Dear Daddy

Dear Daddy,

What do you do while you wait to find out if your dad is dead? Load the dishwasher. (Note on my iPhone, 11/29/2016).

That was the first strange moment in a year of strange moments.

A year ago today, you drove me to work at 5:30 a.m. It was dark and rainy and I was grumpy. A woman came through the drive-thru around lunchtime asking if she could order and then pick up the food inside, and I let out an exasperated sigh over the headset (as if her request was some great inconvenience), which I regretted as soon as the woman pulled up to the window and I discovered that it was our good friend Janet Morgan. How embarrassing.

The day proceeded as usual, dinner was normal, and afterwards we all went our separate ways. Nothing special. All very ordinary until suddenly not, when Marcus found you down in the basement and someone was shouting for me to call 911 and the police and the ambulance came and took you away, and the most comforting thing our nurse-neighbor could say was, “He’s still warm, so there’s still hope.”

I remember sitting at the dining room table and watching Max load the dishwasher. There was nothing to do but wait, in a surreal, unfamiliar agony. And then we got the call from Mommy, saying that you had died.

What do you do when you find out that your dad is dead?

Max finished loading the dishwasher.

How bizarre. How normal. What else is there to do in a moment when you’re painfully self-aware of your own lack of comprehension?

This has been a year of those moments. A year of doing the next thing, whatever that thing is.

It’s hard to believe that you weren’t here last Christmas or for Thanksgiving last week, because I can easily picture you in the background of every scene, laughing and talking. It’s difficult to imagine that you weren’t at the airport when I left for Jordan or arrived back home, that you didn’t eat Shore Good donuts with us at the beach this summer, that you missed all of our birthdays, and that for a whole year I haven’t heard you come home from work and set your keys on the ledge above the sink or needed to readjust the driver’s seat so that I can reach the pedals when I drive one of the cars.

Max wrote a letter to you recently, and in it he said that he thanks God every night that you were his dad.

This past year I have spent far more time soaking in self-pity than praising God for the years I did have with you. In most moments I don’t know how to come to terms with the fact that the universe of a good, steadfast, loving, holy God could contain so much misery and pain. How do I truly reconcile the state of this world with the character claims of its Creator?

In most moments I don’t know how to come to terms with the fact that the universe of a good, steadfast, loving, holy God could contain so much misery and pain. How do I truly reconcile the state of this world with the character claims of its Creator?

I don’t know.

Your experience was different from mine. In your twenties, you became convinced of these things: the reality of God and the relationship available to you through Jesus. I’m twenty, and it feels as though these pieces of my life that I’ve assumed to be steady and true have been ripped out from underneath me. They aren’t quite so comfortable anymore. There are truths that I want to believe and there are truths that are hard to grasp in my moment-to-moment reality.

Last year, about a week before you died, you read us this prayer from The Valley of Vision at the dinner table:

THOU GREAT I AM,

Fill my mind with elevation and grandeur at the thought of a Being
with whom one day is as a thousand years,
and a thousand years as one day

What is a year, to God? Somehow He was present with me in each moment of this past year, the best moments (bittersweet because you weren’t there) and the worst moments (exacerbated by your absence). This year went by in a blink, and yet I feel like I’ve lived a thousand lives.

A mighty God, who, amidst the lapse of worlds,
and the revolutions of empires,
feels no variableness,
but is glorious in immortality.

This year I’ve become especially aware of the lapse of worlds, and the uncertainty of life. I am glad that my hope is in a God who transcends that lapse and feels no variableness.

May I rejoice that, while men die, the Lord lives;
that, while all creatures are broken reeds,
empty cisterns,
fading flowers,
withering grass,
He is the Rock of Ages, the Fountain of living waters.

Daddy, you have died. The Lord lives. Is that enough for me?

You were a broken reed, an empty cistern, a fading flower, withering grass. Now, you are perfectly restored. And I am far more broken.

Am I willing to cling to the Rock of Ages, to drink from the Fountain of living waters while I wait for the day when I fully see the things that I now know in part, but often find hard to see at all?

Turn my heart from vanity
from dissatisfactions,
from uncertainties of the present state,
to an eternal interest in Christ.

Uncertainty is a temporal, messy aspect of this life. There is nowhere to turn, but to Christ.

