In grad school, my husband and I rented a duplex near campus that had some interesting carpet. It had a motif of a flaming B in a repeated diamond pattern. The rent fit our budget, and not that into decorating at the time, we didn’t think too much about it. A few weeks into a year lease, we realized it had been repurposed from a local Bonanza restaurant. Destined for the dumpster, it became our floorcovering.
From that moment on, I made note to differentiate between recycling and upcycling.
Recycling is simply using something again. (In the carpet’s case, it was not actually suitable to be used again.) Upcycling is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as repurposing something to create a new product of higher quality or value than the original.
God makes everything new. Since He is not bound by time, that includes every bit of our lives: past, present, and future. I wrote in the previous two posts about God renewing our today by developing our faith in the waters we tread. I also wrote about God redeeming our past for ultimate good. God even repurposes our tomorrow, by envisioning for us a future, not one we were destined for on our own. A new, higher quality future: sort of like the ultimate upcycling.
When I was first diagnosed, I started to piece together the realization that the future I had carefully planned might be in jeopardy. From my journal while in ICU:
Heard some hard news today from doctors: My heart function is “abysmal.” And I have “heart failure.” Apparently, the heart is the only muscle that can’t heal. It is one of the least renewable tissues in the body. Though meds and certain devices can help, the heart can’t repair itself. So apparently this is forever.
It felt like a death of part of me. And in more ways than one, it was.
It was the same feeling as slamming my grade-school fingers in the door of our 1977 Pontiac sedan: sudden, sharp, and unnatural in way that told me something very wrong just happened. I needed a door to open…soon. I needed to envision a different future. I needed “new” like never before in my life. But what I thought I wanted was old, yesterday, last year. I wanted my life back.
I couldn’t internalize at that moment that my future was being upcycled.
Thomas Chisholm had aspired to be a lifelong minister, but health complications forced him to leave ministry after his first year. Or so he thought. Chisholm wrote nearly 1,200 poems and hymns during his self-labeled “ordinary life” at a desk job in an insurance company. One of his best known is “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” Had he gone on with his own plan, he might have been a minister to several hundred. But God’s plan allowed him to reach millions through hymns. That song was remade in recent years by Chris Rice. The YouTube video alone has over 11 million views to date. Chisholm died in 1960, so this is truly a future he could never have dreamed.
God can make our future new and grander than we can conceive in our own minds. But, as with Chisholm, and many of us, it may not be a direct path, or an easy one.
Recently, my mother was cleaning out her old clothes from the 70s, and my younger daughter found a few pieces to take back to college in California. As a teenager, I never would have imagined my mother’s pantsuits living on the trendy west coast. But to get there, they spent decades in the back of Mom’s closet in rural Kansas.
Likewise, the new future God has for us may not be a straight shot. To get to glorious, you might be headed through grunge. Arriving at blessed might take you through bankruptcy. Sometimes before the celebration, cancer comes. To get to divine, we are all routed through death.
Joni Eareckson Tada, confined to a wheelchair for 40 years, says it this way, “God allows what He hates to accomplish what He loves.” So maybe the detours or unexpected futures are God bringing us ever closer to Himself, and making us more like His Son. Because God’s ultimate plan, the best future for all of His children, is our salvation.
That is upcycling for sure.
For months after I was diagnosed, I believed that God would snap His fingers and make all of this go away. My husband and I even daydreamed about returning to our life pre-illness, with no complications and no restrictions, no pacemaker and internal defibrillator, good as new. And I prayed for that, and I hoped for that. But the truth is, getting my ultimate desire is not what a redeemed future looks like.
Sometimes the new and better isn’t even for me and my immediate comfort. God works all things together for good, and that includes more than my tiny life. But He does promise that if I could look back on my life and all those it intersected with, it is the future I would have chosen all along. If I had only seen through a God’s eye view, unbound by the blinding restriction of time.
God weaves it all together for His better, higher, more glorious purpose. When the veil is gone and we can see it all in full, it will be obvious. And it would have been our purpose and plan from the start.
Left to our own intellect, sometimes our plans can be a little iffy. Our landlord should have consulted someone with a little more wisdom before recycling that steakhouse carpet. Maybe he needed to, like I did with my future on that stretch of highway three years ago, let God take it and make it into something new. Something God-designed and God-sized. Something upcycled.