Can We Trust God When the Plan Changes?
Sometimes it takes a surgical boot to learn about the faithfulness of God.
All of Scripture is holy, perfect and breathed out by God, and I do not mean to suggest that some passages are more valuable than others, but whether we are going through a small trial or a time of truly great suffering, there are verses, passages, even chapters, that the Lord impresses on our hearts to strengthen us as we walk in the paths He lays before us for His glory and our good.
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight." Proverbs 3:5-6
I committed this passage to memory as a college student, but it became my daily prayer in 2019.
On October 22, 2018, just before 6am, I was jogging in my neighborhood in Sapporo, Japan. I moved to Sapporo in March 2014 to serve with ReachGlobal at a cafe, English and Bible ministry, and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment. Sure, there were challenges and discouragements along the way (learning a brand new alphabet and language, for one), but I had no doubt that Sapporo was where the Lord wanted me to be. I knew I would be living and serving in Sapporo for many years.
That crisp autumn morning I hit a bump in the sidewalk while running, which caused me to twist my left leg and fall forward with great force. My hands were scraped up because I had tried to break my fall with them, and my legs were banged up and bleeding a little. I tried to run again for just a couple seconds, but I immediately knew something wasn't right with my left leg.
So, I hobbled back home and cleaned myself up. I took it easy for a few days and I didn't notice much in the beginning; but over the next few days, weeks and months, I felt increasing pain in my left knee, ankle and foot. My ankle would swell even with just a little walking, and I developed severe nerve pain in my foot. Eventually, that was diagnosed as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome—a condition where the initial pain after an injury grows worse and worse and can, in severe cases, become completely debilitating.
In addition to my nerve damage, I learned in late March 2019 that I had severe cartilage damage in my ankle and I would likely need to get surgery to try to fix it. On April 1, 2019, after a lot of counsel and prayer, I decided to return to the U.S. for further testing and treatment. I left Sapporo expecting to return in a few months and to continue living and working where I was sure the Lord wanted me to be.
Getting the boot
From April until July 2019, I saw several doctors (orthopedic surgeons, neurologists, the list continues), and on August 21, 2019, I had surgery to try to repair the cartilage damage to my ankle. There was a risk that my nerve damage would become worse following the surgery, but as I prayed, I sensed the Lord leading, even with this possible risk, for me to go forward with the surgery.
By God's grace, my surgery was successful and I began a season of recovery that lasted about five months.
For three months after my surgery, I could not bear full weight on my foot or walk without a surgical boot. Those weeks of healing and waiting seemed like they would never end. But I kept looking ahead with hope to my return to Sapporo, where I was eager to continue on in the Lord's kingdom work among the Japanese people. During my absence, however, much had changed at the cafe.
Like I said, when I memorized Proverbs 3:5-6, I firmly believed what they promised was true. Even so, I couldn’t help but ask myself if I were truly willing to trust in God with all my heart and not lean on my own understanding? Would I trust God and His refining purposes wholeheartedly even in this dark and confusing time?
Peter begins his first epistle by giving thanks to God for His grace in granting that his children "be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead" (1 Pet 1:3), and we who are born again rejoice that we have an imperishable inheritance in the heavens (v. 4). We rejoice in all this, but Peter continues, "for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Pet 1:6-7).
God, in His exceedingly rich grace, tested these first century believers through trials so that their faith might be proved genuine and worth more than gold. And when I look at what the Lord led me through the last couple of years, I know it was to accomplish his refining work in me and to bring glory to His Name.
The Lord does move in truly mysterious ways in our lives, and though I thought life was finally going to settle down a bit, the Lord again called me to trust Him and His wisdom through another season of change. You see, during my absence a lot changed at the ministry site, and it became clear through various means that the Lord was leading me to leave Sapporo. This was not an easy decision to make, but I knew that it was of the Lord and that I had to be faithful to his calling, no matter how great the loss and heartache.