Let me remember that life is short and unforeseen,
and is only an opportunity for usefulness;
Give me a holy avarice to redeem the time,
to awake at every call to charity and piety,
so that I may feed the hungry,
clothe the naked,
instruct the ignorant,
reclaim the vicious,
forgive the offender,
diffuse the gospel,
show neighborly love to all.

Daddy, you demonstrated a steadiness and purposefulness grounded beyond yourself or even your family. You redeemed your time, you made yourself useful, you taught and forgave and displayed the love of God, while looking to Christ for your sense of fulfillment.

Let me live a life of self-distrust,
dependence on thyself,
mortification,
crucifixion,
prayer.

"Hold onto the Lord," you wrote to me. I proclaimed it to others. I often fail to actually do it myself. The self-reliance and self-trust to which I grasp always results in misery and dissatisfaction.

But despite my doubts, despite failure, despite deep sadness–the Lord is enough.

I miss you, Daddy, almost more than I can bear. Today is hard, and many of my tomorrows will be too, but I’ll keep on doing the next thing.

And I’ll keep holding on to the Lord.

Love,

Mikaela

Is There a Good God?

I’m tired today, and this is the question I ask: Can there be a good God?

I’ve been tired for weeks. Tired of myself and tired of the world, the way that the cosmic powers over this present darkness have influenced us both (Ephesians 6:12).

My questioning of God’s goodness comes from a lack of faith, I know.

I know, I know, I know.

“I know the theological answers,” Voskamp says. “But do my blood and do my pulse?”

I’m asking too.

Being a Christian feels much harder living on a campus of thousands and thousands of professing believers than it did living in a predominantly Muslim country. On occasion I wonder, surrounded by thousands of students and faculty lifting their hands in worship: are we all brainwashed? Are we all entirely deluded? Or am I just ignorant and ungrateful, a millennial pathetically succumbing to her quarter-life crisis?

There are students on this campus struggling with identity and sin and circumstances, and these are not easy struggles. I have often been quick to offer Scripture and answers. Quick to declare the truth on every unfortunate event or inconvenient matter that presents itself. Recently I have been slower to speak, slower to condemn. I am one of the strugglers.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). I know, I know, I know.

Today the rubber is meeting the road. I am tired. Can there be a good God?

I miss my dad far more today than I did on the day that he died, when the pace of tears moved faster than the pace of understanding. I miss him far more than I did six months ago, or three months ago. My life right now, on a beautiful campus, with beautiful friends and teachers, is more than I could ask for, and harder than I imagined.

I wonder, will home, the way I think of it and the way it is no more, ever be truly happy again? Maybe. Maybe not. The branding iron of death, the initial scorching subsided, has left a mark that will last until the day my body fails and eternity is inhaled. I know that for those who love God all things work together for good (Romans 8:28).

I know, I know, I know. But I don’t understand.

There is one assurance to which I cling, even when I have more struggles than answers: in whatever desire is left unfulfilled, wrenched painfully from my reality today, I see a promise of greater fulfillment in Christ. I count everything as loss, because of the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ as Lord (Philippians 3:8).

Even in the most severe doubts I have ever faced, I will trust.

In May, I watched my grandmother’s memorial service from my bedroom in Jordan as my aunt streamed it live on Facebook. I watched and I remembered years of my grandmother’s piano lessons, her tears when I read her something I wrote or recited Scripture, my tears when she scolded me, and holidays with dozens of family members, everyone together. The service was beautiful. I wasn’t the only family member participating in the service from another continent; I could see that my cousin Peter, a missionary in Guatemala, was watching as well.

My grandmother always insisted that she would live to see all of her twenty-three grandchildren get married. She didn’t live to see any of us get married. This made me sad. God couldn’t have let her live to see even one grandchild married?

And yet, as I considered this, I realized that she will see her grandchildren, and generations beyond, married. By the grace of God and the faith that she passed on to her children and grandchildren, a union of eternal joy and intimacy beyond what we can grasp is in our near future. She skipped the temporary glimpse, but she will feast and rejoice at the marriage supper of the Lamb. (Revelation 19:6-8)

I know, I know, I know. Still, I wonder.

