Recently I read the book The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. It’s the riveting story of her childhood, raised by her artist/hippy/rebel/paranoid parents who were always on the run. She writes with great candor and grace, never bitter about how she got dangerously burned while boiling hotdogs at age 3, or how she was forced to root in the garbage cans for food in high school because she was starving.
(It’s a really rough story in spots, and I don’t recommend it for young readers or to anyone who takes offense at honesty.)
I listened to several interviews with Jeannette, and something she said keeps coming back to me: the worst thing that happens to us is actually the best thing that happens to us.
So she was starving during much of her childhood, but it means that now she appreciates how she can go to a grocery story and buy ANYthing she wants. Their poverty limited them terribly, but it didn’t keep her dad from taking her out on the porch and giving her the planet of her choice for Christmas. He’d said she could have any star she wanted, but when she asked for Venus, he said “It’s Christmas. You can have a planet if you want.” What other child ever got Venus for Christmas?!
It keeps coming back to me–the idea that the things that are ‘bad’ can become something good. I say it carefully here, because I’ve not walked through the deep, devastating losses that many people have. But I want it to be true, that pain doesn’t have the last word, and that the yucky can be changed into good.
In my days and hours and minutes, it looks something like this:
- When I repeatedly bruise myself in our poorly-designed kitchen, it means we have food to cook and dishes to wash.
- I don’t like living on the first floor of our apartment building, but just outside my bedroom window yesterday I got to watch an older man carry a wooden cabbage slicer the size of Texas. It was wide enough to take a whole head of cabbage. Only in Poland!
- A student who drains me is the reminder that I have energy to work and I have a job where I can be creative and be challenged every day, keeping boredom far away.
- Housemates who have different priorities than I, resulting in potential frustrations, means I don’t live alone. Thus, I’m rarely lonely, and hopefully I won’t become stiff and unbending. (For an excellent read on this phenomenon, please treat yourself here.)
- Being single when most women my age are mothers of teenagers means I am free to plan trips with my friends at a moment’s notice. Or pile books on the empty half of the bed.
- Having undergone a harrowing surgery and long recovery gives me sensitivity to others’ physical pain and limitations.
Part of me doesn’t like listing these things, in fear that it feels chirpy. No one who is walking through a dark time wants to hear glib, pat words like “Look–you have dishes to wash which is more than some people have!” Or “Hey, be thankful for your freedom to travel!”
I think the transformation of good coming out of bad is a process of perspective that is hardly possible in the middle of the mess. There is value in being honest and saying “This really stinks, and I hate this.” But to walk out of that and look back on it from a safe distance is redemptive and healing.
Which is what God is all about. The change of perspective is way more than positive thinking and pulling yourself up by your own shoe strings. The picture of peace and joy and glory shining out of negative situations has God’s fingerprints all over it. Because His character is light, and the darkness will never, ever, ever over-power it.
This is what I hang my heart on.
Read The Glass Castle if you want to read a story told by a masterful writer. But more importantly, maybe today you can try to step back from your story and find the streaks of light piercing your clouds.
The beauty might surprise you.
There is glory and beauty in the darkness, could we but see!
And to see, we have only to look. –Fra Giovanni, in 1513