Longing for the Good

“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.
They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.
‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”
—Revelation 21:3–4

This past weekend, my daughter and I went to my mom’s home to help her box up or clear out old things that had piled up over the years. At one point, we came across a collection of works my grandmother, Lou Sheffield (we called her “Little Granny”), painted or sketched during her lifetime (November, 1913–May 1993). Some were stored in a large black folder, others were framed and leaned against the back of the closet, and still others were buried in sketchbooks. Several still hung on the walls. Her specialty was watercolors, but I remembered in that moment that her in-home studio smelled of oils and her hands often carried the dust of pastels.

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Initially, as I looked through her work, I saw the transitory nature of life. Was all this creative beauty, this ability to transfer what is inside an imagination onto a canvas for nothing? Is it all ultimately without meaning—her life’s creative work destined to be thrown away or relegated to storage facilities over the next several decades and then never to be seen or known again?

And then almost immediately, a deep longing for heaven welled up within me. I don’t mean a faraway place in the sky where we sing and play harps. I mean the new heavens and the new earth we see in Revelation 21–22. I don’t know that there are words that describe the longing I felt and I’m not sure I’ve ever felt it before, but it’s a bit like the ache you have when you find something from your childhood that reminds you of a good that existed long ago.

The longing right then wasn’t necessarily to see Little Granny again, although that desire has almost overtaken me since I’ve been reflecting and writing about her. There is so much I could tell you about her that has been dormant in my memories for nearly two decades. (She once told my sister and me to pick up the middle of the floor—referring to the mess of toys we had made in our room. My sister and I looked at each other and then pinched the carpet between our fingers, literally picking up the middle of the floor. Then the three of us laughed so hard, tears streamed down our faces.)

The greater, deeper longing I felt standing in my childhood home surrounded by Little Granny’s paintings and sketches was to see her draw and paint again. To watch with wonder my mom’s mom put forth the beauty and the good God planted within her imagination, her heart, and her hands. And her hands will not be twisted and sore from arthritis, she will be able to breathe deeply without her lungs wanting to give out, and she will smile and laugh, tears of joy streaming down her face because of the good.

On Sunday night, in a private conversation, a wise man named Steven Garber said to me: “most of us live as if there are two chapters in the story: the fall and redemption. But there are four chapters: the creation, the fall, redemption, and consummation.” He went on to say that if we forget that God created the world good, we forget that all of creation was supposed to be a certain way and that way was fundamentally good and beautiful. And if we forget that there will be a day when heaven meets earth fully—in the new heavens and the new earth—and all things will be good again, everything we do and experience can begin to seem meaningless.

I have been living as if the story has only two chapters. But with four chapters, there is hope and life and good to come. And there, I will see Little Granny painting and sketching again.

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How All the Pieces Fit Together

Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted
eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the
whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.
– Ecclesiastes 3:11

I can tend to get a little lost at the end of the calendar year. I forget the plot a bit. It happens every year and still every year it’s a surprise. I long for an extended break as mid-November approaches and look forward to time with my daughter. But midway through the break, I get restless and become paralyzed by the stretch of open hours. I wonder if what I’m doing for work and ministry matters. I think about relationships past and feel a combination of regret and nostalgia. I think about money and whether there will be enough. I wonder what my purpose is and whether I’m fulfilling it. I think about decisions I’ve made and whether they were right. I don’t mean to be overly dramatic, but I become a little unhinged.

And then I think about puzzles.

In January 2013, I tried a case in federal court in San Diego. It was the first case I’d ever tried in which I was the lead lawyer, which meant not only increased pressure, but also the ability to present the case in the way I thought was best. So, when I stood to give my opening statement, I began by showing the jury this giant puzzle piece:

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After all, the jury has a tough job—even though events take place in chronological order, not every witness was there for every event, and yet each witness generally only testifies once.  As a result, the jury hears the story in pieces—part of the story from one witness, another part from another witness, and so on. No witness can share every aspect of the story from beginning to end. In this way, the story told at a trial is very unlike the stories told in books or movies. Telling a story through trial testimony is more like putting together a puzzle. The case I was trying was no exception—the evidence would be presented in pieces, out of order, and sometimes without any context. Also, there was no picture on a box sitting nearby so they knew what the final picture looked like. Not until the very end would they know the whole story and how all the pieces fit together.

Life is this way—the evidence is presented in pieces, out of order, and sometimes without any context. And there is no box anywhere that shows the final picture. The lack of routine and structure around the end of the year makes me lose sight of the fact that all the pieces will eventually come together into something beautiful and stunning and that every piece had a purpose in the bigger story.

One of the most meaningful gifts I received this year for Christmas was from my niece Lucy. It was this puzzle, which I put it together today:

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Without even knowing it, Lucy reminded me what all the pieces point to—love and the crucified and resurrected Christ (I’m not as convinced about the pets)—and that eventually they will all fit together.