In the autumn of 1996 I placed a picture of several Russian women in my Bible. These women were church leaders who attended a meeting near Moscow at that time. I don't know why I keep it in my Bible, but I do. It somehow comforts me and inspires me. From time to time I look at the picture and the other day I looked at it more carefully and analyzed it in various ways. Some of these women have moved away. Some have changed their hairstyles, others have had changes in their family situation.
As the year 2000 was about to begin, probably, more than at the time of any previous New Year, people really took a look at themselves. For more than a year there was so much hype in the media, that after awhile, most of us quit listening and paying attention to what was being said. However, it is good from time to time, to take a picture of ourselves and evaluate our goals and understand how God has led us in the past so our faith will be strong for the future.
Most of you are leaders in your churches and/or communities. There are privileges and joys in leadership, but there is also a large amount of responsibility. Have you ever experienced disappointments because of the responsibilities you or your husband carry?
Many of my disappointments have come because of scheduling. My husband and I would plan something that was important to us and then, all of our scheduling and planning would fall by the wayside and in its place would come some church emergency.
I don't want to dwell on the reality of the disappointments in life. I do want to give pastors' wives hope and strengthen their faith in God, Recently I have been overwhelmed with the realization that God generously makes up to me for the disappointments I face due to the consequences incurred because of working for Him. We need to think about God's generosity more frequently.
Mike and Karen Porter work at the General Conference office in Maryland. Mike travels around the world for ADRA and Karen often finds herself alone at home while Mike is off somewhere across an ocean or two, helping people.
During the summer of 1999, the Porters and their family were on a "dream of a lifetime" vacation when ADRA snatched Mike away to help with the refugee situation in Albania. His assignment grew longer and longer with no promise of when he might be finished and go home. He missed important family occasions in the States. Sensing the hardship that Porters were enduring, on two different occasions ADRA made arrangements for Karen to go be with Mike and to take a few days' vacation in Greece. God took a very lonely, stressful situation for the Porters and turned it into wonderful memories. It wasn't according to Porters' plans, but God had a better plan.
You may say, "Fly to Greece? What an imagination you have! I have difficulty getting to church each week. I'm worried that I will have enough food for my children today." Please don't miss the point. God meets you where you are. Some may say that other people don't have the same kind of problems that you have. That's true. But neither do you have the same kind of problems they have!
Last summer I was hoping to go to Azerbaijan on a particular day to get information for some stories I needed to write. I had everything planned and the visa process was started early enough to ensure that those plans would succeed. However, the visa was never granted. I had to extend my visit there to include going through the capitol city of Baku to get the visa. At first I was disappointed but soon I realized that God had a better schedule for me. Because of my extra time in the country, I was able to meet with more people and some very positive results have come about because God's schedule was used, not mine. This is a simple illustration of God's making up the difference. He often does it in dramatic ways.
A friend, Alla Pavlischye, tells about a time when her disappointment was turned around and became a blessing. During her last year at a university in Western Ukraine, time was allowed for students to prepare for final exams and to write their diploma papers. This gave time to work some, as well. Alla was pleased to hear that there was a teaching position open at a school in her hometown. This school was rated as a very good school and teachers who taught there were seen as being very fortunate. If she got that job, she would be able to continue to work there after her graduation. It seemed like a perfect arrangement. i-:he would much rather work at home than go to where the state might assign her.
She was shocked when she went to the associate director of the school and was told that they had already hired another young woman for the position. It made Alla feel even worse when she realized that this other young teacher had just entered the university and was not nearly as qualified as she was. Being overlooked for the job at this notable school, by someone less qualified, didn't seem fair at all.
Alla says, "Now I see that it was God's providence and I can thank people back home for not wanting me at that time. They helped me to make the most important step in my life sooner than I expected." Alla never did take a teaching job. Because of her acquaintance with Adventists, she began working for the Euro-Asia Division and within a short time she was baptized and became a member of the Adventist church.
Another friend, Emily, tells of an occasion in her life when God gave her much more than she had hoped for. Emily says that she first came to believe in God in the summer of 1995. She was hoping to enter the Moscow Institute of Steel and Alloys and study in the Economics and Computer Department but she did not pass the entrance exams. She spent the next year in the preparatory department of the Institute and it soon became obvious to her that this was not the field she wanted to enter. Her studies were not interesting to her and the only thing she saw in her future was five years of wasted time and effort to get a profession that she wouldn't like. Because she wasn't interested in this career, she knew she could never become a real professional in it.
She claimed the promise in Jeremiah 29:11. In that promise God assured her that He knew the plans He had for her. He wasn't going to bring her to harm; lie wanted to give her hope and a future. However, it was sometimes difficult for her to truly believe that God could change what she considered a hopeless situation. One day the next spring, Emily "accidentally" met a friend who studied at Zaoksky Seminary. This friend told her about the new Secretarial and English program that would be opening that fall. Emily got excited, especially about the English part of the program. She knew she had an aptitude for English and longed to study more. She was concerned, however, that her Dad would not be willing to pay the tuition since he had his heart set on her getting a degree. She could get that free in the Institute.
The plans at the seminary were to continue this one-year course with a four-year English program. Emily had many questions that she asked herself and God. "What will I do after finishing the secretarial course if they don't start the four-year program? I have spent much effort and time preparing to enter the Institute, what will happen after my year at the seminary? This is a big risk. Will it all be in vain?"
Emily sought the Lord's answer to her quandary. She prayed for guidance, opened her Bible and began to read. She found a very interesting story in 2 Chronicles 25 that included the statement in verse 9: "The Lord is able to give you much more than this?' This was her answer?
She says, "God proved to me that He blessed my choice when my Dad agreed to give me the money to study at Zaoksky." To keep her options open, Emily took and passed the entrance exams at the Institute. This feat was remarkable in that even though she did not attend the physics and chemistry classes on Sabbath, she was the only one who passed these exams with all A's. Emily says, "This experience strengthened my faith and helped me to not be afraid to make decisions based on principle. That is why I was not afraid to leave the institute and begin my studies at Zaokski. As i saw God's faithfulness when He helped me with keeping Sabbath, I knew that He wouldn't let me down in the future."
In the spring, she was the first one from her class to be hired. She began her work in the construction office at the Division office and she now works in the personnel department. "I know this was not because of my achievements," says Emily, "but because God is faithful and gives us what we need, not what we deserve. He just fulfilled the promise He gave me before I began to study."
Emily goes on to say that God's guidance continues to be seen in this experience. Because of the ruble crash, her father would not have been able to help her any longer at Zaoksky. But after just one year of studying, she has a job that she enjoys and she is now continuing her English studies at night school.
Emily says, "It is a precious experience for me because it changed my life. It taught me how important it is to have patience and faith as we wait for the fulfilling of God's promises."
Many people are still in the process of learning what God has in store for them. They have been dealt an earthshaking blow and they wonder, "Where is God in this experience?" The wife of our General Conference President, Kari Paulsen, speaks about some of her disappointments and says that she has discovered that God can turn even a chronic illness into blessings along the way.
In 1964, when Kari and her husband were serving as missionaries in Ghana, Africa, she contracted a severe type of malaria that affected her pituitary gland and left her with a chronic illness. At that time her oldest child was three years old, and her baby was eight months old. These were difficult days and years for the young family, but the worst phase of the disease began when their children were eleven, nine and their third child was two. Kari's immune system doesn't function properly and she has no physical reserves. Even a sore throat can make her very sick. Repeated infections have damaged her heart. She must take various hormones and needs to live a very regulated, orderly life and rest frequently. Kari says that she cannot live a day without steroids, the same as a diabetic cannot live without insulin.
In 1984, while living in England, she was advised to go to the National Institute of Health (NIH) in Washington, DC for evaluation. A new treatment plan was established and eventually her illness became a bit more manageable. But during the initial adjustment to the new regime, her whole body went into a period of excruciating pain. The next months were difficult ones, but little by little her body adjusted. She is very grateful for all the help the NIH has given her through the years. She usually returns twice a year for evaluations and check-ups.
Through these difficult years, which have ended up being not just a phase, but a lifestyle, Kari has been comforted by the promises in the Bible and especially by Habakkuk 3:17-19. Verse 19 says: "The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights."
In the spring of 1999 when a new General Conference President was to be chosen, she talked to the Lord about who the new president would be. She felt that she and God had an agreement. God knew that she could not entertain, travel and carry on the active life that generally goes with the wife of a GC president. Her condition made it impossible to do a lot of long-range planning and it is impossible for her to travel in certain parts of the world. Thus it was all settled in her mind. She thought that God would not ask her and her husband to shoulder this responsibility.
When Pastor Paulsen returned home after the election, he told her that the committee had chosen a new General Conference president. Kari immediately asked, "Which men were considered?" Her husband mentioned some names on the list that included his name.
She picked up on one of the names and said,"Oh, it must be______ . He'll do a fine job." Then she looked at her husband's serious face and asked? "Who was elected?"
"I'm afraid it was me," he said.
Kari says that she couldn't believe her ears. She felt that she and God had an understanding because of her health situation. How could she function as the wife of the General Conference President with less than perfect health?
Last autumn at the Annual Council session, Kari very cheerfully told this story to the wives of church administrators. As she says, "Nobody wants to live with a limiting chronic illness, but as long as we live in this sin filled world, we may have to make the best of the situation we find ourselves in." She is living one day at a time, as she has done for years. Kari says, "I pray every day that the Lord will give me the wisdom to use the energy I have in the right way, to bless others and to be of service to the Lord."
She goes on to say, "A chronic illness dictates your whole life. It's almost like living on death row. One constantly has to change one's plans. I learned long ago that one must cut the garment to fit the cloth—one works with what the Lord has left one with.'
Kari also feels strongly about looking for the positive in every situation and refers to statements in Desire of Ages and Ministry of Healing that talk about happiness promoting health. She says, "Some have more problems than others but everyone has at least one tiny nice thing they can think about."
So Kari continues to trust in the Lord and measure her strength daily. That's really a pretty good plan for all of us. Most of us are too independent for our spiritual good! It seems to take years for many Christians to learn submission and total dependence on God.
Many of you have had disappointments, such as the death of a spouse or child, which cannot be reversed in this life. How are you handling this tragedy now, six months, 12 months, two years, five years later? When you look at a picture of yourself, do you see a braver, stronger woman, or do you see a woman who is bitter and without direction in her life? Has God been generous with you? Can you find the silver lining in your dark cloud?
To all of us, but especially to those of you in this latter category, I want to point you to the wonderful promise in I Corinthians 2:9: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him."
Ultimately, God will make it all right. He will make up the difference —and much more. All of the disappointments that we have encountered in this life will be forgotten. God is generous with us now, but He will be even more generous in the future.
Editor's Note: Barbara wrote this article before Mrs. Paulsen experienced her son's terrible accident. This experience has deepened Mrs. Paulsen's resolve that no matter what happens we must stay focused on Jesus and depend on Him.