I sat there, in the presence of saints, and my heart wept for them.
For the woman whose husband left for work two years ago — and never came back.
And the mature mother who quietly shares that her son is in prison…..again…..then whispers that she lost another to the grave.
For the familiar face whose well-known father welcomed her home after her marriage failed, her teenaged daughter became pregnant, and she herself made yet another bad decision.
And for the accomplished writer who says she’s lived the “prodigal son” story, standing in the shoes of the “good” one who stayed behind screaming “unfair” when the lost one returned.
I carried my own burdens to this lakeside retreat, tucked in my heart but always on my mind. Like the others, I had come to learn, to grow my craft, to pick the brains of others. I did not know that our coming together would lay open our hearts.
But this is truth — we write from what we know. We speak from where we’ve been. Why would there not be pain behind the stories that touch us, shape us, challenge us?
These saints who have stood in the wine press pour out the fruit of their pain now in words so raw, that others might be guided in their journey. Do we understand what that pouring out costs them?
The Scottish evangelist Oswald Chambers said this:
“God can never make us wine if we object to the fingers he uses to crush us with……We must never choose the scene of our own martyrdom. If ever we are going to be made into wine, we will have to be crushed; you cannot drink grapes. Grapes become wine only when they have been squeezed.”
The little stone house where I grew up had a beautiful grape arbor attached to one side. Every fall, we would gather clusters of purple grapes, wash them and then watch as Dad assembled his makeshift winery in our back kitchen. Rubber hoses and large glass bottles were employed in setting up the perfect conditions for fermentation of the juice Dad had squeezed from the grapes.
Grapes that are crushed do become wine, but only after a time of fermenting, of allowing sweetness to develop naturally.
“It is in fermentation that the real magic of wine making takes place,” says my copy of “The Reader’s Digest Back-to-Basics” manual. “In a process that can take as much as a year, dead yeast cells and other sediments gradually fall to the bottom of the fermentation vat. Whenever they accumulate, the wine is carefully racked off (siphoned) into a clean container. Many experts believe that the longer the wine is aged and the more often it is racked, the better it will taste. Only when it has become so clear that you can see the edge of a candle flame through it is it ready for bottling.”
No one would choose to be pressed, crushed, squeezed by the loss of a loved one, a divorce, a grave illness, financial problems. But, when those events come into our lives, when we feel the crush of God’s fingers, we are assured that with time the remains of our heartache will render a sweetness that can nourish and encourage another soul who finds themselves in the wine press. It is then that the light of Christ — that candle flame — can shine through.