New doors, sufficient grace
On November 5, 2019, the day I was certain that the Lord was leading me to leave Sapporo, I was sitting on my bed with my foot laid up in my surgical boot, and I just had no idea what to do. It felt like so many things had been taken away, and I felt like I no longer had solid ground to stand on. What am I going to do now? Is the Lord leading me away from Japan for good?
As these and other questions swirled in my head, the Lord brought to mind 2 Corinthians 12:9:
“’My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
I didn't need to have every detail of my life and future figured out. What I needed was Jesus, to rest in His care and trust Him to direct my steps in paths of righteousness for His Name's sake. Though I didn’t know what lay ahead, and though I saw a long road of questions and unknowns ahead of me, I asked the Lord for strength to trust Him with all my heart and for me not to rely on my own understanding.
In the days that followed, with many unknowns and questions, I asked the Lord for help and direction. And as I prayed, the Lord continually brought the ReachGlobal Tokyo City Team to mind.
I had visited this team and seen their ministry up close, and I always dreamed about what a gift it would be to see churches planted in a global city like Tokyo. I contacted the Tokyo Team leaders and in late November 2019 we began discussing the possibility of me joining the team.
Faithfulness in lockdown
I accepted the invitation to be a member of the Tokyo City Team with a joyful and expectant heart in February of 2020. I was eager to be back in Japan, to make Christ’s Name and gospel known among those who have no knowledge of the gospel, but I had a long road ahead of me in order to get there.
I had an intense season of ministry partnership development ahead of me because my budget was more than doubling for Tokyo. Although I felt intimidated by the amount of work ahead of me, I resolved to trust in the Lord and not rest in my own resources and understanding.
Then the lockdown came.
The weekend I was launching into full-time support raising was the same weekend everything shut down in the U.S. due to COVID-19. I was in shock and trying to figure out what to do. My support raising meetings that weekend all got cancelled, and I wondered if I should just put all my partnership development on hold.
But I moved forward with inviting people to partner with me in God's kingdom work in Tokyo. For five months, from March until August 2020, as I continued to talk with people and meet with them over Zoom, I asked the Lord each day to grant me the grace to trust in Him and not lean on my own understanding.
I love to walk and pray, and one of the few things I could do out of the house during Covid was go for walks. My parents' neighborhood is full of hills, and as I climbed those steep hills with a pain-free foot by God's incredible grace, I would give thanks to the Lord for continuing to lead me by the hand, for His provision, care and grace, in the journey to Tokyo.
As I write this, I am sitting in an apartment the Lord provided in Tokyo with cherry blossoms blooming out the window. On January 1, 2021, three days before a new entry ban was put in place, I stepped on Japanese soil once again.
It is my great joy to be able to serve the Lord alongside my brothers and sisters in Tokyo, to make known the gospel of peace to those who do not yet know or treasure Christ. And I am here, not because I deserve it or even because I would have planned it, but because God ordained it in His perfect providence. God's grace that sustains me in Tokyo is the same grace that sustained me at my lowest points, when I sometimes did not know how to keep pressing on.
Looking back over the past 2 years, I never could have written the events that unfolded. I would have imagined a very different personal story. But the one God has written is far better, for the Lord brought me to a place where I had nowhere else to turn but to Him. And if the Lord had not healed me or sent me to Tokyo, then that would still have been his mercy. This side of eternity we are often perplexed, struck down, and perhaps even close to being crushed by the storms in our lives. Our great comfort in all of this is that God, our Father in heaven, works in these things to prepare us for an eternal weight of glory.
Your suffering and pain are not meaningless; they are preparing you for the day you will see Jesus face to face.
My prayer for us, the Bride of Christ, is that we will know, more and more, by God's grace, the hope to which he has called us in Christ, for His glory and our great joy. And as we walk in the paths He lays before each of us, may we trust Him with all our beings and not rest or rely on our own understanding, for He who promised is faithful (Heb 10:23).