It is a glorious September evening as the sun sets in a cascade of color; orange and red blend their palate in great brush strokes on the horizon just above an ocean of rolling green prairie. I don’t know whether it is early autumn or simply an extension of summer since recent rains have revived summer lawns and pastures while summer flowers still display their bright colors even as the mums and last blooms of the season burst forth. Once more I stand in awe and my heart overflows with praise. Sometimes it is gift enough to simply be alive to bear witness to the wonder of creation.
It has been a day of busy distractions and I am thankful for a moment to collect my thoughts –they are thoughts I have struggled to ignore all day but they simply refuse to remain tucked away in my heart any longer. A few months ago life just seemed over-whelming and I finally gave myself permission to put my writing aside for a while. Not only has there been a lack of time, but my heart has been empty of both energy and inspiration. Honestly, there have been times in the past two years that I have thought I should simply put it away for good – that perhaps my book was the grand finale to my writing career since it seemed to have been published just as the waves were beginning to rise and a series of storms and trials began to break upon my life in quick succession.
And so I have busied myself with maintenance on my house and property and with much-needed repairs to both – including a paint job on the house which has taken all summer to finish. The work has been a physical outlet that has allowed my heart time to grieve over family relationships that are broken and not what I once hoped they would be. All the while, I have prayed and waited patiently for a regular position to open up at the post office where I work – thinking that once my schedule and my pay were not so erratic; the storms of life would calm and settle into a normal, regular, routine and that perhaps the passing of time at a routine pace would eventually bring healing to wounded relationships too.
But this morning while I was reading my bible, 2 Corinthians 1:4 captured my attention and lingered in my thoughts all day: “Who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we may be able to comfort those which are in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” It left me thinking, “How has the Lord comforted me? How did I get to this place of peace?
My circumstances haven’t changed. I still continue to be a substitute rural carrier with an erratic schedule and an uncertain paycheck. I still feel a bit over-whelmed by the maintenance and repairs that need to be done to my home and property and the responsibilities that are mine to bear alone. The storms of life have not ebbed much, and life and relationships are not what I once hoped and dreamed they would be. And yet, I have peace in the midst of the storm and my heart is at rest.
I remember coming to this place of peace once before – many years ago. After long years of intense grief and heartache, I came to the place where I truly enjoyed caring for Justin. He was still severely handicapped and the storms in my marriage were reaching hurricane force, but my heart was at rest. The Lord had not healed my son or changed my circumstances and yet, He had worked a great miracle in my heart. In the eye of the storm, my heart was at rest.
Both then and now I am reminded that the hope and peace that replaced the heartache did not come instantaneously, and it did not reign continuously in my heart. Rather it came in waves at unexpected times as I walked through the difficulties and trials of each season and slowly, almost unnoticeable, peace replaced the pain. Most often peace followed prayer, praise, or surrender, but each of these were in themselves a gift of grace. I think it is only God’s grace that draws our broken hearts to Him in prayer; and it is His grace that fills us with praise and allows our grief blinded eyes to see the abundance of blessings that are ours; and only by God’s grace that our fingers unclench our fists and we surrender our hopes and dreams for His. And so it is by His grace we are comforted.
“Through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; And perseverance, character; and character, hope:” Romans 5:2-4
It is also a comfort to me to know that while we may not avoid suffering in this broken world, and comfort may not always come quickly, comfort does come and there is hope for those who trust in Christ. And as Paul states in the verse above, we have hope that our suffering is not pointless but it works in us and through us. Heartache expands the heart and deepens its capacity for love and joy. If my heart had not been expanded by great grief, it would not have the capacity for great joy.
And so, while my circumstances have not changed and my heart often still aches with grief, there are also many days that my heart can sing with the psalmist, “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy; that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will praise you forever.” Psalm 30: 11-12.