Cinderella. Everyone knows her story. She's the kind, pretty girl who lived in rags as a slave to her ugly stepmother and two stepsisters. On the night of the grand ball, Cinderella was cruelly prevented from attending by these two selfish stepsisters. Her heart was crushed in disappointment. She ran to the garden in tears to be alone, only to find to her amazement an old woman whom she had never seen before. This gentle woman, Cinderella discovered, was her fairy godmother. With the wave of a wand and few magic words, Cinderella was transformed into a most beautiful princess. She was whisked off to a ball where she met Prince Charming. Of course, it was love at first sight and they lived happily ever after.
"Happily ever after" is the stuff of which fairy tales are made. Though we wish it were so at times, life is not a fairy tale. God is not a fairy godmother with a magic wand waiting to wish our troubles away. He has plans and purposes far higher than fairy magic. The problem for me, and for other Christians as well, is the clash between two purposes and wills: God's and mine. Many times they are not the same.
Not quite three years ago, I experienced a conflict between God's will and plan and my own. But unlike Cinderella, I found no magic wand to wish away my troubles. Let's go back in time and I'll share the events of those significant days.
A scary moment
Tuesday morning dawned clear and warm with the promise of another hot July afternoon to follow. We proceeded with our normal routine of dressing and helping children dress, eating breakfast, looking for lost tennis shoes, and combing tangles out of chlorine-dried hair. A couple of hours later, I was driving home after having dropped the children off at their summer activities when, suddenly and without warning, I became extremely dizzy, almost blacking out. I managed to pull into a parking space, though I could hardly see. I dropped my head on the steering wheel and prayed, "Lord, please let me get home." I was only a block away. My vision cleared somewhat and I slowly drove home.
My next prayer as I parked the car was that Dennis, who was working at home when I left, would still be there. I made my way through the doorway, dropped my purse and keys on the kitchen floor, and fell on the bed, greatly relieved that my second prayer was answered. Dennis was home. After a couple of quick phone calls, he helped me back to the car and we were hurriedly off, weaving through traffic, trying to find the quickest, shortest route to the hospital. I rode in the reclined passenger seat of our van. My heart was racing at 200 to 300 beats per minute. My mind was racing, too. Who would the cardiologist be, since we were in another state for four weeks? How long would it last this time? It had been seven years since we'd discovered this congenital heart problem. Why was it happening again? Why now?
The big surprise
Approximately three months before this traumatic Tuesday, I had discovered another plan God had for my life that was not my own. We were nearing the end of an unusually busy spring, one that also contained more than its share of pressure. We were looking forward to the end of May and longing for summer with a break in the action.
During those months, I was feeling particularly stretched with our children. We had five. They were normal, active, curious children with five different personalities and five different sets of needs and problems. It was what I'd always wanted, and I was grateful to the Lord for each of these five treasures; still I was glad to be through with babies and pregnancies. I was looking forward to graduating from nursery duty.
May came—the downhill side of the mountain. The days were warming up and the flowers in our small garden began to branch out and bloom richly. I had planned to do some painting on our deck and wicker chairs before the real heat of the summer arrived. Suddenly my motivation was gone. I wasn't noticing the flowers and the beautiful days. I was mentally preoccupied. I wasn't gliding downhill as I had anticipated. I felt like I was climbing back up another mountain. I had found God's will for my life in May. Another child. I was pregnant and completely caught off guard by the news.
Didn't God know I had all I could handle with five? Didn't He know I didn't want to go through all this again? I was sick physically, and drained mentally, and tired just thinking about six children.
Learning to trust God's will
The next two months were hard ones for me. I prayed and I cried and I read Scripture—falling asleep in the middle of verses. Life was reduced to whatever took the least amount of effort. I acknowledged at the very beginning my submission to God's will for my life. I told Him I would obey and follow, but it took a long time for my feelings to catch up. Many days feelings of discouragement and inadequacy would take over. I continued to wonder why. And to wonder how I could do what God had called me to do.
During my time of adjusting to God's will, I listened to a story on cassette tape with my children while riding in the car one day. The narrative was about Glenn Cunningham, a famous track star of the 1930's who overcame a doctor's prediction when he was nine years old that he'd never walk again. This young boy clung to a verse his father had read to him. It was Isaiah 40:28. That afternoon when we got home I got my Bible as soon as I could and read Isaiah 40:28 and into Isaiah 41. I stopped at verse 10, which says:
"Fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand."
I reread it several times for it encouraged me that God said, "Fear not, for I am with you, I will help you." I knew that God who had called me to be a mother and who had chosen to give me this new child would to only be with me, but would also give me the strength and help I needed.
