There is something that is simply magical about this time of year in Pennsylvania. It almost seems like from Halloween to Thanksgiving, God is simply showing off with every changing leaf on every gorgeous tree. How someone can look at this incredible act of creation, death and rebirth and not see the hand of God is beyond me. For these few short weeks every year, I wake up each day to a new canvas painted by the master artist and I stand in awe. The reality is, however, that to get this beauty in my life, I have to be willing to endure the chill and barrenness of the winter-scape soon to surround me.
Life can often be like that. Just this weekend, I lost my sanity for a few moments and agreed to a bike ride with some of the guys at our mens retreat. Little did I know that it was 17 miles round trip and would take the entire afternoon. I had been promised a view of New York City if I was willing to endure the ride. Most of the guys I rode with came fully prepared in bright yellow jackets (they didn’t tell me we would be riding in the street at night for part of the way) and Spandex (reason enough to reconsider ever doing this again), but a couple of us simply wore what we came to the retreat in. At the half way point we stopped at an overlook at Fort Hancock and for a few brief moments the pain was almost worth it. I didn’t realize that beaches in New Jersey, especially that close to New York City were so big and frankly so clean. The view was breathtaking and as I rode the agonizing 8.5 miles back, I could not help but think that God was doing some pretty awesome work with the sunset that we observed.
I think that for the most part I want my life to be like the weather in southern California, 72 and sunny all the time. Having just been there, it’s easy to forget that the people who live there also endure periodic earthquakes, nightmarish traffic and housing prices that just want to make you say OUCH. I want my kids to be respectful, my wife to be responsive to my every need and my relationships to be meaningful with no conflict. If you are thinking that I really losing my sanity with that last sentence, you are probably right – but it is what I want if I am really honest. The reality of my life, however, is that God seems to work the best when I am at my weakest. Just like the leaves, I have to die for Him to get the glory from the fleeting beauty that can sometimes occur when there is full surrender to His will.
As I look back on the moments of deepest growth in my life, they are often connected to moments of greatest pain and challenge. Getting a college degree did not happen without a lot of hard work, finding a spouse did not happen without a willingness to relinquish the freedom of my youth and becoming a parent meant signing up for a lifetime of conflict and concern. When I answered God’s call to become a missionary in my late 20’s, I knew that it would mean giving up the career that I had been pursuing to that point. I had no idea that it would also mean the stripping away of all roles of authority so that I could sit at the feet of a 65 year old woman and be mentored for over a year in the art of bookselling and the ministry of touching peoples lives through the life changing power of words on a page. They say that hindsight is 20/20, I am not so sure. What I do know is that I can now say – WORTH IT – at the top of my lungs.
One day when I get to heaven, the most awesome thing about God is that when he looks at me, he will be able to say WORTH IT at the top of his lungs, not because he sees something special in me, but because He will not see me at all, just the the amazing beauty of the sacrifice of the death of His one and only son. That will be more beautiful than any leaf He has ever created.