I’m not altogether sad to be nearing the end of April. This month I’ve been like the weather; the alternating sunny and gray days when we don’t bother to start the fire and yet the sun isn’t warm enough to completely remove the chill.
Last night it was my turn to go to a church service in the evening. My husband and I swap who goes and who stays home with children. These meetings are something new. Our church has grown and like a plant that has to be divided when it is full of life and outgrowing its container, there are plans being made to plant a new church in a new place. Just like the gospel story itself, it feels like a beginning that is a continuing.
Driving there, I’m all alone for the first time in weeks. I remember I haven’t been in the Word. I’ve let endless lists of things to do before the day is done crowd out my time to read and be still. Maybe that is the gray that’s been clouding over me. I turn off the radio and sing “Great is Thy Faithfulness”. I grasp in my weak memory for a verse. I find Psalm 103, memorized when I was in college. “He redeems my life from the pit and crowns me with love and compassion.” And, like it always does, the Word starts reaching in and pulling me back. Redeeming. Too often I see myself still in the pit. Or on the precipice about to fall. But He doesn’t see me that way. He sees love and compassion instead of thorns encircling my head.
April was our maple sugaring season. It was late this year or maybe it’s always late here in the woods where the feet of snow keep their grip longer on the trees. I’m still finding my bearings in these woods. On the farm we had great, old maples; huge trunks that my arms only reached halfway around. Late in February they would start to send the strong stream of sap from their deep roots and our buckets would be overflowing. Our trees in these woods are young. We’re careful to put just one bucket on many of the trunks as they don’t have as much to give.
While I put syrup in jars I think about my marriage. I think about how we started out like saplings and we couldn’t handle well any extra strain on our resources. Tree rings of time and babies and laughing and fighting and being disappointed in each other and finding that our faults were gifts to mature each other; we are probably one bucket trees now. And what flows when we are pierced is sweeter.
I’ve heard that when someone reaches the same age that a parent was when they passed away, they can experience a sudden sense of their own mortality. I’m near the same age my parents were when they divorced. As I drove alone last night I had not a sudden, but a familiar and lingering, sense of my own faithlessness. I was thinking about a new church and my own weakness and how much I believe. How there are a hundred ways I could fall away, hundreds of lies that I could believe that could hurt my family, my friends, my church, the name ‘Christian’; a strange mixture of being sure of Truth without confidence that I will keep believing.
But I made my way to a folding chair and sat with believers and felt hope stir. A question was asked by someone behind me. “What is going to make this church different from all the others that have disappointed people?”
What does make this different? What makes this church or this marriage or this soul different?
This morning I had a waking dream. Half asleep and half aware, I saw a green bottle that was my ‘growing up’ family, broken on the rocky coast. Shards of glass lay in pieces; my mother, my father, my sisters, and me, sharp and edged and incomplete. And, then I saw waves and sand and time. And years passed and the edges were smooth and rounded and treasures to be found as sand is sifted through hands on a summer day.
The day had dawned with a little clarity and before our school day began, I sat in a circle with my own children and a jar of sea glass on my lap. Glass collected from the rocky shore of Maine on days when I would sit and watch the waves and dream of my ‘today’ family. I placed one of the smooth, still salty, pieces of glass in each of their little hands. I told them the story of a bottle broken and the glass that would have pierced a bare foot and the story of the waves and the sand and the time. I told them how when God created the world he made something beautiful and that it was broken. We are each part of that broken beauty. That sometimes we rub against one another and as broken shards collide we will hurt each other. That sometimes it feels like we are tossed and turned and pressed on all sides. But God is like the waves that continue forever and he is the One who washes us against the sand. He makes us His treasures.
And we read from Romans 8, “For God works all things together for good for those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…”
He knows us and he has always known us. He is doing whatever it takes to conform us… to change and smooth us… to take broken pieces that hurt each other and make them treasures to be gripped in tender hands and gazed upon, pointing to the power and the glory of the sea of grace that is shaping us.
The love of God, the love that He showed us through the death and resurrection of His Son, is not the young love of limited resources. It is the love of the Ancient of Days. It isn’t even the strength of maturity like a husband and wife of many years can find but it is the strength of eternity that can only come from God. So I can rest and work and love, knowing that the one who calls us loves us with a keeping strength.
‘The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.’ Psalm 103:8