"And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight
"For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord.
"Like silver is refined until it reflects the refiner’s
image, let us be refined in His Word
At 5:00 in the morning, the wind-up doll lies on the bed,
She listens to the noiseless sounds of
She dreams of
While her hair slowly fades to white, she struggles to be
The buzzer sounds. It’s 5:45.
The wind-up doll
Lessons Learned From a Fern
It was a particular difficult time of my life, when changes and frustrations had become the norm. An impending divorce made me feel as though I was at the mercy of all the elements in the universe, tossed about on a sea of uncertainty. Seeking an anchor, I began to spend weekends with my grandmother.
Now Grandma was a fiercely independent woman, in her 90’s. Even though time slowed her step, I knew that she was still just as sharp as ever. She allowed me the freedom to express myself when I was with her, listening to me without judgment as I tried to sort out the details of my issues and life.
One spring day as I helped her move her plants out into the sunshine, I came upon a huge asparagus fern. Its lacy green fronds reached up and cascaded around the giant pot that was its home. I remarked that I wished I had a fern like that, and Grandma said, "Well, let’s divide it." So, off we went to the back yard with the plant, where she leaned on her cane and directed me as I performed the dissection.
I soon realized this was not going to be an easy task. The fern was so root-bound I had to cut the plastic pot off of it with garden shears. Once I finally got the plant out of the pot, I discovered that it was a big mess of tangled roots—there was very little fertile soil left in the pot.
Now, the task was to divide that mass of roots into two parts. I tried to pull the plant apart into two bunches. No luck. I grabbed the shears, but they just chewed on the roots, reminding me of a toothless old crone trying to eat a steak. I plundered in the barn, emerging with a hatchet and a shovel to try to chop the thing in two. After twenty minutes of hacking, chopping, and jumping up and down on the shovel, I finally was able to separate the tangled mess of roots into two distinct balls.
Wiping the sweat from my brow, I searched in the barn for two large pots to replant the two sections. Following Grandma’s instructions, I dumped some potting soil into them, nestled the root balls into the dirt, added a bit of fertilizer, and packed more dirt around the plants. I watered them well, then rinsed the dirt off of my hands. Ahhh, sweet success, I thought.
The next day, I took my newly potted fern home and set it on the porch, and waited.
Well, for three weeks, that plant looked awful. I thought it was going to die. The leaves became spindly and brittle, and they took on a yellowish caste. I thought I’d killed it, and was mortified at the thought that I likely killed the one I left for Grandma. That plant looked as terrible and lifeless as I felt.
Then one morning, to my delight, I saw a delicate new green leaf poking up from the dirt. A couple of mornings later, there was another, then even more. Within a month or so, it grew into a gorgeous lush green fern, strong and bushy with an abundance of bright new growth. Later, as I admired my healthy plant, I realized that God was teaching me several lessons through the fern.
First, I remembered that the original plant was root bound. The roots had outgrown their container, and forced out most of the soil. The plant received very little nourishment. Sometimes marriages get like that, with each partner getting so bound up in issues that neither party gets much nourishment. It is not particularly anyone’s fault; it just happens.
Second, separation was painfully difficult. Man, I was hacking at that thing with a hatchet, for goodness’ sake! The roots had gnarled themselves together to the point that it was impossible to separate without damaging parts of the root system. Even when splitting apart is ultimately the best thing, there are hurts and cuts and bruises to the very souls of the family members.
But here is the strongest lesson the fern taught me. As my newly potted plant recovered, it looked pretty bad on the outside. At times, I seriously thought about chucking the whole thing in the trash and just buying a new, pretty fern! But all the while, underneath the soil, big changes were taking place. God was working in the unseen areas, growing new, strong roots and healing the cuts and breaks. This was giving my solo plant a new, firm foundation. And it was only after that strong foundation was in place that the new growth was able to poke its head up out of the dirt and face the bright sunshine of the future.
I realized that in times of great change and upheavals in my life, times when even breathing might cause pain, God was working at healing in the unseen places. He was rebuilding my root system, putting my foundation into place, making me stronger than ever before. I simply had to learn to have patience and endurance as He worked within my life.
