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Thoughts from a fellow pilgrim...

After the Storm: Enduring the Death of a Vision
Ol' man winter finally surrendered and released his tenacious hold on the Iowa prairies in mid April, making way for one of the most glorious springtimes in memory. Somehow each blade of grass and budding tree seemed infinitely more amazing and precious because of their delayed arrival, and we reveled in the beauty.

But then, just as the iris buds were untwisting their velvety petals and the old fashioned rose bushes were morphing into pink, the storms came: ominous black clouds, thunder, and lightning. Then the pounding rain and blasts of wind hit, mercilessly snapping tree branches, flattening the peony bushes, and scattering fragile petals over the lawn. The bulbs which had finally bloomed according to promise were now stripped of beauty, the naked stalks left shivering in the grey wind. Why?!?

This is undoubtedly one of the most bewildering experiences of life: to ask for and believe a promise, to wait in faith, and to finally receive what seems to be a fulfillment. The bulb has grown and budded, and the blossom is beginning to open; surely the season of fruitfulness will soon be here. And then the storms hit, sweeping it all away. Nothing is left except a handful of broken pieces and a flood of confused tears. Why? Can we keep trusting the Master Gardner when He allows such destruction? Can we still believe His goodness and love, even when the promise seems contradicted?

I recently found myself in such a crisis of faith, the most difficult I have known thus far. As I tried to separate the wild emotions from the unchangeable facts, I realized a clear-cut choice was laid before me. I had two options:

(1) React in anger, blaming God for it all and refusing to trust Him in any area of life.

(2) Believe He loves me too much to let any storm touch my life unless it is redeemable into something far more beautiful than I could have otherwise experienced.

The choice seems childishly simple spelled out like this...but I've found it can be agonizingly difficult, especially when surrounded by "evidence" which screams that a trustworthy, loving God would never have allowed this. It's incredibly hard to remember the "big picture" when my eyes are so blurred from tears that I can't see any farther than the piles of ugly destruction which lay around my feet.

And it just doesn't make sense! I want answers to all my "whys"—or at least a bit of assurance that there's a good purpose for the pain. Sometimes it seems impossible to comprehend how this could ever be better than that which was taken away. But as I sift through the tears and disappointment, I can honestly say that I want God Himself above all else—even at the price of a million unanswered questions. I choose Him, therefore I choose to believe His goodness and love...even when it makes no sense.

Choosing to believe is running to God instead of pushing Him away. It's saying, "I don't understand how You could let this happen. I'm bruised and broken from the storm. I'm hurt and bleeding, Father, and this doesn't make any sense to me at all. I thought You had far different things in store for me. But no matter what else happens, Lord, don't let this come between You and me! I must have You! Give me the strength to believe and to hang on through this storm. Hold me close, Father—shelter me from doubts and lies, and let me see Your glory in this situation. All I need is You."

Amy Carmichael wrote often that "in acceptance lieth peace." I have found this so very true in my short life. Once I stop kicking and shaking my fist at God and can say, "Yes, Lord, I choose Your way"—then He gives a peace that is truly beyond human understanding. It's completely illogical...yet very real and unspeakably precious.

While there in the shelter of His arms, we're able to look out at the remains of the ruined garden as if from a distance. The natural question is, "What now, Lord? Has this all been for nothing? Where do we go from here?"

His loving answer surprised me, both in clarity and message: "Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost" (John 6:12b).

Indeed, all I have remaining are these broken pieces—fragments of flower-petal dreams, now twisted into ugly caricatures of hope. Surely they're not worth anything. And yet Jesus asks for them—He commands me to place them in His hands as an offering. It seems like a poor gift for the King of the Universe, but He sees my heart and knows what tears and precious desires are represented by each torn fragment. "The sacrifices of God [are] a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise" (Ps. 51:17).

As I've prayed more about the concept of brokenness, I've realized how rich it is with truth. The process of being broken is inevitably painful, but God does not shield His children from it because it is a prerequisite for true heavenly beauty. Only when we have been broken and then mended by His loving hand (Hos. 6:1) can His glory shine out through the cracks of our lives. Only the glass that has been shattered into tiny fragments is usable in an intricate mosaic designed in His image. Only the loaf of bread that has been torn in pieces can bring sustenance and fresh strength to many people. Only the soil that has been broken by the sharp plow can receive the seed and bring forth fruit.

But it doesn't end with the breaking. Again, Jesus whispers, "Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost." In God's world, nothing is wasted. The tiniest slivers of shattered dreams can be transformed into "crumbs of glory" in His hands if we but gather them together and offer them up to Him.

Someday this will all make sense. It may not be until heaven, but we will be able to specifically thank Him for the storms—and even for the broken flowers. I'm not there yet, but I can testify with George MacDonald, "I learn—/Slowly and stubbornly I learn to yield/With a strange hopefulness." And I'm realizing that in Jesus I have all that I've wanted all along. Flowers, fruitfulness, and springtime beauty are precious gifts, but compared to Jesus they are nothing. Just give me Jesus.

So I pray...
Bring me joy, bring me peace,
Bring the chance to be free—
Bring me anything that brings You glory.
And I know there'll be days
When this life brings me pain,
But if that's what it takes to praise You—
Jesus, bring the rain!
Learning to sing in the rain,

1 "Bring the Rain," by MercyMe. I don't endorse all their music, but this bit of lyrics has blessed me.

This editorial was published in the July-September 2008 issue of Hidden Wisdom Magazine, copyright 2008, Abigail Paul.
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