Tears streamed down her face. It was some sort of award or honor day at the church meeting. I don’t really remember what the awards were for or why we were even doing that in the first place but there we were. They called the names of a family who’d just adopted a sweet baby that year. They honored them. Their story. The successful adoption and the good work they’d done. The mama standing next to me, wrestling with the hot tears streaming down her cheeks, she and her family had spent the last three years fostering a few children, some really hard children. Painful years, so much sacrifice. Children she loved. And they had just headed back into a situation she knew was going to derail all the hard work they’d done. She knew the saga was going to just continue. She stood there holding all her broken pieces, watching someone else’s story get tied off with a pretty bow. A bow she knew wasn’t going to be the end of her story. She felt the deep ache of it. Heartbroken and angry.

We aren’t good with stories that end this way. We don’t want to tell them. We like the bow. We want the bow. We want to recognize it when God wraps a story up with a pretty bow. We want to pretend He doesn’t ever let things go, untied, unfinished, unwrapped. We want to acknowledge the happy ending and avoid the messy ones. We struggle to see God until the end, when we see the pretty bow he ties it all off with. But sometimes we never see that bow. At least not in this life. Sometimes he doesn’t give us a reason. Sometimes he lets the mess linger. Trust me, I don’t like it any more than you do. And it’s so much easier to recognize the bows, to acknowledge the “successes.” I’d like to believe it always goes that way. But it doesn’t. And we don’t give out awards for failed adoptive placements. We don’t give out awards where we don’t see bows. We don’t know what to say or what to do,so we just move on, point to the bows and say, “Look, see what God did.” That’s not a bad thing. We should do that. It’s good to acknowledge the good things God does. But when we cannot find him in the mess we miss so much about him. We’d rather call it someone’s failure than admit that maybe the mess is the bow too. Maybe, stepping into the mess, even when there’s no bow at the end is exactly where God wants us to be. Maybe it’s where he meets us most. Maybe its where he does his best work. In us. In our hearts. And maybe in the hearts of people we will never even know about.

God has tied parts of my story off with some really beautiful bows. My rock of a husband, after a painful divorce. My sweet surprise and side kick baby girl, when I thought I’d never have another. But it isn’t all bows and roses. Much still lingers untied and unwrapped. And much of it is likely to stay that way. The difficulty of shared custody and taking care of special needs kids isn’t going away anytime soon. I’m thankful for the pretty bows in my life but the things that aren’t tied off, the things that are still messy. Those are the spaces of my life that deserve an award. They are also the spaces no one knows what to do in. So we avoid. And we point to the bows.

When Jesus died on that cross I’m sure his people were wondering what had happened to the bow they were looking for. And when he came back, straight out of the grave man did they get a seriously pretty bow to tie off that story. But then life carried on, and as they carried the message of Jesus love to the world, it was messy. Jail. Beatings. Brokenness. Disagreements. Rejection. Violent deaths. Not a lot of awards. Not much acknowledgements. Millions of bows because of what they did. What they suffered. Because of the mess they dove into. Tying off stories left and right. Maybe they got to see a few of those bows but most of them they’d never even know about.

That couple. The one who got the award. The bow. I know they’d struggled through years of infertility, lost babies, and had failed adoptive placements. They’d had their share of untied, unwrapped and messy. It wasn’t that they were’t deserving of a bow. It’s just that we don’t know how to deal in the non-bow moments. We don’t know what to say or how to act. So we say nothing. We do nothing. And watching someone else get a bow when we’ve worked so hard for one we aren’t going to get is so very painful. So I want to tell you. If you are living in the mess. If your story, or parts of it haven’t been tied off with the pretty bow, that’s okay. Just because we cannot see the bows. Just because you aren’t getting the award, doesn’t mean it isn’t there, or that it isn’t coming, or that you don’t deserve it. It might not be the bow someone else got. It might not be the bow you were hoping for. That beautiful bow might not be tied until the very end, when God wraps up and ties off all the stories. God does his best work in the midst of the mess. It’s where all the best bows come from. The work you’re doing means something, even when you can’t see the bows. They are there. They are coming. I promise. Because He promises.

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