You see, these two holiday months-November and December- don’t create warm fuzzy feelings in me. I am not thankful this time of year. I have whole lists (and probably lists upon lists if I am honest) of what I am missing in my life, places that have come up dry and hard, painful and sore. Missing holes that I’ve asked the Lord to fill, but for now He has chosen not to. It’s a hard season to swallow for me. It’s a hard season for me to be thankful.
Holes and wounds and brokenness- they just aren’t things we associate with thankfulness. But this season is about thankfulness isn’t it? Isn’t it about “1000 gifts”, prayers of thankfulness, and acknowledging those we love?
I don’t know. Maybe it’s about those things, or maybe it’s a season in the year to just endure. I can keep my lists of all the things I don’t have that seem profoundly long this time of the year and grow frustrated and lonely. But then there’s this concept of gratefulness that I do have.
Gratefulness: warmly or deeply appreciative of kindness or benefits received.
Gratefulness reveals a deep warmth of appreciation. It indicates something much deeper than thankfulness. It expresses the generosity of God in his Personhood (good, warm, loving, receptive, attentive, available). Gratefulness is receiving all the things I never knew I wanted but God gave me. I didn’t ask for them. I never prayed for them, but He gave them to me anyways.
Rather than listing all the things I am thankful for (don’t get me wrong, that is a good practice of the heart too!), I want to reflect on all the ways God gave me things I hold so dear now, that I never knew I wanted and never asked for in a few installments over the next few weeks. Check out part one, part two, part three, part four, part five, and part 6. Here’s the seventh:
God gave me a weak body
What did you imagine you’d be doing when you were 8 years old? I thought I’d be a veterinarian or maybe a math teacher. In high school I thought I’d be in special education and in college I thought I’d be moving to Haiti. I was willing to go anywhere, as long as I could sleep on the ground and care for kids without parents. I was more willing than most to do some extreme self-sacrificing, Jesus promoting ministry in a 3rd world country. In fact, my little college group of want-to-be missionaries thought I’d be the one to ACTUALLY make it on the mission field. I had the brains, the stamina, AND the will to see it through. Well, life didn’t work out AT ALL like I had thought and hoped.
Early on as a child, I was taught to work hard at everything I did. But I wasn’t taught it from a stand alone place. The underlining reason for working hard was to guarantee that I would never, ever, EVER have to rely on anyone. I was taught people let you down. I was taught in word to only trust people you are related to, but in action I was taught to trust no one, rely on no one, and never show weakess.
Only weak people rely on others. Only weak people can’t make it on their own. Weak people get into sticky and messy relationships. Weak people are abused, weak people do drugs, weak people are alcoholics and addicts and sexual offenders. Weak people use food stamps and section 8 housing. At least that’s what I was taught, not always with words, but consistently in action.
Working hard was ingrained in me and working hard, diligently, and thoroughly was what I knew to do. I did it well. I plan. I map out a strategy to accomplish things, from cleaning the house to starting and directing a teen pregnancy home in the states and an orphanage in another country (yep, I have full laid out business plans and procedures and check offs for these). When I wanted to lose weight, I even mapped out how much weight I wanted to lose by specific days in the months. And I accomplished it.
I got mostly straight A’s in school and college. I ran track, played basketball, softball, hockey, and soccer. I had the makings of an athlete with a strong mind and will power to see things through completely. I was a whole package. I was physically active. My older and younger sisters envied that school AND sports came easy to me. I didn’t play with toys or play socially like most kids. I read or shot hoops or taught myself how to do things (like bicycle or roller blade). The librarian often had books waiting for me that she thought I’d enjoy. I was a regular on the court and in the library. But when I was 17 years old, I started getting fevers.
Then I would get stomach pains and hemorrhage inside. Eating was painful. I had no energy. I threw up often. My joints and bones throbbed. I fell often. I’ve been diagnosed and misdiagnosed or “re-diagnosed” more times than I have fingers AND toes.
