It was quiet in the little town. Redwoods jutted behind shake roofs sitting atop age old buildings cracked with the need of siding and paint. Two blocks lined with little shops. We walked and we drove and we ate Italian food until I determined I would not need to eat again forever…
All the while, I listened to the memories of my girl. She smiled and she laughed and she cried some as she remembered her days gone by. Her memories stirred my past up into a cloud of what was and what should have been.
And my heart hurt.
I don’t like to remember some things.
But our journey though her history forced me to do so. I had been unwittingly tied into the past and could not undo the knot. I tugged and pulled and frayed its edges. I scratched at the ropes. I pulled my wrists until the rope of my unresolved experience rubbed me raw. The failure to escape frustrated my heart to the point of tears.
I listened quietly to the stories my girl shared as my own memories flooded me and set my heart to pounding. I wanted to climb out of my own past and dwell in hers. I tried. I listened and I laughed and I asked a few questions. I tried to lose myself in the little shops, the restaurant tables, the pots of calla lilies. I stared at the manicured wisteria as it swayed in the cool breeze.
Still I could not loose my ropes.
So we went to the beach. The beach soothes my soul. Though the wind bit at my face and poked at my unwisely bare feet, I needed its balm that would untie me and set me free. I found a rock that sheared off some of the wind and stationed myself on its flat top. As a settled there I felt the bands of hurt tighten around me. I had given up my quest to get out of them. Though the knots held me tight, I was weary of working them. I set my hands in my lap and listened to the waves.
I heard the contents of the basket before I felt the Lord’s presence. That basket was full of my past. I had given it to him years ago. He had taken it then, but brought it back again and again…and as always, He held it in his hands. But the stones of my life tapped against each other with the unevenness of the terrain. Rocks on beaches have no mercy on those of us who dare to traverse them.
He set the basket down my by side. I stole a glance at it while he situated himself beside it on the cold flat surface. It was medium sized, light wicker, and obviously heavy. Over its contents lay a simple white linen cloth. How such a gentle, small piece of material withstood the brutal wind was beyond me.
My glance took root and turned into a stare. I kept my eyes on that linen until his scar laden hand picked it up.
Under it lay the stones of my life. All were once grey with the deception they had borne when dropped in my world. Now, after years of knowing my Abba, most had been transformed by the power of his determination to turn ugly into beautiful. The abuses of my childhood, originally black with the power of those who would prey on the helpless, had been purified into emeralds of hope and courage to change that which was once unchangeable. The pocked stones of my own failures had been ground on the turning of accountability until the marquis of learning shined as a pearl. The hard black chunks of abandonment had been fired in the ovens of loneliness until those coals had become diamonds glittering with the awareness of Abba’s constant presence.
He ran a hand through the stones. Not all had been transformed. Some had always been priceless gems. The gifts given me in my children, rubies and amethysts, large and shaped into stunning spheres, reflected the love of my heart. The education given me was written on mother of pearl and the family I discovered at my church were there as well, an array of small sparkling stones sprinkled among the larger ones that were my personal experience. The two newest stones, one blue and one pink, perfect hearts, without spot or blemish. I picked them up one at at time and fingered the flawlessness of my grandchildren. Those two stones always made me smile.
He patted the top of my hand and then watched the sea while I rummaged through the basket. He had brought it for a reason. There was a stone he wanted me to see. The grey ones were few now, as we had been through my basket many times. I stirred the contents with my hands until it brushed my fingers. I searched then, and When it caught my eye, I caught his and he turned away from the water.
I reached for it, remembering clearly what brought it to me. It was wrapped in black silk and tied with a black velour ribbon. I had covered it carefully before putting it in the basket, for fear that its impurity would stain the other stones. I picked it up gingerly. The knots in me tightened at the weight of it, assuring me that the stone was the source of my hurt.
He put his hand under mine. I dropped the silk and ribbon stone in his and looked up at him.
“Abba, I hate this stone more than all the rest.”
The knots stretched against the swelling in my heart. The pain fought the hold of the bonds, but they held tight.
He sighed that sigh that tells me that all of creation groans with my pain.
“I know betrayal, too, Beloved.”
I bit my lower lip. He certainly did. From all of humanity. From me.
He touched the ribbon.
I gently tugged the ribbon until it fell away and the silk slid from the stone. It was not grey. It was a stunning crystal, clear and enticing the eyes with a thread of gold wrapping it with the veins of glory. It had a pure gold center, so pure that it was nearly as clear as the crystal, but wasn’t in some way, rather it was prettier than clear, it was lumiscent. It glowed through the natural glass when the light of the Son was shed upon it.
