I think God needs a two-by-four when dealing with me. His fingerprints are all over my life, but He’s gotta regularly “hit me over the head” with the blatant obviousness of His presence in my life. One way He’s done this, is with dates. Now, before I go any further – I’m not a theologian, but even I know that this isn’t the only way God speaks….even to me! But, God has managed to show up on significant days in my life, with a conviction or a provision or an experience that point to Him. And, I have begun to slowly realize, that God is not only alerting me to the places where He’s at work in my life, but He’s doing it in such a way that I will forever remember the exact time and place when God showed up.
The first time I noticed a connection between a possible message from God and significant date, was about 5 years ago, in 2012, when my husband and I were feeling a tug to move from the San Francisco South Bay to another community up the peninsula. Reason? We wanted to be closer to our church. It was a short commute on Sunday mornings but it could take over an hour (one way) during the work-week. I didn’t want to live in an evangelical bubble or holy huddle, but I did want an ecosystem that facilitated regular connections (on days other than just Sunday!) and overlaps between our our various circles….of neighbors, schoolmates church friends, etc. We wanted to be part of a fabric that included threads of friendship, outreach, service, worship, etc.
That August, I lost a beloved uncle to Leukemia. This heartbreaking loss was a wake-up call: we needed authentic community, one that would come around us during tough times. My husband was from Singapore. I was from Chicago. We had no family in California. We’d have to build a community of friends. And, we believed our faith community was a natural place to start.
A month later, in late September (my birthday weekend), our pastor John Ortberg, gave a talk called the Divine Go. It was based upon the story in Genesis, of Abram leaving Ur to follow God’s command to go to Canaan. Sitting in church, it hit me – we need to move to Menlo. I sobbed through most of that sermon. I am sure that most folks sitting around me thought I was nuts. But, I just knew.
You might be wondering, ‘why didn’t you just move churches?’. Good question! We tried visiting several churches closer to our home. They were fine, but we could not shake an inner unrest. So, we called a realtor and moved forward, praying God would open doors – if this was indeed the path He wanted us to take. In December, we learned of a house coming on the market, and jumped at the opportunity to put in an offer – not thinking we had any chance of actually getting the house. For those outside of the Bay Area, we live in what is unquestionably a seller’s market. Many had tried to prepare us for what surely would be a long process, where we’d likely put in a dozen or more offers before finally landing something. But, amazingly, on December 19th – the same day we submitted our offer, we got a call that our offer had been accepted. December 19th also happens to be my middle child’s birthday. A few weeks later, we closed on my father’s birthday. A few months later, we closed escrow on our South Bay home AND submitted our renovation plans to the city (the new house needed some updating) ALL on my daughter’s birthday. A couple of weeks later, Jay’s father passed away suddenly. In provision, we saw God’s hand at work, allowing the pieces to fall into place more perfectly than we could ever orchestrate. In loss, we saw confirmation that we desperately needed community.
I have repeatedly confessed here, that my husband and I are Type A Control Freaks. Making this move defied all logic….it was not the decision that our well-designed spreadsheets or financial advisers recommended. But, our hearts knew what our minds couldn’t explain: we needed to go. I am learning, that often, we have to trust God before we can hear God. And, I think this move was a lot more about God taking us on a journey of trusting Him, than it was Him needing us to change our geography in order to do life with Him. He used dates, to make it abundantly clear that He was the one setting our path. John ended his Divine Go sermon, saying, “All around the Bay Area, up there is coming down here….God still says Go. And, when you say ‘yes’ you become part of something magnificent.”
We moved because we wanted to strengthen our relationship with God and His people. And, sure enough, I found natural landing pads within the Mothers Together ministry at our church. It was great! I made friends, used my gifts, served. (Confession: I loved the well-heeled mama’s, many with impressive resumes and lives. Many remain dear friends.) But, after a couple of years, I started feeling this tug again….as if God wanted me to make another move. This time, it was a heart move – not a geographic relocation. As I have written here, God led me to a group that serves lunch to the homeless. (Interestingly, the same gal who gave me advice when we made our move, was the one who invited me to serve lunch at the shelter). The rest, as they say, is history.
In my head, I’d long known that faith wasn’t meant to be just for me or my own circle – it needed to fuel an outward activism for the world around me. But, that head knowledge hadn’t really translated into meaningful engagement or love for the least….if I’m being totally honest. (Thank goodness for the two-by-fours!) God kept hitting me over the head…..with books, with people, with fresh eyes to the Bible itself…..you name it…..the arrows all pointed to a Micah 6:8 mission. And, while it’s not always easy or pretty, that journey to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly led me to the ‘something magnificent.’
Matthew 25 is a two-by-four kind of verse…. Jesus says: ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ If you want a ‘with God’ life….if you want to see up there come down here, you gotta open your eyes to the people and places that Jesus points to repeatedly….the poor, widow, orphan, foreigner/outcast, sick and oppressed.
In my last blog post, I shared how God moved my heart during Lent. Long story short, we decided to donate my car to a charity, Able Works, in East Palo Alto. There were other spiritual lessons, but this decision was the most tangible. Still, I felt so spiritually clumsy. Here, I knew that God was asking me to literally and figuratively surrender. Yet, with every twist and turn, in the days while we waited for everything to fall into place – I’d find myself falling back into Control Freak mode.
