Sometimes life gets complicated. Most times we make it more complicated than it has to be.
When there’s so much piled on our shoulders, it’s really easy to get caught up in the chaos of it all. We lose focus and feel out of control.
Our spirits lose a little more of that precious peace we need so badly. If we stay in that kind of chaos, spinning aimlessly, we will inevitably spin right out of Gods will.
Not long ago I was feeling buried. I’d taken on too much. My mind was on a constant loop. With several projects going at once, I was consumed with keeping all these different plates spinning.
I was tired.
I was worried.
I was distracted.
When I finally asked God for clarity, to simplify things for me, He led me to Deuteronomy 6.
Not the entire passage but the simple title above the chapter in my bible.
It leapt off the page with a life of its own. It happens every time God speaks through the word. His message comes with a profound gift of understanding.
It’s like God is shining a holy light into our personal situation. He is an unmoving lighthouse of truth in the darkness of an ever-changing storm.
Love The Lord Your God
Love. The. Lord.
All we need to do is keep our eyes fixed on Him.
Keep loving Him more than anything or anyone else.
Keep seeking Him for guidance and wisdom.
Keep trusting Him to work out all things for my good.
He was sitting on a bus bench with his head leaned slightly back, eyes closed against the fresh light that warmed his wrinkled face. He looked like an old turtle relishing the morning sun.
“Good morning,” I said breathlessly, jogging past him.
He opened his eyes, turning his head in my direction but I didn’t wait for response. I passed several others on the way, a spandex clad man on a bicycle who nodded at me; a middle-aged woman gave me a half-smile as she and her fluffy Pomeranian crossed me. I was a good 500 feet away from the old man when the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart.
Go talk to the man on the bus bench.
Oh no. I groaned inwardly, feeling the nervousness rise up like a flock of starlings spooked by a loud thunder-clap. I knew this feeling. God wanted me to do something weird.
Please don’t, Lord. I kept my jogging pace steady but the intensity grew, spilling its silky warmth into my gut. Finally, I slowed to a brisk walk.
But what do I say to him, God?
Tell him that I still see him as a little boy.
I glanced back at the man who was a spec in the distance. Am I really going to walk up to a total stranger, tell him he’s still a boy and then what? Walk away? Run away, as fast as I can? I stared ahead into the distant jogging path, wanting desperately to keep moving forward. I envisioned myself running up my driveway after a good three miles, sweaty and heaving… but would that accomplished feeling be tainted by a sense of spiritual failure?
How do I know this really you, God? If it’s you, please make it absolutely clear before I do this.
I imagined a tree branch suddenly falling, blocking my path, or maybe a sparrow landing delicately on my shoulder. In the bible, wasn’t it Gideon with his woolen fleece and incessant need for reassurance that God had graciously humored?
You know my voice.
God is so patient. Yes, I did know his voice. This wasn’t the first encounter. The few times I’d been brave enough to risk humiliation were always intense, life changing experiences. Other times, I’d hesitated, gripped with insecurity, watching opportunities slip away while God went on to use someone else for His purposes. Still wavering though, I thought, maybe one of these other people I saw before will do it. I looked back again. The woman and her dog were passing the man without as much as a glance.
No. You do it.
If I let this moment pass, I would never know whether this was God or just some random thought in my mind. The only way to be sure was to do what He was asking of me. Reluctantly, I started back towards the man. The blood pulsed in my ears with every step. By the time I got close enough to speak to him, my tongue was a glob of soggy cotton. He was as still as a statue, sitting just as neatly as when I’d passed him the first time.
“Hey there… Good morning.” I stood on the sidewalk shifting from foot to foot. The old man opened his eyes and looked at me blankly. I cleared my throat. “Um, you ok?”
The man sighed, “Not really.” He shrugged his thin shoulders. “My wife threw me out of the house last night,” he slurred. He shook his head indignantly.
“Oh. Sorry to hear that.” This man needed someone and God knew it.
“I was just out celebrating too much with the Budweiser, that’s all.” He chuckled sheepishly. He looked at me, eyebrows raised, searching for understanding in my expression. “I got home late but she worries I’m not coming home to her or something. I don’t understand her.”
I studied him. He looked normal, like someone’s favorite grandpa. His plaid short-sleeved button down hung open loosely, revealing a bright white tee-shirt stretched over his pudgy belly. His wrinkled tan pants were clean. He had a head of thin white hair and his clear gold-rimmed spectacles sat nicely on the bridge of his bulbous nose.
“Mind if I sit down?” I moved across the damp grass.
He smiled, exaggeratedly dusting off a piece of the bench beside him. “Why would she think after all this time I wouldn’t come home to her? I don’t know why she would think that.” He stared at his weathered hands resting in his lap. The veins bulged underneath the skin weaving purple trails among the dark brown freckles. When he finally looked up, his tired eyes blinked behind his glasses. “I suffer from the up and down syndrome, you know?” He made a wavy motion with his hand like the surface of an ocean on a windy day.
“No.” He looked away. “I’m sort of ashamed to say it.”
“What? Bi-polar disorder?”
His downward gaze focused on his tops of his worn brown loafers. He seemed to shrink before me as he nodded. He looked like a lost child, small and vulnerable. “What do you think of that?” he asked quietly.
“Do you believe in God?”
The man just stared.
“Please don’t think I’m crazy but God told me to come back here and talk to you. What I think is that God loves you so much he wouldn’t let you sit here alone. Whatever it means, He wants you to know He still sees you as a little boy, the way you were before all this.”
The old man’s grey eyes searched mine and I watched them slowly fill with tears. Then he sat back looking straight ahead, lost in his own thoughts. We sat silent for a while until a beige sedan pulled off the road into the grass behind us. It was his wife, an older woman with short reddish hair. Her swollen eyes and haggard posture made me want to hug her. After we made introductions, she thanked me for keeping him company and quietly led him into the car.
Psalm 34:18 says The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit
God is so gracious and loving. God is so faithful. He is with us in every moment even if we are not with Him. I walked the rest of the way home marveling at how God interceded for this lonely old man, making sure he knew the almighty God of the universe loved him. God graciously invites us to be a part of it. These divine appointments are gifts that grant us behind-the-scenes VIP access to witness Him at work. It’s in those privileged moments, we catch a glimpse of God’s face and come closer to understanding His loving character. Don’t let insecurity or fear steal those invitations from you. I don’t know what ever happened to the old man but I have faith that the encouraging seed of God’s message to him will eventually take root and blossom into something strong and wonderful and wise.
It was 4 A.M. and I was on my knees in the dark, face to the floor and forehead pressed against the worn leather cover of my bible. In recent months, I’d allowed so many things to take priority over my relationship with God. I was feeling guilty about dabbling in those familiar
destructive behaviors I’d left behind when I began this Christian walk. That old Michelle was beginning to rise up in me again. Through my tears, I begged God to save me from myself.
Do anything it takes to get me back on track, Lord. Turn my focus back to You no matter what.
Eighteen hours later, I was in an ambulance headed to Memorial Hospital where I would undergo emergency surgery. All rational thinking, faith, or peace had evaporated in a sweltering fear when the doctor revealed I would need immediate surgery to remove my swollen appendix. At that time of my life, I was afraid of most things and death was at the top of the list. What if there were complications? Years ago, on some rare lazy afternoon, television on in the background, I’d caught a talk show interview with a patient who claimed that despite the anesthesia, she’d felt every single incision. Something had gone terribly wrong with the dosage or her body’s reaction to it, leaving her essentially paralyzed, unable to convey her cognizance to the surgeon as he sliced into her flesh. Unintended inoperative awareness, they called it.
“That’s not going to happen to you,” consoled my husband.
Even while the staff assured us that it was a safe routine surgery, I was positive I would be dead in a few hours. In a blind panic, I tried to remember every detail of my last interaction with each of my three children. Had I kissed them all good night or yelled at them for not staying in bed? My youngest daughter was still just a toddler. She wouldn’t even remember me. Why had I been so consumed with chores that day instead of taking them to the park when they’d asked? Would my husband remarry eventually? Would she love him and my children the way I did? Better than I had?
I’d faced Goliath sized fear before. When I couldn’t handle the circumstances, I have always been able to fall back on the fortitude of God through prayer and bible verses so distinct, they spoke directly to my heart, reminding me that I am safe in His loving hands. God had always been generous in the way He’s poured peace into my spirit; however this night would be terrifically different.
I wept in my hospital bed, frantically thumbing through my bible, praying for a promise that God would not make, a promise that I could not hear. The words on the page were flat, empty symbols and offered none of the solace they’d generously given in the past. God was silent. He’d withdrawn into an eclipse. It seemed He’d abandoned me, leaving me in total darkness, alone. Desperate, I sought empty reassurances from everyone around me, the nurses, the surgeon, the anesthesiologist. My husband sat beside me, stroking my hand until it was time but it did nothing to tame the wild swallowing dread. Finally, they wheeled me away and I gave myself over to the anesthesia, still silently praying for God to show up.
My first thought when my consciousness re-surfaced was, I’m alive; sweet relief. I lived. I saw my husband leaning over my bed in the recovery room, smiling at me. I was groggy and thirsty but I’d survived. He offered me some ice chips and I gratefully accepted. I closed my eyes and dove back down into the depths of restful unconsciousness.
Later that day, once I was established in my hospital room, my husband left to relieve my parents of their baby sitting duties. Alone in my space, I surveyed my home for the next twenty-four hours. I replayed the night in my mind. I looked at my bible on the nightstand next to the bed.
I reached for it but kept it in my lap unopened. It sat heavy on my thighs like a boulder.
Thank you God for not making me die, but what happened to you last night? Where were you?
His words hit me like a bolt of lightning.
You asked me to refocus your heart. I showed you what life is without Me.
In an instant, I understood it all; the horror of uncertainty, the helpless desperation of having nothing to cleave to, the bleak, looming intimidation of facing circumstance without a savior, without a hero. Allowing me to experience the darkness of His absence was a gentle reminder of the despair He had rescued me from years ago. A momentary glimpse into a future without Him was all the motivation I needed to re-prioritize. Nothing I’d put before Him, sustained me when it came down to the wire. None of it, not friendships or lovers, not drugs or alcohol, not even my family could give the security and peace that comes in Him.
All at once, the betrayal melted away and I sat in awe of how He loved me, how He would fight for me and not allow me to slip away from Him easily. I was a lost child who’d caught sight of her father hiding just around the corner. Relief and gratitude flooded my soul and all I wanted to do was run back into his open arms.
Zephaniah 3:17 says; The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.
I leaned back in the bed, closed my eyes and prayed.
I choose you God, only you, first, above everything. How blessed I am that even though my eyes turn so easily to other things, you are so faithful in your love for me. Strengthen me in times of my physical and spiritual weakness so that I can rise up against any distractions that would cause my focus to stray. Help me to always feel your glorious loving presence. Amen