I almost went to Ikea. I was bored with my dresser, I’ve had it for the better part of 20 years and it’s been in the family longer than that. It was painted red and I was ready for something different. But instead, I decided to try stripping the paint and re-staining it.

It took some trial and error. I tried a chemical stripper that removed most of the paint, but not all of it. And for the rest, there were a ton of nooks and crannies where I had to sand by hand. As I sanded, I discovered all kinds of dings and scratches and other imperfections.

It was a lot of hard work. Several times I wanted to quit and throw it away and start over with something brand new. Something made from responsibly forested lumber, using safe chemicals. Something trendy, like you’d find on Pinterest or the Ikea showroom.

But I kept at it. I kept sanding, and I kept working. Some of it was just plain stubbornness, but most of my drive came from a picture in my mind. I pictured how beautiful this piece of furniture will look when it’s all finished. I was driven by a picture I had never seen. I was convicted that this would be worth all the effort.

As I was sanding away, I thought about the beauty that was under the surface that no one else had ever seen. I had faith that one day everyone could see with their eyes what I only saw in my mind.

And now you know I’m not talking about reclaiming furniture anymore.

Ten years of student ministry has taught me to look under the surface. To see what no one else sees. Many times I’ve wanted to quit, and do something different. To hope for a less damaged, less scratched, less broken group of students. But time and time and time again, what has driven me has been the picture of what could be. In my mind I have the picture of what’s beneath the surface that makes all this worth it. I have this community of a group of guys who love God and love people — all people. Lost people. Broken people. Hurting people. People who don’t love them back. People who are hard to love, in their hard to love moments.

And that is why I keep on sanding. I keep on working. I keep on praying. Because I see what no one else can see, and it drives me to do what no one else will do.

I finished that dresser, by the way. A few weeks ago I put the last coat of stain on it. It’s damaged, there are scratches and imperfections all over. I damaged it in the reclamation process. But every scratch and ding adds to its beauty. And it is beautiful. Easily the most beautiful piece of furniture I own. And one of the most beautiful pieces I have ever seen.

This dresser has taught me a lot about what God is doing in my life, and the lives of lost and broken students I care about.