Every family has its own unique pecking order.
When I was a little girl, we had a black cat named Scamper. Though she was the family cat, she was really my cat. You know what I mean: sometimes an animal and a human being bond on a deeper level. Yes, the animal may give and receive affection to and from other people, but its heart truly lies with just one special person. For Scamper, that person was me.
God used her powerfully in my life, too. Through my rocky and painful childhood, she was always there, purring and cuddly, and licking away my tears. We would cuddle in our favourite chair, and just be together. I loved her, and she loved me.
The years passed, and as she got older, she developed arthritis. We made a habit of keeping a stool nearby so we could help her hop up onto furniture. The problem was: she and I both had the same favourite chair. She was now too arthritic to sit on my lap, so when she hopped up, she and I would share the chair. I would contort myself around her. But then she got ambitious, and started edging me out. She'd start by taking a little space, and eventually claim the whole thing.
Eventually my family came to accept this state of affairs—and even support it! I remember on at least a few occasions seeing Scamper come into the room, stand at the foot of the chair, and look expectantly up at me. "Valerie, Scamper wants her chair," Mum said with a smile. "You should move."
I like to joke that I've always been at the bottom of our family totem pole—even below the cat.
Last weekend a small group of our ESL kids brought me to my knees. There were only five kids in class that day, and two were behaving well, but the other three were holy terrors.
Usually I have a Japanese helper with me, but that day the helper didn't come. With no advance warning, I didn't have a chance to line up someone else. Peter also didn't come as he usually does, because he was sick.
So it was just me and five kids. And three of them decided they wanted to see just how far they could push me. It was a nightmare.
Kids in Japan are usually pretty well-behaved. They, of course, all have their moments, but usually it's just one or two at a time, and usually I have at least one other person with me, and usually I remember to pray. That's the thing that bothers me most about that weekend nightmare: I forgot to pray.
In the midst of everything, I do remember thinking, Well, at least I'm not crying! Of course, with that thought, the tears sprang to my eyes. I impatiently blinked them away.
I battled on, and eventually I was able to get the class under some semblance of control. The time finished pretty quietly, and I think that they may have even learned a few English words.
I try to comfort myself with a few things: I didn't yell, I didn't lose my temper, I didn't cry. I remained polite and courteous and eventually won back the class. But the truth is that in those moments I felt completely helpless. I couldn't speak the language well, and I couldn't rebuke the kids as I knew was necessary. I've gone through the scenario a hundred times and thought of a few things I could have done differently. I know I'm better prepared for next time.
But I've also realized something. As a foreigner with limited command of the language, I am less powerful than a child. A weak little child has a firmer grasp on the language and culture than I do. A weak little child can do more in a sentence than I can do in paragraphs. Once more, I'm the low man on the totem pole.
This thought fills me with wonder.
Because God has been using Peter and me, here in Okinawa!
I didn't have a full grasp of how powerless I am here until last weekend. Even when we were brand-new here, knowing only the words for "hello", "goodbye", and "thank you", I didn't feel so helpless as I did with those kids.
And now I realize the truth: God has been powerfully with us all this time. He has been enabling us in ways we've never realized. He deserves the credit: For. Every. Little. Thing.
How thankful I am for this painful lesson. How thankful I am for His guidance and enablement. How thankful I am that these words are so very true:
'And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.' (2 Corinthians 12:9)
I've quoted them many times. But now they have a deeper meaning for me.
It doesn't matter what we can or can't do. We serve the God who makes all things possible. And I wonder: what will He make possible today?