The book of Isaiah is such an amazing book – I’ve been led there quite frequently in the morning quiet times I spend with the Lord. On my mind in conjunction with this book is the situation with our friends, the Leedahls, who have just had the course of their lives drastically changed. As I wrote in the last post, once something like this hardship strikes your life, you are never the same again. It’s like the sunglasses you wear on a daily basis suddenly change colors and the whole world that was once shaded green is now blue. It’s been over a month now since our friend Jon was medivaced from this country and still, my heart and head are constantly aware of the fragility of life – especially in a country like Papua New Guinea.
In the surrounding Papua New Guinean community, severe illness, critical injuries and death are commonplace, but for the missionaries here these things remain rare in occurrence. Sure we get sick more than we did in the States and right now our family is dealing with some pretty nasty sores, but as far as life or death situations go, they are pretty few and far between. We have a full-time doctor and a clinic well-stocked with medicines and medical equipment which provides a rather “safe” feeling for all us expats who have learned to rely on such things for our well being. And that “safe” feeling remains untouched until something like a motorcycle accident happens and our little clinic isn’t enough to handle injuries of this magnitude. Suddenly, “safe” needs to be redefined.
This has made me reflect on how I grew up, especially compared to the small national children I see running around here. I grew up in a place where there is almost always a solution to the problem, be it physical or psychological or emotional. Science and technology have provided a measure – a large measure – of comfort to our Western world that frees us from fear of illness, injury, and even death on a daily basis. But here in PNG, in a world where there is no sanitary hospital a few miles down the road, the fear of these things is constant. Few people here assume, like I always have growing up, that they are going to die of old age. Childbirth, a fall from a tree, even a sore that gets out of control can mean the loss of a limb or life. It’s yet another pair of sunglasses to look through – a lens I will never fully understand given my drastically different upbringing half a world away.
Anyways, these new colored glasses I’ve got – these cool blue shades – that provide a constant reminder of the fragility of life, do not introduce the stress to my heart that I thought such a reminder would. When I remember that the place I now live redefines “safe” to a smaller sphere of injuries and illnesses, I expect to discover a heightened sense of anxiety. And for a while, because of this expectation, I did not dwell on the risks associated with living in the middle of PNG. But a month ago, when our friend nearly lost his life in a motorcycle crash, I no longer had the option to ignore this reality. We were on our knees all night, begging God to overcome this new definition of “safe” and spare our friend’s life. In the midst of the prayer battle that ensued, I was forced to face the reality that no man’s life can be taken for granted and any day may very well be my last, or my husband’s last, or my child’s last.
But a funny thing has happened. Instead of feeling a dread, or an anxiety that tempts me to jump on the next flight back to the States, I feel a peace. A deeply rooted, profoundly nonsensical peace. Why? Because in the reminder that I could be here today and gone tomorrow, is the reminder that it is God – GOD, the Painter of sunsets, the Author of history, the Lover of hearts – who holds my life. My tiny, little, insignificant, over-as-soon-as-it-starts life…but my life! My life that was worth the death of this God to bring me back into relationship with Him. And if I think my life is any safer because of where I live, it means I am putting my trust in the wrong place. I was created in love and bought with blood and I could be in no safer place than the hands of the One who formed me and shed that blood.
When you are confronted with the end of yourself, in other words, when you find yourself in a place where you are helpless and all you have put your trust in – like Western medicine, organic food, vehicle airbags, and sunscreen – is rendered useless, you come face to face with either Nothing or Someone. If it’s Nothing, you’ll find a most unsettling fear. (Oh, you’ll face the Someone one day, down the road when you are not only at the end of yourself but at the end of your life; but while you still breathe and walk the earth fear will be a constant companion.) But if it’s the Someone that you find – that most glorious Someone who can call Himself the Beginning and the End, Who is and was and will always be – then you will find a profound peace that surpasses all understanding. It is not of human origin, it cannot be conjured up by the human heart, replicated by medication, or found in a counselor’s office; it is a gift from God to his children while they fight the good fight here on earth. And here is where the beautiful book of Isaiah (various verses from chapters 43-45) comes in with reassurances straight from the mouth of that Someone:
“Do not be afraid for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you…Bring all who claim me as their God, for I have made them for my glory. It was I who created them…From eternity to eternity I am God. No one can snatch anyone out of my hand. No one can undo what I have done…I, the Lord made you, and I will not forget you…I am the one who made the earth and created people to live on it. With my hands I stretched out the heavens…For there is no other God but me, a righteous God and Savior.””
And this peace is really just the feeling that comes along with the trusting of this Someone. When you place your trust fully in this Creator-Savior God – the One who stretched out that great expanse we just can’t seem to get our minds around, even with all of our brilliant technology at NASA – you feel at rest in your soul. You can live for today and enjoy the sun on your face, the tight hug of your toddler, or the cry of your baby with the awareness that it just may not be the same tomorrow, and yet be at rest because your Creator-Savior holds you.
Adie, the next part is for you and Jon, because you have faced the end of yourselves and found God, a place I can only imagine as we walk through this with you. Later in Isaiah, in chapter 49, the Lord’s Servant comes to God and says, “But my work seems so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose.” And here’s the really cool part, the Servant then says, “YET I leave it all in the Lord’s hand; I will trust God for my reward.” And you know how God answers? Here it goes: “And now the Lord speaks – the one who formed me in my mother’s womb to be his servant, who commissioned me to bring Israel back to himself…He says, ‘You will do more than restore the people of Israel to me. I will make you a light to the Gentiles, and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” This tells me that sometimes God ordains that we “fail” in the small things so that he can orchestrate the BIGGER things to come. The trouble is that those “small” things sure seem big to us in the moment, just like redeeming all of Israel felt big to the Servant or getting trained in the Kodiak felt big to you and Jon and all of us here. But God smiles down on the one who chooses to say “Yet I leave it all in the Lord’s hand” and promises, “Sweet child, the one whom I formed out of my creative loving-kindness, I will do more than you can fathom, more than you thought I was originally planning for you. Walk in faith and rest in my peace.”
We can trust that Someone we find at the end of ourselves, because not only is that Someone God and he’s in control whether we like it or not, but because he says to us in with the purest of loves, “Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? But even if that were possible, I would not forget you! See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands…” Adie and Jon, you are written on our Father’s palm, in the same place he cradles you when you cry and when you question, and he will never, ever forget you and he has a BIGGER plan for you than you ever dreamed!