Trail of rain pulls down the sky like tufts of seagrass before a storm. A shift in water’s hues—silver to steel to aqua. Drops fall through tree branches, splattering my porch roof, the yard. I tuck my arms into my sweatshirt, huddle my body warmth as close as possible. This is the underside of autumn, shadowed spaces sprawled across the sky. The pieces no one leans in to examine closely. But these details—the sodden trails, hiccups of gray along a color-stitched lawn, bite of wind snapping at my skin—are part of the shift of seasons, necessary for the earth to evolve as it is meant to in the swing of spring to summer, summer to fall, fall inevitably into winter.
Seasons shift in my own life as well. One full year has passed since I moved from Kansas City to Wisconsin and back to my hometown, where I fought tooth and nail to stay away. It’s hard to believe I’ve been back for a year, on top of four previous turns of the earth that tightened my chest and tested my will, molded my spirit and made me wonder how in the world the struggle could make me stronger.
I’ve been sad, afraid and discouraged more times than I’d like as I fought the calling to stay in Kansas City and work for an international sports ministry. It was a beautiful place, but I was barren inside. How many months I railed against God at my discomfort, my unhappiness, the unraveling of my well-tended dreams for life that gave way to guttural growing pains tending a path I never saw as part of my story. Each time I couldn’t stand the strain, he’d bring a little consolation and larger confirmation that, yes, I was indeed meant to be smack dab in the middle of right here, right now.
A Crown of Gladness
Then, over time, beauty comes from the ashes, a crown of gladness from the mourning. I found my footing in his depths and wanted to throw myself further into where he was taking me, calling me to more. I imagined moving to a new state, if not a new country. Being back in southeast Wisconsin was what I never expected. I grappled with the work because it didn’t fit into what I’d imagined. Working with teens in an affluent suburb? Not on my horizon.
Coming home didn’t make sense either. In Kansas City, I flourished and became my own person, forged in the independence of living away from family and hometown history. And now, the calling again has altered right back to where I began. I wondered what the purpose of my time away had even meant if it seemed I was destined for Wisconsin and these students from the start. I couldn’t see the full picture from the fog at my fingertips. Here was the rain—would I search to find the sliver of sun?
Life became a call to remember. To see what is before me. And I remind myself that all is counted for the King.
The One Who Sees
I search memories and look back at all the ways he has stood fast beside me. The times he has gone before me, shaded me underneath his wings, cupped me in the palms of his engravened hands and assured me that he is El Roi, the One who sees.
Is “hard” part of perception? The ideas of where we are headed and anything else wobbles our fragile faith while we wrestle with the inability to see how it happened, how the detour came when all has been so clear?
This is where I dig my knees into the ground, swallow down the selfishness and bring my breaking heart to the Lord.
What am I to do? The only thing I can do: sit and let the silence swallow up my grief and tether thankfulness to my spirit. Keep singing, keep praising, keep God accountable to his character and promise.
“The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him and I am helped” (Ps. 28:7).
Fall full weight on the strength of my Lord. Wait for him to come through again. Remember what he has done for his daughter. Though my soul twists, it trusts in him. Though I walk where I am unfamiliar, surveying the hard stuff strewn about, I tune my heart to sing of his grace; push his goodness through my lips in praise.
In the burn, he is beside me, drawing close.
Somehow, in time—his time—I began to see the good, became grateful for the stretching of my faith and even the fatigue of my heart. Why? Because I collapsed into him with full assurance of his truths.
Maybe we walk with palms up as not to hold anything too tight, ready to receive what God will give if we are willing to receive. Chant out the words, sear it into the mind of our soul: “You are faithful. You are renewing me. You are refining me.”
I remind myself that I am me, and he is God. And again, I remind him of who he is and what he says he will do.
He saw me through. I came out on the other side with more shine in my heart from the strain. Did I think I would serve students? No. Am I grateful to dive into the depths of real life with those who are yearning to figure it out just like me? Yes. And do I see God’s fingerprints all over? Absolutely.
Here is the peace of his presence today. He is El Roi, the One who sees. Do not be so quick to judge his absence. He is here. Among the trouble, he is the release. Among the surge, he is the blessed silver lining.
Rain lightens to a soft patter. The burning bush at the gate is turning to fire. I line the knowledge of his love along my heart like the stitches of my sweatshirt. He who has begun a good work is faithful.
“Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever” (Ps. 118:1).
Thanks be to God, who gives both the blessing and the burden. Thanks be to God for the blessing in the burden, for they grace our testimony and his renown.