“Life is hard and then you die and then they sell your clothes.” It’s a Mac-ism that always makes people laugh in spite of themselves.
I love my husband’s sense of humor. You’ve probably seen him—he’s the one who stops to talk to every baby in the restaurant, and anyone else who seems remotely friendly. He’s the one servers in a dozen Joplin restaurants remember: how important it is to keep his coffee cup filled; how he always requests a “pig box” for the pot-bellied pig we’re “boarding” for our daughter; how he always has a story or two to share, and plenty of time to hear theirs. If I could ever get him to do “The Color Code” I’m sure there’d be a lot of yellow mixed in with all the red. He’s truly a fun-loving, take-charge kind of guy. Good thing, because his wife’s red-and-blue personality contains not one speck of yellow. Poor man. (Do you think that’s why people often tell me I take myself too seriously?) Oh well. We’re both still fearfully and wonderfully made—our Creator says so (Psalms 139)—and our journey along our personal path of praise is never boring.
He passed a milestone this summer—one of “the big ones.” He was surprised at the celebration. It was a wonderful day of fun and family and friends. He was even more surprised, though, at how many came. I wasn’t. He really has no clue how many lives he’s touched and influenced. A few years ago when he was facing surgery for lung cancer God sweetly reminded me just how much.
Here’s that story (from my book, Pain & Paradox):
Last night, when we were sharing that quiet, sweet dinner in that invitingly elegant Little Rock restaurant, my Father did it again! While we were struggling with the dread of this life-threatening surgery, God was using it to unwrap another delightful, profound truth. Because we were trying so hard to ignore the elephant crowding everything else out of the room, I almost missed the gift He’d tied to its tail.
It’s so unmistakable—and comforting as I face today—my heart bows before it: God treasures hands that build.
He’s chosen and gifted hands to build from the beginning: Noah’s for His ark of salvation; Moses’ for His tabernacle of consecration; Solomon’s for His temple of worship; Nehemiah’s to rebuild the wall for His city of hope. God drew the blueprint and blessed their work, and then He used their hands to touch others.
And in this moment, waiting as other hands hold my husband’s life and our future, praying God will guide their every touch, I think of how God has blessed his hands, and used his touch to bless others. I think of all the businesses that operate a little more efficiently and staff who work a little more comfortably and safely because of his vision for how a structure should function, and his conviction it’s always about the people in it.
I think of all the families whose lives are a little better because he invested heart and humor and wisdom, and never forgot he was building—or rebuilding—so much more than just a house. I remember all the evenings of research and planning… all the phone calls and price comparisons and care for their investment… all the times he chose to go the extra mile… to give a little more and charge a little less… All the things that make all the difference… that didn’t bother him a bit if no one knew but His Father (and me).
I think of the young men who enjoy bright futures today because he took the time to mentor and build up the gifts God designed in them.
I think of all the churches God has blessed and grown because he made sure the building they lived in was attractive and safe and strong and more than worth the money they invested.
I think of my own life—and our kids’ —and know the homes we enjoy are blessed because of his giftings and generosity and heart for his family. And I think that “Carpenter” is a wonderful title to wear.
He’s known that all along. He proudly states it: “I’m a carpenter.” I confess I’ve thought he was selling himself short. I know how much knowledge and expertise and skill and creativity and responsibility go into every project he completes, and “Building Contractor” seemed to encompass all that so much better. But now, in this bleak, plastic-upholstered place, tender Hands lay this latest gift in mine, and I’m captivated by its elegance: It’s no accident the Savior lived among us as a carpenter.
“In the beginning God created…” Then the Master Builder came to dwell among us, and spent most of His earthly life building… making lives better… touching and blessing people… doing all the things that make all the difference … that didn’t bother Him a bit if no one knew but His Father. He built up the gifts God designed in His followers, built and strengthened and blessed His church, and then went back to build a home for His family to enjoy, forever.
It’s no accident my carpenter’s life reflects, in such a practical way, The Carpenter’s… and I know that “Carpenter” is a wonderful title to wear.
Yep, life was hard then but we didn’t have to sell his clothes. God is good all the time and we’re grateful.
There have been other times since then that the path led through some pretty dark places; times I’ve literally stood on my back porch shouting “Where are You!?” at my loving Father. Undoubtedly there will be others. But have you noticed, those are ultimately the ones we wouldn’t trade for anything. Those are the times God teaches us to truly praise Him from a heart that’s emptied of everything but Him.
Life has been hard for our daughter Kim. Few know how she’s suffered from the pain and disability of fibromyalgia for years. But she kept trusting God and through it all built a ministry that still blesses lives today; then went on to strengthen the pro-life ministry of Focus on the Family before she launched a couple pro-life ventures of her own. Kim’s leadership was exceptional, but those who knew them well admired the vital role her husband Jim played. He was her Aaron, always by her side quietly holding up her arm, always giving wise counsel and encouragement. As she went on to new and bigger challenges he was there, even when they were miles apart, and those who knew and loved them best sometimes wondered how she’d survive if anything ever happened to him.