Exhibit A: In March, we ordered a minivan through a nearby dealer. Unfortunately, the delivery date kept slipping. Not surprisingly, I panicked over whether we’d stick to our original donation date (and have no car) OR disappoint everyone at Able Works by asking to push out the date. Then, one week ago, we got the call that the new car had arrived. We rejoiced for a few hours, till they called back to say they couldn’t find the car on the lot….I cried. What the hell was going on!?!? FINALLY, they found the car and said we could come pick it up. So, last weekend, we did.
On Sunday, it occurred to me that our slipping date was not only a pretty clever test of my faith BUT it also put the timing for getting our new car – right on Mother’s Day. It was as if God was again weaving a tale, in such a way that I’d always remember His faithfulness in watching the pieces fall into place just in time.
In Surrender, I wrote: Why, if I truly wanted love, mercy and humility to be real in my life, would I go indulge in a new car? The short answer is: it wasn’t just about what I needed…..it’s about what someone else needed. And, finally the day came when we got to give our car away.
Initially, I didn’t realize that I’d be meeting the recipient. I’ve done enough reading on the problematic ‘savior complex’ of so many well intended Christians (check out When Helping Hurts or Overrated for more info!), that I preferred to just hand the keys to the charity and let them pass the vehicle to their chosen recipient. But, that wasn’t the way the process worked: we were to all go to the DMV together so that the title could be simultaneously transferred from me to the charity and from them to the recipient.
When the morning came, my stomach was doing somersaults. I so wanted this to be a moment of surrender….not just of a car, but of control…..that God would be present as my path and the path of this mom crossed. As we waited our turn at the DMV, we chatted. It turned out, she had a 6-year-old – just like me. And, she had a daughter, turning 12 years old this weekend – just like me. More fingerprints. Finally, it was our turn, and in a few minutes, the papers were all signed and we were walking out to the parking lot.
When she saw the car, she started crying. All I could do was hug her. After pointing out a few of the car’s features, it was time to hand over the keys and be on my way. A good friend was with me, since I needed a ride home! She took a few pictures, which was good. It wasn’t till I got home and sat in my kitchen, that I could truly process those moments. On the one hand, it felt as though that DMV parking lot had become holy ground….at least for a few moments. Up there had come down here, and I was overjoyed to have been part of it. On the other hand, it felt so normal…..as if, this were the way life was supposed to be.
On earth….as it is in heaven
When Jesus taught us how to pray, one of the key elements of the Lord’s Prayer was to ask that Up There come Down Here…..that bits of heaven would come into the broken places on earth. Of course, full and final redemption won’t come in this life. But, the Bible is pretty clear on our duty to love others (especially, ‘the least’) in this life. As I’ve clumsily walked down this Micah 6:8 path, I’ve become convinced that loving the least isn’t something we do to get EXTRA CREDIT in heaven – it is THE ticket to heaven…..it is ESSENTIAL to faith. If you keep reading Matthew 25 (which I cited above) you’ll get to a part where it talks about separating the sheep from the goats. Don’t be a goat. Wanna know how: feed the hungry, shelter the stranger, give to the needy, help the sick, show compassion to the prisoner….love the least. It is impossible to love God and yet be indifferent to what He loves.
Lighting For Literacy
I was struggling to reconcile my feelings, as I sat at my kitchen table, staring at the pictures my friend had taken at the DMV. I opened up Facebook and saw this post by a South Bay friend named Jessica, writing soon after her return from Mexico, where they delivered and installed solar lights in impoverished communities.
When we got home, a waitress in LA heard our story and said “you must feel so good about yourselves”. We all just kind of looked at her and didn’t know what to say. I mean, ya we felt good, but not necessarily because of our actions. The people of Colonet gave us as much as we gave them in love, friendship, gratitude, and life perspective.
Her father, Doug McNeil, started a group called Lighting for Literacy. In just a few years, they’ve done amazing work, empowering Bay Area youth to create a sustainable, renewable solar technology that provides opportunities for literacy and education around the globe. It is truly amazing what they’ve accomplished (they’ve even been recognized a few times by the White House!). But, at same time, I get what she’s saying….doing this kind of work shouldn’t be the exception, it should be the rule. Heck, it IS the rule – if you call yourself a Christ-follower.
The ‘Actual’ Divine Go
So, as it turns out, God called us closer to church, so that He could send us out into the world. Walking with God often creates this clash of the ordinary with the extraordinary. We see His fingerprints and we marvel at His provision. And, as amazing as it is – it also feels incredibly normal….like this is ‘as it should be’. The Jews have a word for this: SHALOM. The word embodies many meanings, but often refers to peace, restoration, wholeness and and prosperity. The ‘with God’ life is simultaneously magnificent and messy. But, if you dare to do it – you experience shalom…..bits of Up There come Down Here.
I’ve frequently referenced my Pentecostal upbringing. Back then, we talked a lot about the Holy Spirit, the gift given to early church on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38). We talked less about the way those who received His Spirit lived. Just a few verses later, in Acts 2:44-45, it says of the early church that they, “were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” God’s temple is now in us. And, our most beautiful worship isn’t in a sanctuary with lights and videos – it’s is when our life-song is one of outrageous, magnificent, messy love for the world around us. As 1 Corinthians 13:1 puts it: “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”
Don’t be a goat or a cymbal. Do Go. These are the things God is teaching me. His fingerprints are most noticeable in the places that move me closer to the least. And, while it truly doesn’t matter the day or the place that God calls – the point, is that He calls. God shows up. Those two-by-four encounters with dates pointed to His blessed assurance. This is my story. This is my song. Praising my savior, all the day long. The glory divine, is that in magnificent and yet mundane ways, God comes. So, we GO.