Last December, I had the grand experience of posing for a picture by my first car—a 2005 Honda Civic with faded silver paint and a long scratch on the driver’s side. Three weeks later, I experienced a car accident while on my way to teach my teen Sunday school class. Sitting in an emergency room, I gasped when my insurance company informed me that I only had liability insurance—not collision insurance as I had supposed. Thus, I was again carless and saving my Christian-school-teacher salary to replace my car. After struggling for three months with the bitterness of the experience, I started receiving medical bills. The emergency room charged me $2,000 for moving a pen in front of my eyes, feeling my stomach, and telling me that I would be sore for a few days.
After crying, writing English lesson plans, crying, writing history lesson plans, crying, reading literature lessons, and crying again, I pulled a red binder off my shelf. Two Christmases ago, Poppy—my grandpa—gave each of his children and grandchildren a special binder. Leaning back in my office chair, I opened the binder to find the introduction to Poppy’s life story. He had written his story down hoping that his experiences would have an influence on his family: “I want my children and grandchildren to know who their father/grandfather is, and I want my life to have some impact on theirs. . . . We are all a product of our home, our families, our teachers, our pastors and mentors, our past, and even our tiniest life details and experiences. And I’ve loved it all!”
I read about Poppy’s childhood experiences—playing with Cereal Box Top toys, stepping on cracks to “break Hitler’s back,” and escaping a kidnapping scheme in which he was to be held for ransom by some local boys. But as Poppy progressed from childhood to high school to marriage to his varied work experiences, he concluded each part of his story with this reflection: “Those were good days!”
So straightforward. So simple.
But was Poppy’s life really that simple? Were past days simply better than today? Today we face hard experiences—disease, financial losses, church splits, power-hungry employers, rebellious children. Why did Poppy’s generation have good days—good experiences—while it seems that my generation has hardship after hardship?
Yet I found that Poppy did experience hardship. When he was a young boy, his daddy went to war. When he grew up and served as a music minister in Oklahoma, he lost a car and with it the means of transportation for him and his family. He had demanding employers and church ministries. And although Poppy didn’t include all the details of difficult family drama, I’ve been around long enough to know that all of my family’s life experiences would not be labeled by many as “good.”
Yet Poppy concludes, “These have been and are good days, but the best are yet to come!” How can he make such a claim? And how could I, his granddaughter, look at the mess of my lost car and medical bills and call it a “good day”? Flipping to Poppy’s conclusion, I struggled to look at difficult experiences the way that Poppy did: “Throughout life and with each step of the way I have experienced continuous preparation for the next step of service for the Lord. Nothing would please me more than to see my children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and on . . . loving and serving the Lord and enjoying that grand experience.”
As I reflected on Poppy’s words, I realized that good days—good experiences—are not defined by the circumstances of our days. Good days are defined by our level of trust in a loving heavenly Father and our desire to serve Him regardless of the cost. Having good days requires allowing the pain that we experience to mature us and prepare us for the next phase of service that God has for us. As we allow the Lord to shape us into His image, we experience the joy and satisfaction of developing a deeper understanding of who God is and His sincere love for us.
While studying my Sunday school lesson the day before, I had read these verses from Matthew 6: “Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? . . . For your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” It certainly didn’t seem that things were being added to me. Rather, it seemed that I was losing things. But when the bills came in, some tears dropped from humbled awe that the Lord had given me these verses to prepare me for this difficult experience. Tilting my face toward heaven, I said, “Okay, Lord, my bank account is $0. I have no money. It’s all Yours. You just let me use what You think I need to serve You.”
As I closed Poppy’s binder, I realized that we have good days when we no longer desire to experience pleasure, but to experience Him.