Then three years ago the unthinkable happened. Our dynamic, larger-than-life Jim, who loved life and everyone in it, was felled in a moment’s time on an ordinary day by a stroke even his strong body couldn’t overcome. He was strong, and his life-long fight for life extended even to his own. But after fourteen weeks in several hospitals with Kim refusing to leave his side for even a moment, her announcement came: “Jim is taking Heaven right now by a smile and a twinkle in his eyes. God granted my request to be with him—rubbing his face, talking to him and praying for him. What an honor to literally hand him off to our Lord! I am blessed. I’m immensely grieved that the news isn’t what we prayed for all these weeks, but I am so amazingly blessed to have had him for this time. When I heard him on the phone and realized he’d had a severe injury, I fell on the floor and begged God for more time with Jim. He gave it generously and I am grateful for His mercy. I have faced my greatest fear and found Him faithful.”
So she took a deep breath and determined to, in her words, “keep faithing on.” She did, even on that night only a year later when a thousand-year flood destroyed the home they’d shared all those years. But in those crumbling walls she learned even more about trusting God. It took a year of hard work and amazing partnership from unexpected people and places, but her cozy, inviting home was restored—even better than before—a true showplace of her creativity and imagination. And it did her parents’ hearts good to see her once again settled into the home she loved.
Then, the unthinkable again! A second, unprecedented flood devastated that beautifully-restored home only weeks after all the insurance and paper-work and settling in was complete. I’ll be honest; it was so tempting to retreat to my porch in anger again. But how could I, when my faith-filled, faithful daughter still chose to “keep faithing on.” Her immediate response to the threat: “Thx for all the calls and texts of concern. We’ve done all we can—thanks again to those who helped and are praying! I love my home, but God much more so trusting Him is not a challenge. He knows where I need to be. I’m fine and at peace that whatever happens is in God’s hands and plans.” And then as the threat became reality and she watched her home inundated again: “We went, we saw and it’s sad. Now I’ll just see what the insurance company will do. Still in very Good Hands.”
And soon, “insurance adjuster is saying to fix the house again. I have a call in to FEMA, as they can deny it. It’s like unraveling a mystery. Or a sweater…” But
“Good news—my toenail is growing in from the last flood’s collateral damage! We find the happy wherever we can, right?”
Are you exhausted yet? Well, hang on. In the midst of trying to put the pieces of her life back together—again—she posted this news: “‘Kiddo, you have cancer.’ And with that call from my wise dr (who insisted we do a biopsy even though I had few symptoms) life changed yet again. Surgery is scheduled. My plan is to have my house back together enough to come home and recoup there. I don’t know what the future holds but I know who holds it. Life can be hard—but God is Good!”
So here’s the question: Why does life often seem so hard for the Kim’s of the world—and for servants like our friends Brenda and Jim? Why does God allow those who are so faithful and committed to His purposes to suffer the most?
Well, here’s the rest of her story. Life is hard but God is Good and we didn’t have to sell Kim’s clothes. She was able to come home to a mostly-finished house, where daughter-in-law Emily joyfully waited to care for her (and a big black snake waited at her kitchen window).
The cancer was contained and removed and no further treatments were needed. As her surgeon marveled, “It’s like finding a needle in a haystack. I never see cancer this early. How this was detected so early is beyond me. You are one very fortunate woman.”
We know it wasn’t just “good fortune.” It was our Good God, hearing our prayers and granting mercy and grace. So here’s the next question: Why did God answer those prayers by literally working a miracle to save Kim’s life, but choose to answer our prayers for Jim by taking him home to heaven? Here’s Kim’s observation: “I’m humbled and confused at God’s blessing on my (relatively) easy journey when [my friend who has cancer] has fought so hard for so long. I am committed to praying for those whose roads are grueling. I know God loves us the same, yet He has differing plans. May I be equally committed to fight for His cause in this life. I have NO clue what that looks like for me yet, but it beckons a quiet urgency toward the reveal. The last 2 months’ adventure is a stark reminder—that life, as we know it, is always shorter than we think.”
Life is hard, and shorter than we think. One day they will sell our clothes. Will we, as Jim undoubtedly did, take Heaven by a smile and a twinkle in our eyes?
Will we be part of that “great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb?” On that day will we wear the white robes of perfection, fine linen, bright and clean, that will make the most exclusive designer apparel of earth seem like filthy rags? Will we cry out with the throngs, “Salvation belongs to our God, Who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb. Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are His judgments.” (Revelation 7)
Keep faithing on! On that day He will wipe away all fear and sorrow. And those questions? When we see the face of Jesus, I doubt we’ll even care.