My life is always a bit hectic, but there have been times when things just seemed to flow. When my family was basically happy and healthy, when my relationships were strong and my career was comfortably challenging.
The past few months have not been one of those times.
Life has been heavy for me and my family for months. My daughter, Annie, has been suffering from a debilitating medical condition. She is in constant, excruciating pain, and has been through multiple treatments and procedures. She has been incredibly brave and resilient, but watching her in pain, seeing her spirits sink with each new diagnosis or failed treatment, weighs on me. I pray constantly for healing, and I pray that I could take her place.
I pray with desperation in what feels like an impossible situation, but I also pray with hope, and with confidence, knowing that we can do all things; that we can do impossible things, through Christ and Christ alone.
What do you know about Harriet Beecher Stowe?
Most of us know her as the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. For a long time, that’s pretty much all I knew about her. But as I learned more about Harriet’s life, she came alive for me in new ways.
Harriet Beecher Stowe was the daughter of a well-known pastor and theologian, one of eleven siblings. All of her brothers grew up to become pastors, her sisters were great thinkers and social reformers in their own right. Harriet herself attended a women’s seminary and believed that it was her calling to preach through her vocation.
She was a woman guided by her faith, a devoted wife, a mother, and an incredibly successful professional. You could say that Harriet Beecher Stowe “had it all” in the 1800’s!
In 1852, at 41 years old, Harriet published Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a book that quite literally changed the world. But back up just a few years, and she is basically a housewife. She’s living in Cincinnati, she has SEVEN kids, and she’s in what I think of as the “tall grass” of motherhood; a time when she described herself as a “mere drudge, with few ideas beyond babies and housekeeping.”
Her husband, who is a pastor and professor, travels a lot, and he is away from home when cholera hits the city. And it’s bad. Harriet’s youngest son at this time is Charlie. He’s 18 months old, and he’s a JOY to her. Charlie catches cholera, and Harriet nurses him as he dies a terrible death.
So there she is, crushed by grief, alone, with six needy kids, in a city still ravaged by this deadly disease.
It must have felt impossible to get out of bed in the morning, let alone change the world!
It was impossible.
And yet it happened, but not by accident.
How did Harriet change the world?
She was overwhelmed. To do great things, I tend to think that you really kind of have to get in over your head a bit. You have to be in a place where you are too far out of your comfort zone to depend on yourself alone. You have to experience loss, brokenness, insurmountable odds; you have to get to that desperate, “Lord, save me!” place. It’s uncomfortable, to say the least.
She kept moving. If you’re in over your head, and you stop moving, you’re going to drown. Harriet could have easily been overcome by grief. She could have given up on the world. But instead she kept moving forward. She cared for her children, she stayed connected to her community, and she sought a purpose in her pain.
She moved towards God. So many people turn away from God when their suffering is great or protracted, but not Harriet. After her son died, she wrote this in a letter to her sister:
“In the depths of my sorrow which seemed to me immeasurable, it was my only prayer to God that such anguish might not be suffered in vain. There were circumstances of his death of such bitterness, of what seemed almost cruel suffering that I felt I could never be consoled for it unless this crushing of my own heart might enable me to work out some great good to others.”
And it DID. God was faithful to that prayer in ways that Harriet couldn’t even imagine.
Like Harriet, it is sometimes hard for me to imagine how God is working in our situation; how he might possibly use Annie’s pain and suffering for great and impossible things. But we trust that He can, and we keep moving towards Him. If you’re in a difficult time in your life, I hope you can take comfort from Harriet’s example and know that God has something truly wonderful in store for your life.
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