The Gilbertson brothers were among the many Nordic immigrants who came to North America in the early 20th century in search of a better life for themselves and their future descendants. They settled along the southern edge of the Canadian prairies in the time of homesteading when the government was handing out land to anyone who would farm it. George, Andrew, and Cornelius each got a section of land and established themselves in this strange and flat new land.
With George’s natural sense for business and his brothers’ aptitudes for mechanics and farming, they built up a lumber yard, a farm machinery store, a garage, insurance sales, a grocery store, a gas station, as well as their farming interests. In a community where the population was counted in dozens instead of thousands or millions, the impact of these men, and George particularly should not be underestimated.
In 1929 he married the local school teacher and designed and built (using wood from his lumberyard) a 4-bedroom house. Over the years, it would house their seven children, and more often than not, include someone needing a place to stay for the night or extended house guests for months or years. He built a small study at the front of the house for his work as the local notary, insurance salesman, church secretary, and the other formal and informal ways he served his community.
The front door was a constant flow of people seeking advice, needing help, requiring his services. Many were also looking for, if not exclusively, a friendly face (or two) and a welcoming cup of coffee (or two), and Kristine became a pillar of support and encouragement. She did this in addition to raising their house-full of children in a time when things were made from scratch, manual work was the norm, and modern conveniences non-existent.
Community was not only an intergenerational fabric upholding the belief that banding together was not only necessary for survival, it was identity. The town was an extended family, with Main Street stretching the three blocks from the dirt highway to the railroad as its heart. The church was on the first block, the Gilbertsons’ homes in the second, and their businesses on the third in the shadows of the grain elevators.
October 8, 1946, would forever change not only the appearance but the soul of the town. A small fire started in the mechanic shop, quickly spread to the garage, then the store, and kept spreading. George, his oldest sons, their neighbors, and relatives rushed to put it out using buckets of water as there was no fire brigade to speak of.
After courageously fighting the fire for hours, soot clinging to his sweat George walked home. Having inhaled the smoke produced by incineration of his own belongings, losing almost everything they had, and wondering if the fire was deliberate (an idea he allowed no one else to entertain) he finally came home.
Entering the small kitchen at the back of the house through the wooden screen-door he approached his wife.
Kristine looked at him and said with certainty:
“God is still on the throne.”
After losing what their family had spent decades building, she was somehow able to respond with utter contentment.
George’s wife, Kristine was my maternal grandmother who passed away 25 years ago at the age of 91. I can still remember the day she died. I can remember going to the nursing home where she spent her last years and standing over her lifeless body with my mother, one of my aunts, and our pastor. His comment has never left me: “Kristine – no matter what happened in life – she always had a sense of deep contentment.”
This story of unshakable contentment is what started me down this path years ago. Knowing that God is over all, among all, and aware of all can bring incredible peace when things seem to fall apart.
That’s the kind of contentment I long for – and I’m guessing you do too.
Think of the last thing that really shook your world. Be specific.
Something that caused you a whole lot of discontentment.
Now try to think of the loss/pain/disappointment from a different perspective. Was it merely physical? Was it only money? Is it a relationship that can be mended?
Do NOT discount the pain – but try to put it in perspective.
Do NOT minimize the hurt, but try to step back and see it from a slightly different perspective.
Write that new perspective on a small piece of paper and put it in your wallet or a post-it note on your computer.
Something like “the friendship can be mended” or “I can love again” or “I can earn back the money” or “it’s only hair – it will grow back.”
Whatever it was – try NOT to think of it merely in terms of loss. Think about what that event may look like as you reflect back in 5, 10, or 50 years. If nothing else maybe you need to just remind yourself “God is still on the throne.”
Every time you see it – just pause – and reflect for a few seconds.
God – I know in my mind that you are over all, but I find it so hard to live in that truth. When things go wrong they so quickly become catastrophes for me. Help me to see things from your perspective. Give me your vision of my loss, for my pain, my suffering, my disappointment.
I have a hard time feeling that things are going to recover, that I’ll be OK. Point me to the truth of your word where you have guided, protected, and rescued your people. You did not stop them from getting lost, being hurt, or needing rescue – and that is often hard to understand or even accept.
Sometimes I despair as I’m not even sure where you are – because it feels like you’re sure not here.
Give me trust that you are here, and will be here
Give me hope that no matter what happens, you are still on the throne.