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Webster defines the word “repurposed” as “to give a new purpose or use and to adapt for use in a different purpose.” I laughed when I looked up the origin of the word and its use in our culture. I think it’s safe to say that the growing popularity of HGTV had something to do with the use of the word repurposed.

When we were building our first house on the North Fork in 1999, everything in the house was new, except for our furniture. We always shopped at yard sales and watched for “curbside deals” much to the dismay of our young and adolescent children who were often in the back seat of the car. It’s true someone’s trash is often another’s treasure.

Twenty years later and four seasons deep into HGTV, we were all about shiplap and repurposed wood when we purchased our own DIY adventure at the end of last year. I also discovered Facebook re-sale groups while living out of suitcases with my daughter, three dogs and a cat in tow. As my husband took down the walls in our new house to make it more accessible and create our own “open concept” flow, I was trading our old furniture for someone else’s treasures.

We installed an old door in the entry to the master bedroom and hung a barn door on wheels to create easy access into my daughter’s bedroom. With the resurgence of life-threatening seizures this summer, quick access between our rooms has given us all peace of mind and some much-needed rest.

A tightening budget inspired me to seek creative ways to replace our dilapidated fence. I discovered pallet fences — the ultimate repurposed wood at less than a fraction of the cost of regular fences. At first, my husband scoffed at the idea, concerned that I’d be adding another job to his already-bulging project list. But as he priced fencing and watched a few videos, he was sold. When we contacted a friend who owns a wholesale nursery to see if he had pallets he wanted to dispose of, our friend assured us he had a lifetime supply.

So last week’s project was putting up the repurposed pallet fence. One week later, it looks like a professionally installed fence with a creative bent. People would be hard-pressed to know we spent more money on the gas to trailer the pallets home than the actual cost of our newly constructed fence.

Throughout these DIY projects with repurposed items, I am continually reminded of how the Lord uses situations and circumstances in our lives for our growth and for building the Kingdom of God. Early on in my Christian walk, and in particular in the struggles we have faced over the past 20 years raising a child with disabilities, I have learned that my God wastes nothing. Every good thing and every struggle, God will use to accomplish a new purpose in my life — even ones that I could never imagine.

The Apostle Paul put it like this:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good for those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28).

When I was a teenager, I had a personal experience of an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in my life through the Catholic charismatic renewal. I knew Jesus was real and I wanted nothing more than to live my whole life for Him. After one of the prayer meetings, an older man came up to me and said that God wanted to use me to bring more teenagers to Christ, but that throughout my life there would be many more people who come to the Lord because of my witness to Him.

Around that same time, at another prayer meeting, I had what some would describe as a mystical vision, kind of like a dream, only I was awake. When I closed my eyes, I saw myself in the middle of light, with Jesus walking towards me. Mary was at my side and she placed a rose without a stem into my cupped hands. Jesus held my hands and instructed me to lift them up towards heaven. When I did, the rose began to beam with bright yellow streams of light emanating from its petals and penetrating out into the white light surrounding us. At that moment, I heard the leader of the prayer meeting say, “this little rose has become a light to the nations.” He was interpreting his own word from the Lord, but God used it for me to confirm the vision.

We gave Johanna the name “Rose” as her middle name in honor of St. Terese, “the little flower.” It was over 30 years after this vision that I realized Johanna was the rose Mary and Jesus had placed in my hands and her life indeed had become a light to many, even around the world.

In very practical ways, God “repurposes” her struggles and ours to create a deeper gratitude for the gift of life. I am much more aware of the limitations that people with disabilities face in our society as I advocate for my daughter. Her struggles have given me a greater purpose in advocating for the respect and rights of those who face challenges because of disabilities.

Trials have made me a more resilient and grateful person too. Despite the addition of gray hair and the exhaustion, I wouldn’t trade my life for an easier one. In God’s plan for repurposing my trials, I have discovered even greater purpose and a richness in this life.

When we moved into our new home we uncovered many treasures as well as challenges. One such treasure was a beautiful garden waterfall with two little ponds. It was covered by weeds and overgrowth of locust trees and was a favored habitat of too many snakes.

As we pulled back the weeds, we uncovered its beauty. The garden was covered in small landscaping rocks that made it hard to plant, but we were able to move and reuse those rocks, and the wood that held them in place, to another spot in our yard.

Repurposing the old wood and rocks allowed us to create a beautiful new seating area on the highest point of our property. This high point has winter water views and it’s the best place year-round to take in the colorful sunset just before it disappears into the horizon on the Long Island Sound.

And the seat? It’s an old wooden swing that was covered in vines and mold. Simple water applied with pressure chipped away at the damaged wood to expose the beauty of that cedar swing.

All things, the pressures of life, chronic struggle and even the swift passage of time can be repurposed in the hands of God — if only we allow Him to use it for good.

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Eileen Benthal
Eileen is a writer, speaker and wellness coach with a bachelor’s degree in theology from Franciscan University. She and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. Email Eileen