I did not want to start another day. Waves of emotion washed over me until I felt barely able to keep my head above the surf and catch my breath. Discouraged. Depressed. Overwhelmed. Helpless. What happened to this once devoted Christian so eager to follow Christ? The one who had set out to feed Jesus’ sheep with vigor had found herself at the brink of spiritual and emotional starvation.
Raising three Russian orphans with so many special needs had brought me to the brink of exhaustion physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Our kids do not appear disabled like children with Down’s Syndrome or children with physical disabilities. Most people would never know our kids have differing degrees of permanent neurological damage due to prenatal exposure to alcohol that have a significant impact on their ability to learn, communicate, socialize, and live independently one day. Few people understand our kids’ challenges and the impact those challenges have on our daily lives.
That summer morning, I had never felt so spent—so incapable of completing the job I was certain God had called my husband and me to do. My feeling of incompetence was unfamiliar. I had viewed myself as an intelligent, highly educated, talented woman who had succeeded in several careers. I chose to become a stay-at-home mom and use my education and God-given gifts to home school our kids so they could receive the one-on-one education and therapies we determined were needed. I started out confident because I loved Jesus and I wanted to feed His sheep more than anything. But after ten years, I stood on the front porch crying tears of lament. I had come to the end of myself. The end of my talents. The end of my intellect. The end of my energy. I did not know what else to do. Little did I know, I had finally reached a holy place of soul poverty where God transforms.
Though that August morning was beautiful with the bright sun rising over our farm, my weather-beaten soul was being thrashed about on a sea of threatening waves. I felt terrified and alone, like Peter must have felt on the stormy Sea of Galilee. But unlike Peter, my spiritual legs were too wobbly to leave the boat, let alone walk on the water toward Jesus. My once strong faith seemed suddenly paralyzed. I never thought I would doubt God and His power. Worse, I doubted He still loved me because I felt like I had failed him. It seemed that my ego-beast had won the day, allowing me to believe I could follow and serve Christ to the end only to show me how utterly helpless and pitiful I was. I could hear the ego-beast’s mocking laughter and I was desperate to stop the sound.
Through my tears and fears, I looked out from our front porch and saw four horses staring at me. They needed fed and despite my exhaustion of body and soul, I had to feed them. How I wished they could just feed themselves their grain and open their own pasture gate. I needed someone to feed me! I needed someone to let me out to pasture for a refreshing meal! Those horses kept staring at me. They had absolute faith I would provide their grain and lead them out to green pasture as I did every morning. I doubt they doubted I would provide. And yet, at that moment, I stood on my porch doubting my God would provide for me—that somehow I was beyond help, beyond notice, beyond hope. I felt that I had utterly disappointed my God and I felt ashamed—utterly ashamed.
I walked out to the barn and the horses started getting excited as they usually do. After they finish their grain, they follow me out to their pasture where they spend their days, peacefully doing what horses do—grazing on nutritious, delicious green grass; enjoying the summer breeze on their bodies; swishing their tails; and maybe—if they feel exuberant–cantering about and kicking up their hooves.
How I longed for God to care for me like I cared for the horses! I could use a handful of grace, some nutritious spiritual fare, some refreshing spirit blowing through my soul, and a little bit of joy that might cause me to kick up my own heels a bit. Not this morning, I thought. I had to go through the motions of caring for other creatures on a very empty tank of my own.
I fed the horses their grain and started walking down the paddock toward the closed pasture gate. As I walked, I thought about the paddock and how it had been grass pasture the year before we fenced and gated the space. Horse farms usually have a paddock attached to the barn where horses are penned after they come in from pasture in the evening. Although our paddock was previously grassy, the horses had eaten every blade and the weight of their hooves had destroyed the grass roots within a year’s time. The once grassy paddock had turned into what is known as a “sacrifice pen” because the life of grass is sacrificed for the care of horses. I thought about how I had sacrificed my life for the care of our three orphaned Russian children who we were convinced God hand-picked and placed in our family. But over the years, the once grassy pasture of my soul had turned into a barren lot with little life left. Dusty and dry. Hard and cracked. Trampled. Oh, for some fresh, green grass to nourish my starving soul!
I walked on, through the sacrifice pen, headed toward the pasture gate with four eager horses in line behind me. I cried out loud as I identified with the sacrifice pen:
“Oh Lord, where are you?! My soul is anguished! I thought we were being obedient to your call to adopt these three wonderful children but I’m failing from the pressure. I need to know you are with me in this—that you hear my cries—that you care—that you care for me—that you will provide for us—that you know our kids and see their great needs—that you have a purpose and a plan for them, even with their disabilities. Oh, God I need you—how desperately I need you! I feel so disabled myself. Please help us!”
I reached the red gate separating the sacrifice pen from the pasture. One side barren. One side lush. I opened the gate and walked through, leading the horses out. Dew still glistened on the grass, the sun making each droplet look like a sparkling diamond. The same sun warmed the tears streaming down my cheeks. The horses trotted through the gate and In a few quick steps they passed from dusty, lifeless, dry ground to sweet, life-giving, green pasture. As they usually do, they took off running, excited to be in pasture once again. I watched and smiled, through my tears. And then, a miracle!
Facing the gate the horses had just come through, I looked over and beyond the sacrifice pen. In the distance, I saw our log home perfectly centered under the most magnificent, brilliant, full rainbow I had ever seen! I dropped to my knees in awe, right there in the pasture. In my spirit, I heard:
“This is my covenant arc over you and your family. As I saved Noah from the flood of destruction with the ark I instructed him to build, so I have placed this arc over your household. You will not drown in the flood of despair. I will carry you through in my strength, not yours. I am the God of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob, of Noah, and of you and your children. I AM who I am. I never change. Remember me. Remember the arc I have given you this day. It is I who will lead you through the barren landscapes of life into my own life-giving pastures. I AM your Good Shepherd. I will open the gate you cannot open yourself. All you need do is follow and rely on me just like your horses follow and rely on you.”
In a moment, my dry, weather-worn, cracked spirit was led by our loving God from a desolate lot into a pasture rich with life-giving, soul-filling grasses of grace. In His mercy, He let me come to the end of myself, to the end of my sacrifice pen in which my ego-beast had kept me captive. He opened the gate to abundance I could not open myself. He led me into His life-giving, soul-sustaining presence. In recognizing and accepting my complete dependence on our holy, loving God, I had never felt such peace. I thought about rainbows and began praising Him with new words to an old, familiar song:
Somewhere, under the rainbow, way down low. . .
There’s my God who still sees me and,
Oh, how He loves me so!
Thank you, Jehovah-jireh, for providing so lovingly!
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pasture,
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul.