Hi Sweet Friends,
I just turned 58. But wait, there’s more. I’m gonna be a grandma to a baby girl in November. Isn’t that just the best? But hold on, not over yet. I’m staring at an invitation to my 40 year high school reunion. Go Reidland Greyhounds class of ’80! That’s 1980 for you younger folk. And just when I thought I couldn’t feel any older or more strange, I’ve been cleaning 30 years of life out of our attic and labeling bins to pass on to the next generation to put in their attics. It’s the circle of life. I don’t have words to tell you what it feels like to go through and touch my grown children’s baby things. To see their toys and collections. To remember what the most important things were in their lives at the time. To peruse the notebooks and writing assignments. We should have worked on spelling more. I have laughed hysterically and cried with a deep hurt that misses something beautiful. Being a mother is the only thing I ever felt good at, and even that is up for debate. Turning my kids’ rooms into rooms for adults to stay in means having to say goodbye to a time that was so precious to me. If I’m honest, I also clearly remember being suffocated by their neediness and overwhelmed with self-doubt and fear. Isn’t it a sweet grace to remember some things a little rosier than they were? Touching all these memories has provoked me to think about my own life story and how it plays into God’s one big story. There’s always a bigger story.
I was supposed to marry Donny Osmond. I can’t tell you how many hours I swooned over pictures of him in Tiger Beat magazine or listened to his albums. I was a dreamer and fantasizer in every sense of the words. I had long, stringy hair, freckles, braces, and lived next door to a town called Possum Trot. Not exactly Osmond material. But I could dream. And I did. I watched Elvis Presley and Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello movies as a little girl. I couldn’t wait until I was old enough to live out my own movie where I was the star. If you’re my children’s age, think High School Musical. One and two. I watched with envy as lovely girls who seemed so comfortable with themselves sang, cheered, and danced in front of our school student body. What must that feel like? Cinderella was my favorite story as a little girl. I had the doll and the watch. You can surely see a theme emerging here.
I always looked around me and wanted to be in someone else’s story, or have their story for my own. I wanted to be the adored one, the chosen one, the one everyone else wished they were. Wow! That came out just as ugly and self-centered as it really is. That thinking can make life a competition, which is exhausting. It’s hard to love well and be selfless when you’re wanting to win. When we’re young, we believe what the big people in our lives tell us. Magic is real. We have brains not yet aware of the limitations of living in a broken and cursed world. We don’t yet know that we are in a world at war with a very real enemy who is constantly lying to us and trying to distort the truth about God and His heart for us. Everything is possible and even probable. Fast forward several years and our world no longer seems safe, and sometimes God no longer seems loving. Our brains mature, and our experiences show us the limitations of life, security, surplus, health, and relationships. We start to form new ideas about what’s possible and what’s probable. We have to start making adult decisions about what we believe based on what God says is true and not on our experiences or fulfillment of our dreams. It’s a lot to ask of someone. And yet, God asks it of all of us. He asks us to live and think in the context of His love, goodness, grace, and provision even when we don’t see or feel it. It’s always a fight because we really think and hope that fulfillment elsewhere is just around the corner. When this or that happens, when he or she loves me, then all will be well. Then I will say, “Enough!” But we never will. No matter what we attain, there are always new things to want. No matter what we have, we are terrified of losing it. Without knowing it, we’re looking and waiting for something that can only be fulfilled by our Creator. We’re hoping to find the formula and secret ourselves so we don’t really have to depend on Him. But He loves us too much to let us live in that lie and is constantly presenting opportunities to us to see our own wrong thinking and pursuits. Only a faithful Father would do this. What grace!
And how do I know this? Did I mention I’m 58? Not my first rodeo. I’ve banged my head on enough beams of self-indulgence and self-fulfillment in my life to see a little clearer. But also, I know this because God gives us example after example in His Word of His relationships with people and His care and pursuit of them. We have the advantage of seeing the individual stories in scripture fitting into God’s big story of rescue and grace for humanity. All that the characters in those stories knew was that they were hurting and battling for faith, just like we do. Take the story of Jacob and his wives Rachel and Leah found in Genesis 29. They had no idea how their individual stories played into a bigger story. Bigger than they could have imagined. Jacob found himself the husband of an adored wife, Rachel, and a devoted wife, Leah. We know from scripture that Leah longed for what Rachel had, Jacob’s love. We know that Rachel longed for what Leah had, children. The women’s lives were filled with competition, heartache, manipulation, longing, and disappointment. As Rachel lived every day wanting to be in a different story, she had no idea that she would have a son, Joseph, who would grow up to save the whole Jewish race from starvation by bringing them to Egypt, where he had risen to be Pharaoh’s right-hand man. And Leah, in all of her rejection and longing to be loved as Rachel was, had no idea that one of her sons, Judah, would be the line chosen to bring salvation to the world through his heir, Jesus. Leah was honored and chosen to be in the bloodline of her Savior. How’s that for a bigger story? Leah didn’t know that. She just knew she didn’t have what she wanted, and it hurt. It always does. We all hurt. We’re all waiting for something. And no matter what we thought was going to take care of that longing, it doesn’t. Rachel and Leah each had what the other knew would make life good. Easy to see when it’s someone else’s story.
Sweet friends, fulfillment of every longing and every dream will still leave us wanting more. Why? Because we were made for more. We were made in the image of God and made to be complete when we’re living in complete dependence on Him and seeking fulfillment of His purposes and His glory. It’s the life of Christ in us that makes us whole. Nothing else will ever do. It’s like trying to put washing machine parts in a car. It can’t work. It wasn’t made to. Even if it worked for a short while, it will soon break down, and we’ll be scrambling for new parts to plug in. Jesus is our only fix. And praise God for His mercy and grace! But please hear this, even with the life of Christ in us, we still hurt. We still have the same brain and body that lives in a broken world with a very real enemy. We are battlers, soldiers in a foreign land; and we battle in hurt and healing, pain and joy, blindness and sight. Like Leah and Rachel, we don’t know how our stories affect God’s bigger story. We only know that they do. Every morning that we wake up and say, “I believe;” every time we whisper, “Not my will, but Yours;” every time we sacrifice for others; every time we declare the truth of God’s Word, we push against the darkness and make way for the Kingdom and for God to be seen and made known. As believers, everything is Kingdom work. We are all beloved partners in God’s one big story. As Joni Erikson said, “On behalf of a grateful Kingdom, I thank you.”
So, the next time you are in Cracker Barrel and see the old pictures hanging on the wall, take a good look. Wonder who dropped the ball on getting them into labeled bins for the attic. Our stuff may not mean much to the next generation, but prayerfully, how we lived and what we believed will change the world for them. Passing on the gospel is the greatest thing we will ever do for the generations that follow us. Faithfulness is the greatest story received and the greatest story given. My 90 and 87 year old parents sang Happy Birthday to me on my 58th special day. I tried to soak it in and linger over the sound to remember and cherish it forever. I am a humble recipient of faithfulness and grace. I sometimes try to think of my parents as children and dreamers. What were they hoping for? How were they hurt and disappointed? What lies did the enemy tell them? How did they fight the hard battles? It gives me enormous appreciation and grace for them. I am the offspring of broken people who, in their own way, handed me the gospel and told me to hang on. My children can say the same. Their children will say the same. We all have a story. We all hurt in it. We all wish for our story to be different in ways. And God cares deeply about our hearts and stories. He sees us. He knows us. He bought us to make us part of His story. He is a good God with a good story for us forever.