Last September a friend told me about a missions trip she was taking part in… to Lebanon. Immediately my desire for literally anything and everything else for my 30th birthday was smashed by those four words. A missions trip to Lebanon.
If you have known me long enough then you have probably known about my love for Arabic food on family holidays, my desire to visit the country my great grandparents traveled from, and how I wish that the culture that makes up one quarter of my DNA was more apparent in my life. I have always wanted to travel to the country that still holds part of my family (which is a great story for another day) and I knew that this trip was my chance. Not to mention that the entire trip is based around feeding refugee families, helping church plants, and hosting a women’s conference which are three things I am passionate about. So after a lot of prayer, and an undeniable peace, this past February I made up my mind to go.
I needed to raise $3200 to make this trip a reality and right out of the gate I opened a letter with $500 inside of it. I cried. Like borderline sobbed. I hadn’t asked for money because I was set on earning every penny of it, but there I was staring at five one hundred dollar bills knowing that it wasn’t going to be as gruesome as I had imagined it to be.
I sold Valentine’s day cupcakes and earned another $400.
Got a couple more cards that totaled $100.
Sold more cupcakes and earned $100 more dollars.
And then I had a yard sale.
Now it’s not what you’re thinking, I didn’t make the remaining balance in that one yard sale. I made $600 which is pretty great but that still left me with a little under half of the cost to raise. What I did get from that yard sale, however, was something else entirely that I will hold on to until the day I die.
The. Day. I. Die.
The weekend forecast was stormy but all weather reports said that there would be a few hours of break in the rain, and knowing how much I still had yet to earn I was going to do the yard sale anyway. I set everything up in my garage the night before and at first sign of things subsiding (with the help of my best friend who literally had her baby the very next day) we moved everything onto the driveway. And from the moment we opened the garage to move things out, there were people ready to look through my stuff for something they never knew they needed.
One particular woman who had to be pushing eighty and could speak not one word of English was awfully curious about everything. We figured a way to communicate through hand motions and holding up fingers to express how much I was asking and how much she was willing to pay, and through her wrinkled smirk I could tell that she had done this a few times before.
As I headed to the back of my garage to get change for a woman buying some clothes for her son, I turned around just in time to see grandma take a nasty fall. The wet cement had gotten the better of her and I rushed over to offer my help and tell her how sorry I was for her slipping. I kept talking nervously until I realized she wasn’t understanding a lick of what I was saying. And then it happened. She gave me something that continues to bring a smile to my face today.
This lady casually rolled over from her back to her stomach and then STARTED RUMMAGING THROUGH THE PURSES I HAD LAID OUT ON THE GROUND like nothing had even happened. I had never seen anything like it and I am pretty sure I will never see anything like it again. Also, I hurt myself trying to not literally LOL.
Who does that?
Who falls to the ground and then proceeds to roll around a bit until finding something down there you like? I tell you, I have never seen someone so smooth. And as I reflect on this wonderful memory I realize that this woman taught me a lot more about life than I could ever communicate to her. For obvious reasons.
She wasn’t embarrassed that she fell, she wasn’t even thrown off her game. She was at my yard sale looking for something and no matter her circumstances, she was going to find it.
She could have wallowed in self-pity. She could have cursed up a storm. She could have done a million understandable things in reaction to her situation, but instead she kept on. Drawing no attention to the fact that she was now laying on my wet driveway going through more yard sale items as if it was perfectly natural for her to be down there. She seemed to be completely at ease with the whole thing.
She hadn’t lost her purpose in being there.
This reminds me of Joseph’s story found in the book of Genesis (starting in chapter 27). This young 17 year old boy has a dream - a purpose - and instead of things unfolding smoothly for him he gets thrown in a pit, made into a slave, falsely accused of wrong doing which landed him in prison, and is then reunited with his family who had been the cause of it all and they don’t even recognize him. If anyone could have wallowed in self-pity for a bit it could have been Joseph.
But in every circumstance we find him still with purpose.
Instead of trying to tell everyone who he was or what God had called him to do he took the opportunity to serve as a slave and his master saw that “the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did” (39:3) so he was promoted.
When falsely accused and sentenced to prison instead of focusing on himself and all the ways he was wronged, he looked to encourage the two other men who were with him. “’Why do you look so sad today?’” (40:7) Joseph asked. They then told him about their dreams and he shared with them what each dream meant.
And then after rising to be one of the most influential men in Egypt and being face to face with the same brothers who started all of his misfortune, Joseph chose to save them from their famine instead of allowing them to die. “But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then it was not you who sent me here, but God.” (45:7-8)
It wasn’t you it was God. Let that sink in a minute.
Joseph understood that no matter his situation or the parts people played in his misfortune, that God was still good and still had a purpose for his life. He would let none of his story go to waste. And instead of being bitter and holding an offense in his heart for the ones who “caused” all of his hurts, he chose to bless them in their hour of need.
Because it all served a purpose. Every part of it.
I don’t know about you but when things get difficult I tend to make it personal and question everything; who I believe myself to be, what my purpose in life is, if I am even making a difference at anything, and on and on. All reactions that we from time to time tend to sink into, but none that add any value to our lives. In fact, it does the opposite and keeps us so self-involved that we forget about what is around us. Abraham Lincoln once said “if you look for the bad in people expecting to find it, you surely will”. This isn’t just the case with people but in all things. If we are looking for a grey cloud we will find it, but if we are looking for the silver lining we will surely find that too. So what are we looking for?
God doesn’t put us through difficult times, but He does allow those difficult times to perfect the purposes in us.
So let's stop focusing on our situations today and crying about the laundry list of how wrong it all is. Because that won't change any of it. If you find yourself in a pit today, look around. You may just find a deeper understanding of your purpose… and a good purse… while you’re there.
Romans 8:18-28 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.