One day last week, I threw the ingredients for bread into the mixing bowl of my bread machine and hit the start button for the dough cycle. Two hours later the machine finished its work and I lifted the lid, ready to punch down the risen dough and form it for its second rise.
As young people—in our teens and even twenties—possibilities often seem endless. I remember thinking I could be a doctor like my dad and help lots of people with their health issues—maybe on the mission field. I could write the next great children’s novel—and be like Madeleine L’Engle. I could open an orphanage. I could…
Now life feels more limited–and a lot more complex. I understand that opening one door means closing another. I see so many needs and often feel helpless to assist. I know children are starving around the globe and I look at my comfortable lifestyle and wonder what biblical living means for those of us who stay in the suburbs. I struggle with the differences between needs and wants. I wonder if all the “little” things I do each day are really making a difference. Is THIS what I’m supposed to be doing? I sometimes wonder.
The Christian life no longer seems like endless possibilities; it seems wrapped up in—perhaps even restricted by—“small” choices within everyday life.
But in the midst of my questions, my wondering, I’m learning to cling to the promise of Philippians 1:6—“…being confident of this, that He who began a good work in (me) will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
And lately God has given me the privilege of seeing that verse “fleshed out” in the lives of some older believers.
Because of the writing assignments I do for Wheaton Academy, I often get to interview believers much older than myself. They tell me their stories and about what has happened with them since they left Wheaton Academy. In their 70s and 80s, they don’t focus on the “small stuff” that unfortunately controls much of my early-40s, mom-to-6-kids, suburban life. But I know they DID experience these things; I’m not always talking to people who lived their entire lives on the mission field. Like me, most of the people I interview have children. They, too, bought homes and “settled” and lived in American culture. They, too, worked and had to bring home a paycheck to feed and clothe and pay sports fees and activity fees and for the cleats and shinguards and guitars to take to the sports and activities.
But they have something I don’t, a vantage point that I usually lack. They have a long view. One of them recently said this to me: I look back on all my career, all the jobs and changes and successes, and on our family life, and I see God purposefully preparing me and my circumstances for what I am doing now, in my golden years.
This man didn’t orchestrate things; he just did what came next—which is what I feel like I do most days, wondering if it’s what I’m supposed to be doing, wondering if it’s of any eternal purpose. This man didn’t have the long view IN the moment, in the journey. He just put one step in front of another and NOW he can look back and catch a glimpse of the pattern. He sees how all the “little” was part of the BIG, and that helps him to trust that there is an even bigger, even deeper pattern beyond and beneath what he is able to see right now.
And his long view helps ME to be “convinced and sure of this very thing, that He Who began a good work in (me) will continue until the day of Jesus Christ [right up to the time of His return], developing [that good work] and perfecting and bringing it to full completion in (me.)” Phil. 1:6 Amplified version.
We live on the wrong side of the tracks in our town. Not figuratively—there’s nothing really different about the two “sides” of West Chicago—but literally. We have to cross two intersecting railroad tracks to get to schools, work, church, friends, grocery store, and library. The only thing on this side of the tracks are Walmart and the shopping mall, both of which I avoid as much as possible.
I have heard that, on average, a train crosses the tracks here in West Chicago eight times an hour. I believe it. In fact, I think that number may be low. I often have days when I wait for a train every single time I cross the tracks. One day two weeks ago, that was eight times.
Early on in our renting of this house, I was sitting at the train crossing, drumming my fingers and looking and listening for the big engine that powers the end of particularly long freight trains like that one, when I realized that, if I was willing, God could use the trains to teach me patience. Since then, I’ve tried to use that time well. I sing, talk with those in the car with me, pray if I’m alone, jot down thoughts in my journal, even knit (that only happens when I’m not the one driving).
A few weeks ago I was waiting at a train with the three youngest kids. We were chatting and goofing off, and they were looking for the rear engine. For no reason at all I began singing the song, “It’s the end of the world as we know it.” I only know about two lines of that song, so I sang those phrases a few times and then slipped into another song I know better. Suddenly one of the kids shouted out, “There’s the engine.”
Sure enough, the heavy rumble announced its approach. As if on cue, the three kids, ranged across the back seat like a chorus, belted out, “It’s the end of the TRAIN as we know it, it’s the end of the TRAIN as we know it, it’s the end of the TRAIN as we know it,
“And we feel fine!” (And then they sang that funny line that sounds like the singer might be saying, “diggy, diggy, diggy, diggy.”)
All together, on key, like they had planned and practiced it (and as far as I know, they never had).
I laughed so hard.
This morning I thought about that story as I crossed the train tracks—without a wait. It made me think of my current favorite song: “This is not the End” by Gungor (if you haven’t heard of them, check them out—thought-provoking music). Here are a few of the lyrics:
“This is not the end of this.
We will open our eyes wide, wider.
This is not our last breath.
We will open our mouths wide, wider.
This is not the end of us.
We will shine like the stars, bright, brighter.”
I feel like crying and laughing at the same time when I sing that song—which I shout out as loud as I can if I’m alone. It’s full of so much hope! THIS, a life that often feels a lot like waiting for a train, is NOT the end of it all. One day it will pass, and that ending will be a huge beginning! I will be able to see with wide-open eyes. I will be able to praise with wide-open lips. I will fulfill that beautiful image of Philippians 2:15: I will shine like a star in my complete revelry in God.
But there is hope for this time, too, this train-waiting time; I can rest in the promise of Philippians 1:6: that until THAT end, God will open my eyes, bit by bit, wider and wider, so I can see less of my frustrations and more of Him. He will open my lips (and my pen/keyboard) so that testimony flows from them rather than selfish, hurtful things. He will turn up, degree by degree, my dimmer switch (or in this case, my brightening switch) so I shine His love brighter into the darkness that surrounds me.
In a few months we will move to the house we’re purchasing on the “right” side of the tracks, and my regular train-waiting times will be over. They’ve become almost enjoyable as necessary stopping points, worthwhile reminders that there is much good in waiting, listening, trusting, reflecting. It’s so easy to forget my true purposes when I’m incessantly running around. Good waiting (both for trains and in life) helps me remember.