Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Broken Arrow

Down in the depths of our storage room are boxed-up pieces of our childhoods. There’s a blue Rubbermaid filled with my memorabilia: a sticker book, drawing notebooks, and an enormous key chain collection. There’s also a box with Kurt’s treasures: a jersey, medals, and ribbons.

That's a broadhead.
Over the years we’ve added to the collection, but the keepsakes don’t always fit in the box. For instance, I have gigantic vintage pompoms that roll around the storage room, making their annual appearance at Halloween. Kurt has a broken broadhead arrow memorializing his first successful archery hunt. It was displayed prominently (or not) on the inside of our storage room wall, for all the other keepsakes to admire.

Three little boys also admired its prominence. All those treasures from another time, and another life, are so intriguing. Especially my key chain collection and that wicked broadhead. Awesome!

One day this summer, the boys asked if I would take them spear fishing. There were several problems with their request:

1) I know little about fishing. 
2) I know nothing about spear fishing. 
3) I think it requires a spear gun, and we don’t have one. 
4) These are elementary aged boys. A spear in their hands seems unsafe.

They assured me we did not need a spear gun as they planned to fashion a fishing spear out of scrap wood. I was skeptical and somewhat humored. It struck me as cute. So I said, “Tell you what…if you make a spear out of wood, I will take you to the dock to go spear fishing.”

They sprinted to the garage. I imagined them whittling away on a 2x4, and I chuckled.

Unfortunately, I greatly underestimated their appetite for spear fishing. They appeared in my kitchen an hour later. And instead of the whittled club I imagined, they had fashioned an honest-to-goodness weapon. On the end of an old broom handle they had J-B Welded a broadhead.

They were ready for me to make good on my promise.

Unfortunately, I could not.

It would have been risky at best, and I think it would have been illegal. (Not that beating a fish with a whittled club would have been a good idea either. What was I thinking?)

They were mad, and I felt bad. So we went fishing anyway, but without the scary spear. Just the regular poles with little hooks and stinky rubber worms, which, on this occasion, was "lame."

I chuckled when I relayed the story to Kurt later. But when I finished, he asked, “Where’d they get the broadhead?”

I had no idea and suddenly felt stupid and irresponsible. They had fashioned a weapon after all!!

A little investigation revealed the broadhead was none other than the prized keepsake from the storage room. It had been severed from its broken shaft with a hacksaw.

That evening, a repentant boy quietly repaired a broken arrow with electrical tape and placed it on our dresser. It was laid on the frayed page of a spiral notebook. Written above it: “I love you.”

The note and the arrow still sit on our dresser. What could have been an ugly reminder of an emotionally charged evening is now a sweet keepsake of repentance and love.

He makes beautiful things out of dust…and broken arrows.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Giving Thanks for Beautiful Things

A couple years ago my friend and fellow music-lover lent me a CD and introduced me to Gungor. If you've listened to Christian radio for five minutes in the past year, you've probably heard their song "Beautiful Things." If not, here are the lyrics and a link to the song. Listen. You'll like it.

I brought the CD home, tossed the cover on the counter, and eagerly consumed their work. The title track was an immediate favorite. It's sung as a prayer: 
You make beautiful things, You make beautiful things out of the dust.
You make beautiful things, You make beautiful things out of us.
Later as I was wiping the counter I picked up the CD cover and finally noticed the cover art. It reinforced the song's message and made an unforgettable impression.

I loved it. 

Artist Ben De Rienzo 
The artist does himself a disservice by making it so easy to overlook. But he rewards the close observer.

Look closely and you'll see the flowers, leaves and stems are a mosaic of tiny symbols representing a sin-sick world. But the artist has arranged them so perfectly, you might not notice the horrific things at first glance.

I think it’s a poignant metaphor. 

It seems a lot of life is made up of hardships. Even in striving for good, there is sometimes pain. Jesus himself gave us the guarantee that nobody wants: “In this life you will have trouble…”

Artist Ben De Rienzo

That’s what those tiny images symbolize. The guaranteed trouble. Sometimes it’s our own doing, sometimes the blame falls to others, but sometimes it’s just because we live in a world poisoned by sin.

Thankfully, the story and the picture don’t end with trouble. 

Jesus finished that troubling statement by saying, “Take heart! I have overcome the world." I have sometimes failed to receive that encouragement because I've mistakenly thought He'd magically make all the bad stuff nice. 

And although He can do anything, God is an artist for His glory and our good, not a magician for our comfort and entertainment. He did not promise to abracadabra handcuffs into gumdrops.

Instead, Jesus the Great Artist has an unfathomable way of arranging all that trouble into something beautiful. And when we finally stand back to view the Artist’s work we look to Him and say, “Wow. That’s kind of unbelievable what you did with all that trouble.”

Sometimes I'm too close to the artwork He's making of my life. I see the ugly mistakes, bad decisions and painful loss. And it all seems broken. But the Great Artist takes the broken pieces. He arranges each one so when the work is done, the masterpiece causes careful observers to admire the Artist who’s great specialty is making something beautiful out of something that wasn't.

It’s really just a long way of saying the word redemption. To redeem is to buy back, to exchange, to recover, to convert. And redemption is the great work of God. 

This November, I want to give thanks to the Great Artist for making beautiful things out of dust…even out of us.