“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28–NIV).
Something happened recently that reminded me of God’s goodness–how He works everything together beautifully–even our brokenness–when we love Him and walk in His ways.
We’d helped our niece Kayla and her husband Gary Cooper move into their new home this weekend. Although they’d recently married in Ohio, their dream was to move south in the coming year. Almost immediately, however, they found a home they loved not far from family here and took the plunge–fulfilling what Kayla would call a lifelong dream of theirs: to live in North Carolina.
As we unloaded boxes–placing them in various rooms, including their infant daughter Reagan’s room–I couldn’t help but marvel at God’s goodness. My daughter Allie helped me and my sister-in-law Rachel, Kayla’s mom, as we worked, and it was as if I heard God say–
See what I did here?
Yes, I do see. So this morning I went searching for something to help tell the story–a music box from my childhood that I knew contained a single item, folded and placed inside for safe keeping.
I found the music box, tucked inside a cupboard–a gift from my parents on Christmas morning 1981.
I remember specifically because it was the gift that almost wasn’t–having been forgotten by my mom who’d hidden it in a cupboard of her own with intent to later retrieve it, wrap it, and present it to me on Christmas.
Truth be told, I’d snooped and discovered it–this beautiful box that I’d seen in a gift shop some months earlier and had asked for. “Not now,” I’d been told. “Maybe for Christmas.”
Thus, when I saw it tucked away in that cupboard, I was delighted–realizing Mom had heard my pleas and purchased it after all. Christmas couldn’t come soon enough.
Fast forward a couple months. Envision a flurry of wrapping paper, boxes strewn about the living room, empty egg nog mugs, and scattered cookie crumbs–as well as the disappointed face of an adolescent girl who, though blessed beyond measure with all sorts of wonderful gifts, fought the tears of dashed expectation.
My mom, being perceptive among other things, noticed and inquired. “What’s wrong, dear?”
Immediately the confession came pouring out–telling of my nosiness months before and explaining that I’d discovered the music box tucked among blankets and pillow cases. “I thought I’d get it for Christmas,” I cried, tears finally spilling over.
My mom looked surprised, though not angry. (My response could have seemed ungrateful, after all; it had been a bountiful Christmas.) Tenderly, she said, “Oh my! I completely forgot about the music box. Wait here!”
And with that, she disappeared for a few minutes, returning with the unwrapped gift in her hands. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “Here you go. I guess I hid it so well, even I forgot.” (The irony, however, didn’t go unnoticed.)
This morning I retrieved the music box from its place in my cupboard. As I opened it, I heard the familiar song from one of my very favorite movies. Though the staccatoed sound of the tiny metal music mechanism included no lyrics, I heard them just the same, and my heart sang along–
Rain drops on roses and whiskers on kittens;
Bright copper kettles and warm, woolen mittens;
Brown paper packages tied up with strings–
These are a few of my favorite things…
Inside the music box, I found what I’d been looking for. A letter–dated Christmas 1996. But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ll tell the story as I’ve told it to Allie.
Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Maureen who wanted nothing more than to grow up, get married and have children. This was, to her, the perfect life.
But this little girl–though she did get married–discovered that her body would never carry babies. It was broken, as was her dream, and she often argued with God–asking Him, “Why?”
He bent low and comforted His child, telling her, “Trust me. I love you, and I have a plan.”
One day near Christmas 1995, Maureen and her husband Bill–who were living in Kentucky–were asked to do something. Bill’s younger sister Rachel, who was fourteen, needed a place to stay for awhile. She was having struggles at home in Ohio and needed a fresh start–a change of pace. “Can Rachel come and live with you?” they were asked.
Snow was falling when Bill and Maureen decided that this would be a good thing. “Yes, she can come,” they exclaimed. “We will love to have her.”
And so the plans were made, and soon they all celebrated the New Year together–ringing in 1996 with laughter and joy. Rachel wasn’t a baby, but Maureen and Bill would treat her as their own for the time she stayed with them. After all, Maureen had always loved playing dress-up with Rachel when she was a toddler–when Bill and Maureen were only dating teenagers.
Not long after Rachel’s arrival, however, she woke up sick. Bill and Maureen thought she had a tummy bug, so she stayed home from school. But the next day, Rachel was still sick–throwing up, especially in the morning. Again, she couldn’t go to school.
Finally, Bill said, “I think we need to figure out what’s wrong. This may be something other than a stomach virus.” So they bought a test that would tell them what was happening inside Rachel.
And sure enough, what Bill silently expected proved to be true. Rachel wasn’t sick; she was pregnant. She had life growing inside of her–a baby, though she was barely more than a baby herself.
“A baby!” Maureen cried. “Rachel’s pregnant?” But she knew it was so–though the truth burned like salt in a wound.
Maureen yelled at God on more than one occasion–especially after she’d held back tears behind the wheel of her car. Many times, en route to Rachel’s high school, she’d have to pull over so her sister-in-law could throw up–morning sickness a harsh reality for Rachel, though something Maureen could only hope to one day experience.
