Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Rose from Brier

Thou hast not that, My child, but thou hast Me;
And am not I alone enough for thee?
I know it all, know how thy heart was set
Upon this joy which is not given yet.

And well I know how through the wistful days
Thou walkest all the dear familiar ways
As unregarded as a breath of air;
But there in love and longing, always there.

I know it all; but from thy brier shall blow
A rose for others. If it were not so
I would have told thee.  Come, then, say to Me:
My Lord, my Love, I am content with Thee.

The above poem grew from the pen of missionary Amy Carmichael, who served southern India in the first half of the twentieth century. She bravely put herself at risk to rescue children from enslavement as prostitutes in Hindu temples there, providing them refuge in a children's home and hospital at Dohnavur Fellowship. Elisabeth Elliot told her story in A Chance to Die, and Bishop Frank Houghton in Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur. The rescued children called her Amma, like our "Mama," and so shall I for the rest of this post.

I first made her acquaintance in a Focus on the Family cassette tape (the way we listened to recorded music and speech before CDs, which came before MP3s) my mother gave me during my high school years. I wore out the tape of that message, given by Elisabeth Elliot to Wheaton College students. In it, she recited Amma's poem "Hast Thou No Scar?" from her little volume Toward Jerusalem. That poem captured my imagination. I transcribed it, then memorized it, then went to The Mustard Seed, the Christian bookstore down the street, and gradually acquired a copy of everything they had by Elliot and what little they had by Carmichael. Later my collection grew until I had a copy (sometimes with extras to give away) of everything still in print by either lady.

Sadly for Amma, a fall in a dimly lit building rendered her an invalid in severe chronic pain for the last two decades of her life. For much of that time she was confined to her own room at Dohnavur. Happily for us, her limitations--like Paul's imprisonments in ancient times--meant that she continued her work through the written word. Most of the books she has left to us grew out of the pain that disabled her from more active forms of service.

Her poem "Rose from Brier" was first published in a book of the same name, a collection of letters "from the ill to the ill." In the essay which introduces the book, she wrote,
"reading them through I am troubled to find them so personal and sometimes so intimate. It is not that I think the personal or the intimate interesting or valuable, but that I did not know how to give the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted without giving something of my own soul also (p. 9).
Those words could apply, for me, to the blogging journey of the last 4 years (August 7) as well. So many times when some odd thing prompts me to review an older post, I'll be surprised at just how personal the words are, and how they take me back to that moment. Even in the writing process, the temptation often presses in to protect myself, to hide, not to let you in quite so far, but I know Amma is right. We rarely give and receive comfort without some foundation of friendship, and true friendship is impossible without vulnerability.

Later in the same essay, she ponders receiving a "fat parcel" of pamphlets for the sick and how they "took me nowhere."
This sounds most unmissionary; unhappily, it is true. It was not till some time later, and after several similar experiences, that it struck me perhaps the reason was because they were obviously written by the well to the ill, to do them good; and so they could only flutter past like ineffective butterflies. But I found that things written by those who were in pain themselves, or who had passed through pain to peace, like the touch of understanding in a dear human letter, did something that nothing except the words of our eternal Lord could ever do (11).
My own experience echoes hers, in that the most comforting words into my illness and pain have been those of others who have been there: Amy Carmichael herself, for one, Joni Eareckson Tada, and some "real life" friends who have been there or are there now. Elisabeth Elliot, though she didn't write out of illness and physical pain, has also spoken with authority and comfort into many of my suffering seasons, and I believe this is--in addition to the Scriptures from which she derives her ultimate authority--because she has known her own trials by fire, in the martyrdom of her first beloved husband, in the decision to go back to the jungles as a widow with a toddler daughter to take the gospel to his killers, in loss upon loss in her missionary service, and in the death by cancer of her second husband. She may not have known my particular species of brier, but she knows how thorny life can be and has found the Lord trustworthy in its midst. Her suffering enhanced the credibility of her counsel. When she used to open her radio program with the words, "You are loved with an everlasting love, and underneath are the everlasting arms," I was inclined to believe her because she had tried the One who made those promises and found Him faithful.

I haven't proven to have the courage, staying power, or impact of either Amy Carmichael or Elisabeth Elliot, but from the first posts here, this journey has comprised learning to "bless the boundaries" of my small life, to fight "through pain to peace" in the Lord even when the elusive desire of recovered health remains tantalizingly out of reach, and to trust Him to make a rose bloom for someone else out of my "brier" of pain, limitations, and disappointments. What Amma did not observe is how one rose blooming for others returns to the brier patch as a dozen, how in sharing God's comfort one's own comfort multiplies in the mysterious economy of the body of Christ. Thank you, Crumbles, for that. Thank you for sharing your own roses with me in your prayers, comments, and e-mails. God knows and will reward you for your kindnesses.

And so, as one who has received comfort in Christ, I offer a small bouquet of it to you all post by post. I pray that the Lord would scent this place with the fragrance of roses, that He would keep bringing those in the midst of their own brier patches here to smell His blossoms and share theirs with me, that He would keep bringing kingdom fruit from what's already been written and whatever He would allow and enable to be written in coming days.

Dear Crumble, maybe your "thou hast not that" has nothing to do with health or relief from chronic pain. Maybe there's some other disappointment or lack altogether which causes you to ache inside. For you I count on God's promise that "He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God" (2 Cor. 1:4, HCSB). May He truly use this place to comfort those in any kind of affliction with the crumbs of comfort He has given me. May He give you courage to look for roses in your own brier patch.

Know this, friend:  pain never has the last word for those who are in Christ Jesus the Lord. Never. And a day is coming when all the briers will burst forth into bloom, when the God Himself will wipe away every tear from the eyes of His people, when even our scars will become as beautiful as the risen Lord's, to the glory of the triune God.

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Thank you for sharing your day with me! Your presence here is a gift. *You* are a gift. Right now I am unable to reply to every comment, but please know I read and pray for each and every commenter. Grace and peace to you in Christ.