This may come as a terrible shock but people are still going to die in 2017. It is right, of course, to be angry that death plays such a relentless role. And yet we are perennially shocked at its audacity. It’s like an endless game of whack-a-mole. And we hate it for its persistence in picking on us. But maybe let’s consider letting 2016 off the hook and rather loathing death itself, and ruing the day it was brought into the world. It is the “last enemy” after all. We all want to see its ultimate defeat. Thank God there is a perfect remedy more lasting than any single year!

Romans 6:23

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Lord, break our hearts with what breaks yours.

I posted the above thoughts on Facebook on December 29, 2016. I think when I posted this I was responding to all of the posts at the time about how too many celebrities passed in 2016. In 2018 I’ve known more personal loss and heartbreak than in any year previous (not all of them literal deaths) and have had more immediate friends impacted by the loss of a dear loved one than at any point in my life. I will confess I have heard myself cynically think, “Good riddance 2018. You won’t be missed,” at least a few times. But the truth is, I have seen God move more breathtakingly than ever before in this really awful by most standards year. I have felt the almost palpable weight of fierce spiritual warfare and of grief this year, and yet have seen the Lord orchestrate and choreograph and draw us into his holy dance of interdependence and overwhelming love in ways I could never have foreseen.

I have seen his sweet omniscience and omnipresence in technicolor as I have seen him answer prayer after prayer with laser precision, even those prayers we had no words or knowledge of the future enough to pray. I have seen him pour his blessings into every one of our broken places. The cracks are still there. The sadness of the empty places still grips me with overwhelming force at times.

But, like a skilled gardener, he is planting the hardiest little flowers in those very cracks, many of which were made with his own hand.

If you’ve ever watched an artist like an expert gardener work, you will know that sometimes they create a terrible mess. They may break perfectly good things, knock things over, turn a perfectly lovely patch of lawn into a series of rubble piles and muck puddles. The ones working alongside them often may be tempted to lose hope. Could this ever become whatever is in this guy’s head? (And what is that anyways?!) But the gardener has not only a master plan in mind, but knows exactly what must be destroyed and what must be preserved and what must be augmented and what must be built brand new from scratch.

By design, God has made us Co-laborers with him in his making all things beautiful and new. We are often tempted to wonder if he really has a clue, especially when we are deep in the rubble and muck puddle phase. All we can see is how many boulders we have to move, how many more shovels we’re going to have to buy, how sore and discouraged we will feel for the unforeseen future. But he calls us to trust. Work and trust. Rest and trust. He does have a beautiful plan, both for the end and for the road to get there. If you’ve ever worked along side someone, or been through a traumatic experience with someone, you know that there is a certain bond there that has been forged by heat and hammer. This is how it is with the Lord for those who love him and have been called according to his purpose. We are fast-bound to him more with every degree and every blow. We don’t feel the strength in the moment the hammer comes down or the temperature rises, but when it cools the strengthened bond is revealed. And like a finished garden, it has a shine and gleam to it that could never have been imagined. Even a master gardener’s plot needs constant attention, pruning, weeding, and occasional rearranging. Even the best blade needs to be sharpened again and again.

So if 2018 was rough, don’t put your hope in 2019 being better. The bare facts are, it could very well be worse. We do not know what is to come. But we do know that if he can take something as terrible as 2018 and make beauty, he can do that each and every year until time is no longer measured in years. That’s where my hope is.

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