In 1971 we visited my uncles and aunts in Kansas. Uncle Eli took us to a home that was being broken up after the death of the husband and it had a huge library that was being dismantled to be donated to the Christian school in the area. Uncle Eli said we could take whatever books we wanted. I found a little devotional book, My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers, that I have read through dozens of years. The first few years I argued with Chambers over a lot of things. Over the years, however, I quit arguing as I grew in my faith and deepened in my understanding of God. Now I add notes to each day along with my prayers that arise from Chamber’s writings. He says that God brings things into our lives, not just for us, but for us to learn lessons that He intends us to use as we share the love and life of God with those around us. We are to take the lessons He teaches us and pass them on, but the lessons come, not as head knowledge, but as experiences that change our lives and drive God’s truths deep inside of us.
If you know me at all, you know I am a storyteller. I think it came from growing up in a preacher’s family where, when events happened, we would comment, “There’s a sermon illustration in there somewhere.” Events unfold in stories to my mind. As a child I was often accused of lying, for my quirky way of seeing the world didn’t appeal to people who saw it in black and white details. In fact, even my husband used to try to correct my stories until one day God showed him that even he didn’t see all the specifics of an event. Only God knew the whole story and my way of seeing was as valid as David’s facts-only base of viewing life.
It is with this storytelling basis that I venture to share with you some of the truths God has taught me over the years.
One of the most basic lessons I’ve learned is that God is good all the time. This is a lesson I’ve learned, not necessarily from the highs of my life, but usually from the hard things I’ve faced.
As a writer, the easiest way I pray is by writing letters to God. I have stacks of notebook that go back over forty years. As I have read through those notebook I’ve seen many prayers that God did not answer. I pleaded with God many times to remedy a problem in my life or to give me something I longed to receive and it appeared that He ignored my requests. But as I’ve gone over these prayers years later I discovered something. God did not ignore me, He simply knew me better than I knew myself. There are verses in Romans 8:25-27 that say, “But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” I have learned that when I pray, the Holy Spirit within me says, “Father, she doesn’t understand what she is asking. This is really the true desire of her heart,” and He rewords the prayer according to the will of God and according to my deepest longings. That is the prayer God answers. Let me give you an example.
In the early eighties we wanted to buy a house near Lake Zurich, Illinois where we had been living for over six years. During that time we lived in four different houses and we were tired of living-in with people or renting. Both options left us bound by other people’s rules. I pleaded with God to allow us to buy a home close to the church where David was the associate pastor and near the park district where I was teaching preschool. It didn’t happen. As I read those prayers years later, I thanked God that He hadn’t answered my pleadings. One year later, God moved us out of the Chicago area to Champaign, Illinois where we not only purchased two houses in our twelve years there, but He allowed us to build one and have the fun of picking out the design and all the furnishings. Had we purchased one in Lake Zurich, it would have been a hassle to sell it in the timeframe we had for moving and after one year in the financial climate of the early eighties, it would have been a huge financial loss for us. God’s plan was much better and gave me the creative outlet I was craving.
In the late seventies my great-aunt Suzanne had one child, Patty, and she had four children. Patty’s husband, Don, was in the National Guard reserves and away for two weeks so Patty decided to visit him. On the Sunday before she left, she talked to some friends at church and asked, “What do you do when your children want to play funeral?” On Wednesday night at church Patty mentioned to her friends that she felt the need to go to each of her children that week and make sure they had personally said “Yes” to Jesus. On Saturday, when they were traveling to Minnesota to visit Don, they hit a semi-truck head on and were all killed instantly. How does that show that God is good? As friends related their last conversations with Patty to my aunt Suzanne, she realized that God not only prepared her daughter and grandchildren to meet Him, but they had left behind a clear testimony that Patty and all four of her children loved God and were now they were safely and forever with Him in heaven and that Suzanne would definitely see them again. Inside her grief, Aunt Suzanne had the wonderful hope of being together once more and that brought her peace in the center of her pain. In the middle of it all God sustained Don as well and brought him through without bitterness to a place of peace and joy.