Adjusting to life changes is very hard. It takes time, and there are certainly times when I want to just chuck it all—like I wanted to chuck that pitiful looking excuse for a fern! But if I am patient, if I realize the root system is being healed, if I allow time for the foundation to become firm, I will emerge from those trying times a better person, stronger and more secure in my faith. Then, just like my fern, I can grow in the reassurance of God’s care and love, in the bright sunshine of His future for me.
The wind was cool, almost cold, that cloudy March afternoon. My heart felt cold, as well. After the loneliness of a year’s separation, the divorce decree had been signed. My marriage had lasted almost three decades, but now it was history. It was all I could do to maintain my daily existence, going to work, running errands, and returning home. My mind had been mired in a swamp of depression for such a long time, and I knew I had to do something to lift my spirits.
A change of scenery might help, I thought. I threw a few necessities in the car and drove to the beach. This time of year, there wouldn’t be many people there; perhaps the solitude and peace would be good for me. On the way, I treated myself to a balloon bouquet. It was a small tangible gift to myself, but an idea was forming in my mind to use them as part of a deeper, intangible present.
I held the balloon bouquet tightly when I stepped out of the car. The sea breeze caused the blue and purple orbs to whip around me, tugging gently at the ribbons that tethered them to my grasp. They seemed eager to escape as they bounced in the wind.
I walked to the water’s edge. Sand bars and eddy pools of still water exposed by the low tide lay before me. The stiff breeze caused my hair to dance in chorus with the balloons. A flock of seagulls rested on a sandbar about twenty feet out. I kicked off my shoes and waded through a pool of shallow water, icy cold. A shudder gripped my skin but my soul warmed with the thoughts of freedom. I slipped the narrow silver wedding ring off my hand and tied it to one of the ribbons. I raised my arms up over my head, holding the balloons high. The flock of gulls rose in flight as if to escort the symbols of my failed marriage skyward.
For a moment, I stood there, motionless, feeling the pull of the balloons against the gravity of my reality. Then, I released my grip on the ribbons. My failures leapt skyward with the balloons and the gulls, out into the wind. They floated out over the blue-gray ocean, rising up, up, up into the darkening clouds.
I watched the balloon bouquet until it was nothing more than a pin-dot escaping heavenward. Then, as if it had never even existed, it vanished into the clouds.
I felt strangely mournful. I had failed at one of my life’s chief roles, that of being a wife. Wading back across the pool toward shore, I felt the sting of tiny, icy raindrops. The rain fell steadier, reminding me of the raindrops that fell on my wedding day so long ago. I guessed maybe the raindrops were teardrops from heaven. Were the angels weeping over my failure too?
Then suddenly the clouds parted and the sun shone brightly. It was as though God was saying, "Let the warmth of my grace dry your tears, and look up! You have a bright future ahead!"
I turned back around, looking across the ocean as if I could still see the balloons. Much to my surprise and delight, I saw something even more beautiful: a gorgeous double rainbow! Not one, but two arcs, spanning the sky! What a colorful reminder of God’s hope for the future! Maybe in His eyes, I wasn’t such a failure after all.
I smiled. Refreshed and reminded of the beauty of life, I felt my spirit lift just like the balloons had, on the wind. Turning away from the water, I also turned away from my irreparable past, leaving it in His hands. It was time to begin walking into the future of His promises.
The Next Stage
Nancy B. Detweiler
Often, the pathways of our lives overlap … preparing the way to move forward while at the same time urging us away from the present. This was the case with my cousin, Anita. Two mission trips to Ghana, West Africa so transformed her life that she could no longer be content to simply live in a small rural town in North Carolina. Peachland embraces her precious children, extended family, friends, memories of her childhood, a life of comfort and love. But, it could no longer contain the entirety of her heart and mind. The call to greater service, to greater love, to sacrifice, to a heart breaking over the cries of a hungry world compelled Anita onto the next stage of her life’s path. The continent of Africa pleaded: "Come to me … come to me."
In answering that plaintive call, Anita has survived divorce and made magnificent strides forward on her own spiritual path through the avenue of service to others. A new love is now present in her life—a man who feels the same call to ministry. Together, they have created a ministry to the children of Ghana.
