Each Strand of Sorrow Has a Place

crossstitch1 (1)If you really look for them, you’ll see them: the little fingerprints God has left all over our world, all over every day as if to say, “I’m here. I’m here too. Did you see Me there?” It’s easy to forget Him, to lose sight of Him, to live as though He doesn’t exist.  In fact He is here, and subtle tracings of His ways are found in everything and can draw up our hearts to Him. But are you looking?

Every moment, every circumstance, every encounter of every day of your life is a little thread colored by grace that your Father in heaven is weaving into the tapestry of your life.  You see it from your linear perspective, and puzzle at how He will weave it all together; He works from His own, multi-dimensional sightline so that every thread is a vital part of what He is making you to be, and how you will reflect His glory. He does it so that He can hold up your life before the world in ages to come and say, “Do you see it?  Do you see the incredible beauty that I can weave together?  Do you see the immeasurable riches of My grace in kindness toward this child in Christ Jesus?” (Ephesians 2:7)  And you’ll look back and say, “I see it now! I couldn’t see it then, but all the time You were weaving that blue one into the sky!”

One of my pastors recently gave me this analogy.  “My mother,” he said, “used to cross stitch.  I remember when I was little sitting on the floor and looking up at her while she was working on a particular piece and being so confused at how it would become a picture.  I could only see the tangle of threads and overlapping, disoriented colors on the back.  But then she would turn it over, and for the first time I could see how all those messy pieces of yarn were working together to form something beautiful, something good.”

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God” (Romans 8:28), do we not?  We may not be able to see, but faith can never see, can it?  It wouldn’t be faith if it could.  No, faith trusts in the darkness. Faith says, “God, I cannot fathom in my mind how You are going to work this into good, but I trust You. I trust You because You said You would – and You always do what You say” (Numbers 23:19). Faith remembers that it is only seeing the back of the cross-stitch, but a master Cross-stitcher is doing the work. Of all the masterpieces He has worked on, He has never yet pulled a single wrong thread.

So, Friend, let’s step back into your life. 

Where are you right now?  What station of life are you in?  What happened today that made you happy?  Angry?  Despairing?  Look for His fingerprints, trust His promised goodness, hope in His grace.  Believe that it’s all bigger than what you can see.

Are you walking through the valley of the shadow of death, that dreaded chasm of deep darkness?  Do not fear calamity: Your Shepherd is with you, right beside You to comfort and encourage. He might seem far away, but He has promised that He is not. In fact, that dank darkness is often where He draws close and we learn most of Him.  Lift up your head in hope that you will walk out on the other side knowing far more of Him than you can presently imagine, and that knowing Him will make it all worth it.

Does your life look like the same thing over and over again, an endless cycle of monotony that you seem unable to escape? It’s okay. Rest, trust. There’s a lot of blue in the sky.

Who are the people in your life right now? They are there on purpose. Invest in them. Love them.  Humbly allow God to use them to teach you what He wants you to learn.

It’s really about humility, isn’t it?  A sweet, humble faith that doesn’t have to figure it all out, but just rests on the God it trusts. Rests because it knows that God is doing this on purpose (Ephesians 1:11); God is good (Psalm 145:9); He never does anything that will ultimately harm me (Hosea 6:1); I am forever safe in Jesus (Romans 8:32-33); He will not keep back from me anything that is good for me right now (Psalm 84:11); and He will give me everything I need to keep my head above water and learn to walk more deeply with Him (Psalm 23:1).  Abraham was the man of faith; He lived this way.  God said, “Pack your things and leave Ur, and I’ll tell you where to go.”  He didn’t ask questions, He didn’t second-guess, He simply went (Genesis 12). God said, “Do you see the stars? Can you count them? It’s going to be just as hard to count your descendants.”  Abraham didn’t remind God that Sarah hadn’t had much success with children in the past, and even were that to be remedied, she was far too old to start now.  No, “He believed the LORD, and He counted it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15).  God said, “Take your son, your only son [and the promised son of the covenant] whom you love, and offer him as a burnt offering to Me.”  Abraham didn’t fight, but “rose early in the morning” and went, believing that “God was able even to raise Him from the dead” (Genesis 22; Hebrews 11:19).  There were times when Abraham’s faith wavered, but even in those moments, God did not abandon His friend or His plan. God kept every one of His promises, and through Abraham’s greatest Offspring, He blessed the whole earth.

