In addition to stump-hating, I have been known to uproot a dormant plant that was still alive because it wasn’t coming out of its winter slumber fast enough for me. We even threw out the third grade class hamster we were watching over the holidays because I mistook his unusually deep sleep for death. Later, my son brought to my attention that hamsters do that sort of thing. I pleaded with my husband for reassurance that the hamster was truly dead when he catapulted him over our back fence, far into the cold wilderness. My husband replied, “Well, he is now.”
By not being forward-thinking enough, I may have cheated myself out of a few surprises and miracles along the way. Because sometimes I struggle with the past: bad experiences, my own mistakes, and the mistakes of others that have affected me. They all cause stumps and they all feel ugly if that is the entire story.
Actions have consequences, and maybe it wasn’t even you who caused the stump. As Papa said in the Shack, “Love always leaves a mark.” Like a gun fired, the consequence bullet always hits somewhere. And to love someone is to be in that line of fire. Relationships are messy and dangerous. If you’ve loved deep enough and often enough, you have become part of the collateral damage. Still, that stump, that damage, is part of the story and can have new growth as well.
So much of my story, even my life story, is not the way I would have written it, as I’m sure it is for you. I’m old enough now to see some important parts in retrospect and realize that it is so much better then the idea I would have had on my own. Actually, so much of the redemption story is not the way I would have written it, but our good God is writing a beautiful story, and weaving it through even our ordinary lives if we’ll let Him. Our bullet scars, like the stumps, are signs of God’s grace in our lives and give us the testimony to tell His story. But we cannot succumb to our wounds if we are to be part of the next chapter.
Once our kids weighed enough to keep the engine running, they wanted to use the riding lawn mower. (Why do they change their minds once they’re about 15?) Since our three acres were not pristine or sodded, we were happy to have the help, even if it wasn’t professional. They always had the tendency to look behind them while they were mowing, to see where they had already mowed. But when they did, their path became very swervy and out of control. I could look at the yard and know immediately the times when they were looking behind instead of ahead. This is true of all of life. When we are focused on the past, the present and future become very wobbly. As difficult as it can be to let go, we must learn from the past stumps and then forge ahead.
If I’m being honest, my journey with heart failure still seems unlikely and unfair. But, as author Heather Hepler said, “At some point you just have to let go of what you thought should happen and live in what is happening.” I would add, “and trust that God is good and has plans FOR you.” His way is the only way forward. Otherwise, you’re stuck where you are or moving backward. I had heard it all my adult life, but I had somehow not internalized it. Paul reassured us in Romans that God is on our side. God is FOR us. And Jeremiah told of God’s good plan that should give us hope and help us envision a future, even a future that we don’t understand or wouldn’t choose for ourselves.
It’s been said by several others, but for me, I need to hear something about a dozen times before I truly listen: If you’re suffering right now, your best and most important work for God is in front of you. Don’t focus on the stump, or your bullet wounds, or where you’ve been on the mower. Good things are ahead if you’re watching for them. As Paul suggests in Philippians, forget what is behind and strain toward what is ahead. It may be the work you were always intended to do. Don’t miss it. All of your life may have been leading to this moment.