I live in a box. Literally.
It’s about 200 square feet and it comes with 3 children, a husband and a large dog. And living in it was my idea. My family and I sold our cozy 3 bedroom 2 bath house last July. In August we began living in “The Box” (though many of our friends and family have kindly referred to it as “The Adventure.”) We did this so that we could save money while building a 5 bedroom 3 bath house. As an introvert, who needs quiet alone time, the box has been…challenging.
In quiet time and space, I recharge, I hear God’s voice and I am happy. My scattered brain becomes un-scattered. But in the box, I feel like I can’t freely move. It’s hard to stay organized, and I live in fear of a vividly imagined rat invasion or airborne disease epidemic (It could happen!) Worst of all I have struggled to hear God. And if you know me, hearing God is my oxygen, my life, my favorite thing in the whole world. To hear him is to know him and to love him. Everything he touches changes; it comes alive with hope and purpose.
In my box, I became silent, a bit melancholy and checked out. I had hope for the future, thankfulness for a roof, safety, and a (mostly) happy family. But I put my life, as I saw it, on hold. I can survive in the box as long as a better house is being built. I was only supposed to be there about five months, yet nine months later, I’m still here. I missed my Father, I missed his voice. How can I hear him in my box? Slowly, he began to remind me.
Not my feelings, not my circumstances- just believe and step through his door, which is always open.
So I did. I stepped through the door while I was praying, and I had a little mental movie appear in the screen of my mind. In it, I saw Jesus standing before me holding two small ring sized boxes. (I am just now realizing the irony and humor of him giving me more small boxes!) He said to me, “I want to give you a gift.” I looked at the boxes. One was labeled MERCY and the other, GRACE.
I am the kind of person who likes to guess what’s hiding inside a present before I open it. As I considered the gifts, I thought to myself, ‘These are small boxes, I would expect mercy and grace to come in bigger boxes. God seems to like seeds and fruit so, I bet they are seeds that I need to grow bigger’. He smiled and joked, “Good things come in small packages and these presents do not require work.”
So I took the box labeled MERCY and opened it. Inside was a large but simple diamond solitaire ring. Then I took the box labeled GRACE, expecting to see another ring. Instead, I was surprised to see a weird golden butterfly. Weird because it was both metallic and alive at the same time! My mental movie ended and I was left with a strange puzzle.
As I began to mull this over in my head, the story of the Prodigal Son came to mind. If you are unfamiliar with the story, it’s about a son who basically tells his dad, ‘I want your money, but not you’. His dad gives him the money, and the son takes off. After wasting all the money, and left with nothing, he returned to his dad to beg for a job. His dad is thrilled that he’s home and celebrates getting his son back. He gives him a ring, new clothes and throws a party. [see Luke 15:11-32]
The ring from the box called MERCY, reminded me of the ring placed on the son’s finger. The ring is a symbol of authority, position and promise. When the prodigal received the ring, the Father restored his position and authority in his home.
God told me, “Sometimes, when people think of my mercy, they think it comes from a place of pity. They are like a hungry person begging me for crumbs, when what I want, is to give them a place at the table. Mercy is part of who I am. It comes from a deep place of love and compassion. My mercy is about restoration.”
With the first part of the puzzle solved, I turned to the weird butterfly. (I like weird.) To me, a butterfly seems like a strange picture of grace. I would expect something bigger or stronger. But he showed me how butterflies are symbols of the power and beauty of transformation. When grace comes to a person, it transforms them into a new creation. It enables a person to do what they were previously incapable of doing. That is how a prodigal can be restored without having to work or earn his way into the father’s trust or heart. His grace becomes a catalyst for a changed heart.
As an artist, pictures and images are like a really great math problem, or a crossword puzzle. They need to be understood and thought about. I love pictures that make me think. The kind that stay with you, show up in your dreams and give you a clearer understanding of life. I haven’t stopped thinking about my Mercy ring or my Grace butterfly. On some level, aren’t we all prodigals who seek the Father for his stuff and miss the greatest treasure, the Father himself? What is true for the prodigal is true for anyone in any circumstance. Find your Father in the midst of struggle, horror, fear, loss, grief, addiction, poor choices, you name it. It doesn’t matter if it’s your fault or not. Go to the Father and he will embrace and celebrate you. In his mercy he will restore you, call you son or daughter, give you a place at his table and, speaking from experience, he will enable you to do the impossible.
I really want out of the box. But in the meantime, I can look at it a different way, it’s a chrysalis and inside, I have found mercy and am being changed by his grace. Inside my box, I rediscovered the door to my Father, which is always open and always a better adventure than any I could dream up for myself.