The Things We Do for Love

“Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.”

Proverbs 3:27 (NASB)

I sometimes wonder why I even try to plan anything, because it never works out the way I envision it. We were scheduled to go to Minnesota this past weekend for a cousin’s memorial service. Our presence was specifically requested in no uncertain terms; I was supposed to lead the singing for the memorial service and then again for Sunday worship the next day. Besides, this was family, and family is everything. We were going to fly in on Friday, spend the weekend and come home on Monday. God and the weather had other ideas.

After a very short sleep on Thursday night, Rita and I were up and on the road at 3:30 am in order to get to Grand Rapids and get on our flight which left at 6:20 am. Normally the trip would take an hour and a half, leaving us enough time to clear security and check in at the gate. We had listened to the weather forecast the day before, which called for a BIG snowstorm overnight that would cover all of the area where we needed to travel. We hoped maybe the weather people were wrong (how often does THAT happen?) and things would work out.

We were rapidly disabused of that notion shortly after pulling out of our driveway. The roads were snow covered and horrible, and once on the highway the conditions were near white-out. But we pressed on, hoping against hope we might somehow miraculously make it. After nearly sliding off the road at one point and managing a top speed of about 45 miles an hour, we finally surrendered to the inevitable at about the halfway point, turned around and went home.

After unloading the car and dropping the stuff at the door, we decided to go back to bed for a while, the dreaded phone call to my cousin-in-law put off for the time being. An hour later, I was awake, pulled up my big boy pants and made the call. She was distraught and pleaded with me to get there somehow. I told her I’d see what I could do and went to wake up my wife. An hour and a half later we were on the road to Minnesota, where we arrived unscathed twelve hours later (other than our GPS routing us through downtown Chicago-and I mean DOWNTOWN, like concrete canyons and crazy one-way streets-at rush hour!).

Ironically, as we were getting everything ready to go to the airport, I had a niggling little thought in my head that I’d much rather throw everything in the car and just drive (a little foreshadowing?). Even more surprising-miraculous, spooky, incredible-was the fact that when we started out the second time, the roads were bone-dry and clear, and the snow had stopped. Other than a light dusting of snow while we were there, we had no precipitation coming or going. Because we arrived so late on Friday night, we chose to stay over an extra day. The trip turned out to be as much, if not more, of a blessing for us as it did for Jean. We got reacquainted after not having much contact over way too many years, and it helped provide her some comfort from the pain of losing a spouse of 50 years, at least for a little while.

I’ve learned a few things about God, even though I have a whole lot more to learn. The lesson here was this. Sometimes God says “Yes” to our requests, sometimes “No”, but then sometimes He says, “Yes, but not like that”. With that last one always comes the fundamental question: “Do you trust Me”? If you can’t answer Yes to the question, then “Yes, but not like that” turns into either “No”, or “You’re on your own”, and without God that’s not a place you want to be.

I believe God wanted us to be there, and it was important that we be there (probably for reasons we didn’t even understand). It would have been very easy to beg off and plead there was no way to get there. But I knew I needed to be there, not for us, but for Jean because she was hurting, and she wanted us there. My conscience wouldn’t let me say no, because of my love for her. God just showed us a different way to accomplish the same goal, and it turned out to be a much better way than I had planned.

We always want to control our own narrative, because we think we can manage everything. And when God tells us to do something, but it isn’t the way we would do it, or it’s taking too long, we sometimes try to “help God out” by doing it the way we think it’s supposed to be done (according to our standard) or do it the way we want. We need to learn what God told the prophet Isaiah. “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways’, declares the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts higher than your thoughts.’” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

We fail to remember that God can see both the beginning and end simultaneously, whereas we’re lucky if we can figure out what’s happening at the moment. If we humble ourselves and earnestly desire to love and obey God, He will provide direction in any and all situations. Not just any direction, but the BEST direction. However, it doesn’t come with fanfares, bright neon signs or visions in the night. His guidance comes in a small voice in the quiet moments. It requires careful listening, and it requires patience. It also requires an intimate knowledge of who He is. There’s only one place it can be found, and that’s in His love letter to mankind known as the Bible. If you haven’t spent time reading His word, then you don’t know Him, and if you don’t know Him, you can’t hear His voice.

I always come back to the one fundamental question that God asks, not because I think I’ve figured out how to explain the Bible in one sentence, but because the more I read the Bible, the more often I see it. The Fundamental Question is this: “Do you trust Me?” It can also be understood as, “Do You love Me?”, because the two are interminably inseparable. You can’t really love God unless you trust Him, and if you don’t trust Him then you won’t really love Him. And unless you’re willing to obey His commands, you’re not doing either one, no matter how much you may protest to the contrary.

We do what we consider extravagant and outrageous things, like a 1200-mile car trip in three days, because of great love we have for someone else. It’s no less than the object of a love like that deserves. It’s exactly what God did when He sent Jesus to earth for the purpose of being mercilessly slaughtered on the cross so God could redeem His creation from the curse. The acts of those who follow Christ are simply a poor reflection of what He has already done for us. Someone I admire, Mother Theresa, once said it best: “We can do no great things; only small things with great love.”

In the greater scheme of things, what we did for Jean was a small thing. We showed up, spent a few days with her, and helped her forget her grief for a little while. I promise it was motivated by a great love I have for both her and my cousin Bob. They have meant more to me over the years than I ever let them know. I remarked to my wife while on the way up, “As big a deal as Jean’s making about me being there, I hope I don’t turn out to be a disappointment.” As we were leaving for the last time, Jean told me, “You weren’t a disappointment”. That made it all worth it.

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