“God uses broken things. It takes broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to give bread, broken bread to give strength. It is the broken alabaster box that gives forth perfume. It is Peter, weeping bitterly, who returns to greater power than ever.”
– Vance Havner
At first it began with a little blue smoke from under the hood of my Craftsman tractor. Ever since I’d let the oil drop to the bottom of the dip stick, that 21 horsepower Briggs & Stratton engine reminded me I’d messed up every time I mowed. As far as it was concerned, redemption from my mechanical neglect would be hard in coming, if at all.
“Grandpa always told me that if you take care of your machines,” my dad shared when I was a kid, “they’ll take care of you.” The opposite was never mentioned but always implied: if you didn’t take care of your machines, well, they could turn into something like those demonically-driven trucks in that old Stephen King movie, Maximum Overdrive.
But onward I pressed my huffing lawn mower, performing my duties as the man of the house, topping off the crankcase with at least a half quart of 10W-30 before mounting that mighty red steed for a turn around the yard. The blue pall seemed to thicken with each passing week, until riding the tractor was like sitting in the back seat of Cheech and Chong’s ‘64 Chevy Impala in Up in Smoke.
Then came the black smoke as I tackled the thicker grass (no pun intended). With the black smoke came a horrid knocking sound, like a jackhammer on reinforced concrete. Sometimes the engine would stall. The smell of burning oil stuck in my nose for the rest of the day, and more than once I wondered what the exhaust was doing to my brain, let alone my lungs.
Finally, while attempting to mow the swamp that used to be our back yard, the blade drive belt slipped off the mower deck pulley array and the blades quit spinning. Like the Old Man in A Christmas Story, I wove a tapestry of cuss words that to this day is still hanging over the pond behind our house.
Meanwhile . . . a feisty storm had taken our five-burner gas grill for a spin across the patio and left it lying drunk and disheveled against our wood pile. After Mary and I managed to lift it up and drag it back onto the porch, I reassembled it then lit it to make sure it still worked. Flames rolled out of the control panel in front of burner number three, melting the control knob. I sighed and shook my head.
Meanwhile . . . I received a phone call from Mary while I was at work. “The stuff in the garage refrigerator’s freezer is thawing out. I don’t think it’s working anymore.” She transferred all of the meat from the 10-year-old fridge to the 32-year-old garage deep freeze. After I got home I measured the temperature and confirmed the refrigerator had gone kaput, like the tractor. Like the gas grill. Parts and labor to repair it would cost $428. I gritted my teeth until my fillings began to squeal from the compressive stresses.
The day before the tractor spewed its last puff of blue smoke (which, coincidentally was only a couple days after the garage fridge spewed its last breath of cold air, and a week after the gas grill spewed its last flame), my iPhone glitched, spasmed, rolled over, and died a wordless death, spewing years of photos, notes, messages, and contact information into the black hole of technospace. It was all I could do to keep from punching it right in the shimmering blue screen of death.
As I meticulously followed Apple’s step-by-step instructions on how to reset an iPhone using iTunes (hint: don’t even bother if the phone doesn’t turn on), I bumped a glass of wine off the computer desk where it smashed on the floor and painted the tile and the dining room wall a titillating shade of purple. iTunes failed to resurrect my decaying phone.
When Mary and Hannah walked through the door a few minutes after the creation of my smashingly ingenious work of art, I had that look on my face, you know, the one where life grabs you in its jaws and shakes you until your eyes bulge. As the wine stained the grout and the wall, my wife wanted to grab me and make my eyes bulge as well. I felt as broken as the tractor, the refrigerator, the cell phone, the grill, as broken as the wine glass lying in a pool of purple. I felt as broken as the leaking CV boot on my Kia, as broken as the tire that kept losing air, as broken as the window in our breakfast nook. I felt as broken as the grinding ceiling vents in the bathrooms, the flaking grout in the dining room, the flakey water softener in the garage, the peeling paint on the garage door header. With all the literal brokenness surrounding me, I wondered when God’s provision was finally going to bust loose from the reservoirs of heaven and pour through the floodgates as He promised in Malachi 3:10. I wondered . . . .
The next morning, after my sanity had returned from its sporty jaunt through the topiary gardens of hell, Mary pulled open the door of the microwave and the handle came off. I smiled. I chuckled. I began to laugh. Mary laughed with me. “All we need to fix all the broken things around here is $3000,” I half joked. In the spirit of James 1:2 and Philippians 4:6, we thanked God for our current season of trials, knowing that trials produce steadfastness and character, even though going through them sucks.
I went to work the following morning, and later that afternoon, as I was wrapping up, my boss unexpectedly handed me a check that more than covered the cost to fix all the broken things at home. “What’s this for?” I blurted, looking up at him.
“Another 180 hours to keep you around,” he replied.
“It couldn’t have come at a better time,” I whispered.
Thank You, Jesus, I prayed over and over during my drive home. Thank You, Jesus!
When I walked into the dining room, I showed Mary the check. “I told you Jesus would take care of it,” she said. Indeed He did. We prayed in thanks, right there on the spot, for the surprising (yet completely expected) provision God had laid in our hands. “Thanksgiving comes before the miracle,” we reminded Hannah when she asked me how much the check was for. We told her about Jesus giving thanks before breaking death’s grip and raising Lazarus from the tomb. We told her about Jesus giving thanks at the Last Supper before breaking the bread and offering His body to be broken as the sacrifice to manifest the ultimate Miracle. All that brokenness, all that thankfulness, all those miracles.
“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time,” Peter wrote in his first letter (1 Peter 5:6 NKJV). “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance,” James wrote to the twelve scattered tribes (James 1:2-3 NIV®). “Give thanks in all circumstances,” Paul wrote in his first letter to the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NIV®). Give thanks in all circumstances, even when all hell has broken loose and broken everything. Then pull out the broom and the dustpan and get ready to sweep in the miracles. There’s no stopping them.
Photo Copyright © 2016 by Mary L. Hughes
Copyright © 2016 by David C Hughes