sandpaper, stalkers and a hope that does not disappoint

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. The often misquoted opening sentence of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens actually refers to the French revolution, but it came up in a discussion about suffering between three friends as we traveled the Bruce Highway from Caboolture to Kawana.

A lady we’d just met was in the midst of a life and death trial. And as we chased the broken white line, we shared our own trials and spoke of the sweetness that can be found hiding beneath the suffering.

When I was first married, I experienced my own annus horribilis, to quote a royal someone considerably more famous than I.

I was stalked by a disturbed man who was intent on physical and psychological harm.

His personal bag of tricks included breaking into our two story Queenslander home and leaving little mementos of his visit on the kitchen bench, such as my Springer Spaniel’s collar. He routinely lit fires under the house, watched the house day and night, tried to break into our second floor bedroom through a flyscreen window and attempted an abduction.

Scarey stuff.

And this was despite my husband (who was twice his size) kneecapping him with a cricket bat in an attempt to immobilize him while calling the Police.

Time and again he brazenly snuck past a troop of hard-core bikies (related to said husband) who set up club-house, so to speak, in front of our home in a blatant but futile attempt at deterrence.

While this would have frightened the heebies out of most people, the stalker persevered.

In fact, the siege didn’t let up until seven months after we bought a Rottweiler x Bull Mastiff puppy. We named him Sick’em Rex, or just Rex for short. He grew very quickly to an impressive 75kg, was black as the night and as protective of his owners as a lioness of her cubs.

One dark evening he sunk his sizeable jaws into the prowler’s soft tissue as he unwittingly stepped over the deceptively still and perfectly camouflaged Rex (ouchies!).

The bane of my life tumbled down the back stairs and did not disturb the peace of Blackwood Rd again.

The neighbours were very thankful to be rid of him, too, as it meant the removal of our resident bikie contingent (not good for residential value!).
I shared this story, then one of my friends said he thought suffering was like sandpaper. The struggle is the sandpaper, and we’re the object to be sanded. Eventually the sandpaper wears out and is discarded, but the object, with its knicks and marks removed, remains.

I have faced other trials in my life, some light-weight, some gut-wrenchingly hard. And I’ve come to the conclusion that we choose to respond to trials in one of three ways: we become embittered at the world and at God, we become emotionally numb, or we are drawn back to the Cross of Jesus where only He can give us what we so desperately need ‘perfect love that casts out all fear’.

The struggles in my life, or the worst of times, have also become the best of times.

Sometimes the beauty is in the contrast. The cool of the evening and the heat of the day.

The dark of night and the illumination of dawn. The excitement of activity and the tranquility of silence.

It’s the opposite that gives poignancy to the other.

The heart-thumping hand of a prowler clutching at you through the window, and the tested promise of God, ‘Fear not, for I am with you’.

How can we truly understand, to the very depth of our being, ‘The Lord is my strength and refuge, whom shall I fear?’ if we have never despaired for our own safety?

How can we recognize the truth, ‘And underneath are His everlasting arms’, if we’ve never been carried in them?

God tells us trials bring perseverance, perseverance brings proven character which in turn produces hope.

In my own life, this is true. The trials I faced when I was first married were an easy warm-up session compared to the suffering we faced when my baby boy arrived in this world.

He had massive cardiac problems and we were told he wouldn’t make it.

I sure needed to draw on the perseverance, character and hope honed through previous trials.

But that’s a story for another day. However, I’m sure you’ll be pleased to meet my now-almost-three year old son, Zeke, who has just taken to walking around the house busting some hip-hop moves and saying, ‘Woooorrrrd brother!’

‘We exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.’ Rom 5:3-5

~ Christine Thomas

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