Lobular red sandalwood prayer beads bracelets

Author’s Note: In light of the horrific massacre that took place this past week in Ebenezer Baptist Church, Charleston, South Carolina, I would like to share with you an excerpt from my book, Bounce! Don’t Break… scheduled for release this October. I pray it will be a comfort…

During a weekend getaway to the beach at Edisto, SC, I was standing in line at the Piggly Wiggly, waiting to purchase a prized package of Togadoo coleslaw. The friend I was with reached down and plucked a newspaper from the magazine rack squeezed between a cooler filled with RC Colas and a rack of goodies that included Moon Pies – a treat I reserve for enjoyment only while at the beach.

“So,” she asked, striking the back of her fingertips across the headlines, “where was God when this happened?” The news was horrific, another monstrous act of violence that made no sense.

“Man,” I selfishly thought, “can’t we ever get a break from this terrible kind of news? I’m at the beach for goodness sake.” Unfortunately, try as you may, you really can’t leave life behind when you cross the bridge to the beach…

It was an honest question and one that was really hard to answer. From past conversations, I knew she was still hurting over the suicide/death of her brother and was struggling with her faith. I did not know what to say. Our eyes met and, for a moment, I felt completely defeated.

“Help me, Lord,” I silently prayed. And from somewhere in the recesses of my memories, I recalled something I heard a Navy chaplain share after the 9-11 attack on the Pentagon.

God was there. In the sacrificial hearts and selfless courage of those who willingly put themselves in harm’s way. In the words of thankfulness spoken by a grieving young wife on the day of her anniversary—for the wonderful year she had been married to the father of their soon-to-be son. In the countless acts of kindness and generosity that continue to this day.

And He is here. He did not leave us as orphans after His death, resurrection, and return to heaven. He gave us His Spirit to be with us through every trial, tragedy, and adversity. As our hearts break, we are comforted in ways the world cannot understand.

We live imperfectly in an imperfect world. We may not ever understand fully why God allows such horror and suffering, but we can take comfort in knowing He cares and understands. He came to be with us, living in our crazy mixed-up world, to suffer unfair, excruciating pain, loss, and death. We love, worship, and follow a God who has walked where we now walk.

I shared what I could of those truths with my friend and, as the line moved forward, uneasily fiddled with the long necklace I was wearing adorned with a beautifully-fashioned piece of wood. It is a gift from a longtime friend and master craftsman, Charlie Stephen, and is made from a burl.

Burls are gnarly, dense, and ugly outgrowths that bulge heavily from the trunks of trees as the result of some major stress suffered by the tree. They are greatly prized by woodworkers for the unique beauty that emanates from their character and strength. Once a burl is carefully removed and placed in the hands of a master craftsman, these grotesque objects are skillfully transformed into a work of art.

So it is with our suffering. Jesus has promised to work even the most grotesque of horrors for good in the lives of those who love Him (see Romans 8:28). Had healing not been possible, a loving God would have intervened. He never told us we would be exempt from suffering. What He said was, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Reflectively turning the burl until its rawhide chain resembled a swizzle stick, I was reminded of those words and something else. A promise found in the words of 2 Corinthians 4:8-9: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.

As you look at your past, you may not like what you see. You may be tempted to try and shake it off, keep going, and never stop to realize the blessings waiting to be crafted from the stresses of life that have left you gnarled and hurting. Don’t miss them. Come to the Master Craftsman. Allow Him to gently take the burls of your life and turn them into something beautiful.

For further help read:

Praying For Senseless Tragedies


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