"All Because of Grace" provides one example of the unfathomable need of the children of Ghana, as well as the whole of this continent. Anita transformed her pain into service to others by answering that haunting call, "Come to me." Now, a little girl … many children … and entire villages in Ghana know a better life because Anita willingly dedicated her hands and feet to God and allowed Him to work through her for the healing of many.
All Because of Grace
The early morning was already hot as we bounced along the dirt road in the van, dust clouds leaving a billowing red haze in our wake. It was our last day of work on this mission trip to Ghana, West Africa, in 2002. We’d spent the previous two weeks holding Bible School sessions in several villages in and around Tema, and we were all tired. The purpose of our visit to the village of Potwabin was to establish a relationship with the chiefs and elders so that our host church, Christ Harvests the Nations Ministry, could begin a feeding program for the school children there.
The villagers gathered under the shade of a large tree in the center of the village, as we Americans and our Ghanaian hosts exchanged greetings with the town’s chiefs and elders. Most of the conversation was in their native language of Twi, and we relied heavily on our translators to carry on our conversations. The chiefs and elders were excited and grateful that our ministry wanted to establish this relationship. But I felt troubled when they began asking if we could help them get electricity in their village. Even Paul Dickens Doe, my Ghanaian pastor, seemed dismayed by their request. After all, we were not miracle workers; how could we provide them with electricity? We simply wanted to help feed their children.
When our initial meeting was over, we began to walk through the village. I gazed at the crowd of men, women, and children surrounding our group. It was then that I saw her. She stood apart from the other children, watching us as we walked through the dusty paths in her village of Potwabin. Her eyes never left us; they were deep pools of brown that locked into mine. I guessed that she was about eight years old.
It was a couple of days after I returned to the USA that I realized I didn’t know her name. Her eyes had never left mine, yet I had not asked her name. I thought of her often throughout the year, wondering how she was.
I was thrilled to learn that I could go back to Ghana the next summer, and even more delighted to discover we’d return to Potwabin during the trip. While the team’s main purpose in the visit was to bring food and clothing to the children and more firmly establish ties between the church and the village, my main purpose was to find out that little girl’s name. We drove as close as we could, but had to leave the van and walk the last half-mile because springtime rains had washed out the road. As we approached the town, I saw children clustered on benches beneath a makeshift palm-branch shelter that served as their schoolroom. I scanned the crowd of children until I found her.
She was easy to spot. When I knelt by her and asked, "Ye fro we sen?" (What is your name?), her eyes sparkled and then her hands fluttered to her face as a reflex. She replied, "Ye fre me Grace." (They call me Grace.)
You see, Grace was born with a cleft palate. Her nose and mouth combine to create a hole in her face. I wondered how on earth she’d survived, how she’d learned to eat, how she’d learned to talk. How she had learned to cope with being "different."
Grace. Her name was Grace.
Grace and I held hands as we walked through her village. We ambled past mud huts topped with palm leaf roofs, and past the goats grazing in the sunshine. We walked among the mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers who were going through their daily routines in the hot sweltering sunshine of an African midday. I wondered how much – if any – those routines had changed in the past hundred years in this village that had no electricity, running water, or automobiles. I felt both honored and humbled to be guided through this village by this precious little girl named Grace.
As custom demanded, we sat and visited with the town’s chief and elders. Grace sat in my lap, clutching my hand. Her eyes sparkled and smiled into mine. When it was time for us to leave, I felt that all-too-familiar ache in the back of my throat as my eyes stung with tears that blurred my vision. She walked with me back to our van, squeezing my hand along the way. I slipped a little money into her hand, instructing her to give it to her mother. As we drove away in the dust, I watched her waving at me until I could no longer see her.
Then I began to wonder. I wondered why I felt so overwhelmed at times. I wondered why God took me to these places and connected me with people the way He did. I knew He was, and is, ultimately in control, and has a plan; yet, still I wondered. I wondered if Grace knew I cared about her. I wondered if Grace knew I had seen her in my thoughts hundreds of times. I wondered if Grace knew that I prayed for her every single night.
Grace. Her name was Grace. What an appropriate name for this precious little girl.
