Discouragement always strikes at the worst possible time. I’m sure he sees it as great timing, seeing as his goal is to cause chaos and mayhem and generally make people miserable, but he’s outvoted six billion to one. Everyone’s had one of those days, weeks, or even months, and no one talks about it like it’s a vacation to Deer Park Fun Land. We all know that discouragement is a terribly efficient opponent, and all of us (except maybe that pessimist, Murphy) wish that we could do something about it.
For me, the second week of November has been one of those weeks. Discouragement struck earlier and it struck hard. I have a lot of work to do this month, and it’s starting to take its toll on me. I struggle to build and maintain good time management skills, and this week has beat me over the head with that painful truth almost to the point of numbness. All of my resolve to do my homework, write my novel, and still have time for friends and family faded faster than a red shirt in a bucket of bleach. As always, of course, the timing could not have been worse. I was far enough along in the month to feel trapped, but still so far from the end that I despaired of reaching it in one piece.
Then, God stepped in with some incredible timing of His own, and my downward spiral came to a sudden and breathtaking stop. It started at Salem Christian School, with a little group of kindergarten through second or third grade students who waited for their parents to pick them up from the after-care program. We all sat around the six wooden lunch tables playing Connect Four or Uno or imagining wild beings with bright, blunt, and broken crayons. One of the regulars, a little boy named Nathan, leaned over and handed me a sheet of paper. “I drew this for you,” he explained. “It’s you.”
The face that gazed back at me as I examined the drawing was anything but flattering. The eyes were wide and agitated, the mouth thrown open into a face-dominating oval full of two rows of enormous rectangle teeth. My scruffy beard was depicted in patches of black crayon covering strange and uneven portions of my face, and my hair formed two unidentifiable lumps right at the peak of my forehead. Then there were the red lines. The crayon-me had thin red marks on his cheeks, by his nose, even a splotch between his eyes. His body was only a quarter the size of his head, and a third of that area was taken up by his one enormous foot. All in all, the picture looked more like a cartoon of a boxer falling unconscious than a portrait of me.
Yet to me, those bizarre features were the most endearing. Sometimes I felt like I could hardly remember these kid’s names, and I wondered if my coming and playing with them every week made any impression on their lives. There before me, in unmistakable black and red, was my answer, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
I was smiling all the way home, glancing down periodically at the caricature in my hand. I already felt better than I had in days, but that was not the end of God’s encouragement for me. I went to check my CPO for mail after dinner that night, and in my box I found a slip of paper with a simple title: I Prayed for You. Beneath that was a short note explaining that someone was praying for God to bless, encourage, and provide for me today, but that wasn’t what caught my attention. What stood out to me was the shaky, deliberate handwriting at the bottom, the handwriting that read, “Herbert L. Anderson, class of 1948.” My head reeled. This man must be well into his nineties, a seasoned prayer warrior and servant of God, and he took the time and effort to let me know that he believed in what God is going to do with me.
In the face of the previous week’s downhearted tone came these two simple gestures of kindness, but they were more than powerful enough to eliminate all of my despair. God reminded me that He is using my feeble, unbalanced efforts, and that He is with me providing strength to carry on. I don’t have to try to stand alone, to balance my life in my own sickly hands. God is in me, with me, and beyond me, and it is His strength alone that sees me through the pain of the night and shows me joy in the morning.