Below is a piece I've had sitting in my drafts for a while (since before the corona virus hit) and when I look at it now I am seeing new ways that my Heavenly Father wants me to open my hands and let something go so that I can receive what He wants me to have in this strange, dark season of a pandemic. He has not changed - even when the world changes so drastically. He still loves to take broken things and make them new. He still loves to give peace and otherworldly joy to His children - yes, even in a pandemic - so I am once again learning to open my hands to His gifts. I've added some current thoughts regarding the pandemic in italicized parentheses.
"Open your hands," He told me. I'd been reading something written by Corrie ten Boom that day and those words were seared in my mind. And they kept coming back to mind for days, and weeks, and months. I knew the Lord was telling me to remember them, to write them down, because He wanted to teach me something. "Open your hands, lest He pry them open," were the words Corrie had written across time to this young wife and mother who needed to learn them. I'd read them a couple of years before we adopted or had our fifth baby, or experienced difficult health and physical problems, or had deep bouts of depression, or left what we knew and planted a church, or had problems and pain in our extended family, (and before a pandemic had spread across the world). These words were given to me in the easy years. Of course, we never think of the time we are in as ‘easy’ - do we? - that is until something harder comes along. I’d already had some very hard years in my early childhood and so the thought of open hands didn’t come peacefully to me. Open hands sounded to me like something will fall out of them, something will be lost, or worse, taken, like my mother had been taken from me when I was eleven. After all, Corrie’s open hands led her to a concentration camp and her sister dying in her arms. Who wants to open their hands when such hard things may come into them? Isn’t it better to grip tightly to what you have, to push for your own way when you’re so certain it’s the best and right way? I privately journaled my anxious pondering about why He had given me these three, little, very heavy words. Then as years began to pass it became a sort of mantra whenever something left me that I wasn’t ready for. I would whisper to myself - "open your hands". Strangely, those little heavy words didn’t add to my burden but lightened it. He wanted to teach me about what was never mine, and that clawing and clamoring for possession of something that was never yours has no gain in it, no peace at all. As the years passed He began to show me more and more of those things that I needed to loosen my grip on, the things that had always been His. My kids: I’d always seen myself as the primary caretaker. I did whatever it took at any cost and it lulled me into feeling in complete control...until we walked the adoption road, and everything was out of my control. Our daughter was struggling for her life in an orphanage on the other side of the world and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. Maybe I’d never really been in control of the lives of the children who were physically present with me either. My church: I grew up in the church and watched my parents lead small groups and minister to people in our home. Body life was the highlight of my week as a young adult - and my identity, as it turned out. An organization, I mean, not Jesus. But I didn’t know this until we left to plant a church. There were long years of being portable and figuring things out alone. I needed a new identity. My physical strength and internal fortitude: I’ll be honest, I prided myself on strength. I could work really hard and be extremely productive. And productivity made me feel valuable, that is until I started to experience autoimmune issues and fatigue. The internal fortitude that had carried me through childhood grief and led me to think of myself as strong of heart seemed to slip away. Anxiety moved in instead and then her friend, depression. My husband: He had his own health struggle and it became hard for him to do things for me that he used to do. At first, my self-reliance kicked in, but that wasn’t enough. And when my anxiety and depression moved in, I was disappointed - even hurt - when there was nothing he could do to help.
(Our daily living:
One day we were going on as normal and the next we are shut in our homes, fearful of a virus that no one can see, but that has spread quickly to every corner of the world. The future is unknown. What will the losses be - in lives, in our economy, in the way we do life together? Will we ever be the same?)
It turns out, my hands are far too small to hold any of these things. But here’s the beautiful part - My Heavenly Father's hands aren’t. And He doesn’t lose anything that is given to Him. Hands that are clenched hold on tightly to broken things too, instead of letting go for something to be made whole. Maybe those same clenched hands are even part of what causes the breaking. I’ve done a lot of breaking, whether from clenching or from being clenched. I’ve been both the breaker and the broken. It turns out clenched hands are better for punching than holding. So He told me to open my hands, not because He wanted to steal something from me, but because He wanted to give me something greater. Open hands gave me hope when important relationships broke. “Listen and pray,” He placed quietly in my hands. “Be silent. Watch Me instead. I am the Healer. And in my new kingdom, there are no broken things. Wholeness is coming. It is not a question of if, but when. So watch Me work.” (What if right now is the time for healing and restoration? Could your Heavenly Father use something as dark as a pandemic to breath life into your broken relationships? It's a gift to be brought right to the edge of losing something but then be given the chance to turn back. What relationships have you been clenching onto that need open hands and grace?) Open hands gave me a gift in the church when many pastor’s wives struggle to find a place (and I certainly did too). But He said, “The church isn’t bought with your blood, Laura. Your quiet labors, whether seen or unseen belong to Me. And the legacy you will leave behind is not a building and not people, but the gospel. All other things will end, but the legacy of 33AD will remain. Don’t clench your hands around ephemeral means of proclaiming that eternal truth. There is no more church in Ephesus, no more church in Thessalonica. And yet the legacy remains. Your labors are not in vain, but they will not be remembered - Christ will be remembered and He is the better thing. The earthly building is not your home, people are not your home, I am. Run to Me. I am building My church exactly the way I want to and I will bring you all Home with Me.” ("And one day, the church will leave the building, but I will never leave My church. I've promised. So fear not. My hands have always been carrying you toward a heavenly destination. Labor on until I come for you and rest in Me when you are weary, not in an organization.")
