WHEN I LIVED in Amsterdam, I knew someone who owned one of Corrie Ten Boom’s famous tapestries. The Dutch survivor of a World War II concentration camp—sent there with her family for harboring Jews, a story captured in the best-selling The Hiding Place—carried them on her speaking travels.
Ten Boom would use them as an object lesson when she spoke about how, often, our lives seem like just a tangle. Mistakes, missed opportunities, and mixed motives. She would hold up the reverse side, with all its knots and seemingly random threads.
But, she would add, God is working all those things together in a way we just may not see yet. Then she would turn the piece over to reveal a beautiful piece of art. It’s all about having the right perspective.
I believe God has plans and purposes for each of us, and that He speaks to us about them. And I have tried, to varying degrees, to follow His leading for many years. Yet I still look back on my life and more often see the tangle than the tapestry.
With the benefit of hindsight, I am conscious how even what I considered at the time to be noble actions and decisions were sometimes colored by personal interests. Or, leanings that I was not even aware of at the time. That does two things for me now: it keeps me (more) humble, acknowledging that I am likely never going to be truly, totally selfless this side of heaven. And it makes me marvel at God’s ability to work something good out of my muddle.
Take my life in journalism, which has a more knotted backside than I was aware of for a long time. Certainly, there seems to be an element of nature in this vocation: I’m a third-generation newspaperman. Mom also worked as a journalist for a time. And long-held family lore was recently confirmed for me; famed G.K. Chesterton is a distant relative. Butcher blood may be more I (for ink) than A, B, or O.
And then there is nurture. For a family that loved words professionally, we didn’t always know how to use them well personally; we struggled at times to communicate deeply. One time, while reflecting on my childhood, I thought back to how my parents would keep me in the dark about things. I suspect now that, in their minds, this was meant as a kindness and a protection. For me, though, it sometimes seemed like a dismissal.
“It felt controlling,” I told a counselor one time. “They controlled the information.”
Then it dawned on me: that’s just what I did as a vocation, I controlled information for others.
And in that moment, a seemingly clumsy thread became a meaningful stitch. I saw the other side. Something I’d viewed negatively had, through God’s weaving, become a positive.