“All these things are so wonderful to watch – all the more wonderful from the watching being from a quiet room full of flowers, instead of from the dust & din of the battle field, good though that was when God gave it. Only now it is easier to trace the working out of these ‘parts of His ways’ & to almost see the still unreveled thought that links them.” Diary 18 January 1927
Catherine Marshall, in her book Beyond Ourselves, tells of being captivated by a story which began with a haunting account of a man walking by a particular house, pausing by the gate, taking a deep breath – and moving on to another day much like the one before and, most likely, like the next. The writer continues the story. The same account is repeated but this time with a different scenario: the man opens the gate and walks up the path to his destiny – and, of course, to a quite different ending.
Marshall goes on to ruminate upon the significance of choices. Some seemingly insignificant; some with life changing consequences. Rarely, in the moment, she observes, do we realize the import of our decisions. Usually it is in the looking back that we identify those moments that, in fact, had impact on our entire lives. Such was the case with Lilias. . . .
April 3, 1925, Lilias was consigned to bed. Doctors orders. It turned out to be for the rest of her life. Still, the fours walls of her room could not confine her! She continued to be involved in virtually every aspect of the band. Her room was the control station of the mission, her agenda book the log in which each maneuver was charted. Daily she listed the contents of letters to be written and blocked out segments of time for tasks as varied as labeling books for the library or planning the schedule and order of business for committee meetings and rallies.
The business enacted from her bed, with the assistance of young secretaries, was daunting in sheer scope and output. Lilias kept in touch with the daily operations of each station, strategized the many itinerations on the map spread before her on her bed and through copious correspondence connected the field with the home base in England. And all the while she was intimately involved with lives of individual Algerians, through letters and the daily visits of those close by. A photograph shows her propped up by pillows, the map of North Africa over her bed, through which she prayed station by station, worker by worker.
Here also, she had the added time for reflection: to trace the working of God’s ways throughout her decades in North Africa. This was no new exercise for her. She was master of analysis and synthesis, regularly publishing ministry developments for prayer supporters, even choosing the occasion of their 25th anniversary to record and reflect upon those years. But now, from the quiet of her room and with the perspective of hindsight, she could luxuriate in observing the tracing of “the parts of His ways” almost seeing the “still unrevealed thought that links them.”
Sometimes we consciously halt the flow of time and look backwards – and forwards – considering the significance of decisions of the past and for the future. Now is such a moment for me as I begin a journey to a destination which will take me both backwards and forwards in time.
Backwards. My husband and I return to Wheaton, Illinois for a “Heritage Reunion” where we, along with others, will be asked to trace our journey to our high school Academy and to identify the people and events that shaped those years and, in turn, the rest of our lives. Hindsight. Fortified with a list of questions we review those years and the often random events latent with consequence: the chance conversation. . . the last minute decision for a class or a club. . . the date that led to a friendship which became a marriage. . . . Tracing of His ways.
Forwards. Following that slice of history, I will meet with individuals joined in the common mission of advancing the legacy of Lilias Trotter through a new venture: filming a documentary of her life. Even as I anticipate this collaboration – the challenge of “capturing” the quiddity of Lilias Trotter through a visual medium – I can’t help but reflect on the chance (?) events that led to this moment: the improbable meeting with the women who introduced the “unknown” Lilias to me. . . the practical visionaries who challenged me to write her story masterminding the publication of the same. . . the friends who envisioned the publication of her paintings and, with their generosity, “made it happen” . . . and, most recently, the couple who literally showed up on our doorstep with the vision to produce a film that would capture the tension of Lilias’ “call” and the scope of her artisty. . . . Tracing of His ways.
Tracing of His ways. Yes, there are moments in time that we do pause and reflect – and consciously trace the “parts of His ways” – but most of the time we live out each day, sometimes barely surviving, usually quite unaware of the potential importance of our seemingly insignificant choices. Truth is, the only real choices we make with the certainty of ultimate significance is to be faithful to what we are supposed to be doing – right now. To act with integrity and humility and the willingness to do God’s bidding without quarentee of results.
Corrie ten Boom chronicled in The Hiding Place her family’s efforts to hide, in their home, Jewish families fleeing from the German Nazi’s. She often brought a piece of tapestry when she shared this story. First she showed the one side, a rough tangle of random threads; then, turning it over, she exposed a woven image of a glorious crown. I quote, in part, a poem she wrote to accompany that object lesson:
My life is but a weaving
Between my God and me.
I cannot choose the colors
He weaveth steadily.
Oft times He weaveth sorrow;
And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper
And I the underside.
He knows, He loves, He cares;
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives the very best to those
Who leave the choice to Him.
Painting: Travel Journal 1893