Stroke by stroke,
The chisel and hammer knock off more shards of the gem.
Soon, a shape begins to emerge.
Not all at once, mind you.
But in baby steps:
One loss at a time…
One month at a time…
One more doctor visit at a time.
“No, no! This sculpture looks all wrong.
She should have a pregnant belly…
She will be prettier and perfect that way.
This carving is just confusing and full of pain.”
I jump to the conclusion
That the end result of this chiseling
Will be a sculpture that speaks
Of sickness and sadness.
And then I hear my God whisper “No”
He sees that the finished carving of this gem
Will be a woman who reflects
The Most Beautiful Person in all creation-
The Man of Sorrows, familiar with suffering.
He let go of more than I can fathom
To step down to be made in human likeness.
I want to be more like Him.
The next step I take,
The next doctor’s office I walk into,
The next strike of the chisel,
I’ll remember the ultimate goal of this carving.
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
She had a stubborn streak that went deep and gave her fortitude to not budge an inch while standing on my toes … despite me pushing and heaving my shoulder into her side to get her to release my boot from under her hoof.
You see, her stubbornness was surpassed by her intelligence. She knew exactly what she was doing by nonchalantly blinking in the sunshine, pretending to ignore the fact that she was crushing my vulnerable feet. She was definitely the one in charge, and training the trainer… this whole ‘training a green horse’ thing was not off to a good start for me.
And then there was her fear, which surpassed all of her other great quality traits. The sight of anything flapping in the wind would cause her to jump and bolt as if being chased by a pack of wolves…
But the fading scars etched into her bony frame gave me pause to not get upset at her for her varying degrees of faults.
I had the joy of getting to know this memorable horse a few summers back, when I worked at a Christian dude ranch in Colorado.
Needless to say, Lightning wasn’t allowed to have dude guests ride her, thanks to the above-mentioned safety concerns. But I occasionally got to clamber atop this tall and spirited horse, praying for dear life that nothing around me would flap, clank or sneeze!
But as fate would have it, along came a little boy who fell in love with Lightning at first sight. I questioned his choice of horse, considering we had many other fabulous and beautiful steeds, and I thought Lightning was a rather ugly horse. But he saw something in her that I could not.
So one afternoon we arranged for this boy to pet Lightning while she stood at a hitching post eating a bowl full of grain.
I watched amazed (and a tad jealous) as this horse that was so rude and careless toward me, turned into a gentle and sweet mare around this boy. She gave quiet nickers of thanks as she carefully nibbled grass from his hands, in between happily gulping down and drooling large mouthfuls of her grain.
And then I got choked up as I heard this boy whisper to Lightning, while gently stroking her scarred nose- “You are such a beautiful horse, Lightning. I love you so much. You’re my favorite horse in all the world.”
I hardly dared to breathe, not wanting to interrupt this pure joy and affection. It was in that moment I felt like I got a glimpse of what God’s love toward us is like.
At every turn, life lies to us that we are ugly because of our failures, or that there is something wrong with us because of the wounds that leave deep scars. And it’s easy for me to respond toward God and other people out of fear or pain or both.
And yet God sees us in all of these things and loves us deeply. He whispers to His children with so much love in His voice- “You are altogether beautiful, my love” (Song of Solomon 4:7). “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” (Jeremiah 31:3) “I will… transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope” (Hosea 2:15)
And even if you are rejecting God because of your pain, He still says- “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Which voice are we going to listen to today?
Will we let our hurt and loss define us and motivate our actions and responses?
Or will we be defined by God’s healing Love that flows into the deepest part of our pain and promises to never leave us?
“Surely he [Jesus] took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Isaiah 53:4-6
I trudged back to my car, thoughts swirling. A good friend of mine had just complained about having to drive home with a car full of exuberantly noisy kids. It was an off-hand comment, and said with a smile because it really wasn’t a big deal…
But as I reached to unlock my car door, the silence around me was deafening. I wish I had a car full of my own exuberantly noisy kids right now, instead of a car ringing with the silence of my thoughts…
By the grace of God, right at that moment, a tune started playing in my head:
“Count your blessings, name them one by one. Count your blessings, see what God has done.”
It was perfect timing. I desperately needed a reminder of the antidote to the bitterness that was creeping into my heart.
So I started listing off the things I was thankful for, and recounting the many blessings that God has worked in my life… And not only just “the things that I have,” like my cat and a car, etc. But the things that GOD HAS DONE, the ways I have seen Him working, and the blessings in my life that have come very obviously from His hand.
As I pulled out of that parking lot, the silence around me was no longer heavy with sadness. Instead my mind was filled with thankfulness that overflowed naturally from remembering God’s faithfulness and His involvement in my life. Yes, there is loss and sadness. But there is also much love and so many ways that I see God taking care of me.
I’m thankful to serve a God who works in our lives to give us the gentle encouragement that we need, even in the small moments.
“But no one says, ‘Where is God my Maker, who gives songs in the night,” Job 35:10
Count Your Blessings by Johnson Oatman, Jr.
When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
Refrain: Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will keep singing as the days go by.
So, amid the conflict whether great or small,
Do not be disheartened, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.
“And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.” Isaiah 58:11