The former post gave a glimpse of the horrors of the Abyss, and the latter on how Grace can be seen more clearly in the darkness.
So why did I start off writing the story of the $5.32?
In a Rorschach test, the participant is shown a series of ten inkblot cards and directed to respond to each with what the inkblot looks like. Different people’s responses to the same inkblot reveal more about how they think and the experience that might have shaped them.
Similarly, the beauty of the $5.32 story is that it’s a Rorschach test that reveals which part of the redemption journey you are presently on based on how you react to it.
It’s a feel-good story during the season far before the Abyss hits, where we learn about God in the time of plenty. To the untested Christian with real relationships with God, such stories surge our faiths. Excited, they might share such stories on social media.
During times of temporary testing or if the Abyss seems to be closing in; such stories are met cautious optimism as we remind ourselves who God is, and steel our nerves of how we should remain faithful during times of testing. We steady our resolve and like Job in Chapter 15, we believe when the time comes, we can say that no matter how bad things might get, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him.” v13
But if caught too far and too long into the Abyss where your faithfulness is continually met with hopelessness and suffering, the story then becomes a cruel joke.
However, when read years after surviving swings of great magnitudes like personal disasters that removed hope and the unexpected goodness of God, feelings of cartharsis, gratefulness and a healthy fear. A person who has truly experienced true suffering, and realizes that it only takes a small accident to make us lose everything will always have emotional scars. Even as I read what I wrote, I am experiencing the same feelings of catharsis, great respect for the redemption that comes from God, but also a cautious acknowledgment of the Abyss I came from. I still have a form of PTSD because of my experiences. Small mundane events such as a particular look from someone, or if I see objects that remind me of the Abyss can make me freeze temporarily, or weep for a bit. But in the same vein, I also have a new strong foundation to build a new life on, a new boldness in life and empathy for people that suffer in the same way. Sounds like a good deal.
Hence, the first reason I started with the $5.32 story is because it shows where you are in your journey: It’s a feel-good story when read before or outside of darkness, becomes an encouragement for faith and courage when read inside of short-term darkness; a cruel joke when read inside prolonged darkness, but also catharsis, epiphany, levity within caution at the end after a victory over that darkness.
As they say, a heart full of scars is a life full of impactful stories. Life is infinitely richer because what others perceive as mundane can trigger any one of those stories. But our hope is that instead of the scars turning our soul dark and inward-looking, that God can arrange those scars to be perfectly in the right place that it actually makes the heart stronger and souls richer. Those stories are now tools for you to heal others, and not reasons for bitterness or unforgiveness.
Hence, the first reason I started with the $5.32 story is because: It’s a feel-good story when read before or outside of darkness, becomes an encouragement for faith and courage when read inside of short-term darkness; a cruel joke when read inside prolonged darkness, but also catharsis, epiphany, levity within caution at the end after a victory over that darkness.
The second reason is that, ironically, the heart of God characterized in the $5.32 that some might find naive, turns out to be true at the very end. After linking every small story arc like the one you read today, and the subsequent ones you will read; each arc put together would form an even bigger, richer and more complex story. The richness of the full story, in its ugliness and glory, is part of the abundant life God talks about. Yet in all of the full story’s complexity, when you reduce it, removing all the hubris, it ends up becoming a more mature and more complete version of today’s $5.32 story. The first story is a microcosm of the full story.
Why people are so quick to judge a person is suffering because he is not doing something right is because they miss out the element of time. Some times we cannot see the redemption story now. And by necessity, in order to have a redemption story, there must be unfairness, or suffering to begin with. The larger the unfairness or suffering, the greater the redemption will be.
When Grace emerges at the appointed time to subjugate the darkness and make it a tool for you to bless others, we will cry tears of joy when we fully know that the story that blessed the 8-year-old is also true for the 43-year-old. When I was 8-years-old, $5.32 was a big deal, and a dictionary was a bigger deal. But as we get older and the world we occupy is larger, and problems bigger. Yet, God’s redemptive work is not limited by size, but by imagination. Aren’t we glad that God’s work scales accordingly with the needs we have today, and not of yesterday? The Bible says of the nature of God’s work, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,” (Eph 2:20)
Aren’t we glad God’s work is benchmarked to the extent of our present-day imagination?
As the tribulation or condemnation increases or mistakes increases, so does the grace (Rom 5:17, 20). Are we glad God’s redemption scales up to the size of our challenges?
The beauty of the $5.32 story is that it’s a Rorschach inkblot test that reveals which part of the redemption journey you are presently on.
Tying Part 1, 2, 3 , 4 and 5 together.
In the midst of that long term struggle, before final redemption at the end, God would drop small hints of heaven, stars, to keep me in the game as I wait for night to pass. Somedays I would receive it as a boost to my faith but other days, I would receive it as sardonic satire because it seemed that God was prolonging my suffering and is playing a cruel joke on me… sort of like showing me that a higher level of life that was possible but quickly pulling it away. It’s like showing a starving baby some food, then give him a small bite before taking it away.
But rest assured that if God shows you a hint, its because He is already preparing the full for you, you’ll get full in heaven, but you will see enough of it on earth. Don’t take my word for it, here’s King David’s:
I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord
In the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
Be strong and let your heart take courage;
Yes, wait for the Lord. (Psalm 27:13-14)
As I wrote my story about the $5.32, I initially wanted to end the story as a beautiful capsule of God’s love. After all, everyone likes Chicken Soup for the Soul. But as I remembered the times of difficulty and feeling betrayed, I felt I was doing a disservice to readers ending it there. It felt more like Singaporean Chicken Rice for the Soul, if taken alone, it’s addictive in taste, but full of chicken fat and empty calories.
That story has truth in it, but it can be made so much deeper if I could present the bigger story.
My friend, know this: you might be going through real darkness that few can understand. But whatever the reason God is allowing this to happen to you, it’s not because He doesn’t love you. Christ’s death on the cross was His gift to you that proves that. This means your major challenge arc, when in His hands, will end in meaning and redemption. It’s just that it may take much longer than we think, or may occur in a way we didn’t expect; but it will be good. But along the way, He will make sure you have enough to make it through. He will provide supply along the way, and a solution prepared in advance. Within the small victories of minor story arcs within the bigger challenge arc is where you become a man or woman of God, and you will find beauty in the struggle, and struggle in the beauty. In this, God is preparing the heart of a King.
God will give you small victories to remind you He is well aware of the bigger problem you are going through, and eventually, the magnitude of God’s work always scales up in accordance with the challenges we have presently.
In addition, God is interested in your personal sanctification and maturity. Within the small victories of minor story arcs within the bigger challenge arc is where you become a man or woman of God, and you will find beauty in the struggle, and struggle in the beauty.
God will always intervine in smaller ways in the midst of a seemingly unresolved larger difficulty to give us a foretaste of the big story redemption, just like stars in the night remind us the sun is coming and that the sun is indeed a star. These small stories also give us what we need to keep pressing on, just as the stars can light our way in the night.
This is promised in His Bible. Here are but two out of many:
And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. (2 Cor 9:8)
And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide an escape, so that you can stand up under it. (1 Cor 10:13)
My hope is that jaded hearts and eyes will read my stories, and not for those who feel invincible because they were lucky to not have suffered much. I pray you will read them, as I will not omit the hurts, pains, and darkness as I write. For those darknesses frame God’s goodness more clearly for once jaded eyes like my own. It’s for people who really need to experience the REAL transformative Grace of God, and not those who are skirting around man-made ideas masquerading as grace as a convenience, almost reducing God’s gospel as positive thinking, or the new age law of attraction. It’s not about calling material things to yourself. Grace comes in the person of Jesus. When we stop making riches, or vain pursuits our main goal in life and decide on walking with Jesus, strangely, the things you gave up may still find you in richer, more meaningful ways. But this is for another story.(1)
So I started off with 1) a lovely story on God’s provision for His children by a child himself. But 2) Prolonged sufferers would despise such stories. But 3) after 30 years of an arduous struggle, I’ve come to realize that God gives stars to remind us the sun is coming and that 4) the ‘naive’ story was not naive after all. But we can only see Real Grace only in hindsight when your big story arc is resolved, and there will be pockets of beauty in the struggle in the meanwhile, just like we can see stars at night while waiting for the sun. Those stars remind you that there is a sun coming in the morning because the sun is actually a star itself.
Thank for letting take you through this bird’s eye view tour of my life’s story in the last couple posts.
Now, I want to share the small story arcs that reminded me God was still around even while my world was starting to fall apart.
After the $5.32, the next time I saw a star in that long night and I felt that strangely warm feeling, followed by a confirmation of God’s goodness was when I was between 18 and 19.
It’s a story on how a sickly C-average student who couldn’t manage school ridiculously got straight As for his GCE A-level exam to the disbelief his teachers and best friends. It was another baby bite of rewarded faith as I stared the Abyss in the face, a temporary glimmer of hope sandwiched by dreams that I would not amount to much.
See you in the next post.
(1) A small nugget on grace before I go. Real Grace is uncontrollable by you, it comes at your worst, not at your best. It doesn’t come at your emotional highs, or how high people in church esteem you. It can come when you are a nobody like Joseph in his prison, or when the world despises you like Job. Both these biblical heroes would have failed the positivity/faith calling test and both of these people are the ones I am greatly engrossed by. This is the greatest comfort for the sufferer, especially for those who think their situations are irredeemable. It matters not whether the situation was exacerbated by your mistakes or by the mistakes of others.