I must’ve been in high school, but I don’t remember…let’s just say that I was an early teenager. It was Christmastime, always a difficult time in a home where money was scarce—and even more so when, as a child, I understood that this was the case. Over the years, I frequently didn’t ask for the nice things I really wanted because I knew we couldn’t afford them, and still felt ungrateful when I asked for more affordable gifts.
But this year was different. I knew exactly what I wanted—and I put all my eggs in one basket. This time, I didn’t care if That One Thing was expensive, because it was all asked for. Every time we discussed what we wanted for Christmas, That One Thing was the only thing I talked about. For my teenage self, That One Thing was $100—cold, hard cash. To this day, I can’t remember why I wanted the cash, but probably for a new lens or an off-brand TTL flash—what the intended purchase actually was didn’t really matter. Because this story is about That One Thing.
[Disclaimer: This post is a bit longer than the usual posts—thought I’d warn ya…but thanks for stickin’ around!]
Like Ralphie in A Christmas Story, I focused on my desires with laser-beam devotion. I dropped hints at every possible occasion, even when they weren’t warranted. I worked Mom. I worked Dad. Just to make sure, in case they didn’t get it, I even explicitly instructed my siblings to tell them on my behalf—I was covering all the bases.
In short, I had my heart set on That One Thing. I knew that nothing else that my parents could give me could possibly be better than That One Thing. I knew better than they what I needed. And I knew—I knew—that they were going to understand. Once they understood, and gave me what I wanted, what I deserved as their son, everything would be better, because I would finally have That One Thing.
For those of you who know our family, this next part may come as no surprise. But for those who don’t, a bit of stage-setting might be in order. My dad is, to put it mildly, a bit of a prankster. He enjoys immensely the opportunity to have fun with others—especially his children. In a way, it’s part of how he shows love. Occasionally, however, when you’re the recipient of his jokes, it feels—at least temporarily—slightly less-than-loving.
Christmas morning finally came, and I had not one, but two presents under the tree. To say I was excited is an understatement. I could hardly wait until it was my turn to open my presents. My dad and sister exchanged knowing glances as she handed me my first present, a medium-sized pre-made box like you might use for a shirt from a department store. It seemed too heavy to be clothing, but too big to be what I was really hoping for—That One Thing. Still, I eagerly peeled off the wrapping, and tried to contain my excitement as I pried open the top of the box. Could it be? Was it really…
A photo book? Seriously? A BOOK?!? Not even a new one, but one that clearly came from the used-book store. My Christmas present was a used-photo-book-about-oilfield-workers-from-the-80s. Despite all the hints, all the conversations, no matter how clearly I informed them about what was best for me, I got a used photo book. My face showed the utter shock and disappointment I felt.
With a knowing smile, Dad told me to look at the book more closely. I balked at his intimation that I should even care about this book-I-never-wanted, but he insisted. I reluctantly opened the book, allowing it to fall open to a random page. Much to my surprise, there was a clean, crisp, one dollar bill in the crease between the pages. As I turned to more pages, I found more bills. All told, there were fifty of them in the book. I opened the next present box, to find a shirt with a little more bulk than it should’ve had. It, too, had a secret—fifty more dollar bills, crumpled up inside the shirt.
I felt more than a little ungrateful. I really thought my parents had blown off my requests and completely disregarded what I had asked of them. They had the audacity to do something other than I had asked. In the meantime, they knew better. They knew things I didn’t, and were planning a better gift than I understood. I learned a lot that Christmas about what it meant to be a parent and to love your child, and to give your child good things—the significance of which I wouldn’t fully understand until much later in life.
Doing Partnership Development reminds me a lot of that story. Miranda and I know that God will provide for us in amazing ways, because He’s never not done so in the past. We are certain of our calling, certain of Wycliffe as an organization, certain of the timing of going now. In concept, we absolutely trust Him to provide for the task to which He’s called us.
Despite that, we still find ourselves telling God exactly how He should provide for us. Recently, we had our hearts set on a different That One Thing. This time, though, it wasn’t a hundred one-dollar bills, but something much different. We told God every chance we got that this was what we wanted. We had come to the point that we were certain that we were going to get it. Then we opened the box, and discovered that That One Thing wasn’t there.
God had closed the door for us on That One Thing. Since we received this news, we’ve been wrestling with how to feel—disappointed, grieved, sorrowful, indifferent? We’ve prayed again and again. We’ve sought wise counsel from both peers and spiritual elders whom we trust. We’ve come to the conclusion that God is in control of our situation, and He knows better than we what we need and how He’ll provide it. We continue to work through making sense of the loss represented by That One Thing, but we will not allow it to discourage us in our task of Partnership Development. And we praise Him for teaching us that lesson again.
And we know that our Heavenly Father knows how to give us not what we ask for, but what we need when we ask, as Jesus so eloquently reminded us:
“So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened. Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” (Luke 11:9-13 NASB)
By the way, about that Christmas, so many years ago? I had finally gotten That One Thing. But you know what I find most surprising? I can’t, for the life of me, remember what That One Thing was. But I still have that book.