2012 was an entire year of trial for me. It was probably one of the toughest years of my life I have ever had to face.
But it was also one of the most beautiful.
It was one of the most beautiful because the I AM was with me-in the very middle of my suffering, sin, and fear.
He was there with me in a dark hospital room when I longed for a daddy’s eyes to acknowledge his daughter again. When the doctors were shaking their heads saying, “I don’t know.” When the nurses were whispering, “His fever’s back up.”
He was awake and He was there when everyone else around me was sleeping. When a father was literally unable to keep his eyes open, when a mother was sleeping from the stress, when a city lay warm and cozy beneath their beds, and when a desperate daughter cried, “God, please. I just want to hear his voice again.”
He was there squeezing my shoulder, smiling, looking me in the eye and saying, “You will.”
He was there giving her a vision of the future-peaceful dreams as nurses went in and out, drawing blood and asking questions. In the dream, her dad was fine and he was packing a suitcase and getting ready to go home. And a week later, it came to pass.
He was there when the girl took her book project to a place called Manitou Springs for the eyes of authors to scrutinize, criticize, and refine. He was there when the girl couldn’t find the words to say, and she felt as though her dreams were slipping and scattering away from her like pearls on a string. He was there when her heart felt torn and tormented, wondering whether she should stay with a family who needed her or give up on her own dream.
He was there on the car ride over when her heart felt sick and her stomach queasy as she thought about giving a speech that night in front of twelve expectant faces. In front of bestselling authors and fabulous speakers and writers who knew what they were doing. What did she have to offer when her chapter had been written in the very middle of hospital visits, beeping machines, IVs, and phone calls at 3:00 in the morning that said, “Dad has the chills and is blacking out”?
She was so unprepared.
He was there and He told her, “Just think of me standing right beside you before you have to speak.”
He was there as her knees knocked together, her heart beat faster, her stomach revolted, and she waited for her turn. He was there as she swallowed, as the eyes turned her way, and the panic set in. But then, the peace. He’s right beside me. He is with me. He will not leave me.
He was there as the girl stood, confidently making eye contact with everyone in the room and holding her head high. He was there as she remembered every word, enunciated each one clearly, and felt no fear or worry. He was there as she said “Thank you,” resumed her place, and everyone in the room clapped. He was there when one of those authors leaned over and said, “Well done!” And the girl just shook her head, trying to understand how she went from almost losing her supper to standing poised and confident, a speaker all her life. It was because He stood beside me.
He was there on a night in December when a girl who longed to remember a time when things went right cried out to God with tears streaming down her face, “I’m done, God. For the first time in my life, I just want to give up. And what if I did? What if I gave up my dream of being an author and stopped trying so hard? What if I walked away right now? It would be a lot easier. What if I stopped trying to meet everyone’s expectations? I don’t want to feel this way, God, but I’m done with prayers for right now. Nothing happens when I do. I’m done with saying, ‘thank you,’ for circumstances I don’t like. I just don’t know, God. I really don’t know anymore. Do dreams come true? Was I just a silly, naive girl to ever think that? Am I to be poor, broken, penniless in pocket and spirit for the rest of my life? I don’t have hope or faith anymore, God, and that’s the honest truth.”
He was there when the girl walked into church that last Sunday of December with arms crossed over her chest, trying to keep the world from seeing her bitter, angry, and hurting heart. What was 2012 but a year of failure and lost dreams? It was one thing after another. Family members who chose to hang out with the wrong crowd of people and go down a path that would ultimately lead to their own destruction. A godly man who spent his entire life doing nothing but be a good man, and here he was, a hard worker struggling to find work and spending half a year in the hospital? First for critically low sodium, then for a gall bladder attack, then for an infection from having his gall bladder removed, then to have brain surgery to remove a pituitary tumor, then this, then that.
Writer’s block. Not a single thing written for six months-my blog languishing, my schoolwork suffering, my book nonexistent. This was not how it was supposed to be.
My sister breaks off the side mirror of my car after her brush with a semi, and the night before Thanksgiving my niece ends up in the hospital with pneumonia.
Hospitals. Bills. Tears. Will it ever end?
Despite my prayers, despite my belief in miracles, despite my dreams-one thing after another is taken away. Money, health, peace.
Is this all there is to life, then? Constant struggle? Do you even see us anymore, God?
Does anyone? Does anyone see me? Who in the six months this has been going on has called me? Who has asked me how I’m doing and really meant it? Who would listen or care if I told them? And what right do I have to expect that of them? Who sees my pain? Who cares?
In the middle of the girl’s listing of grievances, in the very middle of her complaining, ranting, and railing, the presence of God stops all words.
Her breath is stolen from her, tongue turned stone, thoughts evaporated, and she is Moses, staring at the holy, fiery presence of God as the preacher’s words finally filter through as he reads God’s words,
“Then the LORD told him, ‘I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their cries of distress because of their harsh slave drivers. Yes, I am aware of their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them…” (Ex. 3:7-8.)
I have seen you. I see your pain. I have seen your suffering, and I will deliver you.
You ask, is this all there is to life? No. No, for I have many plans for you. No-because I AM the way, the truth, and the life. (John 14:6.) There is plenty more to life, because there is plenty more of me. An eternal, endless kind of more. I AM and will always be. Unchanging. As I delivered then, I deliver now. As I was always more than enough then, I AM always more than enough now.
Peace, I AM.
Joy, I AM.
Love, I AM.
Your answer, I AM.
Your provider, I AM.
Your salvation, I AM.
Your healer, I AM.
Your deliverer, I AM.
All objections are blown away from my lips. All doubts and fears and anger gone.
I can do nothing but bow my head, the tears streaming down my face. We are in the second row and the pastor startles and looks at me, as if asking, “What did I do?”
I’m embarrassed and wish I could hide, but I can’t help it. What else am I to do?
The taking down of the strong “I’m fine,” mask is like the taking off of Moses’s sandles. It is vulnerable and exposing and uncomfortable, but what else to do in the presence of holy? In the presence of truth? I am in awe.
Because the I AM- Moses’s I AM-is here. And He says He’s seen me and is aware of my suffering.
The only emotion I can name or a put a finger to is that I feel seen. And it is such a wonderful feeling.
Like Moses, the presence of God came so unexpectedly. I was doing everything I could to push God away for the moment. I was done praying and asking for help. I wasn’t seeking Him or His presence. I was too busy blocking Him from my heart and saying I didn’t care about the pain there. I was angry and bitter and ungrateful.
It was into the middle of that that God came. In the very middle of my angry diatribe. In the very middle of my pointing the accusing finger of Martha asking, “Why didn’t you show up? If you had only been here…” (Paraphrased, John 11:21.)
And God replied, “I AM here.” (Paraphrased, John 11:25.)
The presence of God so strong and so sweet, my breath is stolen away, my head drops in bowed reverence, and the tears sting my eyes and run down my chin until I’m a slobbery mess.
I feel His love. His love.
Why would He give me love when all I’ve given Him are accusations?
He should be the one accusing me. “Why have you been so ungrateful? Why have you not had faith? Why do you think so little of me? Why do you daily insult my character by calling me uncaring, incapable? How can you think I’ve not seen you? You’re my child. Do you think so little of your Father as that?”
There’s a twinge of shame-but for right now, in this moment with his arms wrapping ’round me, telling of forgiveness and mercy-I feel only gratitude.
“Thank you,” I whisper, “Oh, God-thank you. Thank you for coming into my mess, time and time again. Thank you for meeting me here. For blessing me with your presence when all I was trying to do was run away from it. For seeing me in a world that does not see. Not like you do. For holding me, for healing me, for being here. For loving me-me, the one who bit into the apple of envy, of selfishness, of anger, of ingratitude, all the while hearing your voice in the back of my head warning me not to. For loving the me who pounds those nails into your hands, crying, ‘I don’t need your saving grace! I don’t believe you love like you say you do! I don’t believe you give like they say you do! Your love is not the kind of love I want. The kind that lets fathers struggle and dreams die and joy get stolen. I don’t need the kind of love that doesn’t see me! And you always, forever replying, ‘Father, forgive her, for she knows not what she does.'” (Paraphrased, Luke 23:34.)
But it’s here, now-in the presence of I AM, and in the presence of the truth-where I do see truth.
His love is the kind of love that looks over to thief hanging on cross beside-in torment Himself-and says, “I see you. Today you will be with me in paradise.”
His love is the kind of love that turns to look in a crowd full of people singing His praises, clamoring for His attention, asking for help, and asks, “Who touched me?”
His is the kind of love whose gentle glance takes in the woman all bent in shame and fear and sin and asks, “Who will cast the first stone?”
His is the kind of love that detours to meet a Samaritan woman at the well.
The kind of love that says, “Let the children come to me.”
The kind that meets a murderer on the road and says, “Why do you persecute me? Instead, come and follow me.”
Time and again. Over and over, and now I see: I was never unseen. I was never alone. He has always loved me. He does not come to lie, and cheat, and steal from me. Where in His word does it say that? When has He ever shown that, in Scripture or in my own personal life?
In fact, who was it the Scriptures said did come to do that? “The thief’s purpose is to steal, kill, and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” (John 10: 10, emphasis added.)
I am a fool to have listened to that wily serpent for so long.
And I bow the head again. “Thank you.”
Was it not just last night I said I was done saying, “Thank you”? And yet, here I am today.
I also told God I was done dreaming. Done trying. Done hoping and having faith. Done praying.
But if I was wrong about saying thank you, maybe I was wrong about some other things, too. Okay, I was. Really wrong. Shamefully wrong.
Father, forgive me.
And His love whispers, I see you. Your sins have been forgiven you.
And it’s here in the presence of the I AM that a new whisper settles into the wind, “Your faith has healed you.”
I am healed, restored, loved, peace-filled. Forgiven.
Was it more I was asking for? A miracle?
I think I might just have been given one.