Standing in line, I watch helplessly as a candy bar sails through the air, into the empty cart in front of me. The grinning, piggy-tailed four-year-old whose pitch sent it flying never once takes her eyes off me; her gaze is as steady as her determination. "I've got one just like her at home," the cashier chuckles, shaking her head. "You have a little one at home?" I ask, stretching out as far as my five-foot-two-and-a-half-inch frame will allow, in a failed effort to retrieve the lone candy bar. "No, just one like her. She'll be a handful for you." Not exactly encouraging words for a young mom, but as she began to describe her daughter, I realized just how much she did understand.
One like her, she'd said. To most parents, this phrase wouldn't hit so hard, but to the parent of a child with special needs, it has significantly more meaning—sometimes positive and sadly, sometimes negative. In this case, it was filled with considerable understanding and encouragement. The woman went on to tell me about her daughter, now in her twenties, who has spina bifida. "She's always been so determined, even as a little girl," she tells me. "You might have seen her if you live in town. She works as a greeter at Wal-Mart. Her name's Anna."
I'm taken completely by surprise at her last statement. I do know her. Even in a small town, where the odds of having met her daughter are greater than in a burgeoning metropolis, I'm shocked at the realization that I have met this woman's daughter. I met Anna months before, after dropping my car off to have a flat fixed. My daughter, Sofia, and I had strolled through the Wal-Mart next door until we got the call telling us the car was ready. Leaving the store, I was struggling to keep her coat zipped. She was more than thrilled to show off her newly acquired zipping skills. Up and down the zipper went, with me struggling to keep her coat closed.
Sofia giggled as she whirled the zipper down again. I heard laughter behind me and the voice of a young woman who introduced herself as Anna. She'd been watching our antics closely and was amused. She began asking questions about my daughter. How old is she? Does she go to school? Where? Does she take the bus? Anna shared that she'd attended the very same preschool program when she was little. She remembered some of the teachers and staff. For Anna, it was a trip down memory lane.
"If you ever need a sitter, you should come to our babysitting program. It's at my church," Anna told me. "Everyone's welcome. I work there and so does my mom." I thanked her and after saying goodbye, left the store almost in tears. Her offer to help was more than just a polite gesture. Anna spoke to me from the seat of her wheelchair. Even though she was scheduled to have surgery in a few weeks to help her back, she'd offered up a desire to be of genuine help to me, an able-bodied woman. Her kindness moved me greatly.
Anna didn't know I'd been smack in the middle of feeling somewhat helpless. I'd been praying that God would provide; that he'd provide some kind of help or simply some kind understanding. The feeling of helplessness can strike anyone, in any situation with varying degrees of difficulty. I was no exception and had been struggling with this feeling for a few weeks.
Difficulty has a way of not only making matters seem hopeless, but making you feel alone in your struggle. At that moment, I was feeling alone in facing down the task of raising a child with developmental delays. The situation varies for all of us and can strike at different points in our lives. After graduating from college, I had experienced hopelessness after numerous unsuccessful attempts at finding a job, before one opened up. When I was young, I dealt with the tensions that existed in a family situation that, at the time, seemed hopeless. Sickness, joblessness, relational or marital difficulties, personality conflicts, and so many more difficult realities in life can attempt to throw us into the mire, leaving us feeling utterly helpless and alone.
Elijah's Expectant Faith in God's Provision
For some time before I met Anna, I'd felt a nagging curiosity about the prophet Elijah. I'd read and studied different biblical personalities, but not Elijah. So I began reading about this no-nonsense man of God. 1 Kings 17 opens with Elijah confronting Ahab, the King of Israel. Ahab didn't exactly go down in the history books as one who pleased God. The Bible tells us he did more evil in the eyes of God than all of Israel's kings before him. He'd taken as his queen Jezebel, who rightly could be known as the queen of Baal worshippers. This royal couple deliberately sought out Baal and promoted Baal worship in Israel, despite the fact that God had been so faithful to them and their people. Elijah appeared on the scene, seemingly out of nowhere. He told Ahab, on behalf of the Lord, there would be no rain for the next few years, except by Elijah's word.
