It was the fall season of 2009.  If you had knocked on the door of Sheila’s home, as many did, you’d have been welcomed by a family who knew fully the meaning of contentment, fulfillment, good health, and mutual regard.  Along with her husband and two grown daughters, Sheila knew well how to balance work and play, while honoring God in the midst of all of it.  They had absorbed the lessons of John 15, understanding their role as branches that must remain firmly attached to the Real Vine as they strove to yield fruit for the Lord.  Life in their greenhouse looked as close to idyllic as any of us could wish.

But the Gardener understands the need for pruning a productive branch down to just a few inches of the main vine.  For a time, the pruned branch appears injured, dead and useless, but is actually fully surrounded by the parent vine, being nurtured for future growth and resplendent renewal of fruitfulness.

And so it was for Sheila.  The sudden unexpected death of her husband brought desperate, excruciating grief to Sheila and her daughters, along with confusion, anger, and a stunned sense of helplessness.  Loneliness became a constant companion, despite Sheila’s valiant efforts to maintain meaningful relationships.  It was a close friend who finally asked Sheila a simple question that changed her life:  “Have you talked with Jesus about all of this?”  The subsequent conversation between Sheila and her Lord was the first of many, many more when she says, “I not only talked, but listened carefully to what He had to say.  And He had much to say.”

Having already explored and rejected the idea of fulfilling a longtime pipe dream of returning to Cambodia to start a furniture business, Sheila now sensed a different question from the Lord: “Yes, you have been there and looked to see what you might do there, but now I want you to go and see what I am doing there.”  Not without reluctance, Sheila packed her bags for the trip...