From the Heart

story

I remember the day I met my husband’s chronic disease.

It was our first date. I was smitten with those sky blue eyes and hoping he didn’t notice the coffee drip on my white sweater.

He told me about the diagnosis at five years old, the lost high school years, the never-ending pursuit of a cure, and the struggle to understand the purposes of it all. He, eyes ocean deep of suffering and pain. Voice matter-of-fact, words without complaint or anger. Me, brown eyes attentive, heart softening every minute, and yet so naive.

We slow walked back to his truck and the question came: “If I asked you out again, would you say yes?” Deep breath, heart full, surprised at the peace flooding my being, I heard myself say, “Yes, yes I think I would like that.”

Weeks and blissful dates later, admiration and affection growing quickly for this hardworking farmer with the farmer with the rough hands and gentle heart, I remember the day I saw the disease’s ugly head unmasked. Mingled tears, crouching on the bathroom floor, clutching on to each other with no words adequate to heal the wounds….these are memories forever etched on the soul. And I remember, nearly breathless, realizing this chronic disease was an intricate piece of the identity and spiritual formation of this brave and kind man. If I was going to open my life to him, I would have to take in all of him. The struggle of his story would become my story if our lives joined forever together. Which, of course, they did one beautiful May afternoon a year and a half ago.

Of course the transfer of story wasn’t one sided…all of my dark threads, the history of paralyzing insecurities and patterns of self-destruction, were woven into his story too. Somehow the fairy tales and “happily ever afters” don’t tell you that in the intertwining of two lives is sorrow along with sweetness. No one goes untouched.

It may be chronic illness, loved ones lost, relationships severed or daily depression. And when the tragedy comes close, what can we do but wonder. Look up, like all those Old Testament prophets before us, and ask

What is this?
Where are my happy endings?
We wait. Sometimes the waiting is almost unbearable.

But…if we hold on…
The Great Author says,
Just Wait. It’s Coming.

I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you. You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, who has dealt wondrously with you.

On that first date, as my future husband unraveled his story over a cup of peppermint tea, he came to a point where he paused and began to recite the entire chapter of Psalm 73. He went on to describe how in the darkest point of his life, when his flesh and heart were failing and he was despairing of life itself,  this hope-filled song, rhythmic cadences of another beaten-down and broken man boldly declaring God’s sufficiency were rays of light so needed. Whom have I heaven but you? The strength of my heart and my portion forever.  The truths of the gospel became a constant anchor when turbulent circumstances threatened to capsize his soul.

Beautiful, unexpected Providence, the Master Storyteller. At the same time my man-then-boy was wrestling for Hope, somewhere was an eighteen year old girl, at the end of herself. Her mind twisted by lie after lie that she no longer knew which way was Up; or who she was. Her heart so gripped by fear of and hatred of self that all of the dark inside began eating its way out — robbing life of joy, denying nourishment, punishing indulgences, exhausting all energy — fixated on the thought that by diminishing her size, she might just disappear.

One day, desperate and weary, she opened the Book that had once meant so much to her but in recent times had been neglected. There the pages fell open — Psalm 73. My flesh and my heart may fail. And the tears came freely. But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. And the prayers became louder than the fears. And the Light was fanned into Faith.

And then, four years later, these two battered-but-not-stricken-down souls find their stories woven together in a way only the sovereign Lord of the Universe can do. The pain they once could not explain, now a gift of compassion, of empathy, of encouragement to the other. I know you are weak, I am too. But look what God has done, see where he has rescued us from!

There is a resolution to the everyday tension between joy and tragedy, love and the fear of loss, pleasure and pain. And hope is not in vain.

Locust-eaten years restored. Manna in the wilderness. Beauty from the ashes. The only Perfect Man was put to a violent senseless death and from His tomb came a lifeforce so bright and so strong that mortal men, women, and children everywhere will experience eternity without sin.  This is the time-old melody of Redemption.

So child, come out to the garden. Look. See what He is doing to the earth?
Burrow your fingers deep into the warm dirt, pull weeds around fragile shoots of new life. Be still. Understand.

Your story has been spoken.

It often doesn’t go how you imagine it might. Some plants die. Some dreams die too. You may watch a loved one carry an immense burden of physical pain nearly every day, and all you can do is love hard and pray harder. But, but, with Jesus, after death always comes life — bigger, better, and brighter.

Because He is the Story Renewer. And we look to Him to find meaning.  

After all, if we don’t know the Hope, if we can’t see the Sun even when it is still hidden by the clouds, then what is the point? We must believe our story has a beginning and an ending and it is a Who. The Alpha and the Omega encompasses the entirety of my story. No part of it escapes Him. Even when the tragedy comes so close, it leaves a sour taste on the tongue — let’s trust Him with our pain. Because If we knew the ending, we would understand the here and now.  But for now, we accept this is all bigger than us, grander than us, and predetermined before us. Believe the Author is able to craft happy endings from the messiest beginnings and He never leaves a story unfinished. 

And what about you, friend? Can you see the thread of grace so intricately woven into your story? Perhaps, as I listen, I will be able to see the redemptive patterns where you are not yet able to see. I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

My story, your story, is in progress. We are being made new, day after day.Even this day, maybe especially this day, you are being renewed. The mercies keep on coming, they never come to an end…the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.

And on the last page, it will say
Christ before all things, in all things. And in Him all things hold together.

*Scripture in order of appearance: Joel 2, Psalm 73,  Phil 1, Lamentations 3,  Colossians 1

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