No, no one has died… well, there is no body to place in a fancy casket. Since I was old enough to pick up a pen, I have been writing. Diaries, journals, letters, even little notes. If you know me at all, you already know this. And, if you know me, you might be one of the many that have encouraged me to, “Please publish!” For the last twenty years, these writings have been on the computer. I bore my soul over those keyboards. I was careful to back up hundreds of passionate renderings, including three chapters of a children’s book. When I purchased a new computer, I carefully transferred the documents and then backed them up on an external hard-drive. Last year, that computer crashed, taking with it, “Joni.” But I had the back-up, right? It seems the back-up was corrupted. I even had the files sent to the National Defense Department to have them professionally retrieved. A very expensive endeavor if they are successful. They could not. They are gone.
I flash back to February 12th, 1970: I am 10 years old, standing on the cold ground. I watch our home, completely engulfed, burn to the ground. I stand there. How does one run home to cry when home is an ash-heap before them? I feel sucker-punched, dumb-founded and numb, all at the same time. It was this long since forgotten pain sensation that came rushing back as I received the news, “They were unsuccessful in retrieving the files.” That’s what was said, but what I heard was, “Sorry, you’ve been erased!”
Life has been my classroom, God is my teacher. With each lesson learned, I wrote. The old man sails, Forest Gump runs, Indiana Jones searches, Christian journeys, Much Afraid climbs, and I write.
My writings actually “birthed” out of me. They came from beautiful and tragic moments in life. I would conceive, and the idea would grow until I became so pregnant that I would pour over the keyboard and a new piece would be born. My journal was my baby. I have heard it said that to know a person’s true character, who they are when no one is around is the test by which that character is revealed. My writings were, “who I was when no one was around.” If I was on the mountain-top, I journaled. If I was in the depths of despair, I journaled. When eight year old Jami came around the corner, driving the riding mower, I stood there and watched my baby girl turn her first steering wheel. I knew if I blinked, it would belong to the car taking her to college, so I wrote about it. When seven year old Reid finally learned his kata and received his yellow belt- standing there, looking at his father and just beaming! I couldn’t wait to write about it. Pages of thoughts were recorded after the 9/11 attacks. When one of my dearest and best friends was on her death bed, tears mixed with ink. When my precious mother took her life, I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. When Daddy was dying of cancer, I journaled every day. And don’t get me started on marriage! This road I have traveled down with my best friend for over 35 years… well, I was always writing about that.
You see, I am finding it hard to breathe right now because, for me, breathing means writing. Remember the old saying, “Life isn’t about the amount of breaths you take. It is about the moments that take your breath away?” Well, I wrote about all those breathless moments. Almost every one of them.
…So I wrestle, I cry, I beg and then… I stop. I lie still. I think of Psalm 46:10, Be still and know that I am God. One of my many pieces written was about how “all things are from Him.” Nothing comes our way but that it first had to go through Him. He permitted it. He allowed it. He. Allowed. It. I take a moment. I let it register.
Illumination! The pearl necklace!! It is one of my favorite stories! Okay, bear with me:
Once upon a time, there was a little girl. Oh how she loved her Daddy and oh how He loved her. Every night, before bed, she would hop up onto His lap. They would sit there by the fire. Many precious nights of intimate fellowship were exchanged in that big chair by the fireplace. One night the Daddy looks down into her big eyes and says, “Daughter, I have a gift for you.” The little girl looks up wide-eyed, “You do! Oh Daddy, what is it?” The Father reaches out and hands her a beautiful stand of plastic pearls. “Oh Daddy, they are beautiful! I love them! Thank you!” She wears them to bed. She wears them to school. She wears them to the playground. A few weeks later, after she hops up onto her Daddy’s lap (graced with her pearl necklace), He says to her, “Honey, do you love Me?” Without looking up but snuggled tight into his brow she says, “Oh yes Daddy. You know I love you.” He whispers, “Do you trust Me?” “Of course I trust you Daddy.” The Father takes her by her tiny shoulders and looks into her eyes, “Then I want you to give Me your plastic pearls.” The little girl is sure she did not hear correctly, “What??” “If you love Me and if you trust Me, I want you to give me your plastic pearls.” She is very perplexed and startled by this request, “Daddy, why would You ever ask such a thing of me?” She then hops off from His lap and goes to bed that night enduring a restless sleep. The next night she starts to hesitate, but love wins out and she hops up onto her Daddy’s lap. “Daughter, you say you love Me. You say you trust Me. Do you really?” Now, with vexed soul she cries, “Daddy! Why must we talk of this? I do love You. Let this be the end of it, please!” The Father’s arms embrace the little girl, “I need for you to trust Me on this daughter. If you do as you say, then give Me the necklace.” With trembling fingers and eyes filled with tears, the little girl reaches up, grabs the necklace from around her neck, pulls, then straightens her arms in the direction of her Father’s hands. “Here, take them! Take them away.” To her horror, the young girl watches as the Father ever so gently but directly, throws the pearls into the burning fire. Barely audible the daughter cries, “Why? Why Father? Why?” The loving Father gently caresses His daughter in His arms and quietly tells her, “Because my precious daughter, it was only when you surrendered the plastic pearls that I could replace them with these.” And with that, He reached into his pocket and pulled out a brilliant genuine strand of ocean pearls and placed them around the little girl’s neck.
I hear my own voice cry to the Father, “Why Daddy, why?” And I hear His voice, “I know that many times in life you will not understand the “why’s” but child, do you “know” that I am a Good and Loving Father? “Yes! I do! Altogether Good! Altogether Loving! You have proven this in my life over and over. Remember, Daddy, when my babies kept dying in my womb? Remember when my third baby died as I lay there in such pain and I felt your very breath on my brow? I was comforted in a supernatural way that I could never explain. Somehow, it was a peace that passed understanding.”
I remembered! He is altogether faithful! Altogether trustworthy! And He promises to give beauty for ashes. Anytime He brings death in our lives if we will stick close we will see that it is followed by resurrection life. Not of the thing that died, for that is the old, but it is new life, a new thing.
Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert. Isaiah 43:19
It is the ‘ol, “Let go and let God.” But He knows our frame. He knows we came from dust. So He ordains a time to mourn (Ecclesiastes 3:4). He also bottles our tears (Psalm 56:8). Someone once told me, “You don’t want to find a bunch of empty bottles in heaven. Let yourself cry.”
So, I do not forbid the tears but with them comes a sweet sense of comfort. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).
So what is one of the lessons learned? Life! It is so full of mystery around every bend. And inside of each mystery we set out on a journey to find truth and meaning. Then, around each bend we find the unexpected! Sometimes to our great joy and excitement and sometimes to our grief and mourning. But with every single new place that I find myself in, I have this amazing confidence in the journey because it is all working toward a perfect plan and end. Because it is not left up to me to figure it all out (I thank my God!) but I just step in the flow of the river of life with utter abandonment and trust in the One who died for me and paid the price to finish the work! I love the song “To Life” from Fiddler on the roof. “Life has a way of confusing us, blessing and bruising us. L’chaim! Drink, l’chaim to life. God would like us to be joyful even when our hearts lie panting on the floor. L’chaim to life!”
So I shall stand back up, shake myself off and shout to life, “Bring it on! I got this! I got hutzpah! I got Jesus! Right here! Right now! In my little corner of the world!
And, to You Father, I raise my cup (You know, the one that overfloweth) and say, “L’chaim!”