The Dismal Life


Prodigal:  Howdy!

Me:  Your friend looks like the cheese fell off his cracker.

Prodigal: He is having a rough day, but maybe a story will help.


This is from the book The God Who Hung on the Cross by Dois Rosser Jr. and Ellen Vaughn

In the first six years the church grew to a fellowship of about two hundred people and then plateaued, with no new growth for the next seven years.  Pastors are supposed to attract new people, build new buildings, and report huge growth.  But it wasn’t happening.  Dick felt like a failure.

On the last day of 1968, Dick was on his way to visit a church member in the hospital when he heard a radio commentator speculate about what the New Year would bring: “Nineteen -sixty-nine looks more of the same,” he said.  “More of the same in Indo-China, more of the same in Europe, more of the same all over the world.”

Those words chilled Dick’s heart, and he nearly crashed yet another car.  “Oh, no!” he cried out to God.  “Anything but that!  If You give me another year like the last one, I’ll quit!”

That night Dick was busy preparing a New Year’s Eve communion service when God called a particular verse to his attention.  It was Jeremiah 33:3:  “Ask me and I will tell you some remarkable secrets about what is going to happen here”.

Those fresh words gave Dick a sense of hope.  He desperately wanted something new to happen in his church, something remarkable to break into his numbing routine.  A “remarkable secret,” he thought to himself.  Maybe it will be a call to a big church….or speaking opportunities in new venues…

What happened to Dick in 1969?

Dick’s wife, Ginny, had to be hospitalized repeatedly for crippling, undiagnosed illnesses.  At the time, the Woodwards had five young children:  two in diapers, and three toddlers.

Dick had never been particularly domestic.  Since Ginny had always managed the home front.  Dick had absolutely no idea how dirty diapers made the journey from the rank stew of the diaper pail to the drawer of the changing table, all fluffy, clean, and white. (Pampers had not yet been invented.)

Now Dick learned the intricacies of soaking, washing, drying, folding, safety pins, and rubber pants.  Ginny, doubled over in pain, could only watch and wonder from afar.  The women of the church pitched in with meals, and somehow, everyone survived.

After eleven months of domestic duties and church challenges, after trying harder and harder and getting behinder and behinder, Dick came to the end of his rope one Saturday night.

He was in the midst of a double diaper change.  The phone rang.  Dick held his daughter down with an elbow, cradled the phone to his shoulder, and continued wiping and pinning.

The person on the other end said she was in crisis, but as Dick listened, he realized she didn’t really want help.  She just wanted to talk.  And talk. Not only was Dick completely unprepared for his sermon the next morning, but his children were screaming, and this person-in spite of the howling in the Woodward home-seemed as if she would talk all night.

Right then, Dick hit the wall.

After managing to hang up, he finished the diaper change, crumpled to the floor of the nursery, and began sobbing uncontrollably.

“I thought this was going to be a “remarkable” new year,” he cried. “This is not what I had in mind!”  All his frustrations and fears came tumbling out in a rush.  He sobbed out his fears, his failures, his feelings of inadequacy in his ministry.

“God!” he cried out in desperation.  “I can’t!  I can’t!”

And there, in a heap on the dusty floor of that little nursery, Dick felt God speak.

I’ve been waiting thirteen years to hear you say that, he seemed to hear God say.  Now let’s see if you can learn this:  I can!

That diaper epiphany changed Dick’s life.  He realized it was okay to be inadequate.  Inadequate people, in fact, are the only people God has to work with:  “God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.


Isaiah 50:10

Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the voice of his servant?  Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God.


Jennifer Van Allen

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