This last week at our ministry we had to have some incredibly difficult meetings. One of our larger donors is having their own financial issues, and it’s trickled down to us, cutting our ministry income dramatically. The cuts we’ve had to make are difficult and painful, but they are cuts that need to be made for the ministry to survive and move forward. I know the pain we’re going through is ultimately a good thing. The idea that this is a positive season took some convincing for the other people in the meetings, but we know God will use this.
It’s easy to spout the platitudes that God can use all things, that all things work together for good, etc. It’s very different when you’re going through trials, attacks, and challenges many people never anticipate. It helps to look through the lens of history to see trials and tribulations that are not only survived, but cause a ministry or individual to strengthen and to flourish. We do need the storms in our lives to toughen us, to grow us, and to cause us to depend on God once again.
Several years ago there was an experiment in Arizona where scientists created a biosphere (not Bio-Dome, the horrible 90s movie with Pauly Shore, but the same idea). A biosphere is a complete ecosystem within an enclosed space. It’s helpful in research due to the ability of the people running it to control all the variables. Scientists built a HUGE biosphere with everything needed for the plants, animals, etc. to survive. After a while something started to happen, the trees were growing well but had very little bark. Soon all the trees began to topple over, one by one, under their own weight. No one could figure out why. They had good soil, the right amount of water, the temperature was right, there was no disease or pests, but the trees were dying anyway. It took a while, but they finally figured it out. There was no wind. A typical tree from a young age is buffeted by breezes, winds, and storms. A tree bends back and forth, sometimes dramatically, sometimes subtly, but a tree is almost always in motion. The action of the wind makes the tree stronger; it causes bark to grow to protect the tree, it causes roots to dig down deep to build a solid foundation. The daily struggles against and with the wind prepare the tree for the storms that inevitably come. Without wind, a tree withers and dies.
Many years ago, our home cared for several young men with spinal cord injuries. One young man in his late teens was paraplegic, but it never got him down. Carlos was very bright, friendly, and had become fully bilingual while in our home. Over time the other children in our care, the staff, and many of the visitors came to love Carlos and the way he carried himself. He was a powerful example and an encouragement to everyone he encountered. One day, while he was preparing to leave for two weeks of treatments at a medical center in California, he made a point to say a real “goodbye” to a lot of the kids and staff – I think he somehow knew he would not be back. In route to the hospital, he had an adverse reaction to some prescription meds and passed away. Carlos’s death was obviously a very difficult time for our large family. We spent a great deal of time with the kids in our care to help them through the grieving process, while we were also grieving.
A few months after Carlos passed we were talking about the experience and what came of it. Carlos was now waking in heaven, he died too soon in our eyes, but there is nothing we can do. It sounds odd, but children in an orphanage never deal with actual death. They aren’t around grandparents who die. Most of the children in our care, if they remember parents at all, they remember them as alive and younger – most of our kids are with us do to abandonment or abuse, very few from the death of parents. Death just doesn’t come up too often in an orphanage. Carlos was the first death in our big family in over ten years. Along with many other lessons learned from the passing of Carlos, it opened the doors to some great conversations with our many children about how fragile life is, about the need to use the time we do have here well, about appreciating those around us while we can. It also opened up the conversation about preparing for eternity into sharp focus. Don’t get me wrong, Carlos’s death was tragic, but it caused huge growth in our children, our staff, and the ministry as a whole. Would I want to go through that again? Of course not, but it did bring many hidden blessing only seen in hindsight.
No one goes looking for trials and hardship. No one enjoys suffering loss or being hurt by others. We don’t need to look for difficult times because life tends to bring them to our door. Difficult times are part of the fallen world we live in. It’s so important to realize that as believers, our Heavenly Father is more powerful than any trials or hardships that come into our lives. He can take the pain and cause growth; He can use the winds of this world to make us stronger, to build us up to be mighty oaks against the powerful storms that, with time, come into everyone’s life.
Embrace the storms in your life, dare to spread your arms and catch the brunt of the winds that blow against you. God will not only keep you upright; He’ll use it to make you stronger if you allow Him.
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