Merely two months away from our first home assignment after four years of life in PNG and we find ourselves in the awkward position of straddling two worlds. We’ve got one foot on the ground here in PNG – flying, teaching, raising kids, washing dirty clothes, and peeling carrots – while our other foot has jumped the Pacific and is busily laying out a plan for what life will look like after June 5th. There is a ministry video to make, prayer cards to print, visiting schedules to fill all while we eagerly await how the Lord is going to provide everything from housing and a vehicle to clothes for washing and a peeler for carrots. There is a sense of the past, present, and future melding into one and though it is awkward, it is more beautiful still for the lesson it imparts.
While we have a “short and sweet” ministry video all ready to display to our faithful churches and supporters, it would be a lie to say that the six-minute summary of our past four years is a completely accurate reflection of what we have actually experienced. It must, by necessity, share the facts but what it simply cannot describe is the spiritual, emotional, and even the physical repercussions of those facts upon our lives. As we look back on the the journey that has been our time here in PNG we have, of course, recalled the hills we’ve walked that were bursting with flowers and sunshine. More often, however, our thoughts have been driven to those numerous times that we’ve found ourselves in valleys of tangled brush and thorny vines with the occasional sinkhole that has threatened to swallow all but that piece of us which we steadfastly trust to be eternal.
The miraculous thing about being in a place where the past merges with the present and projects into the future is that we get a taste – however much we allow our perspective to be aligned with eternal truths – of the magnificent Artist who is painting the canvas of our journey in Sovereign Goodness. Indeed, from the proper perspective, we can look back at those paths of tangled brush and see how they forced us to grasp the Hand of the One who knew the way. We can look back on the thorns and see how the pain drove us to the arms of our Father who unfathomably loves us. We can look back on the sinkholes and realize that it was when we stopped struggling to preserve ourselves that we found a Savior who already conquered death and thereby offers peace beyond measure. And interestingly enough, those hills filled with sunshine and flowers were only half the time recognized as blessings from the One above and the other half the time, if we’re truly honest, we can see that we were living in self-reliant and ungrateful ignorance of His provision.
So it is here we find the paradox – in seasons of great comfort we tend to forget our Creator while in seasons of struggle and suffering we see that He is indeed all that we need. And He is always there, whether or not we recognize Him; He is masterfully painting the picture that will one day be the sum of our lives. But oh, that we would learn to rejoice in the trial because we are looking to our heavenly reward; that we would learn there is hope to be produced from pain, glory to be produced from suffering; that we would learn that to exhaust ourselves for the sake of the Gospel so His strength can be sufficient is how it should be. Then we could look at the tangles, thorns, and sinkholes and proclaim deeply in our spirit, “thank you, Lord, for in this, you are showing me You.”
As for the past projecting into the future, simple reasoning should lend an answer: He who has been faithful yesterday, will tomorrow be faithful still. And whether the future holds flowers or thorns, both should be evidence of His sovereign goodness, His gentle pruning, and the fulfillment of the promise that He works all things for the good of those who love him and are called according to His purpose.
So we straddle two worlds and it feels awkward. But we straddle two worlds with our eyes fixed upon the world which is yet to come and trust that the King of that world is sovereignly and lovingly painting the hills and valleys in both of the worlds in which we now live.