Soon after I graduated from college, I (very unexpectedly) took a position as youth minister at a local church. Some of the sweet girls in the youth group gave me a plant for my desk (apparently not knowing of the great likelihood that in doing so, they were essentially killing the plant). It was a money tree, they told me, and would nicely add a feminine touch to the bulky desk and cinder block walls of my office. Surprisingly, the plant survived and has been with me for nearly 10 years now. It has traveled with me from one job to another, from one house to another, and now sits at the window over my kitchen sink. It has grown and flourished, despite my propensity to kill plants with my negligence. (I’ve said for years that plants would be a lot easier to care for if they’d scream at me when they need something, like a cat or a child would. I digress.)
It has no flowers, but its blossoms (as I suppose you’d call them) come in bundles of 5 leaves. Every time, there are 5 leaves. For the past 10 years, it has produced 5 leaves every time it has budded anew. Every time….until last month. Last month, a blossom appeared with 6 leaves. There, surrounded by 5-leaf bundles of leaves, was a conspicuous cluster of 6.
That was fascinating to me, and I studied the leaf every day as I washed dishes. Was it a fluke? A mistake? How could that happen?
And that sixth leaf is still there, growing larger every day. The random sixth leaf. And as it has grown, it has taught me an important lesson.
The newest blossom is not like the others. It is decidedly different, having an extra (and very large) leaf. It stands out from the rest of the plant, but no – it is not a fluke or a mistake. God does not make mistakes. God made that blossom the way it is, and He made it that way for a reason. It was made that way on purpose. I can’t imagine what that reason might be, but God had a reason for making it that way. (Curious about this, I actually did a little research. Apparently that sixth leaf may mean extra prosperity is coming my way. I can hope.) I don’t know how true the legend is, but perhaps God’s reason in making that lead the way it is was just to teach me something. Bear with me.
I am different, too, and have my own unique traits that make me stand out from the crowd. Those are not anything to be ashamed of or to dislike about myself. God made me the way I am on purpose, and in everything I am and possess, He can be glorified.
It would be easy for me to look at my flaws and my struggles and assume that God is absent in them. I could assume that they are not a part of the story God has written for me, and that He cannot and will not use them because they weren’t supposed to be there in the first place. I could assume that my purpose in life somehow exists around and in spite of those imperfections, not within them.
What I’ve found, though, and what I continue to find, is that God’s purpose for me is not exclusive to the pretty parts of my life. My purpose is not solely in the clean and polished parts of myself that are easy for me to share with you. Rather, my purpose in life is in the flaws. It is in the parts of myself that don’t seem to fit with the rest. My purpose is in the parts of my life that may seem, to the average onlooker, to be mistakes.
I fully believe that God paired my struggles and my gifts for a reason. I hate my depression and my anxiety. I hate waking up every morning and knowing that I may fight for my life with every breath that the day holds. I hate constantly having to seize my thoughts and measure whether or not they are permitted to stay or not. I hate that I can’t just get up and dressed and out of the house without an internal struggle of wills. I hate that I crash through life with no shock absorbers, derailed by even the slightest bump in the road. I hate that my daughter has seen me cry so many times already, and I hate that my husband has little idea which version of his wife he will find when he gets home in the evening. I hate all of that.
At the same time, though, I have to be grateful. I do. I have to be grateful for the fact that God has revealed Himself to me in powerful ways through this illness that I may never have been able to experience otherwise. I have to be grateful that I have been able to see in real ways how God has taken my experience of darkness, shined a light on it, and then used it to brighten others’ lives, even if just in a very small way.
As much as I hate my struggles (and oh, do I hate them), I am thankful that I have been able to live through them. I am thankful, too, for the ways that God has paired such private struggles with both a desire for transparency and the ability to convey things that need to be spoken of.
Friends, I do not in any way think that God has somehow pointed His finger at me and, singling me out, decided that I would be the one who would live with depression and anxiety. I simply do not believe that. Suffering is a complex thing, and I do not fully understand all of the reasons that God lets His children experience it.
What I do know, though, is that God is here. God is with me in this, and even as I struggle this morning to keep my head above water, God has a plan for how this whole thing will be good. It will be good. It will somehow be good. It can and will point me and others to Him, and there isn’t really anything better than that.
I’ve had so many people tell me that they never would have known I struggled, just from watching me. I’ve had so many people tell me that a calling to write and speak so publicly does not seem to pair well with an internal struggle of this type and magnitude. It may not make sense, but I have every confidence that God is in it and that it is no mistake.
It would be easy for me to somehow discount my calling in light of my suffering. It doesn’t make much sense, after all. What I realize, though, is that like the random sixth leaf on my money tree, the random and oddly-paired features of my life can point to something much greater. They point to God, and that’s what I always pray for my life, anyway. It may not come in the way I would choose….but who said it had to?
I say all of this not to pat myself on the back, or claim anything good about myself. This is not about me, but is about the goodness and mercy of a God who can take such painful, horrible things and use them for something beautiful. I say all of this not to ramble on about my experiences, but to make you give thought to yours. What is that random part of your life that you wish were different? What is that part of yourself that just won’t go away, and that you are certain God has overlooked? Is it possible that it is the very thing God wants to use to reveal Himself to the world?
You and I need not hide or criticize or question ourselves but, like the bold sixth leaf, we can stand proudly in who I am, knowing that my life is not a fluke or a mistake. God is in this, and He is using it. Learning that is a process, and I can’t promise the change will be instantaneous. I can, at least, be grateful for the sixth leaf and the lesson that it holds for me.
Yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. (Isaiah 64:8)