That humble faith is the same reason that we obey God’s commands even when our flesh screams to us about what it wants.  We look up to Jesus and believe that His way is best, and bow to His will, resisting temptation because He has promised that He is better, so much better. 

What about you?  Over what are you fighting Him?  What has you wrapped up in worry and frustration and discontentment?  What do you need to place in His hands, perhaps for the hundredth time today, and rest that He knows best and will do what is best in His time?  Will you patiently wait for His time?  Elisabeth Elliot once said that “waiting on God requires the willingness to bear uncertainty, to carry within oneself the unanswered question, lifting the heart to God about it whenever it intrudes upon one’s thoughts.”  So lift it up again.  And again.  When it threatens to weigh down on your heart again, lift it up. And open your heart to your Father, and let it go. You can trust Him.  He will always, always, always be faithful.

“Oh grant me wisdom from above to pray for peace and cling to love,

And teach me humbly to receive the sun and rain of Your sovereignty.

Each strand of sorrow has a place within this tapestry of grace.

So though the trials I choose to say, ‘Your perfect will in Your perfect way.’”

— Keith and Kristyn Getty, “The Perfect Wisdom of Our God”

Human Snapshot

 

 

Charleston, SC
March 2016

I want you to meet my new friend Henry. I met Henry today while walking the streets of downtown Charleston, SC. I had almost walked right past the bench where he was sitting when he called out to my brother and me, asking if we were interested in the flowers he was selling.  I turned, ever so slightly, to politely decline what I first saw as just another of the many vendors lining the crowded Charleston streets — but then I saw his hands.  Or rather, no hands.  If you look closely at the photo, you can see that instead of hands, Henry has prosthetics, two metal fingers with which to do everything we take for granted with our four fingers and opposable thumbs.  And I had to know.  So while I dug out the money to buy a flower, I asked, and learned.  When Henry was younger, he was in an electrical accident at work and was electrocuted, costing him both of his hands.  All of a sudden, I felt like my eyes were opened, and I saw a person.  A human being with the image of God Himself stamped upon him — desperate, needy, but smiling.  He didn’t lament such a catastrophic loss hardly at all.  And you know what’s more?  Henry convincingly assured me that He was trusting in Jesus’ blood to wash away his sins, and enjoys God’s presence with him.  Do you know what that means?  It means something a mere passerby would miss: Henry is a brother, loved with the merciful kindness of almighty God.  There’s a person inside every living human body, a person God made, knows, and loves who deserves dignity simply because he or she is a living picture of God.  What do you see when you look into someone’s eyes? A person? A story? An inconvenience?  I know that too often I am so worried about my own image management I don’t even realize a person is standing there, or else I’m so afraid they won’t like me that I ignore or disdain them.  But not God.  And when God lives in us, we don’t either.

“Come back and see me!” were Henry’s parting words to us. “And if I don’t see you again here, I’ll see you in heaven!”  He was almost laughing with renewed joy and hope.  A new image flashed across my mind: Henry, glorified, worshipping in the presence of Jesus with two fully restored, flesh and blood hands.  Hands he will one day have, because Someone else’s were mangled for him.

I Went on a Walk

IMG_2332

The other day I went on a walk.  It’s really not a rare occurrence; in fact, my parents don’t even ask me any more where I’m going. I just say, “I’m going on a walk around the neighborhood, and I’ll be back.”  Might be long, might be short, who knows?  Most of the time even I don’t know, don’t know where I’m going or how long I’ll be. You just follow the curves of the road, and turn when you feel like turning, and know that eventually you’ll make it back home.

The last few weeks have been such a random mix of weather patterns, and the past few days have brought so much wind and rain that they left most of us wondering if any fall would be left on the trees when the sun finally decided to return from vacation. There’s something relaxing and aesthetically revitalizing about it all, walking all alone down the wet, deserted roads (minus the occasional stray car) and taking it all in. The multi-colored leaves plastered to the wet road by the rain and by merciless cars that drive over them again and again. The streams flooding over the dams that the fallen leaves have created in frustrating futility.  The occasional brave squirrel who knows that there are only a few short days left to gather nuts before winter comes, but turns to dart up that tree and hide as the leaves crackle under my feet.  The clear water droplets forming on the ends of barren branches.  That one red leaf struggling to hold on in the wind. My shoes are soaked now, my umbrella beaded with droplets from the perpetual drizzle. In Greenville, the early November air is revivingly crisp, but it makes rainy days like this one only cold and raw.

