When Yes to God Means No

“Be on guard.  Stand firm in the faith.  Be courageous.  Be strong.  And do everything in love.”  I Corinthians 16:13-14

Kicking and screaming in 2007.  Like a disobedient and overwhelmed toddler drama queen, that’s how my heart responded to the circumstances I found myself in.  And no choice.  No way out.  Really God?  I mean, hadn’t He given me enough in the past year?  A husband deployed to Iraq for a year, a senior in high school applying to colleges, a daughter getting married in the summer, a junior higher with a bad case of mono and a cancerous lesion on her shoulder needing surgery?  And now I was supposed to move to Germany?  Leave two daughters and aging parents an ocean away?  We were to ship our car and household goods, saunter back and forth across the entire country for the wedding, drop our daughter off at the college dorm curb and move to Europe.  All within 2 weeks.  I felt abandoned.  I didn’t know how to physically do it, much less emotionally readjust to a husband who had spent the last year in a war zone and say goodbye to two daughters at once.  I wrung my heart out to God, “Why have you abandoned me?”

The next Sunday, I took my angry heart to our military chapel with our two youngest daughters.  Another well-meaning military wife had just encouraged me, “Oh, you’ll love Germany!”  I didn’t want to hear it again.  Not one more time. How could they understand?  And why was I attending a place of worship?  I sat during the singing, arms folded tightly.  Don’t. talk. to. me.  The  chaplain took his place in front of the congregation.  What he said next I’ll never forget.

“I had a sermon all prepared, and last night, God told me to change it.  There’s someone or maybe several people in here who feel like God has abandoned them.  And so, today, my message for you is: God has not abandoned you.”

I’d like to say that after that glimpse- into- eternity encounter, my heart changed completely.  It didn’t.  Yet this God of grace took the screaming toddler inside of me and held me close.  He did not condemn. He held my hand across the country and back, at the wedding, and on the dorm curb.  He took it again as we crossed the Atlantic Ocean.  I learned that saying yes to God means saying no to me.

I have met many women who live out extraordinary circumstances in what may appear to some as mundane existence.   Some reside in small towns where they were born and will probably live out the rest of their lives.  Some don’t know where to call home because the military has moved them so much. Others press on in ministry, whether it be in rural churches or urban soup kitchens. Women who have turned their palms up and said, “Yes, God!” with bowed hearts to the Creator, even though they may not understand His ways.  Women who may never be well-known by the world’s definition of fame, but by exemplifying strong faith inspire others to follow Christ with abandon.

The beautiful, energetic Army wife whose second son was born with Downs Syndrome.  She and her husband named him William for William the Conqueror.  And he conquers milestones.  His optimistic, hilarious mother handles her life with grace, humor and thanksgiving.  She said “no” to self-pity. Yes, God.

The mother of 2 young children and a husband who is gone literally half the year who stays home to give her family stability.  She and her husband have an intentionality about their marriage than I don’t see in relationships where both people are home 24/7.  She said “no” to the pressure of needing more. Yes, God.

A woman who works as a children’s speech pathologist, mostly with at risk families in poverty.  She considers her position a calling, regularly praying over her patients and asking for intercession- that God would intervene in their lives and that she can be the hands and feet of Jesus.  She said “no” to doubt.   Yes, God.

The church planter’s wife with a passion for Jesus and His Word who wonders every day, “Who will you put in my path to introduce Jesus to? When will You establish this church?”  She homeschools 3 kids, clings to God’s promises with her husband, stands firm and shows courage.  She said “no” to things seen, believing in the things hoped for. Yes, God.

A young teenage girl over 2000 years ago who met an angel and was told she would bear Emmanuel, Jesus, conceived by the Holy Spirit.  Literally, breath.  God chose her because she was an ordinary girl-woman whom He knew would say yes.  She said “no” to needing all the immediate answers.  Yes, God.

Ordinary women.  Extraordinary faith.  What can we learn from those that God has called to say no to say YES to Him?

The Worst Hard Time

We read snippets in history books or pretend to listen to old men talk about the day the dust blew from one end of the North American continent to the other.  My parents, who grew up in Topeka, a couple hundred miles from the upside down earth known as the Dust Bowl, told me stories of walking to elementary school with wet handkerchiefs over their faces to keep the dust from choking their lungs but having to sleep outdoors because of the rainless heat.  The Dust Bowl, for those who lived through it, was certainly The Worst Hard Time.  If you want to understand the sometimes silent stubbornness of the generational Midwestern psyche that still exists almost a hundred years later, follow the stories of long suffering and perseverance in Timothy Egan’s book The Worst Hard Time.  His melancholy masterpiece captures you from the first sentence and keeps you up with a reading light long after the sun has gone down.  You not only learn about the people but also the history of the land and the terrifying folly that created the Dust Bowl in the first place.

I cringe almost every time I tell someone I am originally from Kansas, expecting to hear a joke about the stretch of I-70 between Salina and the Colorado border. The expanse bores people.  Or does it?  Pulitzer Prize winner Egan paints it this way:

“On those days when the wind stops blowing across the face of the southern plains, the land falls into a silence that scares people in the way that a big house can haunt after the lights go out and no one else is there.   It scares them because the land is too much, too empty, claustrophobic in its immensity.  It scares them because they feel lost, with nothing to cling to, disoriented.  Not a tree, anywhere.  Not a slice of shade.  Not a river dancing away, life in its blood.  Not a bump of high ground to break the horizon, give some perspective, spell the monotone of flatness.  It scared Coronado, looking for cities of gold in 1541….It even scared some of the Comanche as they chased bison over the grass…

It still scares people driving cars named Expedition and Outlander.  It scares them because of the forced intimacy with a place that gives nothing back to a stranger, a place where the land and its weather – probably the most violent and extreme on earth – demand only one thing: humility.”

After devouring Egan’s book, I will never again drive through that land that begs a belief in a Creator God without thinking of the Anglo pioneers, European immigrants, Indians, and Spanish who suffered.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. As you drive through the southern Plains, look for the domed summer sky meeting the gold wheat and sunflowers, or a dilapidated barn and a rusty abandoned windmill that were once buried in dust, the prairie churches that never swept away and anchored lives to hope in something that they could not see.