This is the final reflection that I’ll post on this year’s tree, and it was the toughest reflection too. While I was setting up the tree, I kept debating whether I wanted to use the tree topper bow. This wasn’t a matter of decorating preference like the lights or the spacing of the ornaments. I was struggling with what the bow symbolized. This bow is on its third year, and I still remember the year I made it. It was a date night to decorate the tree, and I was in a new and fresh relationship that felt like it was going places. This year, I was decorating the tree by myself, and I knew that when I took that bow out of the box, the ribbons for the tree weren’t going to be trailing out of the box on their own. Trailing along with that bow were many memories, ones that I didn’t know how to handle.
Memories, particularly ones from a happier time or a different season or a dream that fell apart, are the hardest memories to deal with. I’m learning that more as I interact with others. I’ve seen women who’ve lost their dream homes in the economic downturn, so they’re not retiring where they planned to retire. And, when they speak of the old days, it’s wistful. I’ve seen women whose children aren’t walking with the Lord, and now they sigh or they try to put on a happy face and pretend like everything is ok. Or, in my situation, I remember how a year and a half ago, I really thought that life would look very, very different right now. And, certainly last Christmas, I didn’t fully expect to be decorating a tree alone this Christmas; I was fighting hard not to have to.
And, the weird phenomenon about memories is that they get tangled up with all the hurts and disappointments and broken threads of life that come along after them. The memories get tainted. And, rather than being blessings that we count, they become burdens that we want to drop or tiny needles in our souls. But, I don’t think it’s supposed to be that way. I think we’re supposed to remember the beauty of those moments. I think we’re supposed to remember the gifts that God was giving us in that season of life.
This struggle of the bow reminded me of a sermon that I listened to about a month ago. I had been praying and praying and praying about something. Tough prayers — the kind that put me on my face a few times just begging God to change a situation. And, I got a no. And, the no hurt. And, I sat on my couch and asked God to at least give me something. I asked him to show me some kind of truth to help me see his hand beyond the no, something that would help me believe that he was more involved than simply blocking a path. I wound up finding the first sermon in the Owned series preached by Joel Thomas. And, that was God showing me that he was still there. He wanted to give me more than a no. He wanted to help me see truth.
Joel Thomas preached on what to do with regret, with “if only” and “what if.” It’s as if God wanted to give me a ladder to scale the brick wall of “if only” that I just keep running into over and over again. Thomas preached on 2 Corinthians 7:10-11: “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done.” And, he pointed out that we will have sorrow; we will have regrets. That is part of life, but sorrow can be godly; it can lead to repentance. What struck me though was how he explained repentance. While I had been praying and struggling through the situation, I had already asked forgiveness for the offenses I had committed the best I knew how, but I still felt weighed down. Thomas talked about repentance meaning that we see the situation as God sees it, a definition that I already knew. But, I was only applying it to the sin part of the equation. I agreed with God that I had been wrong in many ways in the situation that was breaking my heart, but I wasn’t seeing the situation fully as God saw it. Thomas talked about the way that God also sees things through redeeming eyes. So, he doesn’t just cover the sin; he uses the pain and the sorrow to awaken something else. Just like the Corinthians wanted to move forward in earnestness and had a new longing for what was right, God wants us to sign over all of our past to him, the sin debt and the circumstances gone awry, so that he can step in as a redeemer for it all.
I’d love to say that the lesson is all learned in my own heart; it’s not. My heart doesn’t flood with joy when I look at the bow. I haven’t unhitched the memories from the all the weight that they accumulated, and there are some that I don’t even want to try to unhitch because the prospect seems like too much of an uphill climb. But, at the same time, I’m trying to long for something else, trying to be ready for the next step in a redemptive story that I don’t fully understand other than to know that the last page shines with God’s glory. And, until I get to the last page, I can only write one sentence at a time, putting a bow on a tree if that is what one sentence looks like.