I was making dinner for my soon-to-be husband (to be honest, I was warming up leftovers), when he came into the kitchen and said, “Stop! We need ten minutes to go down the street — I have a surprise for you.” I was curious: What kind of urgent surprise could he have on a Tuesday night the month before our wedding? Filled with anticipation and excitement, I hopped into the car.
It was a yard sale. And in the midst of the yard sale, a teak wood table and chairs that had seen much better days. The paint was chipped, the wood was dull, some of the chairs were missing slabs on strategic parts of the seats, and the rust was evident along the edges. My love looked at me and said, “Isn’t it great? It just needs some cleaning up and elbow grease!”
Really? This was the surprise? Old, beat up furniture? Twenty dollars later we had an SUV full of teak wood furniture and a new project for the back deck.
I appreciate my fiancé’s ability to see potential. He can look past the rough edges and the dull paint to see the beautiful gem underneath. But we all know that getting to the beauty doesn’t happen overnight, and it often takes longer than we think.
In the last few weeks, I have been reflecting on my journey with the Lord. I am much like the teak wood table, and the Lord has seen all of my paint chips, dents, and weathered wood from the years. He has been showing me his overwhelming faithfulness and ability to bring out beautiful gems in my life. But it has taken some time and a lot of elbow grease.
I have been praying for over twenty years to be married. In that time, I have experienced many seasons: those of contentment, unbearable longing and desire, bitterness, and happiness. I have not always been happy with the Lord; in fact, I’ve been downright angry and confused. It sometimes seemed that God didn’t care for my heart and was withholding a good gift that everyone else seemed to have gotten much earlier. Why did I have to be so different? Why was this so painful? After all, I had given my life to God and was serving him in ministry — shouldn’t he be giving me more than this?
I’m so glad the Lord is gracious and faithful. I’m so glad he looks beyond my bitterness and continues the refining process. God chooses to get under the battered teak wood in my life, even when I throw a fit. He is not deterred by my angst but continues to love me by stripping away the old layers in order to show off the new beauty — the beauty that has been there all along.
I didn’t understand how long this refining process would take. I didn’t understand that as I stepped into the pain of heartbreak, loneliness, and unmet longings, I was also on the journey to incredible joy. I didn’t know how much work it would be. In those twenty years of waiting and praying for marriage, God did a lot of work, and so did I.
I chose to step into the pain of loneliness: the pain of not having a date for the holidays; of being an extroverted, passionate person with no significant other to share life with; of always having the empty chair next to me when I went out to eat with my married friends — a reminder that I would go home alone. As I stepped into this pain with God, over and over, he met me in ways that are hard to describe. He gave me Scripture that healed my soul and reminded me that I am always in good company with the Trinity. He gave me healing prayer that gave me hope and joy, which allowed me to experience his loving presence in deep ways. God gave me the intimacy I craved and that only he, my good Father, can provide.
God also invited me into my brokenness. I was annoyed by this invitation. I had done a lot in my professional world to be seen as a leader and to be competent, even excellent. I worked hard. But the Lord wanted to go deeper and get to some of those rusty edges.
In my singleness, I was unsure of myself and didn’t feel adequate. I perceived my difference from my married friends as negative and assumed there was a reason I wasn’t being “chosen” for marriage. Almost two decades of believing this lie has done damage to my ability to own my voice and to be confident in who I am in Christ. And all of that over-achieving in my leadership was a nice cover for the insecurity I felt deep within my soul.
As I said yes to the invitation to step into this pain, God began the good work of healing, revealing to me that my identity is in Christ and Christ alone. I am a whole person in Jesus Christ, I am made in the image of God, and I am one of “God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved” (Col. 3:12). I am free to be who I am and to be secure in his love. Leading out of this place is far more rewarding, and much more fun, than leading out of insecurity.
As a result, the healing and joy that I have in Christ goes with me into my upcoming marriage. I now know that God’s love will go further to fulfill my heart than the wonderful love of my husband. I have the blessing of knowing that I am a whole person and can bring all of me to the table, secure in Christ, as I enter into this marriage. And these are the very qualities my fiancé loves about me.
My journey continues — there is always more teak wood to clean. I’m closing one chapter of the book and writing a new and different chapter, but I’m doing so with the God who loves to bring beauty from ashes — the same God who has been with me all along.
Whether we are single, married, or single again, the Lord invites us on a journey of healing and redemption. He is committed to taking that old teak wood and turning it into gorgeous furniture. The process may take more time than we would like and be more painful than we expect, but the joy and freedom in Christ will be our beautiful reward.