‘Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.’ James 1:2-3
Have you ever felt stretched? Sometimes our schedules are stretched, sometimes our patience, sometimes our faith – no matter what it is, we typically think of being stretched as a negative thing.
As I look back at my life, I am now at a point where I can appreciate the hard trials God allowed me to experience. Throughout my childhood and into my adult life I have been stretched in many different ways.
I grew up behind the iron curtain in communist Romania, where everything was under strict control from what we could wear or eat, where we could live or work, to what we could say or believe. Through standing in endlessly long lines for groceries, forced silence regarding the things of God, and my mom’s severe mental illness from a very young age, I learned how to depend on Him for my needs, one day at a time.
Our small, two-room apartment was our safe haven where mom and dad strategized daily on what food to put on the table or how to buy new shoes for us growing kids. Mom’s hands were often bleeding as she worked hard to wash our clothes. My older brother was in charge of looking after me while mom and dad tirelessly worked 14 hours in a factory. We spent many hours home alone, and one day, when I was seven years old, we found a hidden Bible in the floorboard of our apartment. Bibles were not permitted during communism—churches were forbidden and speaking the name of God out loud could easily become a death warrant—so the contents of this book were a mystery to us. Despite the potential harm, we began to read the Bible and fell in love with its stories. God started working on my heart through this small Bible. Then as an 11-year old, I started attending a small underground church.
I still remember the first time I learned how to pray. I was 13 years old and I wanted to see snow outside so that we could make the best of the cold and dark winter days. My prayers were simple but expectant. I wanted God to prove to me He exists by giving me snow. He didn’t answer for 3 months, but just as I was ready to give up on Him, my answer came in an unexpected way: a colorfully wrapped shoebox. Within this box, I found a snow globe that brought snow to life like never before. I understood through that little globe, that God knows me and the desires of my heart. I learned that He is a God who answers prayers; His answers can just look different than what I imagine. On that day, a simple silver and blue snow globe launched my desire to serve Jesus for the rest of my life, and for that, I am forever grateful.
I moved to the States at age twenty-six, and through the stretching of repeated visa denials, uncertainties, and financial hardships, I learned a brand new kind of dependence on the Lord. After 13 years of teaching, the Lord called me into full-time ministry, and I came full circle with Operation Christmas Child, the same ministry that changed my path. As I look back today at my most stretching experiences, I am grateful for those seasons.
In seasons of stretching, God taught me, what I call the rubber band theory. He spoke to me through James 1:2-5: ‘Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.’
You see, the only value of a rubber band is to be stretched because without tension. it’s worthless. If I allow God to stretch me, grow me, develop me, teach me—not only do I benefit but those around me. My best lessons and best character traits came out of times when I was stretched, so I boldly ask for wisdom and do my best to make myself available to be stretched, so that I ‘may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.’
Every time I am being stretched, I ask myself: ‘Will I just sit there and endure, or be stretched and be useful?’
Are you being stretched these days?
Allow me to ask you: what will you do about it?
Izabella McMillon grew up during the communistic regime in Romania when even attending a church could have resulted in death. Finding a hidden Bible in their home, Izabella and her brother began secretly attending church weekly. At 13 years old she received an Operation Christmas Child shoebox gift. This gift was life-changing because it confirmed for God’s existence and unconditional love. She finally understood that this God that she was reading about in the Bible cared for her. Izabella now serves as Speakers Bureau Manager with Operation Christmas Child and shares her story to shoebox packers across the country.
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