Tuesday, February 28, 2012


My grandson isn’t perfect.

As the oldest grandchild on both sides of the family, he definitely brings us great joy. Isaac is a party in a four-year-old body! He’s never known a stranger, just friends he hasn’t met. No one has more fun or lives with greater joy. And he loves Buzz Lightyear, often running around in a cape yelling, “To infinity…and beyond!”

But still, he isn’t perfect.

His parents, Stew and Annie, went in for a 3-D sonogram when they were about 18 weeks pregnant.

“It’s a boy!” they learned.

As they began to celebrate, the technician grew quiet. Alarmed, their joy turned into apprehension.

The technician left the room, bringing the doctor back. He examined the screen, then turned to face the anxious parents-to-be.

“Look right here,” he said, pointing at the screen. “See this? That’s a cleft palate. We’ll keep monitoring it, but it’s pretty obvious.”

Now, in the overall scheme of birth defects, a cleft palate falls low on the catastrophic list. In fact, it is the most common birth defect. But knowing their baby would need multiple surgeries in his life overwhelmed Stew and Annie.

It was a rough pregnancy after that, too, full of dire possibilities and equally grim predictions. Annie grew to hate her doctor visits, because he always gave her something new to worry about.

August 14, 2007 Annie was to be induced. Several hours later, Isaac Alfred Montgomery was born by c-section, active and squalling. The nurse immediately rolled him towards the nursery in order to run tests to determine the severity of the cleft, and to check if he could nurse properly.

Isaac is the first grandchild for both sides of the family, so we were all eagerly awaiting his arrival. When the nurse went by with the bassinette, we cornered her and finagled our way into seeing Isaac for the first time.

The cleft was pronounced, but he was amazingly beautiful nonetheless. Some serious celebrating ensued in that hallway!

Each time I saw Isaac after that I noticed the cleft less and less, until it ceased to register at all. It wasn’t that I ignored it; I just didn’t see it. All I saw was my grandson, and how much I loved him. The cleft simply did not matter.

Isaac had his first surgery when he was only three months old. Annie almost backed out of it. She loved her little boy just the way he was—cleft and all, and struggled with putting him through the pain the surgery would cause him. But she decided that the greater love was the one that allowed him pain, in order to make his life better.

This surgery repaired his cleft lip, and the plastic surgeon who did it was an artist. Looking at Isaac now, you can barely notice where the scar runs. Though there are several more surgeries in his future, we are told that when it’s all finished, there will little evidence of the original defect left.


While it’s hard to think of all that is in store for him—the challenges, the surgeries, and the pain—I am convinced that his suffering will build character he could not acquire any other way; qualities of compassion, empathy, perseverance, and courage.

I have come to the conclusion that’s how God sees our trials, too. We are His children, and He loves us just the way we are. But He also yearns to see us stand before Him, minus the defects that now mar our character. He knows what we don’t; the imperfect does not need to remain that way. As we are shaped by suffering and trials, we are transformed. Character is built in us that cannot be acquired through any other means. God loves us enough to allow us the kind of pain that leads to deep change within us.

Far better than Isaac’s doctor, God is the true master surgeon. Suffering is not His goal, but one of the tools God uses to shape us. Trials are necessary to build into us qualities that reflect His character.

His word puts it this way: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:17)

Because we believe that, and because we trust the One who shapes us, we can choose to ”rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.” (Romans 5:3-5)

His artistry in shaping us is perfect, because He operates with the end result in mind. He knows just what is needed in order to achieve the results He desires. And He allows absolutely no more trials than necessary.

He does it because He loves us, and because He wants to shape and perfect us.

He does it better than any plastic surgeon!

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.
                                                                                                                                                James 1:2-4

Further reflection:

1.  What is the biggest challenge you have ever faced?
2.  How did you respond to it?
3.  Share with someone how that event changed you.

Father, I don’t like pain. I don’t like seeing people I love suffer. And I’m not yet to the point that I can count every trial as “pure joy”. But I trust You. I trust that You love me and the ones I love. I trust You to be with me every moment, especially when I am hurting. And I trust that the pain You allow has a purpose, and that it will bring change to my very imperfect character.


  1. Just finished breast cancer surgery 2 days ago. This is very helpful!

    1. Jenny, I am praying for complete healing, and for you to be aware of the nearness of God in the midst.

  2. the spanish reads "esperanza no nos defrauda", hope does not defraud us. i like that perspective.

  3. Thank you for this beautiful post! I saw Isaac when he was a newborn and I completely agree that he was beautiful and lovable in every way. Your insight into the purpose of suffering lines up perfectly with God's word and my experience. You have encouraged my heart.

    1. You are right--Isaac was beautiful! And he's developing beautiful character, too! Thanks so much for your encouragement!

  4. Sometimes it is discouraging when we look at our Christian walk. Your analogy helps to put things in perspective in the way God sees us. Thanks!