You know how little kids are. They can crack through any curmudgeon’s scowl when they use over-sized words or misapply vocabulary. Then, if it’s a pastor’s kid, Bible stories, interpretations of God and explanations of the world should be recorded for future laughs or blackmail when they get older.
One morning, a conversation with my four year old began, “Actually mom, the Lord told me we are going to Disney when I’m seven. You can’t believe it but actually…He did.” She is partial to the word “actually.”
“Oh, really?” I smiled and waited for her to finish her monologue about Disney and God, then slipped into my oft-quoted rebuttal to her name-it-claim-it beliefs and said, “Honey, you know that God can do anything. Miracles are His joy. But…” and then I did my monologue about our “wants” versus our “needs” and ended with my monotone “let’s pray about it and leave it in His hands.”
“Ok mom. But He told me and I’m gonna see Cinderella and Belle and …”. I shook my head yes, but my heart was cynical with disbelief.
As I unpacked the last suitcase on Friday, I stared at the Disney autograph book her Aunt sent from California for her birthday. Half-filled with princess autographs, ice cream fingerprints on the cover mocked my lack of faith. The Lord not only did a miracle, but He sent us “all expense paid” for a week. We got the news it was going to happen a month after she turned seven.
The faith of my child wasn’t strengthened. She was always convinced God had spoken to her. But you can imagine what it did to me. I drank in deep that spiritual refreshment of conviction, repentance, excitement and gratitude. I thanked the Lord nearly every day for what He was doing for us.
A week away from boarding our flight, my health issues began to flare up unexpectedly. I’d felt like many of them had been in a type of remission for the last few months, but then I had a severe IBS attack, the unexplained fevers returned, the cystitis became inflamed and my spring-diagnosed chronic fatigue made packing a pair of socks an ordeal. The night before we left, I tucked in a little girl with visions of Mickey Mouse dancing in her head and I prayed.
Hard. “Lord, I know this must be warfare. This is one of the most unexpected gifts we’ve ever received and you’re not a cruel Father. As in the past, I know You’ll be faithful to give me the grace, health and strength I need for this trip that You’re giving us.” And on teetering faith, I fought doubts…through a very long, painful, sleepless night.
How to encapsulate the next five days at four of the Disney World parks, is rather difficult. If I speak factually of the circumstances, they go something like this: it averaged in the 90’s each day with Elmer’s glue humidity. The first four days had not just the typical Florida afternoon showers, but storms with torrential downpours, high winds, and lightening that shut down most of the rides. We often sardined beneath any porch, canopy, or tiny roof overhang, praying for the storm to pass or for a prophet to emerge and call for a drought. Disney was short on prophets, so my brother scoured his map and I shielded rain from my phone as we sought any indoor shows to squeeze into. Then we’d shake our heads in disbelief before heading out again, on-guard for Noah sightings.
By the third day, after a week of pain-induced insomnia and lower back issues, I could no longer walk and surrendered to a wheelchair. Within minutes, I was granted a flashback to my childhood days of bike riding as the wheels on the chair flung water upward and soaked my seat more than my head. Then there was a clash with a very angry lady, a ride that terrorized the children (without warning), and numerous other issues that felt like there were angrier clouds unseen overhead. I tried to get out of the chair to relieve my husband from pushing me, but he’d respond, “I’ll take care of you. Don’t worry. I got the hills.”
But one night in particular, I stared through one eye at the red numbers that taunted me: 2:34. I rubbed my hand over the book I had been reading about Job. Oswald Chambers had written “Baffled to Fight Better” during WWI for young soldiers as they came face-to-face with suffering on an entirely different level due to the war. I was nearly finished with the updated version “Our Ultimate Refuge” when many of the highlighted pages and underlined phrases came pouring into my memory.
“…when we come across suffering in which there is no deliverance and no illumination, the only thing to do with it is be reverent with what we do not understand…we gain no insight by struggling. We must go to God in prayer” (p.78).
Pain can be like an abrasive brush against the soul. When it is chronic, it can grate continually against our joy and easy laughter. It can erode layers of hope and strip the luster of our faith in God. It doesn’t have to and is not meant to, but it’s a temptation and test to the depths. And this night, I felt like hell unleashed an assault on my thoughts that Satan must have piled up ammunition for some time. He invaded my mind with stacked memories of pain, sorrow, and grief. All that I’d learned in that book and all I’d noted in my Bible about Job meant nothing at that moment. I knew that the power from all I had taken in, read and resonated with, would only be seen as I walked it out in reality. “We must go to God in prayer” echoed.
“Satan’s aim is to make a man believe that God is cruel and things are all wrong; but when a man strikes deepest in agony and turns deliberately to the God manifested in Jesus Christ, he will find Him to be the answer…” (p.28).
I ran to the safest place I know. “Jesus. This time I don’t pray for relief of pain, nor sleep, nor grace. I pray for my faith in You. My understanding of You. My perception of You. My experience in life with You. I pray that my filter in life and what You allow is according to truth, not feelings. It is anchored in the immoveable reality of Who You are, not what You do or don’t do. I’m afraid of being cynical in my hopes and joyless in my salvation. I fear losing my love for You and tossing my trust in Your faithfulness. Somehow…do as You have done repeatedly for twenty years…save me from myself and redeem my life for Your glory.”
Now I didn’t believe that I was gonna turn heathen, prodigal, or turn my back on God. But more frightening to me than any affliction is that my relationship with the Lord is lost and I become a pastor’s wife who just “goes through the motions” with religious traditions and a Christian lifestyle that camouflages a loveless heart and lifeless faith.
The next day, as my husband pushed me past disgruntled faces, and my wheelchair interfered with Disney’s finest, I found peace (though soaked) at this three-foot-high level. I was graciously reminded that my thorns were once worn as a crown by my Savior. My insomnia is no longer empty and vain but a portal into divine warfare and intimacy with God. My wheelchair will always be temporary because eternity is incomparable. I needed to be on this level…eye-to-eye with the children every where we went. I watched as they skipped through puddles, played peek-a-boo beneath ponchos, and stuck their tongues out to catch the rain.
As the rides shut down, I became the ride and got to hug little frames content on my lap that giggled and snuggled into my arms. And somehow, as only my Father can make happen, I felt my soul sink deep into His arms as I sat on His throne of grace, felt His love and He whispered, “I’ll take care of you. Don’t worry about the hills…I’ve got you covered.”