Crooked Sticks and Straight Lines

God uses crooked sticks to draw straight lines. 

My childhood pastor used this phrase often. I find great comfort in the thought that God will use me for His purposes no matter how gnarled and twisted I may be. 

Have you ever said yes to something you felt God was calling you to, but had crooked motives driving your actions? 

Sure, I’ll serve all summer at camp, in the hopes of meeting a cute boy. 

Sure, I’ll work in the nursery this Sunday, so I can zone out on my phone.

Sure, I’ll share from the stage at church about our recent mission trip, so people will see what a great person I am. 

We’re all bent up and crooked. And so often our motives are purely self-serving. We’re still buying into the lie from the Garden that happiness is found in seeking our own way and not God’s. Isn’t it amazing that God still looks at us and sees potential? His gaze, piercing those ugly driving forces in our hearts, still rests on a beloved child He wants to use for His glory and the good of others. Sometimes, in our convoluted “yes,” crooked though it may be, we are actually taking the first step towards stripping away ourselves and getting a glimpse into the abundant life God has planned for us. Sometimes, all He needs is that small “yes” to begin unfolding a truly beautiful story. 

I have always wanted a daughter. My entire life I pictured myself with a gaggle of girls – braiding hair, painting nails, having tea parties. Each of my three pregnancies, I was sure that little bundle was a girl blooming in my belly. I scrutinized my cravings and morning sickness on Google in search of confirmation that I was right. 

I was not right. 

I had three boys in three years. Three wonderful, beautiful, better than I could have imagined boys. Not once as I held each of my sweet sons did I feel an ounce of disappointment. And yet, that longing for a daughter remained. An ache deep in my soul. One day, after hearing a friend share about her adoption journey at church, I felt a nudge in my heart to begin praying for my daughter, for my adopted daughter. I thought God definitely had the wrong girl. Surely not this impatient, overwhelmed, broke-as-a-joke mama, right God? But I began to pray, even in the midst of my doubts. 

Several years and an out-of-state move later, through a crazy series of interactions I never could have planned for, my husband and I became licensed foster parents in the state of Arizona. Foster care was never part of my plan. I always tell people, I’m really not that nice of a person. I’m short-tempered. I have my own abandonment wounds I’m working through. I’m someone who thrives on predictability and a plan. It’s hard for me to remain calm when my husband is parking the car and suddenly changes his mind to a new spot; I couldn’t imagine the turmoil I’d go through to have a child suddenly placed and then removed from my home. 

I was not cut out for foster care. 

But I said yes. Not because I felt this altruistic sense of duty to children and families who were hurting. I said yes because I wanted a daughter. Much like Sarai going the round-about way to get her promised child, I hoped I could get my girl and skip the hard parts. 

I told you I’m a crooked stick. 

Our first placement was a gorgeous baby girl who had been through a mess in her one year of life. I was terrified as I sent her off on her first visit with her mom. I sent a little notebook in the diaper bag introducing myself and giving her an option for writing me back. She wrote and wrote and wrote. About how her daughter loves pears and what her favorite movie is and how she loves to dance and thanking me for caring for her. 

My. Heart. Broke. 

Here I was hoping I could “keep” this baby. Here I was standing in judgment over this mama. Here I was thinking I was a better fit for her daughter. My own depravity was staring me in the face and it was not pretty. From that moment on my goals in foster care shifted. I was not in this to “get my girl,” I was in this for God’s glory. God had given me a direct line, a wide open door into the deep, dark, brokenness we so often turn our heads away from. I started cheering these parents on. I started praying for their rehabilitation. I stopped white knuckling my own plan long enough to remember my purpose on earth is not my own happiness, but displaying God’s glory and love to a hurting and broken world. I get to be an ambassador for a kingdom that is much more beautiful and fulfilling than a tidy life free of inconveniences. 

That shift made all the difference in the world. 

Even though our entire family was rocked with our first really big goodbye – a girl we’d had from birth until her first birthday – our anchor was sure and our purpose stayed strong. 

And now, eight years after I felt that little nudge in my heart to pray for my daughter, we are on the cusp of adoption. Our girl has been in our home for almost two years, and her parents voluntarily severed their parental rights last week, stating that they wanted their daughter to stay in our care. I cannot imagine the difficulty of that decision. These are real, hurting people. People with their own painful histories and heartaches. People who loved their children the best they knew how, and even loved them enough to let them go in the end. I do not look at our girl’s parents with judgment, but with so much tenderness and compassion. Compassion that can only come from the source Himself, certainly not by my own doing. 

And now as we look towards adoption, I see us adopting three people – our girl, her mom, and her dad. I’ve had many, many gospel conversations with this family. I have honored them. I have sent pictures and mother’s day messages. I have shared parts of my story with them, and heard their stories in return. I have grown to love them. And I can promise you, this selfish, crooked-stick girl didn’t do any of that on her strength. 

I said yes. 

I said yes for all the wrong reasons and I was given the gift of growth. I was given the gift of perspective. I was given the gift of repentance. And, beyond all that I ever deserved, I was given the gift of a daughter. 

Isaiah 30:18 says, “Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.” 

God is so loving and compassionate that He waits for us. He longs to show us mercy and compassion. And when we wait on Him, we find true happiness. Happiness not dependent upon circumstances. Happiness not manipulated by our own hands. Happiness beyond our wildest dreams. 

We’re all crooked sticks. We’re all struggling with doing things our own way or for our own reasons. God isn’t inhibited by that. He’s capable of drawing His lines with any crude instrument willing to give a tiny “yes.”

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About Jen Hulbert

Jen Hulbert lives in Flagstaff, Arizona with her husband and favorite coffee date, Aaron. They serve together at Calvary Bible Church, where Aaron is the lead pastor. She homeschools her three boys and loves sharing the beauty of God’s creation with them by hiking the trails of the northern Arizona forest. Jen met Jesus at a young age, and as she gets to know Him better, discovers more of who she was intended to be. Creating the perfect playlist, well-timed puns, and all forms of organizing and categorizing are a few of her favorite things.

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