Today I struggle. Today I miss even the glimpse of the good things that are mine in Christ Jesus. My vision is clouded by the questions.

I trust that faithfulness and obedience, even in trials and uncertainty and misery, will one day be rewarded as I see the surpassing worth of Christ Jesus. I know him today. Someday I will see Him. Someday I will see and I will know.

Can there be a good God?

He brings me to the banqueting house, and His banner over me is love (Song of Solomon 2:4).

Can there be a good God?

Sometimes, my blood and my pulse aren’t there yet. But His Word is there.

The answer is yes.

Grace Through it All

A couple of days ago I passed Nathan Greenfield, the director of Alliance Academy Jordan, in the school’s hallway of administration offices. Although this is my third week working at AAJ, it was the first day that he had been at the school since my arrival. The day that my plane landed in Amman, Nathan’s father passed away unexpectedly, just one week away from turning sixty-two. Nathan, his wife, and their four kids flew back to the States for the funeral, and to spend a couple of weeks with family.

“So we’re in a similar boat,” Nathan said, after I stopped to introduce myself.

I nodded and agreed. “Yes—I can’t imagine what it’s like for you—I mean, it’s interesting—working through it all away from home,” I rambled. “For me, coming here and being away from home adds a whole new dimension to grieving—acknowledging the reality of the situation while I feel so removed from it—it’s good, I think, definitely hard, but good. For you–being here, and then going back to your extended family, and now being back—it must be strange to try and process.”

“It is strange,” he agreed. “But there is grace through it all.”

It has been difficult, processing my dad’s death in an entirely new context. The months that followed his death, spent at home in New Jersey, were strange and almost surreal. Here, so far away from home, things seem clearer, and drastically—painfully and sickeningly—more real. Instead of being faced with the “new normal” sitting around the dinner table with my mother and siblings, I find myself thinking of home and my family, and then suddenly slapped with reality, wondering how can it be? When people ask about my family, I hesitate for a moment, considering how to begin. I think twice before sharing stories from summers and holidays and life growing up, or anything that will force me to speak about my father in the past tense. I feel unsettled, in this foreign land of life without my dad, a land that is now home.

There is a scene in The Magician’s Nephew, written by C.S. Lewis, where Digory pleads with Aslan to provide some cure for his mother’s sickness. Overwhelmed by his own grief and hopelessness, Digory finally looks up, from where he has been staring through tears at the Lion’s feet and claws, and sees that “great shining tears stood in the Lion’s eyes . . . They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory’s own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself”.

Great shining tears stood in the Lion’s eyes . . . They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory’s own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself.
— C.S. Lewis, The Magician's Nephew

I often find myself resigned—at least, in my mind—to God’s sovereignty over my dad’s death. I’ll sigh, and like Digory, keeping his eyes down and focused on the huge claws and feet of the lion, plead for a cure (probably more halfheartedly than Digory does). I know that the Lord is there. I know that the Lord is listening. But somehow, I almost doubt that the Lord cares—with any real, feeling affection—about my particular circumstances very much, considering the far-reaching range of circumstances dished out daily upon humanity.

But then, I am reminded continually of His grace, and of His love. “Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord,” Jeremiah writes in the book of Lamentations. “Though He cause grief, He will have compassion according to the abundance of His steadfast love.”

Just like Digory, when he finally looked up into the face of Aslan and saw to his surprise, tears!—when I turn my heart and my eyes to the Lord and His Word, I realize: God is sorrier for my condition than I am. Of course, I don’t mean sorry in the way that I am sorry—my “sorrow” over my condition and circumstances is too often simple frustration over the discomfort or unfamiliarity of certain circumstances, and longing for temporary comfort, rather than a true grieving over the fallenness of this world and my own heart. But even when I grieve over death and sin properly, through the revealing light and wisdom of Scripture, still, even then, I cannot see as fully as He sees. I long desperately for the land described in The Great Divorce (also by C.S. Lewis), the land “not of questions, but of answers [where I] shall see the face of God.”

I long desperately for the land described in The Great Divorce (also by C.S. Lewis), the land ‘not of questions, but of answers [where I] shall see the face of God.’