Open hands gave me joy when I couldn’t make my daughter catch up or meet standards that were inside of a box. It took years to learn simple tasks and my eyes looked too far ahead, to distant, scary scenarios instead of the sweet little face in front of me. Clenched fists robbed me of laughter and hope and instead pierced me straight through with fear. But He said, “She is exactly who I made her to be, and she is exactly where I want her to be. I brought her this far and preserved her life when you couldn't. If I am for her what is there to fear?” ("I was for her when she had no one else. And I am still for her when you worry about her scarred and damaged lungs in a world where a corona virus steals breath. She has always been and will always be in My care.") Open hands showed me how God had been orchestrating all of the hard places from the beginning. Recently He reminded me of the passage that was read at our wedding. Jeremiah 29:11 "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord. "Plans to prosper you and not to harm you; plans to give you hope and a future." I had selected that passage written by the weeping prophet because of the beautiful place that God had already brought us - through childhood grief to an altar declaring our love and His. My husband came to me when I was still a grieving girl and he was a grieving boy, and that ugly grief became a door...to this, to love. God turned our mourning into dancing. Wasn't this the hope and the future He promised? No, it wasn't. Not really. It was just a taste of what 'beauty from ashes' means. We were at the beginning of His plans, not the completion of them. There were high mountains yet to climb and deep valleys yet to be crossed, places that would feel a lot like exile and banishment. "Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all of your heart. I will be found by you," declared the Lord, "and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you," declared the Lord, "and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile." I read that passage now and see it completely different than that blushing bride once did. He says, "the places where I have banished you...where I carried you into exile." That is the hardest thing to receive, isn't it, that when my heart hurts, when things are the hardest, it is the Lord that has sent me here? There's something He desires to set into my hands...right here...that I couldn't receive anywhere else than right where He has me. He is prying. Will I open my hands?
And I can't forget - not on the wedding day and not in banishment - that He will also gather me. So don't settle down here in that hard place. Don't take it up as a mantle. This is exile - it's just a place, not an identity. This is just where open hands receive something bigger. Good plans are still in place and yet to come. Home is coming; restoration is coming. I am not at the completion of His plans when my mourning turns to dancing, and not when my dancing turns to mourning. Finally, open hands came when I surrendered in my last bit of depressed weariness of soul. I hadn’t gotten out of bed for days. I could hardly move as the sunlight shifted across our room, morning to night to morning again. Then the darkest night. And it was then that He whispered to me, “I loved this Laura enough to give my life for her. This one, right here. You never needed to earn it.” Are you listening? Open your hands for this: “I love you. I loved you when your fists were clenched. I loved you in the breaking. I love you now.”
(Several years later, as we shelter in place, He is showing me that dark places need not be as scary as they once were, because I am never alone. He is always there, holding me, speaking words of love and assurance, looking to give me more of Himself... if I can open my hands to receive it.)
When my grip was fiercest I could not open myself to the precious gifts He wanted to give me. I wanted different gifts: a different childhood, a healthier body, whole relationships with the people who I thought they should be whole with, a future I’ve personally designed for my daughter, (and a world without fearful diseases.) I thought I knew better what I needed, but that proved wrong. Not only is His grip stronger than mine, but His gifts are better too. I would never have peace if my hands weren’t pried open to it. I wouldn’t have the joy I have now if I’d demanded it come to me in my own way. I wouldn’t be able to laugh in lightness if He hadn’t told me how much He loved me in the dark. His words are still good, from thousands of years ago - I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future. You will call on Me and I will answer. And He’s not done giving yet.
(Maybe some of the very best gifts He wants to give me are tucked inside a home away from the madness of a pandemic virus. Maybe they are found in stillness. In quiet worship. In moments of laughter with my children...and in those moments of tears as well. What if in the 'taking' He is giving me something of immeasurable worth?) So I trust the promises that have already rung true and I open my hands.