Our family has been riddled by tragedies yet God’s peace and love has flowed over us and His goodness has shone brightly. It has taught us that God’s goodness doesn’t mean everything will be easy, but it does mean that He will love us, hold us, and lead us through the trial to victory on the other side. He pours out His peace, joy and grace in the middle of everything. He works all things together for our good and His glory as we trust in Him.
Today I struggle with a terminal illness. It is not what I wanted or expected in my life. Yet God’s hand of goodness overflows. He gave wonderful physicians, free medication that would have been impossible to afford on our own, and already He has extended my life for almost a year beyond what the doctor’s told me I would have. During this time, He gives me strength for the things I need to do, joy in the wonderful moments with my husband and family, and peace that tells me that He is the one in charge of my life. This has made life more precious than I ever imagined possible. He has proved once again that He is good all the time.
Some people say God doesn’t want us to have pain and anytime it comes it is from the enemy. I don’t believe that for a moment. I was teaching a club for children and the memory verse for the day was John 16:33: “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” I asked the children what promise of God was in the verse, thinking that God had promised peace and to overcome the world. Instead, one of the girls answered, “Tribulation.” I did a double-take, but she was exactly right. God disciplines us, brings trials to teach us that His grace is sufficient, and allows sufferings so we can join in the sufferings of Christ.
David has had the privilege of teaching leaders of the underground church in places around the world. In one group David led, several had just a month before been imprisoned for their faith. One man was taken by the guard and told he was to be beaten to death. As the beating was happening, the man began to laugh. It made the guard hit him harder. The harder he was hit, the more the man laughed. Disgusted that the beating was just bringing the man joy, the guard threw him back in his cell. When his friends asked him what happened, he said as he was being beaten, he remembered the verse from Matthew 11:28-29: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” The man said he realized he was bearing the yoke of Jesus and sharing in His sufferings, and that filled him with joy. That joy saved his life. A week later they were all released from prison by a miracle and a month later were in the class with David.
David told the men he had not expected them to be such fun-loving, joyful people after all they went through. They told David they pray for persecution to come to the American Church, for they believe it is only in persecution and great trial that we come to understand the great love of God.
But God is good in joyful times as well as trials. He gave me the very best husband in the world even though, in the beginning, I wondered about His gift. As He has grown us up and together, I’ve come to marvel at the wonderful gift He gave us in our marriage. His ability to put just the right people in our path, to give us gifts just as we need them most, and to bring opportunities we never thought possible into our lives have often left us gasping for breath.
One incident was when a woman called us from Austria and asked if she could stay with us while her daughter checked out the University of Illinois. They came and then wanted to go to the University of Indiana. On Sunday after church we were just heading out the door when the phone rang. It was a friend from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Conference Center asking if we could pick up someone at the Champaign bus depot and bring him to Decatur, Illinois where our friend could pick him up. We said we could, especially as we were just heading out the door to drive to Decatur for lunch. In our tiny Toyota, Corkie, her daughter Heather and I squeezed in the back seat while David and the young man sat in front doing small talk to get acquainted. The young man told us he had been living in Russia working for a man who was part of a new political party. He wanted to know what clubs American high schools had, so, being a Christian, the young man mentioned Youth for Christ, Young Life, and Fellowship of Christian Athletes. His boss stopped him and told him to go to America and find out how to get Fellowship of Christian Athletes in all the schools of Russia. (This was just as the Wall was about to come down.) He had been disappointed because FCA is only a stateside organization. Corkie, our new friend in the back seat chimed in. She and her husband were in charge of Campus Crusade for Christ in Europe, especially in training people behind the Iron Curtain in case the Wall ever fell. She told the young man they had trained leaders for Athletes In Action all through Russia, but no contacts to get it into the schools. In our car the two traded information and as you know from history, the Wall fell, and Campus Crusade for Christ moved into the schools of Russia with the Jesus movie and thousands came to Christ. We sat in wonder at the goodness of God to let us have a tiny part in that great miracle. We planned nothing. God did it all.
God is good all the time. In pain, in trial, in joy and in the unexpected. God is at work for our good and His glory. And He makes it all good.