Expecting our second child, Luke, Jeannie and I ignorantly prayed that God would manipulate our circumstances to give us an easier child than our first. Life with a healthy, rambunctious two-year-old seemed so challenging to us, and we whole-heartedly believed that a life made easier would be a life made better. In His mercy, God blessed us with a son with a set of trials which would teach us that an easy life is often the enemy of a better life. Luke’s constant joy in the midst of painful and maddeningly frustrating circumstances cut us to the heart. He exposed our lust for comfort and control, our bent toward pitying but not helping those who suffer, and our sense of wimpish entitlement to health and leisure. Of course, he did all of this without saying a word. Words could never have exposed so much in such a short time anyway. We’ve learned much about ourselves through Luke, and much more about who we want to become. Being a witness to the parable of my son Luke has stirred up inside of us more compassion, humility, appreciation for time and opportunity, and motivation to come along side others who are suffering than ever could have been otherwise. Our prayers were too myopic. We’re now grateful that God would not settle for simply granting us our version of a life that was “better,” but instead chose to make us better.
With the comparatively small taste of trial we’ve experienced with our son Luke, we have been reborn and planted into the reality that God is utterly efficient. Never is a life experience wasted. He can use any circumstance, no matter how far outside His will and desire, to create more love, more hope, more faith, more understanding, and more beauty. God is enraptured with taking that which is wretched and causing it to produce goodness. God takes great joy in using that which was meant for evil to bring about the good He had planned all along for those that have lashed themselves to His mast. The greatest evil ever committed, the murder of Love personified, was fashioned into the key cog in Love’s victory over evil. God cannot be defeated. His love cannot be thwarted. He has shown this to us through our experiences with Luke over and over again. Sometimes we even notice.
God has been in constant activity in our lives, like a judo master, turning back the momentum of the evil blows on the circumstances meant to destroy us. Through our experience with Luke, we’ve begun to realize the depth of our selfishness. We’ve been able to look into the world with new eyes, with a more proper perspective. Even though we have had to grieve the loss of what we desired our family life to be, our prayers now have less to do with being granted an easier life, and much more to do with being made into stronger, God-dependant people. God has shown us through our son that a life supernaturally devoid of pain is far less valuable than being supernaturally made into people that can endure lives of trial. Of course, this truth is difficult to grasp and retain in the midst of being uprooted from newly established zones of comfort.
Luke’s life has been an ongoing series of taking three steps forward, and two steps back. On one particular journey backward, I found myself in a dark place of discouragement. I didn’t want to think about what it would take to be made into a man who could endure yet another disappointment; I just wanted things to be better. I wanted my son to be better. I wanted to rest. I wanted God to change my circumstances. He did. One afternoon during this time in a valley, I came home to find my wife sitting on our bed staring at a pregnancy test. I sat down next to her with baited breath. We didn’t speak. In a few seconds, she looked up at me with wide eyes, and said, “Oh mercy” (only, she didn’t say “mercy”). We sat, speechless, for the next ten minutes unable to move.
In His mercy, God blessed us with a son with a set of trials which would teach us that an easy life is often the enemy of a better life.
We had slipped back into a pattern of believing that easier, more comfortable lives were what would be best. Even after experiencing such growth in character and perspective through trial, we began to forget just how lost we were in our world of idolized comfort. We began to forget how God supernaturally sustained us through Luke’s near-death encounters, his brain surgeries, and seizure battles. We began to believe again that peace could only be found in more comfortable circumstances, discounting past experiences of receiving supernatural strength, peace, and enlightenment.
After the initial jolt of realizing God’s answer to our prayer for relief from our circumstances seemingly would be to intensify them, we repented from our distrust in God’s ability to change us and not just our circumstances. We began to prepare ourselves for new levels of understanding through new hardship, asking for the faith to believe that God would continue to sustain us and shape us through any trial on the horizon. God answered the prayer that we were too ignorant to pray. Instead of revealing more truth about us, He revealed to us the key truth about Himself. Anna Joy was born in June of 2012. As it would turn out, this little girl, miraculously, was the rest for which we were desperate. There has never been an easier to satisfy infant than our Anna Joy Sherwood. She was born with supernatural empathy. She learned to crawl at three months old. She learned to stand using her brother Luke’s roller chair, and later would take steps pushing him around the living room. She would bring toys to his lap even before she could stand unaided. Her smile and laughter fill a room, and her hugs and kisses eradicate all feelings of discouragement. Since she was two, she would climb into my lap, take my face in her hands and say, “Papa, how was your day today?” Far from adding any stress to our lives, she has easily cut our stress level in half. After we quickly forgot about how God had worked powerfully through our circumstances with Luke, we did not feel we deserved the kind of child we received. God saw it differently. God loves to give to those that which they do not deserve. God loves to show favor to those who have realized that they have done nothing to merit it. God taught us about grace through the gift of our little Anna Joy.
Expecting our third child, God renewed our faith in the belief that easier circumstances do not necessitate better circumstances. We prepared ourselves, praying that God would help us to endure and learn from the new levels of chaos a newborn was sure to bring to our already life-altering situation. God again answered a prayer we were not capable of praying. Our circumstances created a unique opportunity for God to demonstrate His grace toward us. He supplied us with the peace and rest for which we were desperate through the most unlikely means. He demonstrated His love and favor toward us using that which seemed most illogical. We have discovered how to focus on the blessings that are obvious, and even how to see the more profound blessings disguised as trials. We’ve been made better able to distinguish between the source of true joy and its counterfeits.
Anna is now four years old. Jeannie and I have learned what seems to be a lifetime of lessons in just the past six years. More often than I’d like to admit, I still fall back into feelings of self-pity, and discouragement. Two years after Anna was born, I was in a valley, focusing again on my current uncomfortable circumstances and wishing for a different path. In a moment of grace, God put a thought into my mind. I began to think about names. Many stories recorded in Scripture involve God changing the names of those who experience significant trial, and subsequent enlightenment. Abram became Abraham, Jacob became Israel, Simon became Peter, Saul became Paul, etc. (Jeannie and I struggled to come to a consensus when it came to naming our kids. Both Noah and Luke went without names until a few days after they were born! We chose their names simply based on how they sounded to us.) In this instance of discouragement and self-pity God impressed me to look up the meanings of my kids’ names. I did. I took out a piece of blank paper and wrote out each of their first and middle names:
As I looked up each name, I wrote down its meaning beside it. What I discovered still brings me chills and encouragement even today.
Noah means Comfort
James (from Jacob) means Deceiver
Luke means Light
Joseph means Increase
Anna means Grace
Joy means Joy
As I realized the magnitude of what I had just written down, I began to shake. God had just told the story of the most significant lesson Jeannie and I had learned in our lives using the names we thought we chose for our children.
Comfort (Noah) has deceived (James) you.
So, I will give you Light (Luke) Increased (Joseph) – enlightenment.
So that you may know that it is the experience of true Grace (Anna) that brings lasting Joy (Joy).
This experience has become an anchor point for my faith in God. I have been shown, utterly, that He is and has been writing the story of my life, and that His greatest desire is to show me who I am, and who He is. He wants to know me, and He wants me to know Him. I believe that in every circumstance, whether it is according to His will or not, He is looking and able to cause it to work together for good. Because of this experience I know that God is for me, no matter how it may seem from my limited perspective. And I know that if this God is for me, there is nothing that can keep me from becoming more like Him in perseverance, compassion, joy, and love.