Though the Lord has caused grief, He has had compassion on me, not only in the inexpressible wonder of bringing me to salvation, but in providing me over these past months with the greatest joy and contentment and encouragement and assurance that I have ever known. In realizing how shakeable so much of life is, I come to know the One who is unshakeable. In new and unfamiliar territories of life, He goes before me and He goes with me. I marvel even at the fact that in spite of unexpected and uncertain circumstances, He made a way for me to come to Jordan, and has even provided those walking a parallel path to remind me of His goodness.

There is grace through it all.

The Mother Who Turns Around

One summer day many years ago, driving down South Main Street in one or another of our colorful, A.C.-less minivans, my mother said, looking concerned, “I’m going to turn around.”

“Why?” I whined.

“There was a girl,” she said. “Outside of the Planned Parenthood back there. She was crying. I just think I should go back and see if she’s alright.”

Sweaty and miserable and tired of errands, I slouched down in my seat, huffing and puffing at the inconvenience of my mother’s thoughtfulness. This girl wasn’t my mother’s problem. But now she was my problem too.

We turned around, but the girl was gone. We finished our errands and drove home. My lousy attitude receded.

And yet, I haven’t forgotten this, even though it’s been at least a decade since those minutes in the minivan that I spent feeling sorry for myself, while my mother demonstrated her character and love for others.

My mother has been patient with me through twenty years of my terrible attitudes, stubbornness, lack of appreciation, lack of cooperation, self-absorption, carelessness, laziness, and ridiculous ideas (over a weekend in sixth or seventh grade I became convinced that I was called to be a film actress; this declaration was met with, “Well, if this is something that you really want to pursue, tell me how I can help,” rather than the pessimistic harangue about realistic dreams and required daily diligence that I’m inclined to give my siblings whenever they find themselves suddenly enthralled by some romantic ambition). She has encouraged me as I change my mind and my major and my life plan dozens of times. I’m thankful that she forced me to eat hot cereals and memorize scripture, and I’m ashamed at the way I resisted so many good things. She knew what was best for me. She still does, more often than not.

The Sunday before I left New Jersey for Jordan, an older woman at our church said, “Your mother is very strong. And very selfless, to let you leave. She’s so excited for you.”

That’s right. My mom is strong and selfless, and not by her own strength. In recent months, my siblings and I have witnessed our mother’s unfailing love for the Lord and faith in His Word and promises. We know that our parents watch us grow, but sometimes we forget that our parents are growing too. It’s a blessing to see my mother becoming more like Christ, faith ever-increasing, throughout years of joy and pain.

And in all sorts of contexts, she still stops and turns around when she sees someone in need—despite complaints from the backseat. Someday we’ll learn.

Happy mother’s day, Mommy. ILYYS.

I am a Sojourner

Yesterday, I accidentally made eye contact and smiled while I said “shukran” (“thank you”) to the guy at the grocery store when he finished weighing my plastic bags of produce. Basic friendliness, an admirable habit—you would assume. In New Jersey, friendliness towards store employees might be a pleasant surprise for the employee; as a female interacting with a male in Amman, it is essentially hardcore flirting. I’ll do my best not to make that mistake again.

My first week in Jordan, I have been given a good taste of what it is to be a stranger. Sleeping in a new apartment and meeting new people is one thing. It is another thing to walk down the street and hear people speaking and shouting words that I don’t understand. It is quite another thing to take a surreal drive up to the Syrian border to try to catch a glimpse of the 80,000-person refugee camp, and to imagine how different these people’s sense of security and stability must be from mine. Waking up at four in the morning as the Islamic call to prayer travels from a nearby mosque into the quiet darkness of my bedroom, catches me off guard for a moment. Realizing that the man who sets the Turkish coffee and cardamom cake on my table at the coffee shop, and the woman covered from head to toe who passes me as I walk up the several flights of stairs to my apartment, and the janitor who cleans the bathrooms at AAJ all have a fundamentally different view of the world than I do, is humbling. I thought that my perspective on life was fairly broad. Now I am beginning to realize just how small my view of the world really is. So much of what I encounter every day in this new land is entirely unfamiliar.

