Last week’s “Notes from My Journey” blog post, “Life on Hold” , was mostly about how we deal with the frustrations of delay and of “not being in control” of some aspect of life. This week I’m looking at some of the lessons this process has taught and re-taught me through the years. Pardon me for being so subjective here, but the things that happen in my life are the things I learn most from, y’know!
Let me just take a moment to remind you of the story… On the 15th of October 1999, we moved from inner-city London to a house in the forest outside Bend, Oregon. The day we moved in was a Friday so it was Monday the 18th of October when we contacted the phone company and ordered phone service. After a few minutes on the phone we discovered that the house had never had phone service connected and that it would require two miles of phone line to be run from an existing service point in order for us to have a phone line.
How long would this take? With the need to apply to the US Forest Service and the US Bureau of Land Management for permits to run the phone line across 10,000 feet of government land, the projected date of service was 31 March 2000. It would take five and one-half months to get the necessary permits and about two days to install the cable to connect us to the phone network.
Woe unto me! As Job said, “The thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me!” (Job 3:25 KJV)
Remember, this was 1999, so “dial up” internet connection was the order of the day. For someone as dependent on the phone as I was for communication, email, and internet access, this was almost too much to bear! I remember when we lived in Kingston, Jamaica from 1984 to 1991 and our phone service was frequently out of order, the very first thing I would do when I came into the house or when I got up in the morning was to go over and pick up the phone and check for a dial tone! And now to be told we would be without a phone line for the entire winter just really knocked me flat.
As this situation unfolded over the next few months, here’s how it worked: We were not entirely cut off from the world without any phone communication at all. We had the use of a cell phone for voice communication. But in order to send and receive emails and access the internet we had to travel nearly three miles through the forest to the home of a kind and generous neighbor who let us connect our laptop computer to their phone line for dial-up access the internet.
Then the wait began. Everyone we knew was praying that our phone line would be connected sooner rather than later. Whenever we saw our friends the first question they would ask is, “Any news about the phone line?” It would have become a joke if it had been funny. But it really wasn’t funny to me and this experience became a real, but not easy, learning process in my life.
Winter came and with two feet of winter snow on the ground, the daily trip to check email became a challenge. Spring eventually came and the snow melted and still no phone line. The projected phone service date of March 31 came and went and two and a half more months of delay and frustration followed. We finally got the phone connected and heard the dial tone for the very first time on June 16, 2000, eight months and one day after I heard those words, “Sorry, Mr. Stephens, but there’s no phone service to your house.”
When the shock of discovering that we would be without a phone line for internet access through the severe High Mountain winter first hit me, I imagined the worst. In fact the way it worked out in day by day living was less traumatic than I expected. It was challenging, difficult, and frustrating, but taking it one day at a time, it was “doable.” Taken a day at a time, with the Grace God gives, most of the challenging things we face are perhaps less catastrophic than we first imagine them to be.
During the eight months of Autumn, Winter, and Spring that had passed since we moved into this house, I learned a lot about waiting, about myself, and about God’s Grace to deal with disappointment and delay. I’ll try to put into words some of the lessons I learned through that and other “waiting” experiences, and perhaps some thoughts on how to apply these lessons in life.
Lessons Learned From The Phone Company
Here are some of the lessons I learned during that long winter in the mountains (And find myself re-learning over and over because I seem to have such a short memory that must constantly be re-taught!):
God truly is My Provider. He doesn’t always provide what I want when I want it, but He does provide a way to live and the grace to live with the way He provides. He provides on His terms and in His time. He sometimes provides what I want but always provides what I need. He provides for the development of my character and my faith and not just for my pleasure and my comfort.
I can learn to live with God’s present provision. I need to be more flexible and not say, “It has to be this way or that way.” I don’t need to worry or fear or try to figure out in advance just how it is all going to work out. God is my provider. God will provide. I can live with the provision He gives in the way He gives it.
I need to trust God more and whine and complain less. I am capable of making a real fool of myself by constantly complaining and whining about how hard my life is and how unfair the situation is. There’s a time to tell people your problem and enlist their prayers and concern and there’s a time to simply tell God and leave it with Him.
It’s not healthy to spend too much time thinking and talking about something you simply cannot change. It’s best to do what you can about the situation, give it to God, and get on with what you can do about living the life you have. The Apostle Paul had a situation like this. Here’s what God told him… 7 even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. 8 Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. 9 Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. (2 Corinthians 12:7-9 NLT)
If you let it, one unsolved problem or unfulfilled desire can take over your life and make you incapable of enjoying and appreciating the rich blessings you have. I tend to focus all my attention on the unsatisfied desire and forget to appreciate the many gracious and generous provisions God has made. I recall hearing Al Miller, my pastor in Jamaica often saying, “There’s always more going right than going wrong in your life!”
After a while you begin to hit Prayer Request Fatigue. People get tired of hearing that the prayer hasn’t been answered yet. People want to hear the request, pray about it, and then hear that it is all taken care of the next time they speak to you. When we pray earnestly about things and the answer is delayed or doesn’t come at all, it raises issues that we’d rather not deal with about our faith, others’ faith, and God’s willingness and ability to answer.
The people in my small group really cared about what concerned me. These people I met with every Tuesday evening for prayer and sharing really did care and really did pray for me and my needs. It is important to find a small group of believers to share life with.
That which seems to be a big crisis to me doesn’t affect everyone in the same way. For me, not having a phone line was a big crisis. For some, not having a phone line would be a welcome break from pressure and interruptions. For me not having a phone line was a crisis of near “Biblical Proportions!” For Jean it was only a minor inconvenience. When we look back on eight months without the phone line it is clear that we managed to get done what we needed to do. Jean was gracious enough (most of the time) not to say, “I told you so, oh you of little faith!”
The answer will come eventually and when it does it won’t make your life perfect! When we are focused on one need or desire, there it is a tendency to believe that when it finally happens, life will suddenly be perfect and we will “live happily ever after!” In fact, when the answer comes and the desire is fulfilled, life will still have its needs and imperfections and it is amazing how soon the thing will become “common” to you.
Is there a time to simply stop praying about something we desire or need? The weight of emphasis in the Bible is that we should continually cry out to God for the thing we desire or need. Only once does God say, “Don’t ask anymore!” and in that instance He makes it clear to Paul that there is purpose in the unanswered prayers. (See 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 and Luke 18:1-8; Matthew 7:7-11).
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. (Luke 18:1 NIV)
7 Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. 9 Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:7-11 NIV)
Lessons Learned From The Phone Company
I realize my little “telephone story” may seem trivial compared to the things that some of you are facing. The principles of survival and success remain the same for my “little” situation or your “big” crisis:
• Face it
• Embrace it
• Give it to God
• Live the life you have
• Never give up
I hope this helps!
As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.