I grew up on a farm. We didn’t raise crops, but we did raise a lot of animals. Horses and dogs and cats, always. Sometimes fish and pigs and chickens and baby calves.
My brother was known to bring home box turtles and snakes, too.
Once I even had birds—a pair of finches—but they died, leaving a nest of unhatched eggs that I kept in my room for months, just in case. That’s me, the eternal optimist. I’m not sure what I would have done if they had miraculously hatched; I’m pretty sure their parents died because I forgot to feed them.
There are two things I remember doing a lot of in childhood: working in the vegetable garden, and building fences. We used post-hole diggers before my dad got one of those attachments that goes on the back of the tractor and does all the work for you.
We ran barbed wire around our property to keep people out. We ran electric fence, to keep animals in. We put in slat-board fence which, as far as I could tell, was for kids to sit on and watch the activity in the barnyard.
One of my jobs, when we were riding around the farm in my dad’s pickup truck was to get out and open the gates so he could drive through. Many were the times I thought to myself, He sure has the better job here.
Perhaps that’s why years later, when a friend used this illustration, it was so powerful to me:
He said, “We build these fences around ourselves and we say, ‘This is what God can do.’”
Now, God isn’t at all boxed in by that. He is so big, He fills all the space within our fence and into the next pasture and across our neighbor’s lawn, and on and on. He fills the whole earth.
Our fences don’t limit Him, they only limit how much of Him we’re able to experience. We are the ones trapped within the boundaries.
But we can put gates in our fences.
The space within our fences represents our experience with God. We put gates in our fences when we share with each other what God has done in our lives. Then we are able to step through those gates into someone else’s experience, someone else’s yard.
We are able to step out of ourselves, into more of Him.
Let me share an example. Early in our marriage, my husband and I visited his sister and her family. The weekend we were there, her church had a ladies retreat she was in charge of, and I went with her.
It was a wonderful evening, and some of the ladies stayed up late into the night talking with us. I was happy because we were having meaningful conversation but as time went on, my sister-in-law seemed to get more and more agitated. I started to feel nervous, like I was saying something wrong, but I didn’t know what it was.
When the others finally left our room to go to bed, I could tell she was really upset, but I didn’t know what I had done to make her so mad. Tentatively, I asked what was wrong and she exclaimed, “I’m so tired! And we have to get up early tomorrow, and it’s going to be another long day, and then it’s Sunday, and there’s not going to be any time to rest!”
I was so relieved that’s all it was, I quickly prayed with her and we went to bed.
Even though the situation was resolved, it was a very stressful memory for me. Whenever I thought about it, the feeling of uneasiness and fear of her disapproval would surface with it, too.
Years later, that same sister-in-law and I were counselors together at a church camp. We put our beds next to each other by the door so we could talk until we fell asleep.
One night, she asked me if I remembered that ladies retreat. She said, “I was so tired and cranky, and then you said, ‘Oh, that’s okay, we’ll just pray about it.”
It was such an accurate imitation of me that I flushed with embarrassment and thought, that’s how I sound to people.
But she wasn’t finished. She said, “Then you prayed, ‘God, thank you that you supply the rest you need. This is your work, and these are your people, and we are very tired, so we just ask that you take these four hours we have to sleep and make them feel like ten.’ And I thought, that’s the dumbest thing I ever heard!”
Listening to her, every fear I’ve ever had of sounding childish, of not being able to communicate effectively, came to life. I have never been so mortified to hear someone tell a story about me.
Her tone changed to one of wonder, and she said, “But then He did it! We woke up the next morning, and we felt great!”
There was a long silence as those words sank in. When she spoke again, her voice was quiet and serious.
“Do you know, I tell everyone that now? I’m like, ‘Do you know you can pray for sleep?! God cares about your sleep!”
Something miraculous had happened for her that weekend, and I hadn’t even been aware of it.
Yes, I had been aware that He answered my prayer and gave us rest, but I had expected that. Because the very first thing I knew about God was that He cared about my sleep. Every night when I crawled into bed since I was a very small child, I asked Him to take care of it for me. He always did.
Sometimes sharing the most simple, basic truth you know about God is all it takes to put a gate in someone else’s fence.
Welcome to my yard.