I am working at Alliance Academy Jordan (AAJ) as an English support teacher in the 2nd through 5th grade English classes. This past week I spent meeting many of the elementary teachers and students (“Mikaela is such a hard name to pronounce and remember!” “Alright Njood, try learning FIFTY or so new names in a week and see who has the harder job here!”) and beginning to learn my role and responsibilities. Normally, I don’t find myself feeling emotionally inclined towards people very quickly—but the teachers are beautiful and warm and welcoming, and the children (even when they get upset over an assignment and call me bad names—in Arabic, so I don’t know the difference, although they face the consequences) have already secured a significant spot in the deepening well of all my affections.

All of this experience (over the grand course of a week), while eye-opening and wonderful and exciting, has also been intimidating and overwhelming. It has reminded me that just as I am currently so hopelessly set-apart, an alien in the middle of this culture where I now live, I am also set-apart from this world where I dwell, because I am saved by the redeeming blood and brought to eternal life by the righteousness of Christ.

Lord, I would not be a citizen where Jesus was an alien. His pierced hands have loosened the cord which bound my soul to earth, and now I find myself a stranger in the land. My speech seems to these pagans among whom I dwell a strange tongue; my manners are singular, and my actions are outlandish. A prince would be more at home in the ghetto than I could ever be in the haunts of sinners. But here is the sweetness of my circumstance: I am a stranger with you. You are my fellow-sufferer, my fellow-pilgrim. Oh, what a joy to wander in such blessed company!
— Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening (March 16)

The taste of being a stranger is unfamiliar, but sweet, as I identify more with my Savior, who sojourned in a world that did not know Him, though He made it and holds it together. I pray that my view of Christ in all of His glory would grow bigger and bigger; that even as I come to interact with and understand this culture more and more, I would also grow increasingly aware of my strangeness, my status as a foreigner in this land and every land that I inhabit before I reach the place that has been prepared for me by Christ Himself. But with Christ, and to Christ, I am not a stranger—in fact, I am more of a stranger to myself than I am to Him (“Before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether!”). To wander with Jesus is to be thoroughly known and loved, in whatever strange land I dwell.

And speaking of new tastes, no complaints here about the hummus, falafel, and shawarma.

A Prayer for Faith

For Christmas, my Aunt Karyn gave me a little devotional book called Daily Light. Each morning and evening there is a short assortment of Scripture taken from various parts of the Bible, assembled so that it reads as one smooth portion. One evening reading, back in January, hit me particularly hard:

We have turned, every one, to his own way.

Noah . . . planted a vineyard. Then he drank of the wine and was drunk. // Abram said to Sarai his wife, . . . ‘Please say you are my sister, that it may be well with me.’ // Isaac said to Jacob, ‘Are you really my son Esau?’ And Jacob said, ‘I am.’ // Moses . . . spoke rashly. // The men of Israel . . . did not ask counsel of the Lord. Joshua . . . made a covenant with them. // David did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, and he had not turned aside from anything that he commanded him all the days of his life, except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.

All these . . . obtained a good testimony by faith. // All are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. // The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

’Not for your sake do I do this,’ says the Lord God, ‘Let it be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your own ways.’
— Daily Light

This coming week, I will fly to Amman, Jordan to begin the next three months of my life. A lot of people have asked how they can be praying for me, specifically. The truth is, I really don’t know what to anticipate in terms of homesickness and struggles, or even exactly what life and relationships in Amman will look like, and so it’s difficult for me to know how to answer.

However, I have realized that ultimately, wherever I am and regardless of my circumstances, I am most consistently positioned in the dangerous path of turning aside to my own way.

I read through Genesis and Exodus in January, and was horrified (not for the first time) by the way that these men and women—who walked and talked with God!—second-guessed the goodness of the Lord and so quickly gave in to the lusts of their flesh. But then I look at myself, who I was a few years or months ago, and who I am today, and while I see the ways that the Lord has worked in my heart and life, still I grieve—even more deeply now than a few months or years ago—over my own sin. I am ashamed and confounded for my ways. Not nearly ashamed and confounded enough, I know.

And yet, I look to the Lord and I remember that I am striving to obtain a good testimony by faith. My iniquity has been laid upon Jesus. Faith in Jesus, precious Jesus by whom I have been justified freely, will keep me from turning to the inclinations of my flesh, and will spur me on to obedience and good works for the sake of His glory.

