Trust in the Lord will all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding.
In all your ways, acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.
~ Proverbs 3:5-6 (KJV and NIV mashup)
When I was in high school, my grandma gave me a copy of Daily Light, a morning and evening Scripture reading devotional. Inscribed in the front was this verse. I think it was her favorite. I memorized it as a young child, but I haven’t thought about it in quite a while, to my detriment! But yesterday, our pastor said this verse as part of his benediction over us, and it brought both the verse and Grandma to mind.
When I moved to Asia after college, I figured it wouldn’t be very hard because my ancestors had done it. It was normal, and therefore easy, right? Ha! Now that I have a decent number of years of life experience under my belt, I know that the life they lived was hard – just like everyone’s life. I started thinking about how this verse shaped Grandma’s life, her responses to the hard.
Unlike my safe suburban childhood, Grandma grew up in pre-industrial China during the tumultuous years of the 1920s and 30s. She had to learn to trust in the Lord with all her heart as she grew up in a very dangerous world of disease, war, and family separation.
She came back to the States for college, during which time the Japanese invaded China. She didn’t know if her parents survived the attack. There was no FaceTime or Skype, no Facebook to mark themselves “safe”! She had to wait until she could hear word from them, until they had reached a safe place. I don’t know how long it was, but with slower modes of travel and communication, it wasn’t quick. How she must have waited in agony, not knowing if they were alive or dead.
After college, she started teaching high school Bible. World War II was underway, and she learned to trust the Lord as her students went off to war. She also had to trust in the Lord with all her heart as her beau (and then husband) was a chaplain on a ship in the middle of the Pacific, never knowing if he’d come home to her. He did, but he had at least one very narrow escape!
After the war, Grandpa went to seminary, and then they moved their growing family to a frontier settlement in Brazil. Grandma continued to learn to trust in the Lord with her whole heart as her husband planted and pastored multiple small churches and coached Brazilian lay evangelists in remote areas of Brazil for the next 35 years. His region was over 500 miles of mostly dirt roads, and he would try to visit the people he coached throughout that region every month or two, so he was gone a lot.
But Grandma had her own fruitful Bible teaching ministry as well, made fruitful because she learned to acknowledge the Lord in all her ways. She often talked about her “other children,” whom she loved. They were generally the same age or younger than her own children, and they were also typically from other ethnicities. They loved her dearly, calling her “Mother Sandy.” She sent many of these young people through Bible college and kept up with them through the years and across the miles. She was very active in ministry, and she had to learn to trust the Lord with the many people she served and loved.
She had to learn not to lean on her own understanding when she was not able to have the dozen children she so badly wanted. (Her health would only allow her to have five children.) She had to learn not to lean on her own understanding when injury and sickness in her family (including her own long battle with malaria, caught during her childhood) made living in the Brazilian frontier extremely inconvenient, to say the least.
Shortly after Grandma and Grandpa retired, she had to continue to learn to trust the Lord with her whole heart as she helplessly watched her sweet, kind husband slowly lose his mind and body to Alzheimer’s.
As we get older, we see more and more clearly the fruit of whether or not we truly acknowledged the Lord in all our ways. Our character, the outcome of our decisions, and the way we treat people when we are no longer able to be “productive” are such telltale signs of whether someone truly acknowledged the Lord in all their ways. Are the ends of their life paths crooked or straight?
Grandma’s were straight. She wasn’t perfect, of course, but she had very clearly been shaped by a lifetime of trusting in the Lord with her whole heart and acknowledging Him in all her ways. She continued to be a prayer warrior until her last days, long after she had the health or energy to “do” ministry.
She died nine years ago. It still seems strange that she’s gone. I remember being amazed when she commented to me one time that Grandpa had been gone for 12 years, and she missed him terribly. But now I get it.
My life is so very different from hers, but at the end of the day, she was a woman trying to be faithful to do what God had given her to do – just like me. Heartache, difficulty, and agonizing waiting periods were a deepening ground for her trust in the Lord.
As I was brushing my teeth before bed last night, it seemed I could hear her whispering to me, “Trust the Lord with your whole heart, Becca, and don’t lean on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. Trust in the Lord.”
In a confusing world that contains so many future unknowns, her life of trusting Him comforts me, reminding me that no matter what the future holds, He will make my path straight, one step at a time.