It had once been my most important stone. Nothing mattered more to me than its integrity. It was honesty, pure, clear through and its center was easily assessed. It had been given to me as a gift. I believed the giver was reflective of the stone.
I fingered the silk covering and considered wrapping the integrity stone back up. It was after all, not a stone of value.
Betrayal had rendered it worthless.
The memory pulled at the knots in me until doubled over with the desire for freedom. Helplessness took voice and asked,
“Abba, what can I do with this. Won’t you take it from my basket? This one is unchangable. Its beauty is not real. It is phony.”
The admission of desire for escape forced the knots to relax enough to let me breathe again.
He took the stone from my hand. In his light it glowed with the glory of a would-be honest heart. The possibility choked me. I wanted it to be real. I wanted it to be real more than I wanted it to breathe.
He sighed again, but this sigh was the sigh of regret.
“Beloved, will you let me redeem it?”
I stared into his eyes. Those eyes, crystal themselves, knew more than I could ever fathom learning. He had purpose. I could not deny him.
“Abba, I don’t know how it will change. It is already so very beautiful.”
I reached out to stroke it and when I did so the center lit. Surprise snatched my hand back and then jerked my eyes up to his. His plan shone there. Stunned at what I saw, I sat back and stammered…
“Abba, how can I do anything to restore it? I am just a girl, a little redhead from Redding. I have no power to change anything.”
He held the stone out to me.
I laid it in my palm and shook my head in amazement.
At my touch the center glowed.
I looked up at him but before I could ask the obvious question he answered.
“Child, you have the power. I have given it to you. Use it.”
I stared at the stone. The gold center glowed a moment longer before going dim and reminding me of the truth. The stone of integrity had been made worthless by betrayal. Lies. Deception. A dishonesty so deep that it had ended a long term friendship. I could never trust him again. He had taken my care for him and used it to get something from me. Then he turned on me, murdering his own integrity until his heart was rendered dull. I had cried for weeks, all the while staring at the stone he had given me. The truth had destroyed the beauty of it. I had wrapped it up in the black cloth and, because I could not give it back in the absence of truth and his presence, hid it away.
The words lit the stone in my hands until it hurt my eyes to look at it. I wrapped my fingers around it in an effort to deaden the light.
I needed to think.
I knew what that meant. It meant letting the hurt go. The knots in me loosened with the thought. It meant refusing to ask for payment or excuse or reasons. It meant putting the pain in the hands of my Abba. It meant being willing to love again, to desire good for someone who had once had the power to rip my heart in half. It meant loving the unlovable. It meant risk. Again.
I set the stone on my leg and turned inward. There I studied the knots that bound me. They were the strength of his offense. I had every right to be angry, hurt and distrustful. However, those knots were going to be the death of me. It was time to set my rights down and untie them with grace.
I knew what it looked like to do so. I had watched my Lord do it for me a myriad of times.
I picked up the rock turned the rock over in my hands. The tears came easily as I gave up my offense and whispered,
“I forgive you.”
The center began to glow again. I smiled. Integrity could be regained when washed in forgiveness.
The stone steadily lit until it shown as brightly as it did the day I received it. When it did so, the knots within me were untied. The soft bands of peace wrapped me up, their balm healing the rash of regret the ropes had created.
I held out the stone. I had no use for it. It was the integrity of one that I would not see again. It may have been beautiful, but it belonged to a stranger.
“You can return this to him. I think he may want it back.”
The words made me wonder if he felt the same way I had felt…that his integrity was tarnished by his time in my life. Forgiveness strengthened my want for him to see what it could be again.
“Abba, take this. He needs it. Tell him he can have integrity anew. Tell him he is forgiven. Tell him to try again.”
“You give it to him.”
There was a twinkle in his eye as he pointed down the beach.
I saw him there, head down as he walked the beach. My breath left my body and once again surprised snapped my head at my Abba. Surprise colored my tone.
“You brought him here?”
“You have the power. Give it back to him, Beloved.”
I stepped across the rock top and started the descent, stone in hand.
I had nearly reached the sand when I heard him speak with that twinkle in his voice, but its sound was fading in my retreat.
I did not hear what he said.
I started to turn and ask what he meant but a hand touched mine before I could get the question out.
His voice was as surprised as mine was gentle.
I held out the stone. Grace laced my words.
“I have something that belongs to you…”