I had all sorts of plans for my life. I was willing. Willing to sell all I have and move over seas. Willing to die at the cost of caring for children or lepers or aids or malaria. I was willing to let go of this American dream. I was willing to let go of this America altogether. I was done with her. I wanted out of this materialistic, money-driven, exclusive-family-unit culture. I had a vision for my life, one that fit in the gospel, and I had every means at my disposal to see it through. My dreams were good and honorable and gospel oriented.
But I got sicker. Pancreatitis. Suspected lymphoma. Low dose chemo. Blood transfusions. Oxygen. Pneumonia. Trials of medication. Injections. Nutritional infusions. Shingles for YEARS. Rickets. Atrophy. Systemic arthritis. Loss of full function kidneys. Asthma. Food allergies. Environment allergies. The list goes on. And seems to get longer each year.
Directing an orphanage in another country was out.
Starting a teen pregnancy home-out.
Visiting another country-out.
Playing a sport in college was definitely out.
Riding a bike was out. Swimming-out. Kale-out. Veggies-out. Dairy-out. Gluten-out. Even living at college to finish my degree was no longer realistic.
Everything I had hoped and planned so meticulously for, was out-no longer possible. No matter how much I tried to make it happen-eating healthier, finding ways to exercise, working harder in school, making the right connections, new doctors, better doctors. Nothing I did mattered. God was not having it. I lost a lot. I was broken hearted from so many of my desires for my life, good desires, that seemed to be falling through my finger tips.
In the breaking came new desires, a new ability to live in the tension of things that were only concepts before. The irony: I have to rely on people for nearly everything.
I needed help to live. I needed to be taken care of sometimes. I needed help to shower. I needed help with laundry. I couldn’t drive. I couldn’t remember when I took medications. I needed money. I needed shoes or a coat. I couldn’t work. Can’t can’t can’t. Need need need. I was seethed at night, angry at God for all the good things I wanted to do, and He’d have me do none of it? Really? How dare He tell me what I couldn’t do!
When I was a young girl, I often said to myself, “You’re going to get out of this cycle of poverty and abuse. You’re going to make it in life.” My mom used to tell me that if I tried hard enough and put in the work, I could make it happen. It’s a good sentiment. It gave me a goal, but Jesus wrecks that.
I love how the Message puts the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:
- You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
- You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
- You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
- You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
- You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
- You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
- You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
End of your rope? Blessed. Lost what’s the most dear to you? Blessed. Have nothing to show for your life and okay to sit in the middle of that? Blessed.
I lost everything I was working towards and God said I am blessed because it’s creating in me an appetite for the things of God, not of my own will. Blessed. He’s developing in me a softened heart that cares about the things of God and cares greatly. Blessed. He even said I’m blessed when my chaotic inside world (priorities, desires, wants, needs) gets flipped upside down, because then it can be put right. And then and ONLY then can I see God in the outside world. Blessed. Only then can I be a peacemaker, a minister of reconciliation, both between people and before God.
Here’s another way to put it: “You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.“
This isn’t the life I dreamed for myself. It doesn’t always feel blessed. I don’t always feel blessed. I didn’t expect to be 27 years old, sick, disabled, single, AND in America. I half begged God to let me leave this US of A. But He hasn’t. I’m not sure it will ever be an option for me. But it’s still true, in my weak and sick body, He is using me to bring out the God-colors in this world. Maybe not in Haiti or Columbia or Turkey. Maybe just in my home, in my doctor’s offices, in the games of softball I coach. Maybe being faithful in the little things really is being faithful in much. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with living an extraordinarily normal life as a light-bearer in my small faithful ways.
I still want to sleep on the floor with orphans in another country. But maybe God’s created in me far more in the breaking of my physical abilities than He ever could have in the granting of my hopes for my life. God cares more about me than He does about my dreams.
One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much -Luke 16:10