“Remember not the former things,
nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth,
do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert…”
When I graduated from high school, my parents gave me a hope chest. It was a tradition they had decided each of us girls would have. Now, for those of you who may not know what a hope chest is, a young girl is typically given a hope chest so she can begin to store things she may need when she marries and sets up house. For example, if a beloved grandmother passes and leaves the granddaughter her silver, it goes in the hope chest. If you get fancy graduation presents like a lovely set of knives or some beautiful dishes, you don’t dare waste those treasures on your college apartment. You put them in the hope chest. On any day before you either become a bride or receive rock-solid confirmation that spinsterhood is your inheritance, you had certainly better resist the temptation to crack that lid and use anything once it’s stored away. Simply put: you fill the hope chest with what you hope to use in the home you hope to have once you’ve found the man you hope to marry. This business of a hope chest has hope written all over it. And at the tender age of 17, I received it in that spirit alone.
Traditionally, a hope chest is cedar because it is also meant to store linens – heirloom tablecloths, quilts, doilies, etc. And cedar is the best protection against those pesky hole-eating moths. Well. I’m no traditional girl, and when it came time to pick out my hope chest, cedar just wasn’t going to cut it. No. I had to have a fancy-pants, über-trendy rattan chest from The Bombay Co. It was the first piece of furniture I had ever owned, and I loved it. I was at least smart enough not to cart it up to my dorm room with me, but when the time came for me to have my own apartment, that baby moved in and I doted on it. I didn’t have much to put in it, but I knew why it was there, and it somehow helped me hope for a godly husband, a beautiful home.
In the winter of 2004, I decided it was time to move to Little Rock. Without going into detail, it was a hasty and ill-advised move, but I was stubborn and bent on having my way. And my way was a gorgeous, historic downtown apartment. A handful of faithful friends showed up in the January rain to pack me up and move me across the river. About halfway there, I looked behind me at the truck carrying my hope chest. The tarp in the back was flapping, and I thought about pulling over to ask the driver to secure it. But I had a deadline to meet and we pressed on. My next glance in the rear view revealed the lid of my beloved hope chest lifting up and flying through the air into the stream of I-67’s oncoming traffic. The caravan pulled over and searched, but the lid had flown off too far back for us to see, so I sent everyone else on while my mom and I circled back in my car to search.
I can still see it in my mind – the lid lay splintered in the median, in at least 30 pieces, completely ruined. I was devastated. To make matters worse, as we pulled over to look at the lid, we were rear-ended. In my brand new car. And my mother was injured. I was inconsolable, she was hurting, the lid was destroyed, it was cold and raining and I knew I had done something very unwise by taking this gorgeous downtown Little Rock apartment. Even then, in my spirit I felt the warning, something telling me I was pushing too hard this time, flying too hard against the wind, but I ignored it. After filling out an accident report and deciding to leave the shattered lid where it lay, we joined my friends in Little Rock. I walked into my new apartment and saw my beautiful hope chest sitting in the corner, sad and lidless. My heart literally hurt. It was mine and nice and beautiful and now it was broken, and how could a girl properly fill a hope chest with no lid?
Not long after moving into that apartment, I began to wander. I made destructive choices. Immoral choices. It started slowly – it typically does – and before I knew it, I was years-deep in hopeless, Godless living. I spent my treasure for moth and rust and laid none by for safekeeping. And every time I looked at that busted hope chest, I felt my shame. I felt my brokenness, my poverty, my lost purpose. It held accusation for me at every glance.
You used to be whole. You used to be beautiful. You used to be pure.
It was only after I returned to the Lord that I started to find a way to put the lid back on that chest. I don’t think I was conscious of it at the time – in my mind, I was just trying to salvage a piece of furniture. Years back, just after the accident, my dad had visited The Bombay Co. to inquire after a replacement lid. But thanks to my unique tastes, I had chosen a chest that had been one of a very limited stock and was no longer produced. I spent hours scouring eBay and Craigslist in hopes that I would find a chest like mine. Nothing.
I finally resigned myself to the fact that this thing would never be a hope chest again, and I got creative and decided if I could have the right kind of lid built, I could convert the chest to a window bench that would add some additional seating to my living room and maybe provide some blanket storage. I started talking to my dad about it, and he came and picked the chest up at Christmas two years ago to take it back to his shop and work on it. Then things got busy, life stepped in, and we found ourselves with more important things to worry about than converting hope chests to window benches.
I had all but forgotten about the bench until one Wednesday three weeks ago. I was folding a blanket, and I remembered my hope chest, and my heart sank. Would it never be repaired? I felt so sad. I started to call my dad and tell him to just forget about it, just put the stupid thing on the curb and throw it away. But I knew that wasn’t what I wanted. Deep, deep down, I knew that I still yearned for its restoration. I also knew that restoration was next to impossible. There was just no way this thing would ever even come close to looking like my hope chest again. But I’ve always been one to hope against all odds, and I guess this was no exception. Besides, even if I was willing to give up on the chest, I knew that, for whatever reason, this was important to my dad. And even if he was taking his time getting it done, it would really, really hurt his feelings if I told him to scrap it. So I kept silent. Didn’t mention it. And went on about my business.
At this point, it had been at least one whole year since Dad and I had even discussed the hope chest. Two years since it had gone with him to the shop.
Two days later, Dad called to ask if I was home. I told him I was almost there. He said, “Don’t sit on it.” What an odd thing to say, I thought, but if you know my dad, you know he just says funny things sometimes, so I laughed and went on. A few moments later, I walked in the door of my house, and there it was.
I couldn’t believe it. He had finished it. And not how I’d asked him to, either. I’d asked him to make a recessed, cushioned top, something that might even be permanently affixed so it could be a bench instead of a chest. I had asked him to change this thing’s purpose. And he had refused. He made it another lid, and he gave me back my hope chest.
For years, that hope chest has been an empty, hollow reminder of my wandering, my sin and my shame. Of my detour. A detour that I thought couldn’t be righted again. For years, it has whispered regret and failure and loss. And here it is, sitting in my living room, completely and fully restored.
It doesn’t look exactly how it looked when it was given to me sixteen years ago. It is even more beautiful to me now than it was then. Because now, it tells my story. Now, it whispers redemption. It whispers beauty and restoration and wholeness and it sings of His great, great faithfulness. It tells me that He does not leave us broken. He does not leave us empty or hollow. And when we come back to Him and meekly say, well, maybe you could just use me as this kind of woman now instead, since I ruined my chances at getting to be that kind of woman?
He. says. NO.
You are not ruined.
You are restored.
You are whole.
I have set your purpose from the beginning of time, and it stands.
The lid is SHUT.