Elijah pronounced a severe blow to the land and people of Israel. A drought of this proportion would leave Israel in a state of famine leading to death. Not good news for Ahab. Immediately after confronting the king, Elijah was instructed by God to flee to the Kerith Ravine. God told him there he could drink from the flowing brook and that he'd also ordered ravens to bring him food.
I live pretty much in the woods near a small town. Various wildlife frequent the area, and I have the eerie privilege of occasionally watching ravens fly in circles, hovering over my meadow-like yard, presumably looking for prey. I wouldn't characterize ravens as creatures of comfort. I wonder if Elijah thought, "Really God, ravens will bring me food?" But Elijah didn't question God on this. He simply took God at his word. He fled to the safety and timely comfort of the brook just in time to elude the royal couple who, enraged at Elijah, formed a plan to eliminate him, along with any other prophets faithful to the God of Israel.
God's timing and plan were perfect, and all Elijah had to do was obey. He did, without question. As a result, he experienced the remarkable provision of God. In the middle of what appeared an impossible situation, God used the most unlikely of creatures, the raven, to provide much-needed sustenance. Twice daily, Elijah dined on meat and bread served up by the ravens. During one of the worst droughts in Israel's history, he drank freely from the cool waters of the brook. At the very moment when food and water were scarcest, Elijah had his fill directly from the hand of God, through God's creation.
Awhile later the brook dried up and God again spoke to Elijah. God instructed him to go to the foreign land of Zarephath, a land ruled by Jezebel's father, Ethbaal, where Baal worship was a state religion. In the heart of this dangerous territory, Elijah was to seek out a widow who would provide him with food and shelter. Again, Elijah obeyed. After a lengthy journey as a wanted man, he arrived to find a woman gathering sticks for a fire. He didn't hesitate, but assumed this was the widow God had directed him to and immediately asked her for some water and bread. Her reply was both insightful and chilling. Although she lived in a pagan land, she recognized Elijah's God as the Lord: "I swear by the Lord your God that I don't have a single piece of bread in the house. And I have only a handful of flour left in the jar and a little cooking oil in the bottom of the jug." She told him she was gathering sticks to take home to make a meal for herself and her son "and then my son and I will die" (1 Kings 17:12). Things had gotten so bad for this woman and her child, they were literally ready to die from starvation.
Elijah told her not to fear but to make him some bread, then to make some for herself and her son. He assured her the flour and oil jars would be replenished until God provided rain for the parched land. She did as Elijah asked. Exactly as Elijah had said, the flour and oil jars were miraculously replenished each day. Once again, Elijah experienced the unique provision of God. Only this time, a desperate woman and her son were blessed as well.
Living Beyond our Limited Vision
As if yelled through a bullhorn, these stories continue to echo in my head long after I read them. They scream of God's amazing provision. From the most unlikely creatures and among very hostile environments, God provided safety and sustenance. At God's command, the ravens provided Elijah with a twice-daily feast in the middle of a famine. The widow in Zarephath was ready to die. She didn't even realize her potential for helping Elijah, but God did. In her humanness and poverty, she could do nothing—except allow God to use her. When she did, God provided, through her, for Elijah, herself, and her child.
Like Elijah, I want to hope beyond what my earthly eyes can see. I believe God put Anna and her mother in my path as a reminder that in spite of my limited vision, God can move the entire created world to act on behalf of his children, utilizing the most unlikely people and creatures to provide sustenance, help, and hope. Circumstances and times may change, but the answer to our calls for help is in looking to God expectantly. In my humanness, I have to remind myself of God's faithful hand of provision in my life. Elijah's example of unwavering faith is a call to each of us to trust fully in God's faithfulness. Trusting him to provide, we might be surprised to see help coming in ways we could never imagine.
Angela M. Shupe is a freelance writer who lives in Michigan with her husband and two children. Her writing has appeared in Women's Adventure magazine, Beliefnet.com, Relevant magazine, Radiant magazine, and the Business Plans Handbook, Volume 4. One of her essays recently won a Silver SOLAS Award for travel writing from Travelers' Tales. Her writing can also be found at bellaverita.wordpress.com.