Learning Faith

“There is no way I’m going to the dance tonight,” our teenage daughter wailed at breakfast. Remembering the excitement she had felt in planning every detail of the long-anticipated evening, I could hardly believe my ears.

On closer scrutiny, I could see a fresh cold sore blistering and puffing her lip out of shape. I cleared the dishes and made a cheerful attempt to convince her that what happens to us in life is not as important as how we feel about it. She wasn’t impressed. She left for school shrouded in gloom.

Late that afternoon, as I finished mopping the kitchen floor, our teenage son shuffled in, depositing on the floor a few mud clods and some fresh sawdust from the cuffs of his pants. He had been working on the high bar after school. Dropping his books on the table, he slouched onto a kitchen chair, laid his arms on the table, and buried his face in them. He didn’t even reach for one of the still-warm cookies spread out in front of him. It must be bad, I thought.

“Wouldn’t you know it, Mom?” his muffled words finally came. “Wouldn’t you just know that my stupid wrist would turn the wrong way and throw me off balance in the tryouts?”

I had forgotten! This was the day he was to try out for the gymnastics team. Making the highly selective group had been so important to him! What could I say? I’m sorry? It isn’t fair? Why you? I felt a sudden urge to plant a kiss on his cheek and to assure him that I would protect him from all future injustice. Instead, I poured a glass of cold milk and enticed him to try a cookie. It helped, but the disappointment lingered.

When my husband came home, I looked for a cheerful word or action. But he had spent weeks studying, analyzing, and sketching a new system for his department that the company president had not even considered; he had adopted another plan that would be going into operation Monday. My husband was dejected. I wanted to soothe and comfort him, but instead, I rushed dinner so he could get to his Scout committee meeting on time.

While I was doing the dishes, our first-grader came in from her bedroom waving a sheet of paper in one hand and carrying a red crayon in the other. “Mommy, will you please write ‘athlete’ on the bottom of this sheet?” she said.

I dried my hands and looked at her art work. There, drawn with care, was an out-of-proportion boy on a high bar with one leg draped over the side. Scrawled under it, in crooked letters, were the words, “I thenk U R the best …” I added “athlete” and then watched while she taped a half-wilted flower onto the paper. A tear slipped down my cheek as I watched her carry the paper to our son’s bedroom.

I couldn’t resist listening as the muffled words came from behind his closed door. “Who cares about a dumb gymnastics team when I’ve got a sister like you?” When she came skipping out for a cookie, I hugged her warmly, releasing all the love I had wanted to give the whole day. Suddenly, the atmosphere in our home changed to warmth, hope, and joy.

Later that night, I came to realize that life’s greatest moments are often the unexpected ones. Counting heavily on a special event to bring happiness, we find earthly elements creating disappointment, our changeable emotions causing frustration, and competition often thwarting our efforts. Then, in an almost miraculous way, unexpected experiences warm our hearts and add fulfillment to our lives.

Could it be that these lessons, which constantly remind us of life’s uncertainties, are meant to prepare us for greater faith, trust, and dependency upon the Lord?

Sara Brown Neilson Sierra Madre, California

[illustration] Illustrated by Ondre Pettingill