With Rachel out the door, Maureen would fake a smile and wave good-bye only to clench her open palms the moment the teenager entered the school–shaking fists at the One she felt was so unfair. “How could you?” she’d shout, sometimes aloud. “What did I do wrong?”
But again, God would bend low to comfort–asking her to trust His heart even when she couldn’t see His plan. “Wait,” He’d whisper.
Over time–with God’s help–Maureen did begin to experience joy in the journey. In part, it was probably because Bill and Maureen had been given a glimmer of hope–told by others that, because Rachel was so young and unmarried, they would likely be able to adopt the baby she carried. After all, Rachel was still a bit angry about some things in life, too–not necessarily knowing that she’d want to be a mom.
On several occasions, Bill and Maureen caught Rachel on the phone in the middle of the night talking to her boyfriend back home. “I can come get you,” he’d said. “You don’t have to go through with this.” They knew what he meant, and it broke their hearts. They prayed it would soon break Rachel’s too.
And it did–because hearing a heartbeat often makes truth hit home for girls in crisis. Rachel knew life grew inside her, and she was determined to carry the baby to term. It was Maureen who took Rachel to her first several doctor’s appointments, and when she also heard the baby’s heartbeat, her own heart skipped. “Precious life!” she said, hugging Rachel, tears in her eyes.
Time went on, and Maureen and Rachel began to attend a Bible study at the home of a friend from church. Kathy, like Maureen, had her teenage sister Melissa living with her, too. Although not pregnant like Rachel, Melissa had struggles–acting out rebelliously and threatening to run away. The four began to meet weekly and work through a book by Kay Arthur called, “LORD, Only You Can Change Me”–based on the Beatitudes found in Matthew’s Gospel. They learned that to be “blessed” meant to be “joyful”–that there was joy to be discovered, even in difficulty.
Blessed (joyful) are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed (joyful) are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted (Matt. 5:3, 4).
Although she hoped everyone gleaned as much as she did from those weeks together, Maureen knew the study had been as much for her as anyone. From that time in God’s Word, she learned–truly learned–what it meant to find joy, even in poverty (lack) and in mourning (sadness). She began to see her impoverished womb and the sadness it brought as something that caused her to press deeper into the heart of God. When she heard His heart beat love for her, she was strengthened in her faith and resolve to wait with hope.
Maureen and Bill were able to sincerely rejoice when Rachel had Kayla in September 1996–even when she chose to parent this child rather than place her with them.
And when Christmas came that year, they received a beautiful letter in the mail.
Dear Uncle Bill and Aunt Maureen,
This is my very first Christmas with my family, and I sure feel loved by all of you. I received the “gift of life” this year. Isn’t that wonderful! I’ll be able to cherish it forever!
You know what? I’ve heard your voices somewhere before. Mommy told me that it was when I was in her tummy, when we lived with you before I was born. Wow–that’s neat!
I remember you talking to Mommy about how much you loved her; the times you talked about Jesus with her, and even when you, Uncle Bill, had to be stern with Mommy. That’s because you loved her a lot and wanted the best for her too.
When Grandma said she was going to give you an angel figurine for Christmas, I thought that was the perfect gift. Just as angels watch over us–to care for and love us–you were used by God as angels for Mommy and me while we lived with you. Every time you look at your angel, remember us and how you were used to protect us.
We all have a lot to be thankful for, don’t we? I’m getting a little sleepy now, so I’ll close my eyes, but you need to know I’ll always remember your voices, for as long as I live.
I’m excited about spending some time with you this Christmas and FINALLY seeing your faces. You’ll always be special to Mommy and me.
Only a little more than a year later, God brought Maureen and Bill a son–Dorian Samuel–and a year and a half later, another son–Jacob Riley. Each came with promise–after much waiting and hoping for them.
And fast forward twelve years. A girl named Allie joined their family in 2012–a daughter who loves stories and her family and Jesus, especially stories about her family that point to Jesus… ones that never conclude “The End” but instead–
And they lived blessed–Yes, joyfully!–ever after.
The music box found and the letter read again–How many times have I read it?–I’m thinking about God’s story, written on lives spanning many years, over lots of miles. If it was given a title, it could only be–
Had Kayla been ours, I may by now be a grandma, but I likely wouldn’t have Allie. Rachel’s life would have been vastly different and likely not as beautiful. It’s unlikely that Kayla would have married Gary, and thus, Reagan wouldn’t have been born, nor would their second baby be on the way. I’d likely not have helped set up the Cooper home this weekend here in North Carolina, and Allie would’t have been there to ask, “Will you tell me again the story about you and Rachel and Kayla?”
Yes, you know the one–where God says, “See what I did here?”
And they lived blessed ever after.
Jesus, help us to have faith to believe that You WILL–even when weeping lasts for the night–turn our mourning into joyful dancing! Thank you for working all things together for our good!