Everyday it seemed, she and her husband would feel, tugging on their heartstrings, the desire to be in the land they truly loved. They felt as though they were missing out on the most important events in the lives of their families and dearest friends. No matter how many pictures they saw, or how many phone conversations they had, it was never enough. Good news came. Bad news came. They laughed and cried as best they could with everyone they loved.
Even with a sister and niece close by, there were gaps in their hearts and around their table that couldn’t be filled by anyone but family and those who might as well be.
Their hearts ached.
They longed and prayed to go home, but the God they served seemed to be saying, “No.” The woman became content and grateful for the home she had been given, and for the employment her husband held. She accepted her lot and worked hard to go ahead and allow her roots to dig down deep into the community. She grew and blossomed and loved her family in everyday ways – which are the best kinds of ways to love, she learned.
One day, terrible news came. The woman’s father was diagnosed with a horrible illness. “We don’t know how long you have with him,” was the terrible prognosis. The woman wept. And wept. And wept. And cried out to her God “Why can’t I go home and help? Why must I live so far away, out of reach of being anything really useful for those who loved and raised me and made me who I am? Why?”
Her longing to be home consumed her. It rattled her contentment. It shook her to the core, and she thought she would never be happy again. She walked through her everyday motions in a daze, disbelieving that this cursed disease could really touch her family with its dark hand. She missed everyone, all over again, but missed her sense of contentment most of all.
She fell to her knees and prayed daily for the joy of her salvation to be restored. For contentment to come again. She begged God to show her that he cared. That he was still in control, still good, and that her faith was not misplaced. He answered her prayers by loving her in everyday ways — which are the best ways to love.
He loved her and reminded her of his goodness through her children and her husband. Through her church family. Through his Word, and through music. He sang songs over her, and held her close. Most of all, he loved her through her friends. Friends who were close by, and friends who were far away all reached out and loved the woman – and she was overwhelmed with longing to show her gratitude to God and to each of them.
Then, there came a day when the woman had an idea. She would buy a picture frame to display prominently a photo of each of their closest friends and relatives. She searched and searched, and finally found a perfect set. In one frame, she placed pictures of her sisters and her husband’s sister & brother, as well as their families.
In individual frames, to be hung in a place of honor, she placed pictures of her parents and her dear in-laws.
In the third, she placed photos of their dearest, closest friends, who were scattered hither and yon. Too far away for playdates or shared coffee, but not too far away for prayer and encouragement. Little did she know that this frame would come to seem magical.
These frames served as reminders that God had treated this woman better than she deserved. That he had shown mercy, grace, and love. That he had restored hope, and had validated her faith. That her friends and family had become the very hands and feet of Jesus to her – even if they did not know it.
And then God went beyond what the woman could have imagined or hoped for. Perhaps he had said “No, you cannot go home now.” Perhaps he had said, “No, your family cannot come to you either.” But there was a resounding “YES” in the middle of all of it.
His goodness shouted from the mountaintops in the form of his bringing the woman’s best friends to her side.
There are six spots in her third frame. Only two are not yet where the woman lives. Some of them are friends the woman and her husband had to leave behind. Others were friends who had done the leaving. All were far away.
Over the two years of struggle since the diagnosis of her father, God brought the woman’s best friends to her.
One by one, they came. Seemingly by coincidence. One family came because the military told them to come. Another came through terrible hardship and months of unemployment, only to start from scratch. Still another came back after a year’s absence because of the Lord’s call. Yet another just “happened” to find work when they couldn’t in the state they called home. One more is coming because she must do what’s right for her children.
God told the woman she could not go home, but he has brought home to her in a way that is far beyond what she would have imagined or thought he would do. It’s not the same, but the woman rejoices and weeps to feel the great love her God has for her. She never prayed for her friends to come. He brought them because he knew she needed them more than she could know.
The woman is not arrogant enough to believe that each of these families are here simply because of her. There is something bigger and greater that he has for each of these families, and the woman prays daily that her friends are able to find contentment and bloom where they are planted as they seek for and find the purpose for which God brought them here.
She prays that they know how much they each mean to her.
The woman is already preparing to put new faces in the frame, as there are other friends who have always been here, who are making plans to leave. She wants a constant reminder to never let go of those who find themselves on different sides of the world from her, for she never knows when God will choose to bring them back.
The woman still misses what she calls home deeply, but finds that her discontentment has gone. It has flown away, and carried with it all the bitterness she felt. The anguish of not being able to bring her parents a meal now and then is not always gone, but she prays harder than ever for her parents. Indeed – she discovered that God had raised up an army of friends and family to do for her mom and dad what she cannot do herself. And she is happy in that knowledge.
God has proved his Word true to this woman over and over again. Sometimes tangibly, sometimes only through hindsight. Still, he is there, and has never let a lamb of his go missing.
Truly, the woman now knows, without doubt, “…that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
And sometimes, he uses a picture frame.
Grace & Peace,
PS: Ironically enough, when I grabbed the camera to take a picture of my magical frame, I found the battery to be dead.