by Nancy Jo Sullivan
One hot July morning, I awoke to the clicks of a broken fan blowing humid air across my face. The well‐used fan had seen better days. It had only one setting, and its blades were worn and bent. It needed repair. So, I thought, did my life.
Earlier that year Sarah, our Down’s syndrome daughter, had undergone heart surgery. That was behind us, but now we faced mounting medical bills that insurance wouldn’t cover. On top of that, my husband’s job would be eliminated in just weeks, and losing our home seemed inevitable.
As I closed my eyes to try to put together a morning prayer, I felt a small hand nudge my arm. “Mommy,” Sarah said, “I g‐g‐got r‐r‐ready for v‐v‐vacation B‐B‐Bible school all by myself!”
Next to the bed stood five‐year‐old Sarah, her eyes twinkling through thick, pink‐framed glasses. Beaming, she turned both palms up and exclaimed, “Ta‐dah!”
Her red‐checked, seersucker shorts were on backward, with the drawstring stuck in the side waistband. A J. C. Penney price tag hung from a new, green polka‐dot top. It was inside out. She had chosen one red and one green winter sock to go with the outfit. Her tennis shoes were on the wrong feet, and she wore a baseball cap with the visor and emblem turned backward.
“I‐I‐I packed a b‐b‐backpack, t‐t‐too!” she stuttered while unzipping her bag so I could see what was inside. Curious, I peered in at the treasures she had so carefully packed: five Lego blocks, an unopened box of paper clips, a fork, a naked Cabbage Patch doll, three jigsaw puzzle pieces, and a crib sheet from the linen closet.
Gently lifting her chin until our eyes met, I said very slowly, “You look beautiful!”
“Thank y‐y‐you.” Sarah smiled as she began to twirl around like a ballerina.
Just then the living room clock chimed eight, which meant I had forty‐five minutes to get Sarah, a toddler, and a baby out the door. As I hurried to feed the kids while rocking a crying infant, the morning minutes dissolved into urgent seconds. I knew I was not going to have time to change Sarah’s outfit.
Buckling each child into a car seat, I tried to reason with Sarah. “Honey, I don’t think you’ll be needing your backpack for vacation Bible school. Why don’t you let me keep it in the car for you.”
“No‐o‐o‐o. I n‐n‐need it!”
I finally surrendered, telling myself her self‐esteem was more important than what people might think of her knapsack full of useless stuff. When we got to church, I attempted to redo Sarah’s outfit with one hand while I held my baby in the other. But Sarah pulled away, reminding me of my early morning words, “No‐o‐o‐o… I l‐l‐look beautiful!” Overhearing our conversation, a young teacher joined us. “You do look beautiful!” the woman told Sarah. Then she took Sarah’s hand and said to me, “You can pick up Sarah at 11:30. We’ll take good care of her.”
As I watched them walk away, I knew Sarah was in good hands. While Sarah was in school, I took the other two children and ran errands. As I dropped late payments into the mailbox and shopped with coupons at the grocery store, my thoughts raced with anxiety and disjointed prayer. What did the future hold? How would we provide for our three small children? Would we lose our home? Does God really care about us? I got back to the church a few minutes early. A door to the sun‐filled chapel had been propped open, and I could see the children seated inside in a semicircle listening to a Bible story.
Sarah, sitting with her back to me, was still clutching the canvas straps that secured her backpack. Her baseball cap, shorts, and shirt were still on backwards and inside out.
As I watched her, one simple thought came to mind: “I sure do love her.”
As I stood there, I heard that still, comforting voice that I have come to understand is God’s: “That’s the way I feel about you.”
I closed my eyes and imagined my Creator looking at me from a distance: my life so much like Sarah’s outfit—backward, unmatched, mixed up.
“Why are you holding that useless ‘backpack’ full of anxiety, doubt, and fear?” I could imagine God saying to me. “Let Me carry it.”
That night as I once again turned on our crippled fan, I felt a renewed sense of hope. Sarah had reminded me that God’s presence remains even when life needs repair. I might not have the answers to all my problems—but I would always be able to count on Him to help carry the load.
Thanks to her five‐year‐old daughter, Nancy Jo Sullivan rediscovered the reality of God’s all‐powerful presence. Many never understand that He is in our midst, ready to love us and pick up our backpacks full of troubles and fears. These people doubt, neglect to ask for His help, or fail to see how the Lord provides in their time of need. But He is there—the Unfailing Presence—always watching, always ready to share in our strife and lovingly guide us, no matter how difficult our circumstances.
When hardship and crises strike, you may be tempted to feel that God has let you down or no longer cares. Resist this thinking! Even when His solution is not the one you seek, be assured that it is just what you need for the trials you face.
We’ll spend this week talking about the trustworthiness of the Lord. Sooner or later in every Christian marriage, it’s a truth that matters more than life itself!
- James C Dobson