Wednesday, May 19, 2010

“Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him: I look for him on the left hand, where he doth work, but I cannot behold him: he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him: But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” ~Job 23.8-10

It was a week before my thirtieth birthday and I was on my knees, covered in dust, before the open hallway closet. Stacks of boxes and unfiled paperwork had me surrounded, but my determination was singular and singularly focused: I was going to take one stack at a time, for as many afternoons as it took, to sort, toss, or file them until there wasn’t a stitch of paperwork that wasn’t in its rightfully ordered place. Then, and only then, could I exit the second decade of my life with ease and enter the third one – a real-life, living, breathing adult with a working filing system.

I was making decent headway – I mean, how many copies of drafted stories does one truly need from one’s earliest attempts at writing fiction? Real writers usually burn theirs, anyway – when one box in particular, an old, square storage box covered in blue and white ticking, seized my attention, invoking an oddly simultaneous sense of interest and aversion: it was from our first year of marriage – a time marked, principally for me, by a sense of existential despair and hopelessness – and I hadn’t had the courage to open it since we moved to Arizona.

I stared up at the box for several seconds, thinking, and then I straightened my shoulders and blew a strand of hair off my forehead: I was over all of that, wasn’t I? I had really come to terms with God’s gracious workings in my life, hadn’t I? I pulled the box off the shelf and dropped it heavily onto the only visible surface still left on the floor at my feet. The corners were split and fraying, the sides dented and misshapen, as if the box had spent considerable time rolling around in the belly of a cargo ship.

Placing a tentative hand on the lid, I felt a sudden likeness to the mythical Pandora, who loosed all evils upon the world by opening her jar. Was I prepared to face whatever feelings were evoked by the contents in this box?

I wasn’t sure.

But I decided that the point wasn’t whether or not I was completely over all that; the point was that our marriage certificate was inside and needed to be filed.

I lifted the lid and found bundles of old letters, forgotten photographs, and copies of graduate school applications with letters of recommendation attached. To remember those days, and the malaise which had settled over my life like a steely storm cloud, made my heart seize.

Before moving to Arizona, I’d applied to two graduate programs. The first program accepted me, but the second, which I applied to as a desperate, last minute resort because it was here, in Tucson, had rejected me unequivocally.

I lifted the stack of papers, intent on putting them aside, when a single oblong envelope fell smartly onto my lap – it was a sealed, dated, and signed letter of recommendation from my most revered college professor and I’m ashamed to admit I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, resist the urge to open it. One swift tear and a hurried unfolding of pages and I was pouring over paragraphs filled with glowing phrases and a conclusion in which she offered me her highest recommendation.

Old wounds, buried but not forgotten, suddenly announced themselves: “Let me introduce myself – my name is Doubt and this is my cousin, Bitterness!” ‘Why hadn’t I been accepted?’ I wondered, ‘Why was life so unfair?’

Immediately I heard Dutch’s voice sounding in my head - Fair is where they take the pigs. – and I couldn’t help but laugh.

My mind circled back to my morning reading - about the glorious mountain-top encounter between Moses and God in which Moses is given the Ten Commandments. I had been struck by the notable fact that the negative commands vastly outnumber the positive ones: “Thou shalt not steal…” “Thou shalt not murder…” “Thou shalt not commit adultery…” Why was this?, I had wondered.

And now I sensed God giving me the answer: it is because it is easier to say what something isn’t than to say what it is. It is easier to say, in concrete terms, that holiness is not stealing, murdering, and committing adultery than to say that it is patience, kindness, and self-control.

The same principle applies when it comes to the life of faith. God sometimes leads us by negation – that is, by closing doors.

This would sound rather – well, negative, if not for the overarching positive that the Person who is leading is none other than Jesus Christ Himself. In fact, though He may have slammed the door on those things which I once insisted I needed, just as earnestly as Eve needed to take a bite of that glittering green apple, His door is always open. Indeed, He claims, “I am the door; and if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved” (John 10.9, emphasis mine).

“Heather, my perfect will for you is not X; neither is it Y. Can you accept this, even when you don’t understand, and hold fast to Me?” The point is always abandonment to Jesus Christ, going where He leads, saying what He says, and believing what He reveals.

And yet one thing is certain – any time God ‘deprives’ us of a thing we want, or which we feel entitled to – no matter how great or small it is – it hurts. We feel like dying because a part of us, the sinner’s part, is.

But this should bring a certain degree of comfort - a certain increased sense of conviction to hold tight and fast to Him, for as in all the great stories, death is never, ever the end, but only the beginning. Besides, if Eve taught us anything, she taught us what poor judges we are of determining what is in our best interest.

Only Jesus knows what is truly best for me; He is the author and perfector of my story; and if I'm truly wise, I'll do nothing to stand in the way of His writing it...

“I love to tell the story of unseen things above,
Of Jesus and His glory, of Jesus and His love.
I love to tell the story, because I know ’tis true;
It satisfies my longings as nothing else can do.

I love to tell the story; more wonderful it seems
than all the golden fancies of all our golden dreams.
I love to tell the story, it did so much for me;
and that is just the reason I tell it now to thee.”

~Katherine Hankey, 1834-1911


Joseph Anfuso said...

There you go again, Heather... bravely facing the truth about your life, your struggles and your doubts, and choosing once again to see it all from God's point of view. God IS writing HIS story through your life, Heath--however dull and dreary it may sometimes appear. And while you may question it at times, the outcome is certain: He will be glorified through the story He tells.

Shilo Taylor said...

You wrote this for me...I'm certain. I love you.

our family said...

This is my favorite line:
"Besides, if Eve taught us anything, she taught us what poor judges we are of determining what is in our best interest."

Thanks for sharing your heart. Love and admire you so much!

e said...

i think i really like this idea of death. a pain that if you're in your right mind, you recognize its good place, its need in your life, that particularly, the path toward mediocrity is roses alone, and that mountains don't have elevators built into them--they inherently require some fantastic struggle.

p.s. i see you're reading that crazy mustached philosopher, and I think in his best moments he would jump to agreement with you.

deonna said...

soo good

and i completely relate

i can think of several equivalent boxes that need to be re-visited to ponder His grace and provision in the time that has passed.

if for nothing else, to rejoice that i am no longer where i was!