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The Shadow of His HandWhen Life Disappoints, You Can Rest in God's Comfort and Grace
By Judith Couchman
WaterBrook PRESSCopyright © 2002 Judy C. Couchman
All right reserved.
Chapter OnePART ONE
When Life Interrupts
We all harbor images of an ideal and obtainable lifestyles. But eventually something intrudes and a painful gap yawns between our desires and reality. We experience losses of all kinds and the disappointment sinks deep.
As Christians we're not immune from the feelings and misunderstandings that emerge when life interrupts. We live in a fallen world, and though we search for a time when "everything works out," reality insists that life is flawed and fragile. So are we. Yet if we belong to God, we also possess a dependable hope.
An Unexpected Truth
Unless you expect the unexpected, you will never find [truth], For it is hard to discover and hard to attain.
I sat at the desk with my palms propping up my forehead so it wouldn't lunge forward and bang on the unforgiving metal. That would call an ever-loyal assistant to my side of the office divider, and I didn't want to explain that she worked for a burnout, though I suspect she already knew it and politely obliged me. I felt beyond fired. Trying to focus on the financial report inches from my face, I imagined my eyeballs falling out, cartoonlike, attached by an invisiblestring and resting on the printout, perhaps to help me focus.
How much have we spent on telephone expenses? I squinted at the figures again, imploring my eyeballs to wake up. Well, at least my ears still worked. They alerted me to a rustling in the room, and I jerked up my head, with eyeballs snapping back and focusing just in time. It was our magazine's publisher, followed by the financial manager. For the chief editor of a publication, that's seldom a reassuring duo to have invade your office. The publisher might be a welcome sight, but not those two together. That combo almost always sniffs of messy business.
And it did. Long story short, after only four issues we could no longer afford to publish the magazine. Unless we raised a million dollars in the next thirty days, it wouldn't survive. Neither would I, nor our carefully acquired editorial staff. We'd all lose our jobs. Part of me expected this pronouncement; the other part didn't. (In most companies even the most guarded information somehow leaks and rumors spread.) At this point I knew a million dollars in a month formed an impossible goal, but I still couldn't believe we'd crash. Not after all our incessant work and prayer. God wouldn't allow that, would he?
Years later I can talk about this incident matter-of-factly. But back then, after the bad-news boys left my office, I locked myself in an empty conference room and shook with silent sobs, too numb and exhausted to create noise. I couldn't decide whether to muster up faith or begin packing. For a decade I'd dreamed and prayed about launching a spiritually attuned magazine for women, especially those who lingered at the edges of Christianity and needed inner replenishment. For another four years I planned, raised money, and shaped the publication, mostly while holding down a full-time job elsewhere in the sponsoring organization. It'd hoard too many pages to describe how God directed each step; how I learned that he, not I, owned this project. He'd spun miracles and assembled a small group of creatives to ensure the magazine's launch. (Even today nobody can dissuade me of God's involvement.) It looked like a long-awaited dream come true.
On the other hand, I worked so much I fell to depression and fatigue. The pressure of a startup surfaced the worst in some staff members, and I felt chronically frustrated, stuck in a "don't manage it this way" example from a How to Work with Difficult People seminar. Critics within and outside the organization misunderstood the magazine's mission, and some accused me of apostasy. I tried to please everybody and satisfied hardly anybody under the constant threat of unrealistic deadlines and a shutdown because of insufficient funds. I canceled my personal life, quit my passion called writing, thickened my skin toward criticism, lagged behind because of insufficient help, struggled with chronic back pain aggravated by stress, and weathered it all because I believed God would reward us in the end. We'd own a magazine that met women's deep needs, and of course, he'd bless me for my perseverance. I would be living proof that a good God fulfills our heart's desires.
Instead, the new fiscal year found me alone and draped on the living room couch, unemployed and afraid of losing my home, stunned by the biggest flop of my life. When I tired of the pain, I curled up and slept for hours. But even my dreams seemed to ask, "God, what have you done? How will you disappoint me next?"
It's probably best I didn't hear anything back. I'd have been horrified by the answer. "Well, Judy, now I'm going to take you through the worst of times and the best of times. Circumstances may grow worse, but I'm going to change you for the better." My brain would have frozen on the first half of that so-called reassurance. Things might get worse? Who in their right earthly mind wants to hear that? It took a few years for me to realize that only God can adjust our spiritual senses to discover the blessings in brokenness. Only he can teach this truth in a comprehensible lesson and free us with it.
An anonymous contemplative from the fourteenth century claimed we exist in a "cloud of unknowing" that separates us from God. It's a darkness that obscures our understanding of the Maker and his ways. I think that's where most of us stand when the unexpected hits, especially if we're accosted by a dastardly something or someone we'd rather not meet. Suddenly we don't understand much of anything because God didn't perform as we thought he would or should. We're hurt and afraid, confused and probably angry. Who knows what our wobbly selves might threaten to do? If Somebody up there still cares, he'd better reach through that cloud and clutch us with all his might.
And that's what God says he'll do.
* * *
Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
Where's the Script?
If this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction.
-William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night
In high school my greatest desire centered on winning the lead in our school musical. Other girls languished about boyfriends, cheerleading, popularity, or reigning as homecoming queen, but I wanted to act and sing my way to Central High fame. Never mind that most students and teachers considered me shy and awkward and I probably didn't possess enough talent to pull it off fabulously. It still remained my dream, and sometimes dreams debunk realism.
However, a few people thought I might win the lead role during my senior year. The previous fall as a junior I'd captured a small starring spot in the musical; seniors played the rest of the leading parts. Often a junior with this distinction moved up to a major role as a senior. Besides some decent grades, it's what I wanted most from high school.
Imagine my disappointment, then, when I didn't win the lead and the choir director awarded it to my friend. He didn't even name me as understudy (he awarded that to another friend), and instead, my misguided teacher added me to the list of dancers. I hadn't auditioned for a dancing part, had never hoofed in my life, and possessed the physical grace of a heifer. Too hurt to face my teacher and explain that dancing horrified me, I struggled through the routines that required tons more coordination than acting/singing roles. Even though I'm short, the choreographer tucked me in the back row of dancers, extreme
Excerpted from The Shadow of His Hand by Judith Couchman Copyright © 2002 by Judy C. Couchman
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.