The Gift Box

For when you have a quiet moment. This was an experience with God I always carry with me, but means even more at Christmas:

Someone squeezed my hand. I hadn’t meant to fall asleep in the chair, but the glow from the Christmas tree and the soft instrumental carols were like a sugar plumb Ambien. I picked my head up to see who had disturbed my long winter’s nap, but I was alone.

Then I saw it (or felt it?). At the base of the tree was a small wooden chest, the size of a cigar box. I picked it up. It wasn’t heavy, but it was solid. The wood was stained dark red, and was inlaid all over with painted tiles. At first I thought it was for jewelry or other valuables, but there was no lock, and the tiles were like nothing I’d ever seen. They were intensely beautiful land, sky, and seascapes, interspersed with animals that . . . moved.

I blinked hard, thinking my eyes were not quite awake yet, but it didn’t help. Every scene was a window on a different part of creation, from the desert to the ocean to the mountains. The more you stared at one, the more you were drawn into it, until you were there, a part of the living art. I closed my eyes again, and this time it stopped. Or at least slowed. If I stared at a picture, it came to life again.

I reasoned that I was dreaming. I was probably still sleeping in the chair. But this felt so real. My heart was beating hard enough to hear it. I took a deep breath. Nothing could really hurt me in my own dream. Could it? Half-terrified and half-exhilarated, I opened it.

Nothing. I don’t mean it was empty. I was gazing into infinite space, like staring at a dark part of the sky on a moonless night. As with the outside, it drew you in. But this was harder to pull back from. There was an odd sensation of slowly falling, yet being perfectly at peace. Surrounded in that contentment, I let myself drift in silence. Then a voice.

I say voice, but it wasn’t language as I knew it. It was more—images and emotion and thought, both to me and from me. Every cell in me reverberated with it, like standing under a massive waterfall. There was nothing in my mind I could hide, and nothing I could keep from coming in. I’m not sure how long that went on before I began to be aware of certain thought-feeling-memories rising above the rest.

These were difficult. Painful. These were the moments of my life which didn’t make sense. Broken relationships. Overwhelming circumstances. Rejections. Failures. Deaths. I saw the lymphoma. The mass in my chest was vivid, an alien winding its tentacles around my heart, trying to strangle the life out of me. Over all this, one word appeared like graffiti: “Why”.

I couldn’t conceal my deep desire to know why these things happened. No, not desire. Offense. Bitterness. I didn’t realize how angry I was at the suffering I had seen so many go through. Why are there powerful sociopaths who think nothing of destroying lives in their quest for more money and power, while kind and loving children die of starvation, war, and cancer? For that matter, why did I get it? What did I do wrong?

The images around me shifted again. I saw larger versions of the outside of the box, sweeping panoramas of nations, cities, and people. It was more this time though. I could feel God’s connection to everything. More than that. His presence energized every good thing. There was no shadow in him, no intent to punish anyone, no thought of sacrificing one in favor of another. I could feel his love for each person, and his desire to give everyone what they needed to become all he saw they could be. The awareness of his love grew until I couldn’t take it anymore, and I collapsed in the chair, and asked him to make it stop.

He spoke again, this time in a way I could receive more easily: “My son, I have made galaxies and atoms. I designed both lions and lion fish. I created you. I know you have questions. I know some things don’t seem to make sense. But there are things you simply can’t understand right now. So I’m asking you to trust me. I’m asking you to stay aware my love for you and everyone, and trust me in that love.

The box I’ve given you is for all your questions. It doesn’t lock—it isn’t to stuff your feelings down and pretend they don’t exist. It’s for those things you can’t understand right now. Someday we will sit down and talk about them all. But for now, will you trust that I love you completely, and am with you through every moment of your life?”

All my bitterness, pain, and fear got swallowed up in his life-giving voice. I nodded slightly, too weak to say anything. I could feel him standing next to me, strengthening me, healing me, loving me.

He squeezed my hand.

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