Bringing Out the Grain

Category: Reflections

By Jay Phillips

After an elderly neighbor lost his weekend cottage in a careless fire, I helped in the cleanup effort of what looked more like the aftermath of a small bomb blast on his wooded plot of land. What had once been a quiet getaway home had been reduced to heaps of charred wood and rubble that needed to be cleared before a new cottage could be built. In the salvage process I dug through mountains of burnt and scorched wood, from old floorboards to large beams. Some pieces had been turned to charcoal or ashes, but others could be cut and stacked into piles to be used as firewood. Yet others had come through the fire virtually unscathed and could be reused in the reconstruction. One day the cottage had been there, and the next it was gone, leaving behind only memories and a nearly worthless heap of smoldering rubble. Why do things like that have to happen?

I went through a time recently when I felt like the remains of that old cottage. There just didn’t seem to be any future for me. I was sure I had “crashed and burned” for the last time. My usefulness was over.

But then I remembered a visit to a friend’s house, when he took me on a tour of his wine cellar. The ceiling had exposed beams, and I commented the wood must be quite old and have been through a lot to show so much character.

“No,” he replied to my surprise, “this is a new cellar, built with new timber. We simply put the wood in a fire just long enough to char the wood between the grain, which is more porous and burns more quickly. Then we planed the beams lightly, leaving the deeply charred spaces between the grain black. That’s what gives it a rustic effect.”

To think that they had deliberately done something so potentially harmful to what must have been a small fortune in timber! But the process had transformed what otherwise would have been ordinary pine beams into richly textured ones, with every streak and swirl of the grain plainly visible, adding beauty and a rustic ambiance to the cellar.

God does much the same with us during those trying times when we “feel the heat.” What seems like the very thing that will consume us instead brings out our “grain,” our character. He sees our potential and wants to reveal it to us and others. The process might be painful and leave us an unsightly mess temporarily, but when He gets finished with us, others will marvel at the Master Carpenter’s wisdom and skill.

“Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy” (1 Peter 4:12-13).

“Count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4).

The Prize

By Linda S. Martin

I enjoy creative writing, but it doesn’t always come easily and I sometimes struggle to make sense. That hasn’t stopped me from trying, though, and I’ve come to realize that the struggle isn’t such a bad thing because that makes a positive outcome, when it happens, all the more satisfying. How satisfying would it be to pass a test with the answer key in hand, or to cross the finish line of a marathon without having run the race? Being lowered by helicopter onto a mountaintop might set up a great photo opportunity, but it doesn’t offer the same reward as having climbed to the top yourself.

I’m the mother to two boys—a toddler and a baby—and as amusing as it might be to think of them raising themselves, I wouldn’t trade my non-stop, taxing job for anything. Why? Because of the immense fulfillment I receive. It also takes effort to spend quality time with my Creator—to “labor to enter into rest,” as the Bible puts it in Hebrews 4:11—but the peace, love, strength, and answers I receive during those times are worth the work.

So I’ve decided to stop trying to avoid life’s struggles and instead thank God for them, because He can use them to bring fulfillment, strength, faith, humility, and compassion into our lives like few other things can. When the road gets rough and the going gets tough, when troubles come in droves or drag on, I remind myself to keep my eyes on the prize.