Back to Tuesday, July 3. I lay in the coronary I.C.U. with tubes and wires seemingly stuck everywhere on my body. My heart was out of control. I was helpless. But my main concern was the child within me. It was genuine evidence of God's work in my life. I wondered if I had gone through these last two months becoming excited about this child only to lose it? Knowing God, that He can heal and protect, but also knowing that He is the giver and the taker of life, I prayed simply that He would protect our baby and spare its life and mine. I continued that prayer and committed my life into His hands as I lay there growing weaker and weaker, only semi-consciously aware of the flurry of activity around my bed by doctors and nurses.
After two hours of trying different medications, I was put to sleep and my heart was retimed using electric shock treatment. When I woke, the nurse told me I was okay and the baby's heartbeat was a strong 152 beats per minute: I was so relieved that I cried for joy because of God's goodness to me.
In the aftermath of these two unexpected parts of God's plan for my life, I found I needed to take time—time to recover physically and emotionally, but also spiritually. Time to pray about my recurring fears of "will it happen again?" and "is the baby really okay?" Time to think about my life, my relationships with my husband and children and my priorities. And I needed time to read the Bible for direction and comfort. God usually doesn't speak to me in the very first verse I read in time of need. Listening to God's voice takes time.
Being conformed to Christ's image
Through that pregnancy and hospitalization I once again learned that accepting God's will for my life is often a difficult assignment. God's will requires adjustment. It also may carry a price tag called suffering—whether it be emotional, mental, or physical. However, one thing is certain about God's will—Romans 12:2 tells us His will is good, acceptable, and perfect. God doesn't make mistakes. I am being conformed to the image of Christ and one day that will be completed in an instant, and, from our human perspective, as if by magic. But for now God has chosen to conform, not by magic, but through a process called walking by faith. A quick glance through Hebrews 11 tells us faith requires not a feeling, but obedience to the truth, right choices, trust, and belief in a sovereign God and looking ahead to the future He has called us to.
God's will in an individual life is much like a quilt. There is an overall pattern or design made up of hundreds of pieces. Some pieces are large, some small, some are pale in color, some dark, and some are brightly colored while others are rather dull. Choosing to be conformed to Christ's image will require some pieces that viewed up close and apart from the whole seem difficult, unpleasant, and dark. But God has the whole pattern in view as He works His will in our lives. My part, as I see the pieces coming one at a time, is to remember that He is the Creative Designer. He sees the award-winning masterpiece. With that knowledge, I choose to trust His plan, knowing that His grace gives me time to conform to His will when the pieces I see are not of my choosing.
Laura Victoria Rainey was born on a cold January night. She turned out quite healthy and normal, unaffected by my racing heart episode and all the medications and treatments she endured with me while still in the womb. She has added joy and smiles to our family and to my life.
Looking back on those days, I see that I learned some things that only experience can teach. One is a greater appreciation of God's sovereignty and a greater willingness to follow His plan for my life. I want what God wants for me more now than I did then.
Second, I learned convincingly that God will enable me to do what He has planned for me. 1 Thessalonians 5:24 says, "Faithful is He who calls you and He will also bring it to pass."
But there was also a realization gained, though I confess I've not mastered it yet. It is, that as a Christian, I often forget I am human (though often I am very aware of my humanity and wonder if there is any of the divine!). I expect and want instant-maturity. I don't consciously think of Christianity as a magical fairy tale life, like Cinderella, but in my finite ability to understand and perceive reality I want the magic wand. I would love a "bibbity bobbity boo" formula of escape when life gets tough.
Perhaps that's why prayer is sometimes difficult for me. It's not a magic formula. I am a restricted, limited human being communicating with an infinite, all-wise, all-knowing God and there is a chasm of difference between us. Although Jesus Christ has bridged the gap, given me His Holy Spirit to intercede for me, and positionally seated me in the heavenlies with Christ, I am still, confined to a frail body and a finite mind.
Two human beings, even in the most intimate earthly relationship, marriage, frequently find areas of disagreement that take time to work out. I should not expect less in my relationship with my heavenly Father. Becoming conformed to His will takes time. It's a process.
I'm thankful for these lessons learned and for the teaching God only began as a result of His interventions in my life. Difficulties afford me the opportunity to know Him better and become more conformed to Christ.
The question I asked myself during that summer of 1984 I now will ask you, for you too may find yourself in the middle of a plan that is not by your design but by God's: "What difference will this portion of God's will make in my life? Will I resist and insist on my own plan or will I submit and allow God to further conform me to His image?" The choice is yours, and mine.
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