Higher Ways

Isaiah 55:8-9

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.

“As the heavens are higher than the earth,

so are my ways higher than your ways

and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

My littlest brother has a processing disorder. In the main, that means that it takes his brain a little more effort to make logical jumps the rest of us make with ease. He has quite a bit of trouble with the ideas of time and sequence. Sometimes he simply can’t process a new piece of information and he has to grasp it later, when he learns it in smaller pieces over a longer stretch of time. I love him to death, and I’ve learned a lot from him. He doesn’t always see the world the way we do, and often it’s refreshing or revealing to hear him talk on a subject—it teaches me many times about childlike faith.

The newest information my brother has been trying to process has been a bit out of his reach: my big sister is going overseas for two years. I’ve recently come back from a 4-day trip to Virginia to spend time looking at overseas ministry jobs, and for the first time I feel confident enough to tell people that the Father is finally taking me to live and love among a foreign people for an extended period of time. My brother can’t quite wrap his mind around a two-year length of time. So, when I was helping him with his homeschooling the other day, he kept asking me small questions—in the middle of his math, his reading, his history. “So, will you miss Christmas?” “What about holidays?” “Will you be gone for my birthday?” Yes, I’d tell him. Plane tickets are expensive, so once I leave I won’t be able to come back for a while. But I’ll Skype you! And we’ll write letters and look at each others’ pictures. And it will only be two years for now. Once he asked, “Caroline, why do you have to go? Why can’t you stay here, or just go for a few weeks?” I tried to explain, but I could tell from his furrowed eyebrows that he didn’t understand. He is a believer, and he likes telling people what he believes. He’s even been on a short trip to South Asia, where he made fast friends with other little kids and loved helping with crafts and storytelling. But he didn’t know why anyone would need to spend more time than a few days away from their home, like I am planning to do.

Later, when we did my brother’s history, we read about the Aztecs and briefly touched on their penchant for human sacrifice. I looked up from the book I was reading to him, and his eyes were wide with shock. “Why did they do that?” he asked. Lots of reasons: they were scared, bad things were happening, they thought the spirits would treat them better. “But… people died! Why…?” They… they didn’t know God. They didn’t know—couldn’t know—that He could forgive them, help them, heal them. That’s why I’m going somewhere else for 2 years, I told him. Lots of people don’t even know about God and how good He is. And they do terrible things sometimes because they don’t know how to live with God. Sometimes it takes years for them to learn otherwise. My brother thought about that for a while. I let him think, and we kept doing his schoolwork. I knew I had his approval a couple of hours later when he stopped writing, looked up at me, and said, “I guess this New Year’s we’ll just have to celebrate with you for three years at once.”

As I told a friend this story over the phone, I realized that we understand God just about as well as my brother understood me. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts; His ways are higher than ours. What God sees as time-all-at-once eternity, we can only see in little snatches and glimpses. What God sees as three-dimensional, we can only see from one point on a line. Sometimes it takes us hours, days, years even, to process a small piece of information He’s shown us. Our failure or success to understand Him doesn’t change His plan, but many times He graciously waits on us to catch up to involve us.

I’ve written before that I’ve known God’s call on my life to overseas ministry since I was a child. I’ve written that things up to a certain point were very easy. But then I started hitting snags in the path, and roadblocks, and detours. My application for two-year service was denied about a year ago for health reasons. After a difficult journey in which I learned about God’s enduring faithfulness, my application was approved—in His time. But because of the delay, I ended up spending a summer and a semester at home: unemployed; living with my parents while my little sister went off to college; and taking care of goats, chickens, brothers, and dirty dishes and laundry. I would not have readily picked this time of in-between for myself. But God has taught me things. He has taught me things that will be useful overseas and that continue to prepare me for a life of service wherever I live. Beyond the practical lessons of how to butcher and cook a chicken, how to not be gored by an angry goat, I’ve learned about patience. And waiting.

Those slow and silent times in the woods cutting limbs for goats, those early-morning trips outside to squawking chickens and screaming goats, and the repetitive liturgy of folding the same pairs of underwear and jeans and mating socks for the people I love have built up in me to teach something I couldn’t have learned if God had told me all at once. God’s ways are Higher Ways. And there is a certain holiness in daily faithfulness. The way that God teaches and trains me is His prerogative. And if it involves screaming goats and dirty dishes, let it be so. In mid-November I will receive a call detailing my two-year assignment. In January I will begin training. In late March I will get on a plane. I’ll take language lessons and stumble through cultural mistakes and tell my favorite stories til I’m blue in the face. And I couldn’t have picked a better road to get here. His ways are higher than mine.