It was the picture of the bear that made me cry.
After the fire in our church building, a child’s teddy bear was found on a grimy window sill, abandoned, its face turned away in the soot. I looked at that picture and it felt like that was the picture that best represented the darker emotions of my heart in the weeks and months after the fire: Defenseless. Violated. Sad. Very much in need of being cleaned.
My life was so caught up, even from the time of the fire, with my Sweet Mama’s health. From early December, until her death in June, I mostly dealt with my feelings about the burned out Church house by, a) not going there, and b) not thinking about it any more than I had to. I believed that God was going to do a good work in spite of the devastation, and I believed that He wasn’t surprised or sleeping when arsonists crept into our meeting house and set it ablaze. But mostly I didn’t think!
I was unprepared for the emotions that came crashing in over the weeks following my Sweet Mama’s funeral, as I worked at cleaning out her house, and found that the emptiness of that house, the stripping of the stuff that was my Mama’s, translated into another very real emotion of loss when I thought about the church house being totally stripped and remade. It was so difficult for me that I could barely enjoy the first Sunday back, as it felt like yet another dear, familiar face was gone, and had been replaced by something that was, obviously, better and more beautiful — but it wasn’t “mine.” And it wasn’t what I wanted.
So I’ve wrestled with the whole thing of “What’s wrong with me???” This is a new start for our little congregation, a new beginning, a fresh opportunity to redefine ourselves. It’s way more comfortable, way more convenient, way more esthetic than our old auditorium. And the Sunday School room for The Littles is beyond anything that I have ever had as a teacher. Beautiful and light and airy and equipped and spacious. It’s a dream come true. And it is definitely a whole lot better than the office at our temporary meeting place where we were surrounded by baking supplies and freezers and equipment, where we set up a table every week and did our best to make the room cheery and inviting.
And so, over the last few weeks, I’ve reminded myself that, at least for this Delaware Grammy, everything takes time. And I’ve decided to not voice my discontent, that I would throw myself into lessons and Christmas preparations in my classroom, that I would do all I could to support and enjoy this new place and ignore my heart’s rebel thoughts that pushed themselves, unbidden, to the surface over the slightest little things that weren’t quite right.
One of the things I’ve always said to my children is “Grumbling is contagious.” And I’m so aware that just one person voicing one negative thought can turn a tide in a minute. There’s always something that we can complain about. However, over these last few weeks, I’ve also learned that Grace extended is contagious as well. And never was this more real to me than in something that has happened over these last few weeks.
I have a friend. Loretta Miller, who (with her husband) has been a janitor at our church for several decades. I’ve watched (and listened) to her over this last year as she dealt with negative emotions following the arson, put her attention to cleaning our temporary gathering place with wisdom and discernment, spoke encouragement to our church family by seeing the positives that were coming out of the things we were going through, and also dealt with the death of two siblings during the months that we were out of our church building. She has extended grace in tangible ways despite personal disappointment and challenges that could perplex. Not too long ago, she told me that she feels so much peace and a sense of worship in our new sanctuary, and that it is something that she is enjoying so very much. That gave me pause to consider. What was I holding on to that was preventing me from entering into this good gift from Our Father?
Then one day, a week or so ago, she said to me, “You know that teddy bear that was left on the window sill after the fire? I found it among the things that had been cleaned, and I put it back up on the window sill in your classroom where it had been found. I thought it might be kinda’ nice. Maybe it would mean something . . .”
It’s just a little teddy bear, and it isn’t even all that pretty. But I looked at it sitting upright on renovated window sill in front of the new and sparkling window and it did this wistful heart good. It spoke of all the things that were still surviving– that were strong and right: Things like forgiveness, redemption, restoration, hope and a future.
My conflict isn’t over. I’m not called “an old stick in the mud” for no reason. But neither am I blind to the fact that God has often used very commonplace things to redirect this stubborn will and to remind me that I can’t go forward when I’m holding on to the past. And if humans can take a picture as forlorn and sad as the first one, and with time and effort, make a tableau as peaceful and hopeful as the second one, think what God can do with a restless heart that feels bleak and troubled and discouraged.
“Make your way through these old ruins: the enemy wrecked everything in the Temple.” (Psalm 74:3) Once again the verse is echoing through my brain, except with this repeat, there is hope. If Jesus is making His way through these old ruins of my heart, the enemy can wreak his havoc no more. There is hope and a future, and I do not need to resist the unfamiliar. God is already in the tomorrows of my life, and He will be with me in things just don’t seem “right.” And just to think on these things gives my heart joy.
For a bear on the windowsill, for a friend who extends much grace, for God’s Word, repeating God’s Words to me in my head and my heart, for this sunshiney day and the blessings of life, for these and so much more: My heart gives grateful praise.