Pray that I would, as Charles Spurgeon put it so well, ‘Care more for a grain of faith than a ton of excitement.’

So, for those of you who will pray with and for me throughout these months (I thank God for you!) this is my prayer—even while I’m home, but especially as I’m reveling in the novelty of flying thousands of miles away from all that is familiar to experience new people and places—that I would, as Charles Spurgeon put it so well, “Care more for a grain of faith than a ton of excitement”.

Hold Onto the Lord

Two weeks ago today, I sat with my family in a pew at Union Congregational Church in Rockville, Connecticut. We had just watched a video about the current adoption process of my soon-to-be cousin, a little girl from China, who will be the tenth child in her family, the twenty-fourth grandchild on my mom’s side, and my thirty-fourth cousin.

As we watched Bible verses flash on the screen, my father leaned over and asked me, “What does it really mean to take care of the orphan and the widow?”

I shrugged, and mumbled something about most people always sitting around asking questions like that, but then failing to go out and actually accomplish the objective.

This past Tuesday was the most normal day of my life, until it became a blur of shouting and 911-calls and flashing lights and policemen and neighbors and EMTs pounding up and down the basement stairs. Then, half-an-hour of a quiet house, full of tears and prayers and Psalms. Finally, a phone call, and a deep, sickening finality.

My dad died from a heart attack. I don’t even completely know how that feels, or what it means yet. But I am certain that my dad now knows the perfect and complete love of his true Father, and my mother and siblings and I are experiencing the love of Christ’s church as believers all around us faithfully and selflessly and lovingly obey the commands of Scripture. The question that my dad asked has been answered more thoroughly than I could have imagined, not through consideration or study or discussion, but through the real, tangible love of the Lord and His people.

Here is the brief eulogy that I wrote for the funeral:

Seventeen years ago, my father wrote these words in a journal to me: "This morning, after dragging myself out of bed at 6:00 a.m. to read the Bible and pray, and taking a shower, I sat in the chair in our bedroom while your mom took a shower. As I sat there I thought I heard you making some sounds in your bed as you slept. Before I knew it you were stumbling into our room, rubbing your eyes, half asleep. You were so cute. Then, you climbed into my lap and put your arms around my neck and put your head on my shoulder. I was honored that you saw me as a person to receive comfort from. I hope you do that again soon."

My dad's own words here, describing a situation that isn't particularly remarkable, are a simple glimpse into his character and his love for his family. My dad was an extremely diligent and consistent man, who sought after the Lord and the interests of others before his own interests. He was always faithful in the little things--setting out his clothes every night before work, getting up early, reading His Bible and praying, and spending most of his weeknights and weekends bringing all of us kids to and from work or activities. As hard as he worked, he never made work itself a priority. He never saw life as a competition.

My dad never looked past people. He was always very aware of different people and their personalities and different interests. Whenever someone was upset about something, no matter how subtle the signs, he noticed and was quick to offer consolation in whatever way he knew would serve them best. When someone was excited about something, he was ready and willing to listen to them ramble on to their heart's content. He always encouraged us--his children--in our interests and taught us not become distracted by fleeting passions, but to work hard in tedious tasks and in every opportunity we were given.

My dad truly was a comforter. He was compassionate, and he always took our worries and concerns seriously. Through his sense of humor, he brought laughter and relief to stressful situations, and showed us that our worries were unnecessary when we considered them in light of the goodness of God.

My dad was faithful in teaching us the importance of diligence and discipline and continually pointed all of us to the Lord's steadfast love. He reminded us that God is sovereign, and whatever He ordains is what is good for us. Our circumstances today, which seem so shocking and strange, are really not strange in light of eternity, when we consider that a week ago, our time and breath and circumstances were coming from the same good hand of our heavenly Father.

What was my dad's only comfort in life and death? I know that his answer was--and is now, much more fully than we can imagine--that he is not his own, but belongs, body and soul, in life and in death, to his faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.

In conclusion, I'll share a part of the letter he wrote to me on my seventeenth birthday, which I know is not only to me, but to all of you. He wrote, "My final words to you are from a story Aunt Catherine told me years ago. She was on a train traveling back to New Jersey from California. She was near a group of African-American women who were talking about things of God. She sat with them and one of the women said something like, "Hold onto the Lord...whatever happens...hold onto the Lord." Now I know God holds us in His hand and nothing can snatch us out of his hand, but I always remind myself to seek, pursue, study about, pray to, go to, hold-on to, depend on, trust in, and rest in God. Would you please do the same?"

Please, I plead with you. Hold onto the Lord.

Mysteries: Heard and Known

A woman named Darlene has come into Chick-fil-A every week or so for the past two months. She has thin, fluffy white hair, and only a couple of teeth, and every time I see her she tells me that she just got a new phone number, which is probably the reason she hasn't received a call about her application. Knowing that her application has already been reviewed and rejected, I try to communicate this in the gentlest way possible, explaining that we would have already contacted her if we had a position available. She clings to hope and insists that her unreachable old number is the only complication in the situation, and so I hand her a sticky note to write down her new number, promising to pass it along to the hiring director.

When this situation last occurred--a few days ago--there was a bit more desperation than usual. Darlene needs this job.

She isn't going to get it.

As she left, her name and number scrawled on the sticky note in my hand, I thought about how the Lord clothes the flowers of the field, sees the cattle on a thousand hills and each sparrow sold for pennies, and knows the stars in the sky by name. I know that He sees and hears my prayers, because He tells me in His Word that He does. I've seen Him answer them. He has provided for me, even in little ways that--apart from serving as a reminder that the Lord does hear and know every desire, both the godly and the superficial--seem unnecessary.

On the first Monday morning in December, six years ago, my mom suggested that we order pizza for lunch. She was eight-and-a-half months pregnant and absolutely exhausted. The pregnancy had been a complicated one, money was tight, and stress levels were high. These days we have Jack's Pizzeria's number memorized, but in those days we didn't, and so we dug around for the menu. It took us an unusually long time to come up with the menu, and an even longer amount of time to decide on toppings. Finally, after at least twenty minutes, someone picked up the phone to order. Before they could punch in the number, the doorbell rang. At the door was a pizza delivery guy with two pizzas.

"We didn't order pizzas," we said, confused.

"Well, they're for you," the delivery guy said, handing them over. "I'm supposed to tell you that they're--a blessing from the Lord."

My mom cried and the rest of us accepted this with gladness and without argument.

For some reason this story of God's provision came to mind after talking with Darlene. I want her to have a job. I wondered if the Lord sees Darlene, if He knows that she needs a job, and if He cares. He has provided me with jobs and opportunities and friendships and pizza--pizza, of all things--before I even knew to ask for any of them. God's mercy and judgment in every dealing is equally righteous and perfect in both of our lives, but I have somehow seen His goodness so clearly, many times. I don't know if she has, and besides the day that all knees bend before the throne, I don't know if she will.

The day after the pizza provision, my little unborn sister, perfectly formed for the number of days determined for her by her Heavenly Father, slipped into the next world before ever really entering this one. In the grief and misery that followed, I wondered--not in anger, but in confusion--why the Lord would give us pizza that we didn't even ask for, but ignore the months of prayers for this baby's healing. Why would He increase our faith in one small circumstance, demonstrating that He can hear and does know us, and then taunt us with His decision not to act in the way that seems best?

I wondered—not in anger, but in confusion—why the Lord would give us pizza that we didn’t even ask for, but ignore the months of prayers for this baby’s healing. Why would He increase our faith in one small circumstance, demonstrating that He can hear and does know us, and then taunt us with His decision not to act in the way that seems best?

But these are the mysteries of God's sovereignty and of His perfect will. I am not always called to understand and explain. I am called simply to trust, and rejoice in the kindness and graciousness he has shown to me, and walk faithfully and obediently in accordance with His Word. God is in the heavens, He does what He pleases--and while this might not always be in accordance with my sense of logic, His purposes are being established. His actions are in perfect accordance with His wisdom. He knows Darlene's needs on a far broader scale than I do.

Many recent experiences have reminded me that the Lord is active not only in my own life, but in each individual life around me, shaping and molding us all for His purposes. We have needs. He sees them and knows them and He always acts in the way that is best. I hope and pray, that for all my life I will be desperate not only for the Lord's provision (my flesh will pass away anyways), but for the Lord Himself.