From spring 2004 - Relax in-to disaster …and see what God will do
Recently I undertook a round trip of several hundred miles to renew various neglected but inspiring friendships. I found a friend’s motto ‘relax in-to disaster’ an enormous source of illumination as I travelled and talked.
My friend had had to give up nursing after an adverse reaction to a yellow fever vaccination. The discovery of chronic autoimmune disease prevented her intended departure for missionary service. Recently she had developed breast cancer with back pain suggestive of secondaries, but her GP had never before encountered relieved laughter when scans revealed ‘only’ a slipped disc. Despite all these and other worries, she still undertakes short-term missions and, nearer home, is a cheerful encourager of other cancer sufferers.
My first stopover on the trip coincided with a home Bible study group where I sat beside a young woman whose apparently healthy and beloved stepson had died suddenly during a sports activity. Her husband and their other son were grieving in ways that unintentionally excluded her, but her own trust in God was being greatly strengthened by the sensitivity and prayerful fellowship of that group.
Next came an old friend from university days. Widowed early in life she successfully raised two lovely Christian daughters alongside doing a demanding professional job. Now impaired in health she lives in an apparent backwater to be nearer her grandchildren. Some would find such a changed lifestyle frustrating but she exerts a quiet and consistent Christian influence on two young lives (and several older ones.) In contrast, in the nearby city, I had lunch with a clergy wife whose husband had publicly but controversially backed the authority of the Bible. Now at the eye of the ensuing storm he is being painfully abused, even by fellow Christians.
Travelling on, I stayed with two Christians, converted late in life and now eager to use their lovely home as a base for sharing the Good News with friends and neighbours. A couple of years ago the husband developed a malignant melanoma. It is already pronounced spreading and incurable, but their faith remains unshaken. I was quietly assured, ‘We are in the Lord’s hands.’ From that home I moved on to a middle-aged paraplegic friend, born with such severe spina bifida that she has been told (in public debate...) that she should not have been allowed to survive at birth. Although now in constant pain, she has helped to establish and maintain a Christian foundation for disabled children in India, making regular visits to see them. They cluster round her wheelchair and movingly call her Mother.
The next call was on a family whose doctor father had given up a job that he found too demanding and too far away to allow adequate time for his children. Intermittent locums now allow family ties to grow stronger whilst he also has more time to wait on the Lord, trusting him to clarify the next step. His serenity was striking.
A farmhouse weekend followed, with ample nourishment for body and soul to share with three generations of other good friends, gathered together for a holiday with Grandpa. Over decades he had watched his much loved wife dying of Alzheimer’s disease whilst he conscientiously met the taxing demands of church oversight. On retirement he moved to an inherited property, remote from his previous supporters, then became suddenly and dangerously ill. Unexpected but timely visitors were probably instrumental in saving his life. Although still recovering he lives alone in the new home, but keeps a positive outlook, grateful for the attentive love of his family and for the faithful provision of his God.
These encounters were reflected on and jotted down during a long delay whilst a mechanic dealt with a puncture found during the journey. I had met others on my travels but these particular stories showed me the good that was emerging during or after hard times. My friends had variously experienced sudden calamity, bereavement (including retirement), personal hostility, serious illness, chronic disability, unemployment, loneliness and, in some cases, blow after blow. Yet they had each found that their loving Lord was holding them, so often with prayerful support from other believers.
It is naturally hard for us to feel very relaxed when troubles come, but experience of the Lord’s ways gently teaches us to respond positively rather than to react negatively; to trust when we cannot see. After all, the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus looked to many like an unmitigated disaster yet, in God’s time and through his Spirit, resurrection followed, with the promise of new life and strength to all believers.
God remains able to turn something that looks bad into something good, which glorifies him as we entrust it to his unfailing love. Not only are my friends finding this for themselves but their stories offer a telling witness and encouragement for others -and to think that without the frustration of my punctured tyre I might never have found time to take it all in. Even minidisasters can have purpose.Article written by Janet Goodall