When I was growing up, my family would often take walks in the evening and visit new neighborhoods close to us that were in the process of being built. We liked to walk through the unfinished homes when only the studs were up and try to guess what each area was going to be. I think this is when my fascination with the design and layout of houses began. Luckily, I married someone who shares that same fascination and one of our favorite cheap (but admittedly nerdy) date nights is to go to a book store (we splurge on coffee first), grab a few floor plan design books and pore over them together before we start sketching out our own plans for our ideal dream home. We each have our "must-haves" that we try to work into each design: mine are a wraparound porch, a mud room where everyone's junk has a specific spot so it never collects in piles by the front door, a farmhouse sink, a big kitchen island and most importantly, a HUGE window seat. I have been wanting one of those my whole life. His must-haves are a big garage, a man-cave cleverly disguised as a "study" (harder to say no to a study than a man-cave, I guess) and a movie room. We will talk about what kind of wood floors we want, if the master bedroom should be on the main floor or upstairs, where the laundry room should go and if a jetted tub or a claw foot tub would be better. Honestly, it is so much fun for us and we never get bored trying to come up with the perfect-for-us home.
But there is one feature to a house that, in my mind, trumps all the finishing touches I might come up with for the interior: the view. I would sacrifice square footage, expensive counter tops and movie rooms in a heart beat for a view that takes my breath away. There is something that refreshes and calms the soul about being able to just sit and see. To not have your line of sight be blocked and cluttered by anything man-made but instead to be able to drink in the beauty of sloping green fields or the deep blue of a lake or the majestic grandness of the mountains.
We all love a good view. But in life, we don't always get one, do we? As much as we strain and crane our necks to see, sometimes the clouds roll in and circumstances loom large in front of us and we just can't see around or see through. We're socked in, waiting for the fog to lift, unable to catch a glimpse of more than a few feet in front of us. I don't know about you, but if I am to be totally honest about myself, I don't handle those times very well. I like my view. I like being able to see what is out in front of me and then to sit back and relax. When I can't do that, when it feels like all I can see is a dense cloud of uncertainty and unknowns, I get a little anxious. A little frustrated. A little controlling over what is right around me. A little angry at whatever or whoever is preventing me from seeing what is ahead. A little panicky that maybe I'm lost or about to plunge off a cliff because I can't see where I'm going.
I remember one day when I was feelings all of these things and then some. I was standing by the window in our bedroom when we lived in Montana and what was normally a beautiful view of our city below and the mountains beyond was obscured by thick winter clouds. It was a fitting picture for what was also going on in our lives - thick clouds had rolled in, erasing from sight any idea of what was ahead. I didn't like it. In fact, I hated it and I told God so, with hot tears rolling down my face and a hard lump of anger in my chest. (Side note: thank you, Jesus, that we don't have to get a grip on our emotions - including anger- before we can come to you and thrash it out. Thank you for standing there with me, even when I ugly cry and rail against you.) I was begging God to show me how this all was going to ever work out for good, because I sure couldn't visualize it. I wanted some assurance that He really had a plan and I wanted to see it for myself (don't we all have a lot more in common with Thomas the doubter than we like to admit??).
I got my least favorite answer of all - silence. In resignation (as in, well that's not working so maybe I'll try reading my Bible but that probably won't help either) I started reading the passage of Scripture that went along with the Bible study notebook I was going through with some friends. When I read these words in Deuteronomy 1:32-33 I stopped in my tracks:
"In spite of this, you did not trust in the Lord your God, who went ahead of you on your journey, in fire by night and in a cloud by day, to search out places for you to camp and to show you the way you should go."
In all the times I had heard or read this story of how God guided the children of Israel through the wilderness by a pillar of fire by night and pillar of clouds by day, my thoughts had always been how cool a huge column of fire must have looked, especially in the complete blackness of the night. I hadn't given much consideration to the cloud that had been in front of them in the daytime because, as we all know, clouds are a little more boring than fire. But I was suddenly struck with some new thoughts as the mention of a massive cloud caught my attention that grey day:
Clouds block your view and make it hard to see, but in this case the clouds were the presence of God Himself as He went before His beloved children.
Could it be that the very thing I was railing against was the loving, sheltering, guiding presence of God in my own life?
Not having any idea what the future holds is hard, I know. Especially when you are in the midst of painful or unexpected circumstances. When you can't see through or see around, your mind can go crazy wondering when this will end and how it will end. We would like to see the map, the blueprint, the plans for how "all things work together for the good of those who love him" (Rom.8:28) in this situation in our lives, thank you very much. I remember crying and praying that day, "God, if this huge cloud in front of us that we can't see past is actually YOU, then I want to be okay with that. Because I know there is no better view than that of You ahead of me, carefully leading me the way I need to go, even if all I get to see is the step right in front of me for today."
Trust grows best when we can't see for ourselves. Stillness of heart happens when we surrender control to the One who can. And we may never know, until we look down from the vantage point of heaven while standing next to our Abba Father, what pitfalls and pain He lead us away from and what beauty and goodness He led us to, all during the most uncertain and unclear seasons of our lives.
Maybe when we can't see more than a few feet in front of us, it's because our loving Father God has stepped in front to carefully lead us through a wilderness that might prove too much for us if we didn't have a Guide who already knows the way out.
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