We drove to Mount Vernon this morning. From my new home in Ohio, this is a relatively short, but spectacular drive. We go down narrow ribbon roads with cornstalk walls. It’s just beautiful! The sun shines down on impossible yellow fields. Horses, cows, and sheep roam near sturdy barns or white fences that box in green pastures. Hills step aside to reveal church steeples. At certain points, cornfields stretch all the way to the horizon like a golden ocean that meets the blue sky. And today everything is laced with fire leaves and warm light. Beautiful.
I was raised here, surrounded by farm country. Here is hard work and order, vigilance and patience, risk and sharing. Farmers work in tune with the seasons, attentive to the day at hand. They patiently nurture seeds into growth for a purpose. To build up, to feed. And at the right time, they gather a harvest. It reminds me of my heavenly Father and some of the things He’s teaching me.
And so we travel to spend the day with my Dad. And to visit my sweet Mom in her long-term care home. Every night she packs her things; her dementia renders her unable to remember that she’s not coming home. They have both been struggling to accept this new remnant of a life without each other, married partners for 67 years. These past months have been daunting. Heartbreaking. And somewhere way underneath it all, there is the beauty of heartstrings that have become too entangled to break apart.
Remnants. If you are far enough along in life, you hold onto them. Times when life was simpler, better, fuller, easier, happier. Maybe when your loved one was still alive or the kids were at home. Before your job was lost or before the diagnosis came. Before you were rudely ushered into some new chapter that you weren’t really ready to face, even though you may have seen it coming. Kind of like holding a favorite, whole piece of clothing in your hands only to have someone come along and gradually … or violently … tear it away. And you’re left holding a small scrap. And after awhile, you realize you’re still holding the remnant, but even then you can’t let it go. Because it was the thing that covered you and defined you for so long. So very long.
But our God doesn’t desire for us to wear old, worn out clothes or to sit among broken pieces forever. He lives with us in our grief, but He does not leave us with remnants. He creates and fixes. He is a God of birth and life, renewal and restoration. In His capable hands, even endings and death bring life. And He reminds us that this was never our ultimate destination, but just a series of stops on a long trip Home. If you put your life in His hands, if you learn who He is, if you study Him as if He’s the most important test you’ll ever take (and He is), He will bring life to you.
To provide for those who mourn; to give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, festive oil instead of mourning, and splendid clothes instead of despair. And they will be called righteous trees, planted by the Lord to glorify Him. (Isaiah 61:3)
This is what He says: Don’t revel only in the past or spend all your time recounting the victories of days gone by. Watch closely: I am preparing something new; it’s happening now, even as I speak, and you’re about to see it. I am preparing a way through the desert; Waters will flow where there had been none. (Isaiah 43:18-19)
Behold, I am making all things new. (Revelation 21:5)
A thief has only one thing in mind – he wants to steal, slaughter, and destroy. But I have come to give you everything in abundance, more than you expect – life in its fullness until you overflow! (John 10:10)
We look down at the remnants in our hands and wonder … life in its fullness? How to grab overflowing life? What does that require of us?
Courage. Not the lack-of-fear kind of courage. But the in-spite-of-fear kind. The courage to trust in God to move on down the road, even if it looks empty or dark, knowing God will be by your side. He is the one sure thing that will not change. Ever. He calls to us … Have courage; there is reason to be brave.
Brave – Having or showing mental or moral strength to face danger, fear, or difficulty. Courageous, dauntless, perhaps a bit daring.
He reminds us He makes all things new. And we can either join Him in transformation and growth — or we can shrink back.
Haven’t I commanded you? Have strength! Take courage! Don’t be afraid or discouraged. Because God, your God, is with you every step you take. (Joshua 1:9)
But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and are saved. (Hebrews10:39)
But. He is very honest with us in His Word. True Christianity isn’t really a “feel good” religion. It’s not about our emotions. My loving and good God isn’t promising me earthly safety and ease (which is what I so often want, only to doubt Him when I don’t get it). Nope. He’s promising something far more important and lasting: That He’ll help me to be brave and to become more like Him (which is what I want more). He reminds me that’s the one part of my life that I’ll take to my ultimate Home.
Here’s what He teaches us, friends. We can try and try to control our lives and make them as beautiful as we want them to be – make them what we think we need. We may succeed for a measure, for a time. Eventually, we’ll fail. And when that outer failure comes, remember that we always, always have the choice to make our inner life – our very selves – beautiful, by inviting God’s Spirit to come and live with us and make us into His image.
We drive on home at dusk and the green combines are out all over. The farmers are working late and the cornstalk walls from this morning are gone. Today must have been the right time to harvest – to move on. To let summer go and open the door for the cool, early evenings. To watch green leaves turn and prepare to say goodbye to their trees. To observe the richness of soil and stalk and chopped-off stubble and see how it feeds others and renews. To remember how God puts His message for us into every part of His creation.
To remember to everything there is a season. And He makes everything beautiful in its time. This lesson of patience is one He’s been teaching me.
There’s a reason I’ve had this verse hanging large on my wall for the past year and a half. A reason I don’t erase it or change it as I move.
I’m learning patience. Learning to trust that even the ugly and the uncertain, the incomprehensible and the undesired will become beautiful in His hands when I give Him my remnants.
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, 11)