I remember the Christmas my mom gave me and my sister American Girl dolls. We’d dreamt about them for years. Because my dad was a pastor and my mom quit her job to homeschool us kids, we knew they weren’t within our family’s budget. Still, it was fun to flip through the American Girl magazines, read the books and fuel our daydreams. When I opened the package that Christmas, I couldn’t believe what I saw: a Felicity doll with silky, strawberry hair. I looked up in happy shock to see my mom smiling through tears. She was overwhelmed with emotion at the chance to give us such extravagant gifts. She had been saving up to buy them.
I was thinking about that Christmas today because I’m on a plane to Scotland. Instead of giddiness and whispers of thanks to God for the gift of this opportunity, I am beginning that familiar spiral into anxiety. The what-ifs have taken over (see: poem by Shel Silverstein). Since my divorce, I’ve struggled to believe that blessings aren’t just a trial in disguise. Instead of smiling as I open God’s gifts, I tremble to unwrap them. I hand the doll back to my mother, unopened. And right now, I am thinking about the expression on my Father’s face; how He is giving me so many good things and I am letting fear replace my joy.
From time to time, Evan says: “Let’s not be too stupid to be happy.” He does not speak from naivety. He has stared death in the face. He has watched good gifts crumble into dust. He knows pain as well as I do. And yet, he reminds me that we must accept God’s gifts with joy. Enjoying happiness is not foolish—missing happiness is.
I know that trials are a promise. I also know that God will be present in those trials. He knows something about them. Men hammered nails into the same hands He used to heal crowds of hurting people. The Trinity has not forgotten that pain. God will never be surprised by or unprepared for my suffering. He can never be disconnected from it while Jesus has those holes in his hands. And when I meet Him, I will see those scars. Touch them. And any present pain or pain waiting in my future is safe in those saving, wounded hands. I do not need to lose sleep anticipating the next trial.
Jesus’ hands have given me even more than the gift of salvation. I see Him offering me kindness this side of heaven. Hot bowls of ramen, toddler giggles, spontaneous kisses, the opportunity to hold a baby lamb, to see a new part of the world, or discover a new place in my backyard to sit in contented silence. A Yann Tiersen piano solo. A pumpkin to carve. A friend to listen to. A soft, warm pair of socks. When anticipation of trials rob me of opportunities for joy and thankfulness, I am opening that Felicity doll, frowning, and telling my mom: “This is too good to be true, so I don’t believe it. I don’t want it.” I am listening to her try to convince me otherwise and I am shaking my head. I am watching her smile melt away. I am walking away empty-handed. And that just seems stupid.
So I’m going to smell ocean air and look at castles crumbling into the sea and study theology with brilliant minds and eat fresh mozzarella sandwiches and, in a month, I’m going to marry Evan and let him hug me into happiness. And trials will come. And Jesus’ hands will be open to my pain, just as they are open to my joy. He is ever-present. He is ever love. I will rest in that.