Until the day I threw them in the trash, my trendy new tan shoes made me feel like a fashion plate. That is, until the fateful day I strode confidently across the wide New England street in front of Stockbridge's famed Red Lion Inn, beckoning my in-laws and our foreign exchange student to follow me. In an instant, the thick sole of my trendy shoe caught the curb and hurtled me into the air, landing me flat on my stomach on the sidewalk.
It was a moment frozen in time.
My father-in-law stopped mid-street, bent over with laughter. Joining him was Alejandra, our Guatemalan student, who struggled to breathe between guffaws.
"Virelle, are you okay?" my mother-in-law's sweet voice brought me back to humiliating reality. "Oh, you poor thing! Were you hurt?" she said, helping me up from the pavement.
I straightened stiffly, then checked out my bruised knees and elbows. "I'm okay," I said, attempting a smile. "Guess all I hurt was my pride. I'll feel better after we have lunch."
But two hours later, when I climbed into the car for the ride home, a stabbing pain in my neck told me something had clearly changed. Within days, doctors confirmed two slipped disks in my back, launching me into the slow-motion world of healing.
For months I sat by the hour, head tipped forward in neck traction, sorting through the fragments of my once-busy life. What was God trying to teach me in this down time? I wondered, struggling with feeling sidelined. As I searched for answers in God's Word, I discovered God doesn't waste our struggles or our pain. He promises to make good things come from them when we put our trust in him. And the transitions that most frighten or frustrate us—or change our plans, as my accident did—often are the impetus for a new focus in life.
No one could have convinced me of it at the time, but my extended period of healing opened the door to my life as a writer. Today I can say with certainty God's best doorways often resemble unwelcome, even forbidding, challenges. More than once I've dropped limp and exhausted in front of three common doors: perplexity, pain, and patience. If you're facing one today, a surprise may greet you on the other side!
Door 1: Perplexity
We've all been there. It's a fork in the road with a big question mark over it. Where to go, what to do next when your job goes sour or doesn't even exist any longer? How to find the money to pay this bill or that? Perplexities in life are as regular as breathing.
When my husband, Steve, and I moved our family to Lexington, Massachusetts, many years ago, I loved every part of it: new house, great neighborhood, wonderful church, and a great school for our oldest daughter. But within a year of our move, to my dismay, Steve was miserable. Too much travel and pressure in his job made life with three small children pretty strained. We began to pray for a new job in the area, of course.
Then one day Steve received a call from the State Education Department in Albany, New York. Would he come for an interview?
"We'd never move back to Albany, would we, Steve?" I pleaded. "It's the last place I would want to live." Memories of our college days on a dreary city campus were uninviting. Why would God move us from Lexington?
Within a few days Steve was calling me from Albany at noon with stunning news: "Virelle, they've just offered me the job, and it will be much better for our family. I think this is where God wants me. Are you willing to move?"
"You're kidding, right?" I said. "Move from Lexington to Albany? Are you sure?" This was not the answer I'd expected to our prayers.
Although I couldn't understand why God would lead Steve away from the home I loved so much, I knew I had a choice: either give up my dream life and move, or make Steve and me both miserable. While I was confused, I also realized God was holding open a door and asking me to step inside.
So after hours of wrestling with what to do in my confusion, when my tears and last-minute bargaining prayers subsided, I reluctantly said, "I'll go."
When I think now of what I would have missed had I refused to come—the best neighborhood imaginable in which to raise our children, the best friends we've ever known, a church family we love, productive years for Steve on his job—it's frightening to think I almost refused to follow because I couldn't understand God's purpose.
When we trust God to choose for us, his plans are always better than ours. Even when the journey is rough and things couldn't be worse, we can experience peace knowing Jesus walks through every doorway in life before us and reaches out a hand to help us through.
Door 2: Pain
Well-known Christian author and apologist C. S. Lewis called pain "God's megaphone"—and for good reason. God gets our attention instantly when we're in physical or emotional pain. It's also our megaphone—the time when we shout the loudest back at him: "Why, God? Why are you allowing this to happen to me? Don't you care?"
Physical pain is no fun, but the worst pain by far I've ever experienced has been watching my loved ones suffer and being unable to change a thing. When my small son hung between life and death in an oxygen tent, or when my oldest daughter was diagnosed with lupus, I railed at God, begging him to take their suffering away, promising him anything if he'd just stop their pain. But often, pain is God's doorway to wholeness.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if we knew the painful situation we now face would have a happy ending? What if it doesn't?
Etched forever in my heart is another day when another of my children faced a serious health crisis. I knelt by my bed, broken, and sobbed, "Even if you don't heal my daughter, I won't quit believing in you. You can have this child I love so much, and you might as well have me, too." And do you know what God gave me? He gave a peace that assured me my daughter was safe in his hands—no matter what happened.
That was more than 20 years ago. As I look back, I see how God not only allowed her to recover fully, but deepened her faith—and mine—through this painful experience. No one welcomes the door of pain, but when we walk through it with God, we find ourselves intimately alone with him, and nothing is quite the same again.
Door 3: Patience
I once heard author and radio personality Warren Wiersbe say, "Unless a man (or woman) learns patience, he'll never learn much of anything else." How frighteningly true.
Patience has never been one of my stronger qualities. My father figured that out early in my life. I was less than five when he sat me down in a big chair by the front door and said, "Sit there, Virelle, for one hour without saying a word." It was all but impossible. Give me a spanking, take away food, anything, but don't make me sit still and be quiet!
God has sat me down countless times and said much the same thing. During my 15-month recovery from my back injury, I learned how to sit still and be quiet. With my head and jaw tilted forward and locked in neck traction, all I could do was read the Bible and listen to God. It took herculean strength, but I discovered I could wait thankfully, expectantly, worshipfully in God's presence.
Sitting in God's waiting room is nothing like the looming hallway outside the principal's office. We needn't sit there with our stomach in knots, dreading the guillotine drop of bad news. Rather, waiting on God is more like arriving early to a banquet hall. Something wonderful's about to happen! God will meet with us any moment now, and he's bringing exactly the nourishment we need!
It was a significant turning point in my life when I realized God's more interested in who I become than in what I do. When the dust settles on my life, I want more than anything to become a woman who honors God and brings him pleasure. He knows I need patience and faith to become that woman.
Day by day, I realize now my biggest need isn't for food, or clothes, or money to pay the bills. It isn't even having all my prayers answered the way I want. It's being in line with God's purposes, walking with Jesus from one challenge, one adventure, one open door to the next, even if I do stumble headlong through a few.
Virelle Kidder, speaker and author of numerous books, lives in New York.
1999 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine.