When God Wants Our Attention
Recently, my dad sent me a bag full of my old piano books. Along with them were stacks of cards and letters that I had saved from childhood. My family moved around a lot while I was in high school and long before Facebook and cell phones...I had my pen pals.
I was so lonely during those years and several friends from my hometown wrote me religiously. Right after COVID locked us all down, I took an afternoon to pour over these letters, cards, old birthday wishes, and eventually came across a tiny little envelope that I almost didn’t bother to open. I turned it over, and under my maiden name, the envelope read "You are truly one of God’s Soldiers."
A lady from the church I grew up in (we'll call her Church Lady) recounted an incident in 1995 that I had long forgotten...and to be honest, I have no recollection of this gracious woman! She explained in her letter that one Sunday, my 14 year old self was singing in front of church (I did this all the time) when my microphone cut out and failed. Undeterred, I just nodded at the sound guy, set the mic down and continued to belt out my all time favorite hymn: How Great Thou Art (“then sings my soul” is tattooed on my shoulder).
The Church Lady insisted that the Lord allowed that mic to give out so that the audience would stop their chatter and listen more closely to the words about our Savior God. I could have given up and walked off the stage but I plowed right through every stanza and my response to the problem made the difference. If what she wrote is true, I am humbled, encouraged and honored 25 years later.
Just before COVID hit, we were on a beautiful vacation in Maui with my husband's side of the family. Both of my daughters suffer from different types of auto-immune encephalopathy (AE) and even the beautiful beaches of Maui cannot stop the awful symptoms that wrack their bodies and minds.
(Disneyland can't stop them either, we personally checked.)
As we were sitting by the pool, I found myself exhausted from “managing” symptoms in public places. I couldn’t take it anymore so I walked over to the beach on the other side of the bushes, mostly in self-preservation. I stomped the length of the entire beach, my insides crying out to God, again. And then, as I stepped into the aqua water, He brought to mind something one of my fellow AE mamas said to me that morning in a text:
just let that water and sunshine heal you. Let the waves take away those burdens
(surrounding these auto-immune illnesses)
So I stood up to my shins in Pacific Ocean visualizing all those cares being swept out with the tide...and I looked down at my feet watching it all symbolically escape through my immersed toes.
But, what’s this? I saw something odd in the water and looked closer: it was a big number 5 - I realized I was looking at money!
I reached down and pulled out a sopping wet, but perfectly clean $5 bill. I laughed out loud. In an instant, I sensed that God had wanted to divert my attention from the brokenness in my life to remind me - we are not forgotten. I decided right there to buy myself Hawaiian Shaved Ice with my new money! I didn’t share a single bite. Truly, I wouldn't have had this moment of playful glory on the beach had I not been confronted with the wounds that remain in my life over by the pool. Refreshed, I hurried back to my family and showed off my prize.
I think about how much my attention has been diverted from the life I thought I would live when I became a parent. The roads I would travel with my children were yet unknown to me in those first moments I met each one. Motherhood in the midst of a multiracial family comprising of biological, adopted, and foster children has changed everything my mind thought it knew about the world and my relationship with Jesus is better and more intimate for it.
The brokenness and grief of devastating chronic illness and the battles we face against systemic racism - these things that I cannot fix…I know I need Jesus to live in these battles victoriously as I let go of my personal expectations for my life:
I am a musician unable to perform…a licensed foster mother unable to take many foster kids as I continue preventive Breast Cancer treatment…an educated woman unable to work outside the home for the past 7 years as I serve as caregiver of ill children.
I can now see within the context of these two experiences, that this is not by accident. I am purposefully planted in the most bizarre mission field I could have ever imagined as I work to help families access diagnosis and medical treatment for AE and as I share with others what the Lord has been teaching me about His Kingdom and racial justice.
From the Gospel's perspective, we are given these unbearable things to carry so we will rely more fully on Him. And when we do, God brings us to the place and to the work He intended for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). I can't imagine myself a "Soldier" as that Church Lady seemed to have. But, I will dare to say that her prophetic words ring true for all Jesus followers in the midst of suffering. God uses the screwed-up, the malfunctioning, the tough stuff to bring us back to Him.
How we respond is our choice – do we give up and walk away? Or charge ahead, laying everything aside, blooming where He plants us? I think that is what is meant when James (1:2) tells us to "rejoice in trials"...they are God-given for higher purposes and rarely are they actually about us. They show us where He is currently at work and He is inviting us to join Him making the awful things in this world right again.