Photo: The Silhouette Studio
“When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dreamed.
Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
‘ The Lord has done great things for them.’
The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.
Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.”
-Psalm 126: 1-3; 5-6
Restoration. More specifically, “table restoration” is what I frantically typed into my google search engine after discovering somewhat sticky, wet rings on my wooden dining room table when I moved the place mats to clean. First I panicked, thinking I had ruined this beautiful table forever. Then, I considered just carefully covering the marred places with the mats that originally hid them and ignoring the issue until the end of time. Finally, I called my dad. When he said that we could probably restore it, I decided to check out what that entailed.
It turns out, the process of restoration is no small task. It’s messy, time consuming, and goes something like this.
Survey the Damage: Spend extensive time figuring out what caused the imperfections. When did they get there? How?
Sand: Go over the piece until the finish is removed and you can get to the root of the issue. Must go over the worst parts evenly and with the grain of the wood, otherwise you risk damaging the wood further. Sand until the color is even throughout and the worst parts no longer stand out.
Repair: Replace and repair any parts that need extra attention.
Sand again: If you’ve done repairs or replacements, you will need to go back over the wood again so that, again, the worst parts aren’t sticking out.
Stain/Oil: Seal your piece with a beautiful finish so that it is protected. Enjoy the restoration. And use a coaster.
Let me tell you, I know nothing about fixing damaged tables, but these steps are very familiar to me. I have been broken by sin, by circumstance, by death, by change, by regret, by leaving, by staying, by loneliness, by relationships, by lies, and by truths. There are imperfections I have had to reach deep to find origins of, patterns that once marked me that I didn’t remember myself without. But my God is a God of restoration. With His powerful words and His love present in the dear ones He places around me, He sands down past where I put up walls and fronts. He gently, but powerfully refines my imperfections with forgiveness and grace as I repent and let go of the guilt that makes those regrets seem like they have the right to define me. He has sealed me with wisdom from past mistakes, with knowledge of His sword that protects me. He has forbidden me from covering up the imperfections, and He has called the belief that I am forever ruined a lie.
Though “repentant tears” are not foreign to me and “begging God tears” are no strangers either, the tears that stamped my bible over Psalm 126, the passage above, were different at church on Sunday morning. For the first time in so very long, I realized that my God’s relentless pursuit had led me to a place in my life where my heart cry became the same as the people of Zion’s–one of thanks giving. The Lord HAS restored me. He has done great things for me, and I am filled with joy! It’s crazy how easy it is to miss these moments. To forget to throw up our hands in praise and say “THANK YOU for seeing me, for knowing me, and for blessing me” to our Father who gives good gifts and correction that makes us better. How remarkable it is to see life come from seeds we planted while weeping. What a Father to give us permission to weep while we sow.
To share in this joy with my fiance Trevor, my truest and best friend, is unreal. His strong and steady nature brings peace to my life, and the way he leads with ferocious jealousy for what is right in the sight of God gives clarity to paths that were so cloudy to me before. I thank God specifically for Trevor because although my Father has carved this special moment of time in my life for joy and reflection on all that He has done for me, time is never without pain. Sharing pain is very difficult for me to do, but with love that pursues the way Trevor’s does, I knew a brave face wouldn’t last forever.
I invited Trevor to come sit with me at my mom’s grave several months ago. I said nothing on the way over, and I sobbed the entire time I sat next to her name in the ground. I read the two letters that I always read–ones that she wrote to me. I explained nothing and apologized for nothing, and he sat with me. He held my hand, and he held me close with love that ached for me etched all over his face. Some days, these kinds of deaths are impossible to bear. As I stood up to leave, I dropped the out-of-season sunflowers I brought with me onto the stone with a kiss goodbye. Trevor followed behind me, and I sadly mustered, “Sunflowers. For her, it’s always sunflowers. She loved them, and I refuse to come without them.”
I walked about 5 more paces before I realized Trevor had stopped in his tracks. The look in his eyes told me he couldn’t shake whatever had come into his mind.
“Sarah, even though we hadn’t kept up regularly, I prayed often for your mom and asked my mom to keep me updated with how she was doing. When my mom called to tell me that your mom passed away four years ago, I was standing in the middle of a sunflower field.”
We stared at one another, feeling a depth in this moment that possibly only existed to us. A nod of mom’s approval? A strange coincidence? It doesn’t really matter. To us, a peace. A bond. A love.
Grace upon grace and tears that fall freely mark my praise to my God for the way He heals our hearts and makes us new. And whether you are rejoicing with sheaves or weeping as you sow, I pray that you would never give up the hope of restoration. I pray too that you won’t keep your story to yourself.