Tears sparkle in my eyes like diamonds as I think back to the scene at our table this past Thanksgiving. My fiancé sat at my right hand. I couldn’t close my eyes as he prayed the blessing for our first holiday meal together as a family in our new house. His prayers have spread a healing balm over my wounds so many times this year.
Next to him sat my youngest daughter – the blonde whose hair reminds us daily of her “Daddy with Jesus” as she calls him, but whose heart is spilling over with love for her new daddy who is coming to live with us after the wedding. Next to her sat my parents: my rocks. They have remained steadfast, prayerful, ever-offering helping hands through my hardest trials and greatest triumphs. While we passed bowls of hearty butternut squash soup garnished with sprigs of parsley, my parents offered up their gratitude for God’s blessings on our family and their excitement to welcome a new son into the fold.
Next sat my in-laws, including my mother-in-law who has buried beloved aunts, parents, and friends in her lifetime, and last year knelt at the grave of her only son and wept with me. In a shaky voice, she expressed her surprising happiness and healing to sit at this table with our family again. She looked my fiancé, Shawn, in the eyes and reminded him that he was adopted into our family years ago because God knew. He knew the next chapter of this wild redemption story.
Our feast also included my dear friend from El Salvador, her hubby and boys, and his sisters from India. They added an extended story of grace and gratitude to our gathering as they have journeyed through a year when their father was diagnosed with cancer. These are friends – like many others in my community – who have become like family to us as we have walked through the darkest seasons. My oldest offered up brave thanks for our community of support this year. My middle daughter whispered to us a reminder that her daddy was present with us at the table in spirit.
As my father-in-law noted, the whole scenario was a miracle.
In January, 2015, I chose “Redeem” as my One Word theme for the year. I had no way of knowing what was in store for our family in the year ahead, but I believed that my God is always, always, always in the business of bringing beauty from the ashes. I longed to press in to see how he would do that for me.
Friends, I have just lived a whole year of redemption.
In English, the verb redeem is defined “to free from what distresses or harms, to release from blame or debt.” Another way of saying this is “to change for the better, restore, and repair.” Something that starts out good and perfect cannot be redeemed. These phrases remind me that for something to be redeemed it must be broken first.
I started out 2015 feeling deeply that all the important things in my life were broken. After burying my husband the previous September, all I could think about was my broken love story, my broken children’s hearts, my broken finances, my broken role in friendships, my broken ministry, my broken future. All of my dreams lay like shattered shards of glass on the floor of my life.
Then God motioned me to step into a new year. He invited me into His workshop. Piece by piece He began to reveal to me how he intended to change, repair, and restore all the broken shards of glass in my life.
Here’s what I’ve learned: My God is not the type to just superglue the pieces back into place the way we think they should go. He is a Master Artist. He reimagines and refashions and redesigns our most tragic life circumstances into His own masterpiece. When he redeems us, He places the colors of our lives in the context of new places blended in different communities for the greater mosaic.
He started with my love story. Perhaps the hardest part of facing life as a young widow was trying to think about moving forward without my beloved to cherish and partner with me in parenting. I mourned that so deeply. In those dark months, God taught me to depend wholly on Him. He restored my trust and showed me He wanted me to look first to Him for that intimate love I longed for, and He would provide discernment in parenting.
God also brought a dear friend back into my life. Shawn lived in Maryland for 9 years but God called him home to California to care for his mother and to take on a new job. This piece brought the two of us together. As the months of 2015 passed, it became clear to me that God was refashioning my relationship with Shawn for a greater purpose. We stepped into a relationship carefully.
When Shawn proposed to me in August, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was part of the mosaic God was creating with me. We talked about all the pieces of our relationship – the trips, the conversations, the dates, the times of mourning and praying together over the last year, even the bonding Shawn did with my daughters. Each piece was a part of the greater picture.
God also began to redeem my sense of calling and ministry in a surprising way. My late husband and I were missionaries in Haiti serving with a non-profit together for more than a decade. When he died, I knew I needed to step down from my roles for the sake of my girls and my own healing. Yet, I mourned the secondary loss of those relationships and using my gifts in that ministry.
Meanwhile, as part of my grief process, I spent a lot of time writing. I discovered a surprising passion for sharing my story. I crafted an experience called “Glory Chasers” – a 10-week study discovering God’s glory through personal stories, intentional worship, and a treasure hunt through Scripture. I have already shared it with two small groups of women, and I will be teaching it this March for 200-some women in my community.
Through my story of loss, God has connected me with a host of new friends, women, mothers, and leaders across the country, all of whom are navigating grief. I never imagined God would use all these shards of broken glass in my past to encourage others.
In 2015, God has shown me that He intends to redeem, to bring new value and healing to every hardship, every broken heart, and every discord in every relationship. I challenge you to think about how He might be redeeming your story today. He sees your broken pieces. He sees the sharp edges and wild colors, and He longs to create something new.
The words of Isaiah 43:19 have become very precious to me this year: “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
That verse in Isaiah challenges us to have eyes to see Him at work daily. I challenge you with these questions: What has God already redeemed in your life? Where do you see seeds of redemption even in the hard circumstances? What are the redemption stories of the people around you?
He sent His son to be that stream in the desert for all of us. Jesus was sent to redeem our sin and our brokenness through the sacrifice of his life. He is the ultimate Kinsman-Redeemer. Just as Boaz did for Ruth in the Bible, Jesus stood up for me and said, “She is mine. I will make her my bride.”
Looking to the coming year 2016, I choose FLOURISH as my new word, embracing this new place where he has planted me. There was a time where I felt like He had yanked me out of the garden, and I was left limp with no roots, no purpose. Now I realize He has transplanted me into a much bigger garden to FLOURISH for His glory.
The Master Artist has intentionally placed my broken life pieces into a magnificent mosaic. I give Him glory “who by his mighty power at work within us is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of—infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes” (Ephesians 3:20).
This Saturday I will walk down the aisle as a new bride–redeemed and loved beyond my wildest dreams.
Image Credit: Wee Sen Goh, Creative Commons