The Rich Tapestry of God's Providence
Christin Ditchfield and I have this in common: we are both on Crossway’s roster of authors. Crossway published my book The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment and has published several of Christin’s including A Way With Words and A Family Guide to Narnia. But just this weekend we discovered that we have something else in common. It goes back. Way back. Back to before we were even born.
When I was growing up, my mother used to tell me stories about her life before she became a Christian. As a young woman she was a student at Bishop’s University in Lennoxville, Quebec, and had determined that life was meaningless. She was depressed and distraught and utterly convinced that she was evil, that other people were evil. Everyone she spoke to assured her that she was wrong and that people were good, that she was good. But she knew better. She saw no hope, no escape from the endless meaninglessness. Then a fellow student invited her to meet a couple of of his friends, expecting that they may have some encouragement for her. She did not want to go, and even planned to cancel the time together, but somehow felt compelled to do the right thing and to keep her promise.
She arrived at the home of those friends and was introduced to a young woman named Bernice. Bernice’s fiance, Stephen, and her grandmother were visiting that evening as well. As my mom sat down in the living room, Bernice asked a simple question: How are you? She got a longer answer than she had expected. My mother told her how she hated life and was in utter despair and was convinced that she and others were full of evil. Bernice and Stephen listened patiently while the grandmother sat quietly in a corner looking like she was praying. Finally Stephen spoke up and, to my mother’s amazement, told her that he agreed with her assessment. She was evil. We are all evil. Finally—finally!—someone agreed with her. Finally she had found someone who could affirm what she knew to be true. And not only that, but he told her that he had a solution. He explained that the solution was the gospel, the good news, of Jesus Christ.
Stephen asked her another simple question: Do you want to pray and ask Jesus to be your Savior? After a moment’s reflection she knew she did want that and Stephen led her in prayer. And in that moment she immediately felt all that despair give way to joy. She was utterly and permanently transformed.
Bernice and Stephen soon moved on and my mother knew them only as the people who had given her hope and led her to the Lord. This testimony to the Lord’s grace in my mother’s life was something I heard often while I was growing up.
Meanwhile, Christin Ditchfield had grown up hearing a very similar story.
When I was growing up, my parents used to tell me stories about times they experienced God in miraculous ways. Like the time they were in Quebec, before they were married, and this girl just showed up at the door. My mom let her in and she sat down on the floor and started talking about how she was evil. My dad remembered how shocked she was when he agreed with her! From his perspective, it was so amazing that God gave him the boldness to say all the things he said to her that day, including the challenge—the invitation—to pray, right then and there. He remembered that as they prayed together, he happened to open his eyes for a half second—and suddenly realized that she didn’t even know to close hers. She was sitting there, eyes wide open, spilling over with tears. Afterward she said she felt as if heavy weights had been lifted off of her. My parents were just in awe of the incredible transformation that took place as she invited Jesus into her heart that day.
And wouldn’t you know it, but it was Christin’s parents who led my mother to the Lord that day. That was forty years ago. They never knew what became of my mom and she never knew what happened to them, at least until she typed their names into Google a few days ago and found that the Ditchfields had continued on in the faith; they went on to found the Ditchfield Family Singers and today perform all over America. She sent them an email to tell what happened after their lives diverged, and the Ditchfields responded immediately with great joy and excitement (and especially so when they found out that my mom had married the young man who had led her to their door that day).
There were two sides to the story of my mother’s search for meaning and each of those sides became part of a family’s history. In the Old Testament we often read of God’s people erecting pillars or monuments to remind them of what the Lord had done. Both the Ditchfield and the Challies families had held up their side of this story as one of those monuments that blessed and encouraged and reminded. One mom had been telling of a family who took time to listen and to share their faith with her; that family had been telling of a young, lost girl who was transformed before their eyes. It was only this weekend that the two parts were finally put together, and I am convinced the Lord is glorified more in the whole than in the halves.
And maybe this is just a little glimpse of some of the wonder of eternity, where we will see in greater measure how the Lord has woven together this rich tapestry that we call providence. There are billions of stories unfolding in this world, stories that are told through even the most mundane of things—a dinner invitation, an honest answer to a question, a simple message of good news. What a joy it will be to trace these threads, these stories, to see how they are interwoven, and to praise God for his mercy and his grace in and through each one.
Tim Challies is a pioneer in the Christian blogosphere, having one of the most widely read and recognized Christian blogs (www.challies.com). He serves as a pastor at Grace Fellowship Church in Toronto, Ontario, and is co-founder of Cruciform Press. Among his books are The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment, Sexual Detox, and The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion.