Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Jumble of Threads

I've been cross stitching since I was about ten years old. A couple of years ago, I looked around my house and found I didn't have any of my completed patterns anywhere.

I wondered why for several moments before remembering that I always give them away.

Oh. Right.

In fact, I've given away every single scrap of stitch I've ever crossed.

I decided to stitch something for keeps. Pulling out the Ultimate Flowers book, I headed for my favorite: red roses. I found a couple of roses surrounding a space in which to stitch the text of my choice.

Round about that time, God was taking me through the horrifying process of recovering some very painful memories. I had been the sexual prey of a classic predator--the kind we all know how to watch out for nowadays.

My heart was broken.

I wanted to believe God was still good, and I waded through Scripture looking for any scrap of comfort I could. Joel was very helpful. The Psalms were not. They were too...praisey. But one day I flipped there anyway, just for kicks.

And God said this to me:

"He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds."

I clung to that promise like a lifeline. And I waited. "Okay, Abba. I'm waiting for you to heal my broken heart. Let's get a move on here. My wound's still open. Aren't You going to bind it up?"

But I knew it would take time. My wound was very deep.

So naturally, my lifeline verse would go in my 'for keeps' cross-stitch. "He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds." I could see it in my mind's eye, stitched like a promise across my fabric with my favorite red floss.

With affection and irony, I began to refer (in private, just to my husband) to my newest stitchery project as my Rape Recovery Cross Stitch. And I had this idea in my mind that by the time I finished stitching it, I would be all better. God would stitch my heart back together while I stitched my leaves, and God would bind up my wounds while I wove roses into my fabric. I would hang the completed project on my wall and whenever anyone asked, I would use it as a testimony to how God healed me and bound up my wounds, and He could do the same for them.

Me and God set to work. It was slow going. I kept having to set down my stitching whenever my tendinitis flared up. And God kept having to wait for me to get past the first stage of grief. Denial.

I worked through *some* stuff. I told God I hated Him and heard His unsurpassed comfort in response. He was still there. I took some time off from work and wrote out everything I could remember, thus proving to my logical self that I wasn't making any of it up. How did I know? Well, my memories kept being giant puzzles pieces that had always been missing. And I felt deeply ashamed--something I could never have manufactured.

The shame turned out to be more than I could bear. So then I got stuck on that stage of grief. I stuffed it by surrounding myself with frenzied activity, denying that my frequent anxiety attacks were related to the emotions I refused to acknowledge.

Well, naturally, my flurry of activity left me no time to cross stitch. The only time I worked my project was during quarterly church business meetings I had to sit through.

I always heard lots of comments. "I didn't know you could cross-stitch." "Wow! How do you do that? I would go nuts!" "Ooo...that's going to be really pretty. Are those roses?"

And then, inevitably, "What goes in that space?"

I always answered cheerfully, "That's going to say 'He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds'."

Their eyes would glaze over, they'd nod politely, and away they'd go. No one wanted to talk about broken hearts. Which suited me fine. I didn't want to talk about it either.

I spent a lot of time in Mitford during those days. It was heaven to escape into that alternate reality and get lost in the cave with Father Tim, where he had to--ouch!--forgive his father. And it was warm and cozy to cruise through the countryside with Father Tim in his new Mustang convertible--until he ran over the Baptist pastor's dog as he headed into a diabetic coma. For each conflict Father Tim and Cynthia encountered, they always prayed the prayer that never failed: Thy will be done.

I started giving that prayer a try. In some cases, it was surprisingly easy. In other cases, it was alarmingly difficult. I didn't pray it very often.

As my life began to slow down earlier this year, I knew I would no longer be able to hide behind busyness. I'd have to start back up where I left off dealing with rape recovery. And I was a little surprise to discover where I'd left off.

I'd shut down when I couldn't answer this question: "Why should I trust my recovery to the God who didn't protect me in the first place?" I know man sins and God lets him and all that, but bottom line? He could have protected me, and He didn't.

One day as I sat counting stitches on the cross stitch project I suddenly had more time for, I actually posed the question to Jeff. "Why should I trust God to protect me? He won't protect me, so I have to protect myself."

Jeff was silent a moment, then he said gently, "Turn your fabric over."

I did.

"What do you see?"

I muttered, "A jumble of threads."

"Can you tell from the back what this pattern is going to look like?"

"Well, maybe a little. But not really."

"Your life looks like a jumble of threads to you right now, but God sees you from the front. He is weaving your life into a thing of beauty. No one can understand His plan because we only see it from the back."

"Are you saying God planned for me to get raped?"

"Nooo... but He allowed it. We don't know why He allowed it, but He did. If we believe that God's plan is good, then we can trust that He will bring good from your pain."


There was that word again.

A few days later, my buddy Oswald reminded me that God's goal for my life is not my happiness, but my sanctification. And He will allow whatever it takes to bring that about.

I argued, "Abba, I could have followed You without getting raped. I didn't need that to drive me to You." But I wasn't too sure of that. I hadn't done a bang-up job of sticking close to Christ before He uncovered my memories. I mostly always went my own way and did my own thing.

My life got busy again this summer, so I didn't have many opportunities to cross stitch. But my mentor and I decided to listen to a CD series together about God's transforming love. The truths presented in that series began to whisper gently to my parched soul. Truths like:

"You are more sinful and flawed than you could ever dare to imagine."


"You are more loved and welcomed than you could ever dare to hope."


"If God poured out all of His wrath on His Son, how much of His wrath is left? NONE. There is NO wrath left for you. So what does God pour out on you? Love."

These truths, plus a hundred amazing others, began to give me a new view of God. He was kind. He was loving. He was forgiving. He was gracious. He was working in my life. He was healing my broken heart and binding up my wounds.

Could I trust my sanctification, and all that it entailed, to such a loving God?

Hurt by man's hate. But healed by God's love. What a contrast! Now THAT was overwhelming.

As God continued to woo me to Himself, I found time to complete my cross stitch. When it was all done, Jeff said, "Now all you have to do is put the verse in. What is it again?"

"'He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds'...but actually, I don't feel like that's where I'm at right now...I'm not sure what to put in there, but I don't think that's it..."

I pondered the dilemma for a little while. Then I talked to Abba about it. "Lord, what do You want me to put in there? What do You want my rape recovery testimony to be? What do YOU want?"

Flipping the fabric over, I studied the jumbled threads again: What I see of God's plan.

And then back to the front: What God sees of His plan.

And then once more to the back: The prettiest I can make something in my own strength.

And the front: How beautiful something becomes when put in God's hands.

The God who does an infinitely better job with my life than I do.

The God to whom I can trust my sanctification.

The God with whom I can trust my broken heart.

The God whose will is perfect and good.

And I knew what had to go on my rape recovery cross stitch.

So in the end, I didn't actually keep that cross stitch project after all.

I gave it to Abba.