Last night a small group of us gathered as wounded healers and frumpy family. The countertop was covered in delicious foods and perspiring drinks. Small ones colored pages feverishly so the swishing of markers could be heard throughout our prayers. We sat and paused, aware of the gravity of time because the year has held graves, and we said farewell to 2014.
In some ways we have been so ready for this page turn in the calendar. Anything preceded by “new” seemed alluring after feeling so achy and old after this year. In other ways, as I prepared to listen to His voice and face the future with friends, it was scary to step into a new period. It could suggest more distance between us and the ones we lost because that was “last year.” It could suggest that more healing should have happened, more clarity gained, more stability achieved than what we boast from one moment to the next. It could suggest that those memories–those people, those dreams, are over or older, more than we want them to be. Even when a year held too much for us to handle, it was sobering to say goodbye.
We sat in a mess of blankets and papers, markers and children, and meditated as broken, distracted people on Isaiah 43. I didn’t know what to expect but that God loved us and He is enough. We could mishear Him, we could misread Him, we could miss Him…but His love supersedes all that. We are always banking on His correction and grace. Always.
Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you…You are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you.
There were many moments last year I could not see God. There were many prayers that hung silent, seemingly ignored, and when I could fold my hands and sit to listen, I often did not detect His voice. I made some decisions out of fear, feeling very unprotected. I woke up at night without feeling in my legs but overpowering feelings in my heart. I worried that we would lose our sons. I felt impatient with people’s foibles and God’s promises. I thought we had loved too foolishly, that maybe we would have been better to not hope, to not host, to not hold. I wanted to sleep it all away.
There were also uncommon gifts in the year. Gifts like a trip with other women to a beautiful place. Like being together with my parents and siblings twice. Gifts like a new job that paid the bills, friends who were stronger and more faithful than you even thought, handwritten cards in the mail with a gift card for dinner. Gifts like having the means somehow to visit many supporters of our missionary years and thank them in person, see their lives, and be in a reliable car together as family for a week.
As I look back, I know God loved me, and God loved us, through these gifts. As we became closer with some who were moving away, or bonded with new friends over deep grief, gifts of love emerged that will outlast the pain they were wrapped in. It doesn’t explain or negate the pain, but it still deserves its part in the picture. 2014 was a year of grief and gifts both.
When we passed through the waters, we didn’t know where He was exactly. I wanted Him to be draining them all away; I searched the waterline. But I see Him in the clapping Madison River memories of a trip at the least convenient time with the most sudden breaking in of beauty to my broken world. I often felt like we were drowning in rivers of goodbyes and the suffering current was breeding everywhere, but to our surprise our marriage was not overwhelmed, but rather reinforced. His covenant and whatever He wants to do in our vowed relationship withstood those violent rushes. In the fires of injustice and anger, I couldn’t see Him and they were not extinguished but rather seemed to run its course. Yet, new and old friends appeared beside us with fiery faith and insistent prayers that lessened the heat and kept suggesting yes, He is still God, and one day you will feel it again.
Isaiah 43 was originally written to a scattered people. Broken up spiritually and physically, uncertain and unpopular. In verse 5 they are assured again: Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you.
Today, don’t you feel the scattering too? The mess of fallen confetti of misplaced hype and flaky hope?
Last night I was hooked by verse 5. I am still trying not to fear as I face a whole year of unknown, coming out of a year I didn’t really want to know. I am trying not to fear the system we are still dealing with, the hospital bills still coming, the theology still recovering and recalibrating. But the promise I heard loudest was I will gather you.
Whatever our family is supposed to look like, He will gather us. Whatever shape our spiritual community and church take on this spring, He will gather us. Whatever loose ends and scattered prayers we still utter for our loved ones and our conflicted world, He will gather them whole. Whatever broken pieces, sharp edges, and apathetic scraps have been left in the wake of 2014, He will gather together.
Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
You are precious in His eyes and He loves you. He will gather you from the wreckage and redeem the rivers and fires.