Obscured by Clouds
A rare super moon appeared in November 2016—the moon in its orbit reached its closest point to the earth in over sixty years and so appeared bigger and brighter than at other times. But for me that day the skies were shrouded in gray. Although I saw photos of this wonder from friends in other places, as I gazed upwards I had to trust that the super moon was lurking behind the clouds.
The apostle Paul urged the church at Corinth, in the face of their hardships, to believe what is unseen but will last forever. He said how their “momentary troubles” achieve “an eternal glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Thus they could fix their eyes “not on what is seen, but on what is unseen,” because what is unseen is eternal (v. 18). Paul yearned that the faith of those in Corinth would grow, and although they suffered, that they would trust in God. They might not be able to see Him, but they could believe that He was renewing them day by day (v. 16).
I thought about how God is unseen but eternal when I gazed at the clouds that day, knowing that the super moon was hidden but there. And I hoped the next time I was tempted to believe that God was far from me, I would fix my eyes on what is unseen.
Bearing the Burden of Wrongs
On January 30, 2018, almost thirty-eight years after his conviction, Malcolm Alexander walked out of prison a free man. DNA evidence cleared Alexander, who had steadfastly maintained his innocence amid a myriad of court proceedings that were tragically unjust. An incompetent defense attorney (later disbarred), shoddy evidence, and dubious investigative tactics all put an innocent man in prison for nearly four decades. When he was finally released, however, Alexander showed immense grace. “You cannot be angry,” he said. “There’s not enough time to be angry.”
Alexander’s words evidence a deep grace. If injustice robbed us of 38 years of our lives and destroyed our reputations, we would likely be angry, furious. Though Alexander spent many long, heartbreaking years bearing the burden of wrongs inflicted upon him, he wasn’t undone by the evil. Rather than exerting his energy trying to exact revenge, he exhibited the posture Peter instructs: “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult” (1 Peter 3:9).
The Scriptures go a step further: rather than seeking vengeance, the apostle Peter tells us we are to bless (v. 9). We extend forgiveness, the hope of well-being, for those who have unjustly wronged us. Without excusing their evil actions, we can meet them with God’s scandalous mercy. On the cross, Jesus bore the burden of our wrongs, that we might receive grace and extend it to others—even those who have wronged us.
Hand Made for You
My grandmother was a talented seamstress who won contests in her native Texas. Throughout my life, she celebrated hallmark occasions with a hand-sewn gift. A burgundy mohair sweater for my high-school graduation. A turquoise quilt for my marriage. I’d fold over a corner of each custom-crafted item to discover her signature tag reading, “Handmade for you by Munna.” With every embroidered word, I sensed my grandmother’s love for me and received a powerful statement of her faith in my future.
Paul wrote to the Ephesians of their purpose in this world, describing them as “God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works” (2:10). Here “handiwork” denotes a work of art or a masterpiece. Paul goes on to describe that God’s handiwork in creating us would result in our handiwork of creating good works—or expressions of our restored relationship with Jesus—for His glory in our world. We can never be saved by our own good works, but when God handmakes us for His purposes, He can use us to bring others toward His great love.
With her head bowed over her needle, my Munna handmade items to communicate her love for me and her passion that I discover my purpose on this planet. And with His fingers shaping the details of our days, God stitches His love and purposes in our hearts that we might experience Him for ourselves and demonstrate His handiwork to others.
From Wailing to Worship
Kim began battling breast cancer in 2013. Four days after her treatment ended, doctors diagnosed her with a progressive lung disease and gave her three to five years to live. She grieved, sobbing prayers as she processed her emotions before God for the first year. By the time I met Kim in 2015, she had surrendered her situation to Him and radiated with contagious joy and peace. Though some days are still hard, God continues to transform her heart-wrenching suffering into a beautiful testimony of hope-filled praise as she encourages others.
Even when we’re in dire circumstances, God can turn our wailing into dancing. Though His healing won’t always look or feel like we’d hoped or expected, we can be confident in God’s power (Psalm 30:1–3). No matter how tear-stained our path may be, we have countless reasons to praise Him (v. 4). We can rejoice in God, as He secures our confident faith (vv. 5–7). We can cry out for His mercy (vv. 8–10), celebrating the hope He’s brought to many weeping worshipers. Only God can transform wails of despair into vibrant joy that doesn’t depend on circumstances (vv. 11–12).
As our merciful God comforts us in our sorrow, He envelops us in peace and empowers us to extend compassion toward others and ourselves. Our loving and faithful Lord can and does turn our wailing into worship that can lead to heart-deep trust, praise, and maybe even joyful dancing.
Marked by Momma
Her name was long but her years were even longer. Madeline Harriet Orr Jackson Williams lived to be 101 years old, outliving two husbands. Both were preachers. Madeline was my grandmother and we knew her as Momma. My siblings and I got to know her well; we lived in her home until her second husband whisked her away. Even then she was less than 50 miles away from us. Our grandmother was a hymn-singing, catechism-reciting, piano-playing, God-fearing woman and my siblings and I have been marked by her faith.
According to 2 Timothy 1:3–7, Timothy’s grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice had a huge impact on his life. Their living and teaching were rooted in soil of Scripture (v. 5 and 2 Timothy 3:14–16) and eventually their faith blossomed in Timothy’s heart. His biblically based upbringing was not only foundational for his relationship with God but it was also vital to his usefulness in the Lord’s service (vv. 6–7).
Today as well as in Timothy’s time, the Lord uses faithful women and men to mark future generations. Our prayers, words, actions, and service can be powerfully used by the Lord while we live and after we are gone. That’s why my siblings and I still rehearse things that were passed on to us from Momma. My prayer is that Momma’s markings will not stop with us.