepared each time, and one adoption but I learned through them all and fiercely loved them all (and still do!). What didn’t bother me so much as time progressed were the surprises that crossed my path. I grew accustomed to rolling with the punches and began to laugh at myself for being surprised; for life, I had learned, was full of surprises.
Life, and its accompanying surprises, has a way of exposing our pride, revealing our lack of faith, and displaying our faults out in the open for all, ourselves included, to see. If only we would enter into adulthood as if we were still children – simply trusting our Father to take care of us no matter what unexpected circumstances arise. When my babies were small, all I had to tell them when trouble came along was Dad and I would take care of it, not to worry. When they heard that answer, they turned over and slept without a care in the world. Mom and Dad were going to take care of everything and that was all the assurance they needed. Oh that we would learn to trust our Father like children again!
Instead of living carefree, we allow the disappointments of life to weigh us down; we’re bent over under the weight of this world.
Age and life experience, another lesson I’ve learned, doesn’t disqualify me from being blindsided by life. Living on the foreign mission field is an unpredictable – and wonderful – adventure. Nothing is normal, anything is possible, and there are unexpected events that take place, sometimes by the hour.
There’s a certain romance in the Western mind about the mission field. I’ve seen it and heard it when traveling stateside and in Europe. We are told by some that they admire what we do, thank God for our service, yet we feel so very under qualified to serve these people God loves so very much and who deserve so much more than we can offer. Somehow, despite our shortcomings, we were given this call and we do our best to be faithful.
While on the subject of missions and the connection between the West and the mission field, I wanted to debunk an idea that some might have about those serving overseas. I get the distinct impression that those on the other side of the pond think missionaries must love everything they do and have lots of faith to get things done. Yes, we love the field, but we don’t always love everything associated with our call and often feel that our faith is so very weak in the face of the great challenges we face. No one loves financial strain that, for the most part, doesn’t come and go for the missionary. It seems financial strain comes to set roots down in everything we do. No one loves to see young children suffer in famine, such as we now have in Malawi, and have our hands tied by finance and circumstance to do anything to bring them relief. No one enjoys rejection, yes, we missionaries and the Gospel we carry are often rejected; we aren’t received with joy and red carpets. It can be a lonely and tiring journey – but the rewards of seeing lives changed far outweighs the bumps we face along the way.
Like everyone else, we are not immune to discouragement and find, in the process of time, that we bend over under the stresses of circumstances far beyond our control. Therein our pride is revealed when we think our presence can do anything, for it’s only by the Presence of God can things change. Therein is our lack of faith revealed when we doubt that God hears our prayers when it seems answers are delayed. These are our faults and imperfections and yet God still chooses to use us, any and all of us who dare to walk down this road towards a City that God is building.
Psalm 145:13b, 14 NLT “…The Lord always keeps His promises; He is gracious in all He does. The Lord helps the fallen and lifts those bent beneath their loads.”