A Thousand Words

For David… Thank you for the last 18 years and all that they’ve held.  Happy Anniversary!

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Moments before showing my husband’s “milestone birthday video” to a group of our dear friends, I read the following.  If you listen beyond the words, you’ll hear a faint whisper echoing ancient truths of struggle, redemption, and ultimate rest…

“A picture is worth a thousand words” the saying goes… As we crack open the dusty albums of our memories, we take a few minutes to stroll through the snapshots that comprise our lives. Each picture has a story.  A prologue, a theme, and an afterword. We see frozen moments in time:  the smiling faces, sleeping babies, sandcastles on the beach, and milestones and holidays celebrated.  We are grateful to our God for these joyful moments, and pause to smile and “remember when”.

Yet veiled behind the surface, there is always a deeper story:  The argument that happened hours (or minutes) before the picture was taken, the deeper ache just below the surface of the smile, the unexpected turn of events that was to come just around the corner.  It is in the moments, days, and months between the snapshots that we live our lives.  And it is in this broader narrative that the master storyteller unfolds his greatest epic.  It is a story of redemption and restoration.  A story of hope in the midst of despair.  A theme that never changes and a hero who always shows up to save us.

And so it is in life.  We bring to the Lord and to others what we think is our best.  We work diligently to refine and present our talents, giftedness, and God-given dispositions.  We want these things to be a reflection of God and a blessing to others.  We would like the smiling snapshots to represent the total picture of who we are.  Yet there is more…

“Our brokenness also reveals something about who we are.  Our sufferings and pains are not simply bothersome interruptions of our lives;  rather they touch us in our uniqueness and our most intimate individuality.  The way I am broken tells you something unique about me.  The way you are broken tells me something unique about you. That is the reason for my feeling very privileged when you freely share some of your deep pain with me, and that is why it is an expression of my trust in you when I disclose to you something of my vulnerable side.” Henri Nouwen

So as we pause to reflect on God’s goodness and provision, we do thank him for the smiling faces, the sleeping babies, the sandcastles and cheerful celebrations.  Yet we also give him great thanks for the brokenness, the loss, the despair.  For it is in his constant redemption of these difficult experiences, the smaller stories told by our lives, that the theme of his greater story consistently plays out.  He continues to be the one who does and will continue to “restore the years that the locusts have stolen.”

…and a happy birthday it was


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Left Behind

It’s been a hard few months.  Yesterday provided an almost humorous dot at the end of the exclamation point.  As I reclined in the dentist’s chair, my distaste for the relentless shriek of his drill could only be outdone by the aromatic waft of chiseled tooth.   I wasn’t sure if I would laugh or cry as I took account of the past several weeks.  Due to the congestion pooling in the back of my throat, I decided that neither response would improve the situation.  Rendered unable to do much else, I couldn’t help but recount the toll that the fall (and The Fall) had taken on our family.

Sometime in mid-October, I developed a cough that decided it didn’t want to leave.  Without going into extensive detail (which I’m happy to do for any medical professional who cares to offer an opinion), I’ll share that I’ve now been coughing and generally feeling crummy for three months.  Which means that I haven’t been sleeping for three months.  Add to the formula a colony of “little friends” (term affectionately coined by my husband) had taken up permanent residency in my daughter’s hair, significant parenting challenges with multiple kids,  a particularly full home at Christmas, a son who had been up the entire night due to an ear infection (seriously? I though we were way past those), and now a broken tooth.  I’d say that I needed that like a hole in the head but…   well, it all starts feeling like a bad joke.

I’m acutely aware that the challenges I’ve faced in the last months are minor compared to those of so many.  I don’t have a serious illness, I have an amazingly supportive family, and we’re able to procure medical help when needed.  Nevertheless, there has been a modicum of grief.  I’ve missed a dear friend’s baby shower and first baby being born, I couldn’t help another friend through a move, my cherished time reading aloud with my children has been limited significantly, and I haven’t been able to exercise in months.  I’ve grown weary of waiting for life to return to normal, and have experienced a strange sadness as life for those around me has continued without my involvement.  I feel like a spectator watching the parade go by, only to be left behind.

There are many ways we experience being left behind.  Illness, the intense needs of young children (or aging parents), significant struggles in marriage, shame from the past, and disappointment in friendships only to name a few.  Everyone else seems to be happily marching along – at least if we believe the one-dimensional messages we receive via Christmas newsletters, Facebook updates, and in cordial conversations in the hallway at church.  We place our hope in life “returning to normal” and wait for the storms, and for the loneliness they often produce, to pass.

But perhaps there is a greater gift to be gleaned than the return to normalcy

“…as long as you keep pointing to the specifics, you will miss the full meaning of your pain. You will deceive yourself into believing that if the people, circumstances, and events had been different, your pain would not exist.  This might be partly true, but the deeper truth is that the situation which brought about your pain was simply the form in which you came in touch with the human condition of suffering.  Your pain is the concrete way in which you participate in the pain of humanity.”   Henri Nouwen

 

I believe that this challenging season of life will not be wasted.  My hope is that I will develop eyes to see more keenly others who feel left behind, ears to appreciate the more subtle music of those around me, and a heart that will be softened and enabled to love more deeply.  Both the in the small inconveniences in life and in the large tragedies, there is greater purpose.

So if you find yourself watching the parade pass you by, take heart. Know that even in our loneliness, we are not alone.  And one day, we will gather together at the ultimate celebration, under the Great Banner, when every thing sad will indeed come untrue.



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