Every Moment Belongs
There’s a scene from an episode of the 90’s TV show, Northern Exposure, that's never left me.
Ed Chigliak, a half-Native American orphan, is talking with his friend Marilyn, trying to make sense of being struck by lightning, wondering if it was just a fluke or if he was cosmically singled out.
Ed asks, “Who do you think is right? Is it a nihilistic universe with no meaning… other than survival? Or does the enlightenment view prevail? Does the Creator have a master plan, and if so, what is it?”
And then Marilyn shares a story with him:
“My uncle once told me about a warrior who had a fine stallion. Everybody said how lucky he was to have such a horse. “Maybe,” he said. One day the stallion ran off. The people said the warrior was unlucky. “Maybe,” he said. Next day, the stallion returned, leading a string of fine ponies. The people said it was very lucky. “Maybe,” the warrior said. Later, the warrior’s son was thrown from one of the ponies and broke his leg. The people said it was unlucky. “Maybe,” the warrior said. The next week, the chief led a war party against another tribe. Many young men were killed. But, because of his broken leg, the warrior’s son was left behind, and so was spared.”
And just like that, my habit of divvying up my experiences into categories of good and evil was turned on its head. Who can say if the “evil” that befalls me today won’t turn out to be a blessing in disguise in the hands of the God who promises to work everything together for the good of those who love him?
The story of Joseph is one of the bible’s more dramatic examples of this. Being sold into slavery by his brothers sent him on a trajectory that landed him in the courts of Pharaoh where he was able to save his family from famine and death at just the right time decades later.
I’ve seen it in my own story, too. The things I’m most grateful for about my character came from the most painful experiences of my life—experiences I never would’ve chosen, but that now, because of who they made me, I’m grateful for and likely wouldn’t change even if I could.
Fear taught me courage, failure taught me forgiveness, pain taught me empathy. Again and again God has taken the soul-crushing worst moments of my life to make the best of me.
I don’t know if I believe that means everything happens for a reason. But I do believe that no matter what happens, nothing is wasted in the hands of our Redeemer. Love gets the final word.
My life has been shaped by this dynamic from the very beginning. My birth was an accident and a sad complication in the lives of my very young parents. My arrival on planet earth set off a chain of events that ravaged my parent’s lives and took all three of us through an ugly divorce and custody battle that broke my little boy heart the same time it broke my speech, leaving me with the enduring scar of a stutter. The deeper wound, though, was the question that gnawed at me: how could my life mean anything if I never should have been born in the first place?
This question haunted me for years until I came across something Frederick Buechner wrote about David and Bathsheba, whose scandalous beginnings led to the birth of a son who would be the great, great, great, etc. grandfather of Jesus: the savior of the world who died for all our sins, even the sins of his great grandparents..
In his book, Beyond Words, Frederick Buechner imagines King David at the end of his life, remembering the moment he first saw Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah who he later had killed. He had seen her from his roof while she bathed, “glimmering in the dusk like a peeled pear.”
As he raised his glass to finish off his drink, “it wasn't just Bathsheba he'd been toasting or the prospect of their life together, but a much more distant prospect still. He had been drinking, he realized, to the child of their child of their child a thousand years thence, who he could only pray would find it in his heart to think kindly someday of the beautiful girl and the improvident king who had so recklessly and long ago been responsible for his birth in a stable and his death just outside the city walls.”
Through such messy stories as David’s, Bathsheba’s, and maybe even my own; and on what Brennan Manning called “the crooked but straight path,” the Kingdom of God arrives and the world is saved. As our path twists and turns and takes us through joys and sorrows, wins and failures, and storms of every kind, it can often feel senseless and random. But my experience has been that, more often than not, we may come to see how each mile was necessary, every moment belonged, and we couldn’t have gotten to where we were supposed to be any other way.
Thank you Father for your unfailing love that goes behind, before, and beside us through order, into disorder, and out the other side to reorder again and again as you make us your masterpiece!