Again, after I returned to my home in North Carolina, I couldn’t get Grace off my mind. I felt the need to try to get some help for Grace. I sent her story and photograph to many people and organizations, asking for help. Eventually, after over a year of trying, I received an email from a lady at Operation Blessing. She asked if I could help her to get in contact with Grace; they had a doctor in Ghana that could help her! Praise God!
A quick telephone call overseas to Pastor Doe connected him with the doctor. Within a few weeks, a team of people from Operation Blessing arrived in Potwabin to visit Grace and her village. Grace accompanied them back to Tema where she was further examined. Then, in March 2005, she underwent surgery to repair her face.
But that is not the end of the story. God had a lot more to teach me about HIS Grace! During their visit, the Operation Blessing team noticed there was no running water in the village. Another part of their ministry efforts included digging wells to provide water. So through God’s grace, and because of a little girl named Grace, the village now has a well with clean running water!
I returned to Ghana again in the summer of 2005. Grace joined our team shortly after we arrived. She spoke very little English, and I spoke even less Twi, but we learned that smiles and hugs translated very easily. Her cute, mischievous personality endeared her to everyone on our team. She loved to draw and paint, and she created many pictures for us as we ministered in her country.
On my last day in Ghana, Grace, my friend Richard, and I went out to eat. She and I shared a plate of rice, chicken, and salad. I’d given her most of the chicken and half of the rice, and was about to divide the salad with her when she said "Dabi!" Now, "dabi" means "No" in Twi. She said something else to Richard in Twi, he laughed and told me that Grace said that the leaves (salad) were goat food, and she did not eat goat food. I looked at her very seriously, and replied, "Baaaaaaahhh," in my best goat imitation. She laughed musically, exposing her new bright smile, and I giggled in response. Then I was completely moved to humble adoration of God’s plan and purpose for me here.
Later that same day, I started making my preparations to leave Ghana. I get very emotional upon leaving, and the tears were ever-present in my eyes. I took my shower, washed my hair, and put on my "traveling clothes." Then I sat down on the bed and began combing out my hair.
My hair is long, so I usually comb it "upside down" first by putting my head down and combing through to get the tangles out. As I sat on the bed, head between my knees, with my hair all stringy wet, I felt the hot sting of tears prickle in my eyes. I clamped them tightly shut to keep the tears from falling.
Then…. I heard a soft giggle.
I opened my eyes… and looked directly into the face of Grace. She was lying on the floor, letting the water from my hair "rain" down onto her face. It was so comical, I had to giggle back! I gave her the comb and she then carefully combed my hair for me. It was a sweet girl-bonding moment that will always be in my heart.
I’ve been asked to relate the best memories I have from this past year’s visit to Ghana. One has to be the image of Grace at the beach, sipping a Coca-Cola with a straw. Just a few short months ago, that was an impossible task for her; that cleft palate prohibited her from drinking with a straw at all.
Oh, and one more memory stands out to me. Earlier in our visit, we’d gone to Potwabin to pick Grace up and visit with the people. As we walked through the village, I began to notice that each hut had chalk lettering by the door frame. When I asked Pastor Doe what that meant, he grinned broadly at me. Since the town now has running water, he explained, the government has decided to provide them with electricity!!!!
God’s grace is sufficient. He provides all we need. I am so thankful for my friend Grace. And I am very thankful that God has used her in my life to show me that there is no task so large that He can’t do. He can even provide electricity to a remote African village, through Grace!
YOU CAN HELP!
Anita Tarlton teaches high school in North Carolina and travels to Ghana, West Africa, as an independent missionary with Christ Harvests The Nations Ministry in the summer. A church member all of her life, Anita awakened to the Christ within her while in her forties. At this point, she stepped onto the path to Ghana. For we are, indeed, the hands and feet of God in the world.
She wrote Two Watches: The Extraordinary Call of an Ordinary Woman after her first two journeys to Ghana.
Following her divorce, she met David Lee Waters, Sr. with whom she has traveled to Africa and co-authored a book about his recovery from substance abuse, Sowing & Reaping A Fearless Heart—Convicted Not Condemned.
Anita and David have created their own Waters Edge ministry through which they serve the children of Ghana.
You may contact Anita at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Waters Edge Ministry - http://web.infoave.net/~weministry/
1) Two Watches