“I need You; oh, I need You.”
I tried to stop the lyrics from playing in my head. I didn’t want to hear them.
“Every hour I need you.”
Yet they persisted.
“My one Defense, my Righteousness. Oh, God, how I need You.”
(“Lord, I Need You,” Matt Maher)
But I didn’t want to need God. Not in that moment. I wanted God to be quiet. He’d been doing a good job of it, after all, and I didn’t want to hear anything except what I wanted to hear. My way.
Forget that just the night before, at church, everyone in service had walked in a circle, saying, “This ain’t Burger King. I can’t have it my way.” It may sound silly, but the context was a Navy chaplain talking about training drills in boot camp. Burger King’s slogan in the mid-90s was “Your way right away at Burger King now.” But in the Navy, it wasn’t about what you wanted. As the chaplain explained, the same is true with our lives. It’s God’s way, not ours. Our lives belong to God, not us. We are mere stewards, entrusted with these lives for a few short years on this side of eternity. (Ezekiel 18:4: “Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins will die.”)
But none of that mattered in the moment when my feelings told me otherwise. Oh, even in the midst of ugly tears and gut-piercing sadness and later heart-rending anger, I knew the Truth. I knew what the Word says about God. I know all this, but I didn’t FEEL it. So I rejected the truth and the Truth and decided to continue in my misery and have it MY miserable way. (Psalm 16:8:
“I have set the Lord continually before me; Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”)
I went to bed angry at God. I went to bed glad the day was over but upset that tomorrow wouldn’t be happy, at least in my head.
What had happened? A huge snowstorm. I knew it was coming and tried to prepare. Tried to get my work done earlier in the week because I knew school would be closed. The snow struck on a Thursday. The day started fine, but as is the case with unplanned days off school, the hours grew increasingly hard for my oldest son, who has autism. He loves the routine of school. Stuck at home while snow was coming down in droves, nowhere to go because the roads weren’t safe (let alone trying to get out of our driveway), and eventually claimed by boredom, my son’s mood soured. As did mine. By 2:30, I sat on my bedroom floor next to him as he cried and wouldn’t accept comfort. I felt helpless, useless.
His tears of frustration became mine because there was nothing I could do to help him. Then I spiraled. I’d been trying to promote my upcoming novel, set to release the following month. I’m a writer, not a marketer. Feeling like a failure because I couldn’t seem to garner much interest among even my friends and family, I thought, “How am I ever supposed to sell books? Be a little successful at writing? I don’t need to be the next J.K. Rowling, but it might be nice if ten percent of my friends and family took an interest.” Then I felt sorry for myself, like a loser and a failure, and questioned if I was wasting my time writing in the first place.
The rest of that day was for the dump, at least in my mind. As the sun set, my hope for “normal” tomorrow was dashed. Another snow day was called for Friday, and I feared a repeat.
I went to sleep without praying and said I didn’t need God, because at that point, it felt like He didn’t need me. What good was I as a mom if I couldn’t help my own son or as a writer if no one wanted to read my book?
I woke up with more bothersome, although truthful, lyrics in my head:
“Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father.”
(“Great is Thy Faithfulness,” Thomas Chisholm)
But I quickly turned down the volume and allowed more negativity to fill the void. There was a slight glimmer of hope in that my husband, being amazing and loving and gracious, said he’d watch the kids for a few hours so I could get out of the house. Although the storm had stopped in the early morning hours, it had still left a huge mess in its wake. I understood, reluctantly, why school was canceled. Even though it wasn’t still snowing, the side streets were still covered, and our driveway was its own little Armageddon.
Once the driveway was cleared, I got into my car and drove. I had the thought that this snowstorm was a metaphor for my life at the moment: Its effects from yesterday had literally spilled over into today. Likewise, my negativity from yesterday had followed me into the new day like I was walking it on a lease.
Yet that thought wasn’t the only voice vying for my attention. “Great is Thy faithfulness…” Somehow, that niggling Truth persisted. I’d been reading the Bible nearly daily by this point, in the hopes that I would learn God’s way better and better deal with my anger and doubts and sadness and loneliness and pick any number of gloom-and-doom emotions.
Then God showed up in the unlikeliest of places. At Panera.
I could feel the frown pulling down my whole face. As I went to sit, an older gentleman with a shock of snow-white hair, a ruddy complexion, and a beaming smile looked at me and exclaimed, “Smile for the while and let’s be jolly! We shouldn’t be so melancholy!” (“Beg Your Pardon,” Kon Kan)
His happiness, or better put, his JOY, was infectious. I smiled!
“There, that’s more like it!” he said.
I laughed, thanked him, and sat. He resumed talking with a pleasant older woman beside him. Only the aisle separated us, and I heard their conversation. They were truly joy-filled people.
This man was clearly one of God’s earthly angels. You know, the type of person who walks into a room and lights it up!
You might think that was the end of my story, but no, there’s more, much more. God sometimes shows up in the little things, but sometimes, He hits us over the head.
While I sat there, half working on my laptop, this man introduced himself as Bill and explained he was sitting there with his neighbor who lived four doors down and how much he enjoyed her companionship. He explained that he used to be a singer and had a song for every occasion. I could understand that. I reflected to myself that God often put lyrics in my head to help me through tough times, and that was exactly what happened the previous day and that morning.
He expressed a truth about life with more lyrics: “Some days are diamonds. Some days are stones. Some days the heartache won’t leave you alone.” (“Some Days are Diamonds,” John Denver)
My mood continued to improve. You might think that Bill’s cheerful demeanor would have been enough, but we don’t settle for a God of enough. Our God is a God who wants to bless us abundantly, if only we are open to receiving those blessings. (Psalm 34:8: “O taste and see that the Lord is good; How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!”)
This 82-year-old man who said he never grew up connected in the exact two ways I felt like a failure:
He first said, “I believe God has given each of us talents, and we’re supposed to use them.”
Bingo! For him, it was his singing and bringing joy to others and thus glorifying God.
For me, it is my writing (and the blessed assurance that it can also bring joy to others and glorify God).
He then spoke about being a mentor for kids who have autism. Bill shared his experience of bringing a smile to a 12-year-old autistic girl’s face who had not smiled in three months, according to her mother. He sang that smile into existence.
Bingo again! I told him about my 12-year-old autistic son and some of my experiences, how his smile was worth every bit of frustration (on both his and my parts), tears, and challenges.
He concluded with, “Every day I wake up and say out loud, ‘Today is going to be the best day of my life.’”
Wow. Just wow. Talk about hearing everything I needed to hear. Soon after that, he and his friend left, and my spirit was buoyed, refreshed, renewed. A new creation. (2 Corinthians 5:17: “So if any one be in Christ, there is a new creation; the old things have passed away; behold all things have become new.”) That’s what we are in Jesus: new creations.
I needed that reminder. God is always with me. With you. With us. Working to make us new.
When God shows up, it might be in the middle of a storm, snow or otherwise. But as I looked outside at mounds of the white stuff and the dreary clouds, Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons: Spring” played in the background. Another reminder: Spring comes after winter. Life comes after death. All is made new.