With the logs heaped unevenly beside me, I took one, steadied it against gravity and began to wield the force of the sharp blade against the grain. It took a few attempts, but eventually the wood split apart with a satisfying crunch and fell to the ground. Picking up a shard, I struck again and again, until slivers of wood sat where once the whole log had rested, unaware of its fate. The grain of the wood was straight and yielded easily to my imperfect, tenuous taps.
I thought ahead to when the others would be joining me at the campsite in just a few short hours. I could almost hear the laughter at absurd jokes and the conversations, more relaxed in the outdoors, where errands and jobs no longer pressed us to shorten our ideas and sentences. The camping community around the fire was an annual highlight, a tradition we had tended to for many years. I anticipated it more and more with every swing of the hatchet, my piles of tinder and fuel ready to feed the fire that would bring us together around its centre.
Knotted and Gnarled
As I continued my glad task, I picked up the next log in the pile. This one looked different from the rest, with gnarly bark twisting in every direction. I considered which spot would be most suitable to sink the blade into. Each spot I tried was slow in yielding, stubbornly resisting my goal. It took only a moment to spot the source of my troubles. A large knot rested in the middle of this stump. The grain took a large detour, posing an interesting problem. Should I leave this log for when the fire was burning most brightly? Surely by then the fire could handle the anomaly, reducing the large chunk to ashes along with the rest of the wood.
Sitting down for a break, my now dusty hands picked up the knotted log. I gazed up and down the grain, allowing my eyes to travel through the interesting curves of the knot. What had caused this to happen in nature's slow growth, I wondered. A branch? Disease? Not everything in nature was as flawless as today's blue sky, I thought to myself. Holding it lightly, I began to think of the other knots in my life. The one in my now tired shoulders was the most obvious one, but I also thought of the group of friends destined to gather soon. One of them anxious with the challenges of living with a teenage son. Another friend knotted up with the transition of an upcoming move. Uprooted and uncertain of her future, she was aware of her fear.
On and on the stories went. Everyone was dealing with some knot or other, whether it was the challenge of retirement, physical problems, relating to a difficult person or, that largest knot of all, coming up against the stubborn willfulness that crept up without warning, turning the best of intentions into a mush of ego. Moods, clouds of discouragement, problems that wouldn't yield to better reason, all piled up in knot after knot among the company of fools that were my friends.
And my knots. I sighed loudly, considering the sharpness of the blade against the even larger knot of wood still waiting for my swing. A recent ailment had suddenly reduced the vision of my left eye. No known cause and no known cure was the verdict given to me by the doctor. Just wait for healing. The infection had come unexpectedly as I went about my usual routine. Limitation and imperfection, two things I was not an expert at handling with grace! Especially not by just waiting for healing. I was used to feeling in control.
In My Hands
In 1737, the Puritan Thomas Boston wrote a book called The Crook in the Lot, explaining God's purpose in allowing afflictions. The crook was like this bend in the wood before me, which he allegorized as the trials sent by God into the lives of people. These trials became their lots. A friend of mine had mentioned this classic to me when I had been lamenting my eye problem. Truly, I thought, there is a crook in the lot of everyone, certainly in my life and in the lives of my friends. "Perhaps this problem can be woven into the pattern of your life in wonderful ways," my friend suggested. I thought about the wood furniture gracing a store in my neighbourhood, and how the tables with knots in them were always my favourite pieces. How they gave the wood character and interest. These knots with their unlikely beauty could never have been formed without some affliction.
And that led to the moment when God spoke to me as I sat there among the trees, under the blue banner. "I'm holding you in my hands, Lydie" I heard God say. "All that you find hard to bear in your life, all those crooked, rough, disagreeable parts of yourself, I have them all in my hands. I'm turning them over and over, considering them from each angle, and I'm making something beautiful out of it all. All you need to do is trust."
I looked down again at the wood's crooked beauty, which would not yield to the blade of my hatchet. With resolve I set the splintered wood into a pile in the fire pit, ready to light at the first sign of darkness. The straight and the crooked together, lighting the community fire. There was life in the wood, no matter what shape it came in. I stood up, shaking the wood chips off my pants, and looked down the road to see my friends arriving.