About one month ago, I was offered a job at Perry Pallet, the manufacturing
business run by my brothers-in-law. The offer was gracious, the terms were
generous, and our need was great—so I happily accepted and went to work.
During the past months of scant jobs in our little glass business, I often thought God was using the waiting time—that strange intermission between the well-known past and the hidden face of the future—to soften my will to do His will when it was shown. I danced with a variety of imaginary possibilities, some more difficult to embrace than others, but none of them included physical labor in a production plant. That just isn't my strength. In fact, if you pooled all my weaknesses and native inabilities into one place, you might find me at my present job.
It's not that it's not a great job; it's just that I feel completely insufficient to do it.
It's a good job to have the strength of an ox, the coordination of a gymnast, and the mind of a mechanic. It's a great place for twenty-year-old athletes with muscles of steel, bones of rubber, and minds that are always one play ahead of the game.
Qualities I just don't have.
My Dad, a mechanical engineer, helped me dismantle and reassemble a Ford small-block engine. I've seen all the parts and followed the directions in the shop manual like a cook following a recipe. A beginner cook, though, since I still struggle to remember how valves and lifters and pistons all work together.
Regarding athletics, Dad always assured me that I could do whatever I wanted to do. Perhaps so, but I never took the challenge. As a senior in high school, I opted to pick rocks off the soccer field rather than take a P.E. class which could jeopardize my GPA.
Regarding coordination, well, I like to think of myself as reasonably
coordinated—though I have a propensity for performing tasks in unreasonably
awkward ways. My brother-in-law Joshua, a Marine-turned-businessman heads a great physical training program during morning meetings at Perry Pallet. We do things I've never even heard of before. For the most part, I've been able to
keep up with the young bucks, even on the "burpees," an aggressive exercise that makes the heart race and the head swim.
But simple jumping jacks have been a real sore spot for me. Josh gets out in
the middle of our circle, and begins. Arms up, legs spread, "One!" he shouts.
Arms down, legs together, "Two!" Arms up and legs apart again, "Three!" he
announces. Then, as legs go together and arms return to sides, everyone is
supposed to join a great shout of "ONE." It's a different way of counting than
I've ever heard before, and it conveniently makes twenty jumping jacks sound
It's been a long time since I tried to do jumping jacks, and it shows. One
day I found myself doing the motions exactly backwards-arms down and legs out. Don't know if I could do it again, and I don't know how it happened-but I do know it feels rather conspicuous when you're standing in a circle of guys. Since then, I devote all my concentration to keeping in sync with Josh. Everybody else can shout the count: I'm watching him.
I've met a number of useful machines during my brief term of employment, too. "Optimax" is a conveyor-fed saw that cuts lumber to a specified length. The trick here is to feed the machine fast enough while figuring out which end of lumber should be cut off-and collecting, organizing, and stacking the cut wood in orderly piles. It's like a game of "spoons"—as the cards whirl past, you're supposed to keep track of what you're trying to collect while being ready to scratch and claw for a spoon in an instant. This is a real-life version of the game, grouping similar pieces together in the right quantity, spinning them to the stack (neatly, of course), and whipping back to organize the next load.
I've also met the "Resaw," a remarkable double-bladed bandsaw that cuts lumber into thinner boards as fast as you can load them on the rubberized conveyor belt. To feed this machine, you're supposed to keep the lumber flowing in a continuous stream: quarter-turn to grab the lumber, quarter-turn to load it into the open mouth of the saw, and back again.
A toothy resaw blade—and two other toothy characters
“Dismantler” is one of the fiercest beasts in the yard, a huge horizontal bandsaw that turns broken pallets into an assortment of components. Get the right guy pushing pallets through the saw, and components of every kind gush out the other side: Deck boards, stringers, broken pieces of firewood—all have to be sorted and stacked, and many have to be cut to length. Above all, they must be kept off the table so that more pallets can be cut into more boards . . .
"Double-headed Notcher" is a rotary beaver. "If you stick your hand in there," I
was warned, "you won't have a hand." I believe it. Whirling heads filled with
teeth eat notches out of boards while sawdust flows out the side like a river.
. . . So here I am in the middle of life, learning all over to do jumping jacks, in a world of mechanized wonders and trucks and loud noises—all as fast as I can go. Actually, faster than I can go.
Constant alertness and clear-headed snap decisions aren't my forte either. I
like to think, to dream, to investigate ideas, and to communicate. But that just
doesn't work in this world.
As my head spins and my hands try to do things faster and better I wonder,
"What could God have in mind in putting me here? There are guys who are really
good at this kind of thing, guys who like it-why not let them explore their
strengths? I feel like a backwards native who's just been assigned to build a
spaceship: lost, uncertain, incapable, something of a misfit by both design and
And maybe that's the very reason God has put me here.
I'm glad for the testimony of Sarah, wife to the patriarch Abraham. She lived
with an impediment, an area of physical weakness so complete that it's safe to
say her job was totally impossible. She was barren, absolutely unable to
conceive or to bear children.
But that's what she was assigned to do. The promised son was to come from her
body, from her empty womb.
When Sarah looked at herself, she could only conclude, "It'll never happen,"
and she laughed at the ludicrous words of her husband's strange Visitor.
The Visitor asked Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh . . . Is there anything too
hard for the Lord?" Sarah was still listening from the door of the tent. "I did
not laugh," she said, afraid (Genesis 18).
Somewhere between her quiet laugh and her denial, Sarah recognized who was
talking—and in that moment, she believed that whatever He said was true.
Hebrews 11 gives us a compressed version of Sarah's faith—and this one situation is culled out of her lifetime of living: "By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered Him faithful who had promised" (Hebrews 11:11).
God chose a woman utterly incapable of bearing children, waited until she was
elderly and her husband was "as good as dead"—and then did the impossible
through her. Isaac, she christened the son of promise, saying, "God has made
laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me" (Genesis 21:6).
No longer did Sarah laugh at the promise; she laughed at the impossibility—and we, her children, laugh a great roaring laugh with her.
Given the chance, I'd squirt out of uncomfortable, difficult situations as fast as a summer watermelon seed shoots from between the thumb and forefinger. Apply a little pressure and I'd be gone.
But God deliberately puts us in places where our weaknesses are obvious—so
that the brilliance of His power doesn't have to compete with our supposed
So how did Sarah circumvent staggering limitations to lay hold of the promise? How did she look beyond personal impossibilities to the day when she would cradle a tiny baby in her arms?
She accurately assessed the character of God. She judged Him faithful.
Looking at herself, Sarah could only laugh; looking at Jehovah, she could only believe. "God only speaks truth. God only says what He will do. He said I will bear a son. So it will be."
It's natural to judge God on the basis of circumstance. "How can God get me out of this situation?" It's normal to attribute to God the weaknesses we find in ourselves. "Perhaps God led me here and forgot me." It's easy to assign to God our own sinful proclivities or to impugn His motives. "Maybe God doesn't care about my troubles after all." The easiest thing is to question the character of God rather than to believe.
Judging God to be faithful requires stepping out of myself, looking only at Him. He is faithful because that is His nature. That's who He is.
Today I stand on the bank of my life's stream and gaze at the little paper boat of dreams spinning away, farther down the channel, farther from my lonely shore. This week we celebrated my forty-fourth birthday—and, in many ways, hopes are as distant as they've ever been.
Believing is a lot like jumping jacks. If I look around at others, I'll surely be confused, a tangled disaster of torn emotions and pained humility. If I look at myself, I'm an endless series of faithless questions, "Why?" "Are You certain this is the right way?" "How does this do anything for Your kingdom?"
But when my eyes are fixed on my Captain, when all my concentration is bent
on keeping in sync with Him, I can leave the questions behind. Others fade from
view and it's just the two of us working together for His purposes.
He's working to make a man of me, a man like His own Son. The process is painful, but I'm growing and learning and changing. And through sore muscles and a weary mind, I believe my God. I judge Him faithful.
At the pallet shop, next to the "Optimax"
© 2011 by Robert G. Robbins