Monday, June 06, 2005

Incremental Miracles

Isaiah 28:10-11 (King James Version)

10 “For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little:
11For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people.”

Have you ever had those moments in life when you look back and see the result of your words or deeds that have wounded those closest to you? In those moments there’s such a feeling of frustration and emptiness. It’s as if those things said or done run ahead of you, running just fast enough to elude your futile grasp. And, all the while, in their unbridled ugliness, they hiss and moan and taunt you, knowing that in yourself you are powerless to change those things.

In my life I’ve found that those instruments of terror are quite often little things, a complaint here, a harsh word there. The author of Song of Songs described it allegorically:

Song of Solomon 2:15 (New International Version)

15 “Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom.”

If it weren’t for God’s grace and mercy I think the damage we’ve inflicted on others, and ourselves in the process, would destroy us.

I was struck by the thought of these things yesterday. My daughter, Beth, and her husband, Gary, came down to Emporia to pay us a brief visit. Nancy and I are in the process of downsizing. We had a sofa and loveseat in our living room that were just too big for the room, but was just perfect for the home they just finished building this past Christmas. So , they came Saturday night in the middle of a real old fashioned gully washer, stayed the night, and left on Sunday morning, furniture in tow.

Now how does all of this fit together? What do past hurts and a truck full of furniture have to do with God’s grace? Permit me to explain.

Beth has been over some really rough spots in the past twenty years. Some of them were of her own making. Some of them were just “life,” the things we all have to deal with. And some of them were byproducts of someone else’s broken relationship.

I tend to be quiet about those things in the past. I do so for two reasons. First, I know that while I can’t change the past, I can take great comfort in knowing that, in time, God has this uncanny way of making the crooked places straight. And, second, I generally stay quiet because I don’t like taking the risk of being misunderstood. But, the thoughts are now here and I have this wonderful instrument, this blog, that gives me some sense of anonymity and distance to say what’s on my heart.

As I said a few paragraphs ago, it’s the little things we say or do in life that can be so destructive. Last night and this morning I couldn’t help but think back to those days that Beth, her two brothers and I were going through some very painful times. Those who have been though a divorce know that, like friendly fire, the things said and done by the combatants become missiles that find their way to unintended targets. It’s just a sad by-product of the process.

I have no desire to go into the particulars of the conflict. To be honest they’re not as important to me now. I’ve had folks on occasion ask me and, while I try not to be rude when they ask, I let them know that their knowing wouldn’t help then, nor can it now. It was what it was and it is now what it is.

I spent the greater part of our visit in a quiet frame of mind, reflecting on the water that has passed under our collective bridges for the past twenty years. It was just small talk, harmless stuff. The common thread to it all was the ongoing construction we’re all engaged in. Beth and Gary have been at it as long up in Cowgill as Nancy and I have been here in Emporia. The sound of hammers striking nails and saws ripping wood have been a melody of sorts that has tied us together.

I thought about all that this morning before church. As I pondered I came to see that in many ways our lives have also been under construction. The sound of the hammer and the saw have been a significant part of our inner life as well. Like the homes we live in, we’ve all been under construction.

Just before they left, I gave Beth a hug, told her I loved her, and sent her on her way. I wanted to say more, but I didn’t. I think it was just as well. My construction skills as very limited, so it’s something I leave to the Almighty.

I think it was Ben Gray, our master carpenter, who once told me that the best thing a man can do in the construction business is to measure twice and cut once. Jesus, the Master Carpenter, subscribes to that theory. I’ve seen His handiwork over the past twenty years. I’m amazed, given the raw material I gave Him to work with in that time, at what’s been accomplished.

As Beth and Gary pulled away from our driveway, my mind went back to some of those old days, even days before the war began. I thought of Beth, my daughter, being the one who became my athletic alter-ego. About the time that I got to our front door that I could see an old scene played out in my mind’s eye. Beth was much younger then and had joined an all boys soccer team. She was quite good, but the boys weren’t so sure, so they tested her skill and her resolve. One night as I watched one of her games from the bleachers I became more aware than usual of where the attitudes of many of the boys on the same field as Beth had come. “What’s a girl doing playing with these boys?” one proud mother said. A father of another “star” responded with “I dunno’, she’s got no business her.” About five minutes before the end of the first half Beth seemed to have a chance to score a goal. She took a pass and moved in on the net. I thought for sure she was going to score, but one of the boys on the other team ran right through her. It was a tackle that a Kansas City Chiefs safety would have been proud of. The boy undercut her and she flew into the air, her body turning twice in mid air when she did. She then hit the ground with a thud. As soon as she did some of the parents I was sharing the bleachers with erupted in cheers. I wanted to say something, but decided not to. Something inside me said that everything was going to be just fine. Well, Beth never laid down. As quickly as she had hit the ground she sprang to her feet and went on playing, with one eye on the boy who had tackled her. Play progressed and I watched her intently, waiting to see what was going to happen. About three minutes after all this she saw her chance. No one seemed to be looking and she took her opportunity. It was measure for measure. She lowered her shoulder and lit into her offender. It was, like the earlier tackle, a sight to behold. The boy hit the ground and laid moaning. She had knocked the wind out of him. As they led the woozy young lad off the field of play his moans were accompanied by the moans and groans of other parents watching this wonderful spectacle from the bleachers. “That’s not fair.” “There should be a penalty card, they cried” I couldn’t resist responding to the complaints. I stood up and shouted for all to hear, “That’s Beth Dillon. She’s my daughter!” “She belongs!” I wanted to say more, but I think those three “declarations” were more than enough to get my point across.

That same toughness that saw Beth through those little bumps in the road has stood her in good stead through the really trying times. I think God built it into her and has appreciated it immensely. Even at those wayward times, when she strayed, I believe He never lost sight of her grittiness. He never gave up on her He was there, like the shepherd who left the ninety and nine to find the one who had lost its way. It’s been a long process of grit being worked in and grit being worked out.

How often through the years I offered up prayers for some miracle that would short circuit the rebuilding process. But the miracle of the moment never came. It came instead incrementally, almost unseen over the years. There’s a way to go yet, but I have full confidence now that the project God began so many years ago will be completed.

And so I sit here now reflecting on grittiness in the face of adversity and Divine construction that was going on all through those difficult times. How often, I wonder, did we each feel the pain of the rebuilding process in the natural order and fail to see the parallels in our inner lives. In those hard times it seemed like the task at hand was impossible. I look at the temporal construction that’s been going on through the years and remember back to our first days in Emporia, wondering if this dilapidated old prairie Victorian would ever become a home. As these thoughts race through my mind I’m sure they run through Beth’s as well. The same has held true for my inner being as well. How could God have fixed my dilapidated self? It evident now that everything’s been under construction for close to a generation. And therein are the miracles. They've come, and continue as works in progress, line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little. It has indeed all been a series of small miracles revealed in increments.


Doug Worgul said...

Wonderful writing, with great thinking and compassion behind it.

Thank you.

Cristie said...

Found your site on Blogexplosion, I really enjoyed it, especially the story about your daughter. I also have alot of respect for you, for the way you handled your divorce. People think they have to know every detail about others lives. Most should just stick to their own, it would solve alot of problems.