I quietly closed the door to Adventure Zone, struggling to contain emotions that threatened to draw me to the floor. My teaching partner for our Sunday school class had just left. I turned off the lights. Hot tears began to slide slowly down my face, hitting the floor. Unexpectedly, I found myself twirling in a circle and then sinking to my knees on the floor in worship. I was twirling as some invisible chain had just been broken.
I could scarcely believe what I had witnessed over the past several hours. I was crying, laughing and shaking simultaneously; my emotions were confusing as there were so many of them. One thought covered every emotion: “God was not finished with me.”
I was amazed. God was not finished with me. I was a mess, but God had just used a perfect mess.
It was Palm Sunday and we had just “lived” Passion Week with our kids for the past 60 minutes. My teaching partner, Mike Proud, and I had team-taught both worship services. We had led the children through the streets of Jerusalem on a parade. With coats on the floor, we waved palm branches and sang songs while we paraded throughout the church. We overturned tables of the money changers in the temple courts – money flew, a whip cracked in the air, animals scattered, and the kids were shocked. They understood why the Pharisees wanted Jesus dead. We washed their feet and served them a meal by candlelight, sat on the floor around a low table, and explained to them what Jesus was about to do. Questions flew. The “upper room” was alive with excitement, questions, and ponderings. Every child was fully engaged.
For the first time in five years, I felt alive. We answered questions, and, at the end of the hour, I felt led to invite the children to ask Jesus to be their forgiver and leader if they had never made that decision. Everyone closed their eyes and bowed their heads in prayer. It felt like God was in our midst. I asked the children to quietly slip their hand into the air to let me know if they had made this decision. I wanted them to know that Mike and I would pray for them. I wanted to review their decision with them to be sure they understood what they had done. I expected nothing. Eleven hands shot up. I counted three times. Eleven children gave their lives to Christ that Sunday in one service alone.
And then, I was on my face on the floor, unable to even kneel.
Since my husband’s illness several years prior, I had struggled to want to be able to engage in ministry. For more than 30 years, we had done ministry together. I no longer had my ministry partner. For some reason, I had convinced myself that God was finished with me. My husband was too ill to minister, and I assumed that if he could not minister, I was somehow not useful. Looking back, I think my grief was so deep I could not see clearly. I also think that my identity in ministry was very much tied to who my husband was — a dynamic leader, teacher and speaker. I saw myself as his support system, and I had not truly developed my own gifts. Without him, I had nothing to support and was lost.
With my husband not by my side in ministry, I have learned to seek God’s leading for me in ministry. I have discovered gifts I did not know I possessed. I have discovered how strong I truly am. I have begun to discover how God is taking an illness I thought was the end of life as I had known it and is using it to create a new life for us. This new life is filled with surprises; it is different, exciting, fresh and filled with growth at every turn. I am learning firsthand how God is more than able to take hurt and pain and weave them into something beautiful and healing. I am learning to be patient with myself. I am learning to have eyes to see those who also have suffered life-altering loss and need a new beginning.
Only God can take a perfect mess and make it into something beautiful. For this, I worship Him with an overflowing and grateful heart.
“And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Romans 5:3-5 (NAS).
Cindy Anderson is a pediatric occupational therapist who teaches and writes curriculum for the children’s ministry at Brockport Free Methodist Church in New York. More of her family’s story will be told in the April issue of Light + Life.
- Have you ever questioned your usefulness to God’s kingdom while going through hard times?
- In what ways has God used your beautiful messes for His glory?