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  • Writer's pictureMary Nolte

Of Pancakes and Tumbleweeds

Today would have been our Shiloh’s 23rd birthday. Birthdays are hard.


I always want the world to stop and remember. Maybe take a moment of silence and acknowledge that the world is not what it should be because she is not in it. For a few years we received cards from people who remembered and were thinking about us, but of course, that dwindled as time went by. It is understandable. We can not go on living in the past, willing time to quit being so unrespectable.

We used to eat pancakes every year on her birthday. They were her favorite. The sweet syrup would cover her little face and hands and get in her silky hair, and it was a delightful thing to watch. Shiloh had a hard time eating. The doctors tried to explain to us something about her stomach and the way it was arranged with the rest of her digestive system, but all we knew was that a large amount of time had to be spent getting nourishment into her little body. It made the pancakes that much sweeter, because it was something she consumed without a struggle. Shiloh was a special needs baby. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned that. It never seems all that important when I’m remembering her twinkling eyes or baby tooth smile.


In our hearts, she just was- everything she needed to be for our family at that time. She was an answer to prayer, a beautiful soul made in the image of God and gifted to us. Us!! Why did God see fit to give us such a gift?


I am in awe sometimes at the goodness of His gifts. They are particularly suited to each of us- exactly what we need to be made more like Christ. They do not always look like gifts, I admit. When God called my husband and I to live in the desert of West Texas for a season, I complained that he should have been more like Moses and had the decency to leave his wife behind when he went to the desert. We drove in that first day in the middle of a dust storm, something I had never seen from my beautiful hill country upbringing. I sat at the wheel of our second vehicle, losing sight of the rest of the family up ahead as the dust made a wall between us. We slowed to a crawl as West Texas soil made its way into every nook and cranny of our vehicles, our furniture, and our souls. Then something truly bazaar happened. A tumbleweed the size of our car blew across the road in front of me. Now I had seen tumbleweeds before, but this was a TUMBLEWEED. I’m pretty sure there could be a pretty convincing apocalyptic movie made about these TUMBLEWEEDS.


James 1:17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”


John MacArthur says about this verse that, “Everything related to divine giving is adequate, complete, and beneficial.” Adequate, “as much or as good as necessary for some requirement or purpose.” Complete, “lacking nothing.” Beneficial, “helpful in the meeting of needs.” In other words, God’s gifts are perfectly tailored for your specific person to aid you in becoming and doing all God asks of you. Now we don’t always see God’s gifts this way. When I was driving further and further away from my roots, through a dust storm involving horrifically sized tumbleweeds, I didn’t see anything perfectly tailored in this particular gift.


But God. That is the clencher. He is the Agent that acts upon the impossible to make it “good.”


When God blessed my family with a special needs child over 20 years ago, I thought of the song “Masterpiece,” as I watched Shiloh sitting one day, an oxygen tank by her side, the little plastic tubes delivering life-giving air into her lungs. Some would have called her a mistake, an evolutionary blunder. God called her a masterpiece, exactly what He intended for us, perfectly formed for the life He had given her, even though we couldn’t always see it.

In the movie, “The Ultimate Gift” a wealthy grandfather dies and leaves his grandson with a series of character building tasks- gifts that will lead to the ultimate gift. The spoiled grandson is not too happy as he begrudgingly completes each task in hopes of inheriting a fortune. In the end, he realizes that the hard work, the losing everything were actually the best gifts he could have been given.


As Tim Keller said, “God always gives you what you would have asked for if you knew everything that He knows.”


I wouldn’t have asked for a special needs child just as I wouldn’t have asked to move to Midland, Texas. But just as Shiloh was exactly what we needed, so was Midland. Our time in West Texas was a spiritually rich season. It wasn’t anything glamorous. In fact, it was full of trouble. My husband worked long hours getting a new business off the ground. I struggled with raising our children in ways I never had before. We almost went bankrupt. But it was good. By the grace and work of God, He grew us closer as a couple and made us more like Him everyday in that tumbleweed infested desert. Of course, I know you can’t see it when you’re in its midst. I’ve been in the fetal position on my closet floor plenty of times, begging God to change my circumstances, convinced that that is the only way for “all things [to] work together for good” (Rom. 8:28).


But as John Piper preached, “I don't care if it was cancer or criticism…it wasn’t meaningless…it’s doing something [and] of course you can’t see what it’s doing…Your pain is doing something for you…None of your suffering is meaningless.”


Now I know believing that the hurt is somehow working for good seems counterintuitive when you’re in the midst of it. I never thought of pancakes as a very redemptive food. Praying over them seemed kind of like a guy asking God to bless a plateful of twinkies to the nourishment of his body. But that was before they were the only thing Shiloh would eat. I can also point to a time when vehicle-sized tumbleweeds and blinding dust storms made me refer to West Texas as a “God-forsaken” place.


But God is in the desert. He is in the miniscule details of your difficult circumstances. He doesn’t make mistakes, nor does He lose sight of you.


He is working all things together for your good. Our daughter’s “good” was loving and being loved by our little blossoming family. It was knitting hearts together and growing in us a compassion we could not have mustered on our own. Her “good” was bringing glory to God and touching hearts and lives beyond what we will know on this earth. Again, John Piper writes, “When Satan wills something, he always intends to diminish God’s glory and ultimately ruin God’s people. When God permits Satan to act with that design, God’s design in doing so is for his glory and the ultimate good of his people.”

I am writing this as we are going through yet another difficult time with another child, and I am willing myself to get off the closet floor and remember that at times like these “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me” (Job 42:3). I may not see the good right now, but He does.

Today Shiloh would have been 23 years old, and somewhere in heaven there is rejoicing in her presence there, in her once broken body being perfect and complete. Maybe she is eating heavenly pancakes, her face covered in the sweetness of ecstasy.


For she is now experiencing the fullness of redemption, and she knows- finally, fully knows- that God’s gifts are always good.



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