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Meaning in the Messes

This week God’s face was shown to me during a conversation, and with it came the encouragement that comes with such visits. These days my life feels a bit like I’m white water rafting as I daily navigate my way through the day with the most challenging bunch of students I’ve had in a while. I love them but it takes all my concentration to stay in “response” and not “reaction” mode and I’ve been pretty exhausted.  Sometimes I’m successful, other times not. I’ve never gone rafting, but I’ve heard that one of the big rules is to take a break when you’re tired. Find a section of the river that’s not flowing so hard, paddle over and stop so you can refocus.

This is exactly what it felt like during our community’s conversation after the movie for Wednesday night. It was a sheltered place with people I love, and we had a long conversation about meaning amid our often messy lives. It was a time to catch my breath and regroup, and courage and faith were stirred up again.

“Messes” had been on my mind in the last days. Maybe it was my usual full plate at school coupled with headaches last weekend, but I found myself moaning on Sunday night about the mess in my kitchen. The grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence, and I heard myself complain, “Why do other people’s houses always look neater than ours?” It wasn’t just the physical mess of a kitchen where the cleaning seems never-ending. I think my personal messes were catching up with me. Everything felt like too much, like the tangled cords of our modern multiple technology systems.

The conversation was after a movie for our Wednesday night study. Once a month, we leave our Romans study to view a movie and talk about it. We’ve been going through a video series by Bill Moyers about the Old Testament. Various people from all religions come together to dialogue about the famous stories of the Old Testament. We watch the one hour show and then talk about its themes.

The bible story behind this week’s video was of Abraham and Sarah. God had promised that they’d have a child who would carry the promise, but there they were, childless and old and wondering why God wasn’t coming through. Like Moyers said in the intro, the details sound like pulp fiction, with love triangles, squabbling and hurt lives. Like the white water rafter, the writer of this story was no doubt regrouping, wondering where God’s purposes were in the mess.  And at the end of the story, God did not forget the people who were in desperate circumstances. Like the scripture said, “God heard their cries.”

Our conversation about this story was interwoven by the often tangled events of our own lives. Where is God in the messes? In the events which make us wonder if there’s any meaning or bigger picture happening.

We began to talk about our friend Dave’s dad, who died this week at the age of 93. Dave had been reflecting on his dad’s life for a tribute that he was writing and would read at the funeral. Talk about a tangled life – someone who was quite an accomplished minister yet had a strong stubborn streak which impacted Dave’s life.  Growing up, Dave sometimes wondered, like Abraham and Sarah, why God wasn’t coming through on the promises his dad often preached about.

And yet, in the last 3 years, Dave had witnessed a miracle in his dad’s life. We’d watch Dave come home from trips to see his dad and marvel at the change he saw in his dad. Deeper love and forgiveness was in each visit, and the last words they spoke to each other were of love and blessing. Anyone who has experienced a deep rift in a relationship knows how healing it is when miracles happen. Like the characters in the biblical story, God did not forget Dave and his dad.

As we talked about Dave’s story, I grew calm and remembered that God never forgets us. Each week there are countless stories of ways God has provided for myself and so many others, even when I sometimes wonder how this is possible. Faith was stirred up again during this conversation and I was able to head back into the fray of the next day with renewed hope.

One example of this came to me on Saturday, which was Lyle and my 28thwedding anniversary (28 years?! are we really that old?!) We’d made plans to go for supper and perhaps birdwatching beforehand. A bit of unclear communication about our plans, plus some uncertain weather, and suddenly things were

One of the birds we spotted in the English gardens – isn’t he a beauty?

tense between us. “Oh great,” I thought, “another mess to deal with, on our anniversary no less.” We decided to stick with the birdwatching plan and went to Assiniboine Park, where we’d heard there were indigo bunting birds nesting in the English gardens. Our tensions melted away when we spotted the blue birds again and again and got caught up in the beauty of the clear evening and the fortuitous sighting. It felt like a blessing from God – a clear gift despite the messes that sometimes cloud things up. Gratitude replaced anxiety.

God is always seeing me through circumstances even when I can’t see it. God is in the messes, holding us together and bringing us through with meaning intact.

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