Several years ago a co-worker told me, in the nicest way possible, that I was conceited. She loved to get into deep conversations about the world and various philosophies. She told me that she was open-minded, yet she could not accept that there was such a thing as a personal relationship with God. She would laugh when I would tell her how I thought God had answered a prayer or how I felt him stirring my heart. How could I think that the God of the universe really took an interest in me? Not only do I think he’s interested in me, I would say, I think he loves me. That’s usually when the eye-rolling commenced.
A year or two after I left that job, I received a phone call from this woman. She and her husband were creating their last will and testament. She asked me if my husband and I would consider being her daughter’s guardian, should she and her husband die. We wouldn’t be the first in line, of course. Her brother would take their daughter, unless something happened to him. So basically we were the back-up plan.
I had met her daughter once. And I hadn’t spoken to this woman since I left, except maybe on the occasional visit back to the workplace. When I asked her why she was asking us to potentially fill this weighty role, she told me it was because she had admired the way we lived our lives, especially when it came to the importance of our faith. Really? After all the arguments she made as to why my beliefs were juvenile and egotistical?
I hung up the phone and sat in silence for a few minutes before telling my husband what had happened. I was truly mystified by her request. Part of me felt sorry that she didn’t have close friends who she could ask to be her daughter’s guardian. But this other part of me looked at it from a different vantage point. I realized that behind the tough exterior of this woman, God had somehow entered in and caused her to wrestle with her own dogged views of him. I’m not sure if she believes he loves her, but I would venture to say she has, at least, given it much thought.
Because my husband had just been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and we were unsure of our future (as if we were sure of it before, Ha), we declined from being the guardian for my friend’s daughter. I think about her often, though. About her questions and how I can really know that the God of the universe loves me. How I can be sure and take comfort in that notion. How I could call him compassionate, even when things like 9/11 happen and human trafficking still exist. I could give all the typical answers, the Sunday school answers, the Jesus-loves-me-this-I-know-for-the-Bible-tells-me-so answers, but most of those answers are stale. True answers, but impersonal. If I were to tell her how I know God loves me and cares about the details of my life, this is what I would tell her.
Lately, my husband and I have been struggling in our marriage. We are doing everything possible to come together and make things work. We love one another and are committed to the relationship but there are days when we are hurting and feel alone and lost in the changes occurring within us. It’s hard work and sometimes we both feel like giving up. But we don’t quit, and more importantly, we do not lose hope.
It would be easy to look at our situation and think that God does not love me or care about what is happening. It’s been a long road and sometimes I think I should throw my hands in the air and say, “Enough, already!” and walk away. When my thinking turns to this scenario, it’s usually about the time I wonder if God is even here, if he has forgotten about me or let go of me. My faith gets shaken and I question whether he really is in control.
It’s in those times of questioning and fearing that he has abandoned me, that he shows up in very personal ways. It’s as if he wants to make sure the song I sing at church really IS true, the one that goes… “Oh no, you never let go, through the calm and through the storm. Oh no, you never let go, in every high and every low, oh no, you never let go, Lord, you never let go of me.”
So recently, when I went to the boys’ school to discuss our situation at home with each of their teachers, God showed me he has not let go. One teacher welled up with tears and told me she loves me and our family and that she’s here for me, night and day, anytime, anywhere if I need to talk or cry. I know that God is crying his tears through her. When another one asks how she can pray for us, as she looks at me with compassion, I know that she really will go before God and ask for healing for every person in our family. I can see God in her eyes. When another affirms me that we are doing all the right things to bring healing and health to our family, I hear God’s voice cheering us toward victory.
Another example of how I know God loves me occurred during a particularly hard day when I had taken the boys to the Canal to ride bikes and rent a paddle boat. My husband and I had had an argument and I did not want to go to the Canal. But the boys had been asking all weekend to rent the boat. I finally found enough energy to take them, and the entire time we were on that boat, switching places and taking turns pedaling, I was lost in the most joyful, childlike place. I enjoyed each of my children and soaked in their laughter. Afterward, as we rode our bikes up and down the ramps nearby, I kicked out my feet in glee as if God was setting me free from worry. Not to say it never comes back, but there are moments when he fills my heart so much that there’s no room for fear to live there.
Then a few days later, I retrieved the mail as I was coming home from errands. I lifted a book from the mailbox. My friend Mike had recently told me how much he loved a devotional he was reading. Knowing I was having a hard time, he dropped a copy of the devotional in the mail for me. As I started to enter the house, I tripped over a package. When I opened it up, I found a tin filled with Mrs. Fields cookies with a note that said, “We love you and are here for you.” It wasn’t signed so it took me a while to uncover the mystery. I later got a confession out of my sweet cousin, Sue, that she was the sender of the delicious sunshine-shaped cookies.
A few days later, I received a card from a friend who caught me in tears one day in the hallway at the boys’ school. She simply wanted to encourage me to stay the course and to know that I will be okay. A few days before I received that card, I ran into a friend who saw sadness in my eyes and hugged me about twelve times telling me I would be okay. No matter what, he said, you will be okay. All this without him knowing a thing of what was truly happening in my life.
About a week after I received the cookies, I received another package in the mail. It was from another co-worker from my first job out of college. She is one of those amazing people who never misses a birthday or forgets to send a Christmas card. She is excellent at maintaining contact. When I opened the package, I pulled out a watercolor print of the Canal and the downtown skyline. I couldn’t believe it. The note said that when she saw the painting, she thought of me because of the pictures I had posted of me and a friend at the canal on Facebook. She had no idea that the Canal had become a sort of sacred place for me. It’s where I spent evenings walking with my friend, Stacy, sharing our joys and struggles with one another, and asking questions so we could get inside each other’s hearts a little more. It’s where I watched my friend Heidi’s son, chase ducks with such happiness, after we enjoyed a fabulous breakfast outside at Creation Cafe. And it’s where I felt like I could find the space to really enjoy my kids and find rest for my soul during one of the harder days of this marriage journey. When I turned the card over, I saw that it was painted by an artist who lives on the same lake where our family has a lakehouse.
I do not think any of the above circumstances are coincidental. I would tell my old work friend that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God used all of these things – the teachers’ words, the cookies, the card, the painting, the walks and talks with friends, all as reminders that he cares deeply about what happens to me. It also reminds me that in all of life, I have a choice in how I frame things. I could choose to see my marriage difficulties from a woe-is-me viewpoint or I could frame it as a chance to rely on God for everything I need. When I do the latter, I am met with a sense of expectation of how he will work things out. And as I wait with expectation, I do not sit around wringing my hands. Instead, I open my eyes to the small miracles he has for me. The moments of connectedness and growth in our marriage and the prayers of healing that are answered.
It’s easy to miss these things when we spend so much time trying to wrap our brains around why God would allow so much suffering and pain in our lives and in our world. There are issues and circumstances that happen around me every day that cause me to question and doubt. But when I have an open heart to receive what God has for me personally, I have no doubt that he loves me. I hope that wherever my old work friend is today that she chooses to see that God is not just some mystical Being out there hovering over the universe, but that he is intensely interested in her life and utterly in love with her heart and soul. I hope that wherever she is today, she can see that his love is perfect, even when life is not. Even when life is riddled with pain and hardship, his love surprises us — in the form of a card, a sweet conversation or even a sunshine cookie.