I had a great day today. Then I pulled into my church parking lot extra early to prep for prayer service tonight and noticed that our sign had been vandalized. I suppose it’s not too surprising given that we’re situated next door to a high school and two blocks from a middle school, but I’ve never known it to happen in the 20 years we’ve been located here. I won’t tell you how it was vandalized, nothing too horrible, just disrespectful and inappropriate. Also not something we could just clean off. It will need to be refinished or replaced.
Nonetheless, I went out armed with a sponge, a bowl of tap water, and some cleaner called Purple Power and washed the best that I could. It’s funny. My church is my home away from home, the people who make it up are my family, but my first reaction, though admittedly included mild annoyance, wasn’t anger. As I stood there scrubbing, I felt empathy for whomever did this. I remember the days of mocking the Church, Christians, Christ Himself. I remember having no respect for the sacred, and I couldn’t bring myself to be angry at a heart I knew all too well– the one that once dwelt within me.
Yes, I said a small prayer for the vandal, that they would understand their fault and repent, that they would come into the church someday and get right with the Lord, etc. But almost before I knew I was even thinking it, I thanked Jesus too. I thanked Him for allowing me in past days to commit some of the sins I did, because they allowed me to have a familiar compassion for the person who did this. Certainly I could justify being angry at them if I wanted to. After all, what they did was wrong, and they did it to a CHURCH! *Gasp!* But what would my anger solve? Would it identify the culprit? And if it did, would it serve to punish them? And if it did that, would the punishment convict them, bring them to repentance? Or would my anger only serve to put me in a bad disposition for the soon-to-start prayer service and possibly even hinder the Spirit’s movement within it?
No, I thanked God for letting my path wander, not because I relish those old sins, but because God used them as threads in the tapestry of my life to accomplish something in my heart that I could never have experienced if I had only been “the good girl” my whole life. Without getting too off-topic, I once had a dream where I was swimming in a creek and snakes kept coming towards me, but turned away once they came within a couple inches of me, unable to bite me. God can protect in the midst of danger as well as keep you out of it altogether.
As I considered all these things in my heart, I realized that they tied into something I thought of earlier today and wanted to blog on anyway. I was recently going through some old photos of my favorite mountain property, of the one trip I made in the winter. I always go in the summer, so the difference in landscape was startling. All the things that once were full and green, alive and blooming, bright and colorful, were dead and empty, dry and blanched. But one thing I noticed that I never had thought of before, was that only during the winter when all the beauty had faded and fallen, was I able to see through the distance of bare branches and see things I never had before.
I had always thought that there was one straight stream flowing here. I never knew until now that it actually split and rejoined because there was always foliage in the way. The winter, though not as lovely as the spring and summer, brought with it a new perspective, a fresh revelation.
Without a winter in our lives we cannot see all that God wants to show us. Without a desert, we will never appreciate the oasis. I walked through a long, hard winter not long ago. It showed me a lot of things I would rather not have seen, at least the shallow part of me wouldn’t. But that winter forced me to get real with God, to look through my dead branches into the distance and get a good grasp on the vision that would soon become blurred with foliage again.
If you’re in a winter right now, on the straight and narrow path, walking through a desert, or whatever cliche you want to use, don’t be discouraged. Look for what was hidden behind the “life” of summer and let that revelation spur you on closer to the God of the seasons. Maybe it’s serving to give you an understanding of someone on whom you will need to show compassion later. Maybe it’s to give you an encouraging vision of the future. Maybe it’s simply to drive you to dig for a deeper relationship with Christ, the true storehouse in the famine. Don’t disdain the winter, for…
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven…He has made everything beautiful in its time….” –Ecclesiastes 3:1, 11a