IMG_2383

But I love the rawness.

Something in it reminds me of my soul in past months.  The barrenness of the stripping season. Fall is the stripping season, the season of dying.  But the dying is necessary.  It isn’t until everything has died, until millions of leaves have let go and fallen to the earth, that new life can spring forth.  It’s not until I have died that life can truly blossom in my soul. Until all my self-made plans, ambitions, wishes, goals, and identity have fallen to the ground. “For you have died…” (Colossians 3:3). 

It’s one of the great paradoxes that make up the paradigm in which we live.  Try to live, and you will only die; come and die, and you will truly live. “Whoever saves his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it” (Luke 9:24). I think Jesus means a lot more than we often live like He means.  He is saying, “Give up all that you are. Hold nothing, absolutely no part of your life, back from Me.  Stop snatching at your life, and let Me be your life. Come to Me, lose yourself in Me, allow your identity to be wrapped up in Me.” “…your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). But really, what does that comprehensive, all-inclusive offering up mean? What does it mean for your life today?  It means that all the nitty-gritty of your life (your body, your mind, your emotions, your resources, your time, your future) are no longer yours; they are His and He has the right to do with them whatever is most pleasing to Him.  But Lord, that seems a bit extravagant! Hence the promise: you will save it.  You will finally be free to be who you were made to be. Your individuality will not be destroyed but enhanced, and sanctified. But first, you must die.

We don’t die easily, and we don’t die quickly.  But God is committed to our good and His glory, and so He often walks us through many falls and winters as He teaches us to die. However, the glory of fall and the hope of winter is that spring is coming. Every death that we die is a doorway to life. In fact, the last death we will ever face will only open the door to eternal life — full, free, and forever, before the face of Him who is Life Himself (John 1:4).

I am thankful to be smelling the scents of a long-awaited spring in my soul.  I am rejoicing in the kindness of my God, not only for this new life, but for the winter as well.  For the stripping of the fall that has purified and refined my love for Him, and for the barrenness of the winter that has spawned a stronger faith and sweeter trust in His faithfulness to His Word.  And yes, for the rebirth of the spring that draws my heart up in worship by allowing me to see those things.  I am grateful for the unique way He says, “I love you” through them all.  Truly, He is “faithful in ALL His words and kind in ALL His works” (Psalm 145:13).

But for those of you for whom spring feels more like a nostalgic memory than a present hope: hold on.  I hurt for you and pray for you, and beg you to hold on. Look up. Keep trusting what you can’t see or feel (2 Corinthians 5:7).  Whatever your pain, you can know it isn’t unbearable — He will never give you a greater temptation than your faith can handle (1 Corinthians 10:9). The truth is, you can often handle more than you feel like you can, and He will stretch your faith because He wants it to grow.  He is more concerned with your holiness than your comfort. And you can trust Him in that because He always knows and does what is best.  So hold on. Anchor yourself in the promises of Scripture and trust what it says about God. Keep sowing good seed, because when spring does come (and it will!) all those good seeds will bear beautiful fruit, and all those Scriptures, as dry as they seem now, will suddenly break through with sweetness and joy. Surround yourself with those who know you and your struggle, and your God. Find those friends who will bring you to the feet of Jesus over and over again, allowing Him to shepherd you. Be wary of focusing on “good days” or “bad days”, because it is easy to become self-centered and to idolize the way you feel. Keep your eyes upward and outward, and trust the faithfulness of God.

There is still so far to go, many more winters to walk through and much more faith to be grown. 

But life is a long walk, a journey — might be long, might be short, who knows?  I don’t know, don’t know where I’m going or how long I’ll be. But IMG_2322I do know that I have a trustworthy Guide. He knows these roads; in fact, He carved them out and made this path just for me, only me.  So I will follow Him through every turn and curve of the road because I know: eventually I’ll make it home.