I was at LAX Airport, departing for the 2013 ACFW conference. I had lots to look forward to—seeing two of my critique partners, meeting with my agent and potential publishers, a trip to visit friends in New Mexico on the way back. My first completed novel manuscript was even a finalist in the Genesis contest.
But my heart beat lonely and aching. It had been a hard fall so far—my sister, AKA best friend, had moved away to college, and without my grandmother to help care for anymore and only a part-time job, much as I loved my parents, I was feeling pretty lame to be nearing thirty and still living at home without much definable purpose in life. Sure, there was my writing, but fictional adventure and romance could only go so far.
I knew I was blessed in so many ways. But sometimes, the longing for my own life—more specifically, for a husband and children of my own—tugged at my soul with a physical pain.
And now…there was this baby.
I don’t remember much about her. A round-cheeked little girl, belonging to an ordinary young couple, peeking over her diaper-bag toting mommy’s shoulder with big eyes. But I couldn’t keep my eyes off her, off her downy hair and tiny hands and cuddly, snuggly, I-want-to-hold-her babyness.
We moved through the line, getting our boarding passes scanned and our carry-on luggage approved. And I fought to make my feet move and my mouth and eyes do the right things, because suddenly I desperately wanted to cry.
I made it down the ramp, into the plane, found my seat, and sat there a ridiculous battle to not flat-out bawl in public. A kind-faced lady sat next to me, and introvert-me actually considered confiding in her. But what would I say?
“I really really want to get married and have a baby like that one over there, and so I’m going to burst into tears right now, could you maybe give me a hug?”
No, not happening.
So I stared with unnaturally widened eyes at the little TV screens in front of me. You know, the ones on longer-distance flights where they play advertisements until the plane is ready to go and then you can watch smiling flight attendant actors demonstrate the safety tips or, later on, pay rather high fees to watch a movie.
I stared at those screens, unseeing, just trying for something, anything, to distract me.
And then…the images started to register.
It was a field of sheep.
I don’t remember what their point was. But across the screen kept panning pastoral scenes of green fields and wildflowers, always, it seemed with those wooly, contented creatures in center focus.
And my eyes filled with tears in earnest.
You see, I have a strong identification with sheep. For one thing, my sister and I have nicknames for each other that are, you might say, sheep-derived—and no, I’m not going to embarrass either of us by revealing them here. But that connection has deepened for me because we aren’t the first ones to think of comparing ourselves to sheep. King David and Jesus Himself come to mind.
I’ve heard pastors preach multiple times on how similar people are to sheep—and it’s not particularly flattering. Sheep are pretty stupid. If their shepherd isn’t around, they’ll follow each other, even off a cliff. If they flip over, they can’t get up again without help. And they freak out over the littlest things.
But their Shepherd loves them anyway.
And in that moment, through those airplane screens, He reached out His gentle hand to my lonely, aching, sheepish little heart and said, “I see you. I know, I care…and I have plans.”
I still struggled through the rest of that trip. Even when my manuscript won the Genesis in its category, I cried in my room that night because, “Why will the Lord give me so much but not what I really want?” And my critique partner and roommate Sarah didn’t tell me I was being silly and selfish, even though she could have. She just hugged me and let me cry.
Then in New Mexico and Arizona, I pestered my dear friends with questions of what to do with my life and even asking if they knew any nice young men they could set me up with. And they loved me and gave me good advice, even if it wasn’t necessarily what I wanted to hear.
Basically, I wrestled more that fall with trusting God with my life and future—especially future marriage prospects—than I had in years. So I find it strangely ironic that only about six weeks after that trip to ACFW, I started getting to know Anthony, my now-fiancé.
I’d always, consciously or subconsciously, thought that if God ever did decide to allow me to marry, He’d bring me a man when I was in a state of true trust and surrender. You know, when I deserved it.
But I forgot the Lord doesn’t tend to work based on what we deserve. He works as He knows best. And He remembers that we are but dust…or weak, often stupid, needy sheep.
But He loves us. Oh, how He loves us.
I’ve been so blessed by all the sweet responses from you, reader friends, over my last post sharing the news of Anthony’s and my engagement. But it has also been on my heart that for some of you, that post might have been a bittersweet one to read. At least, I know how often in recent years I’ve read news of a friend’s engagement with a pang in my heart, however happy I was for them, and typed my congratulations and smiley faces while trying to push aside all the “Why is it never me?”
I remember the gut-wrenching sobs of a hoped-for relationship disappointed, or of no hope for a relationship at all. The feeling of being undesired and unseen. The wondering what God was doing, and why this had to be so hard.
Life is hard, oftentimes…and that doesn’t change just because you’re finally in a relationship, believe me.
But He sees us. He cares. He knows what He is doing, and He loves us so very much. He loves you, whatever your circumstances are right now.
And whether it be through a random little sheep on an airplane screen, a verse in His word, or just His gentle whisper to your soul, I pray that He reminds you of that today.
When is a time when the Lord has reached out and touched you just when you needed it? How does He remind you of His love and mercy to our weakness and frailty? Please comment and share!