I believe in signs. I’m just one of those people. Sometimes it feels like God is far removed from my every day life. He’s off busy doing something somewhere in someone else’s life. But sometimes, I feel His presence in my life. Sometimes it’s when something big happens. Like a year ago when I experienced a huge conversion. It’s hard to believe it’s been a year. My conversion experience, while mostly insignificant to other people, was no less huge to me than Paul’s conversion.
Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.
In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”
“Yes, Lord,” he answered.
The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”
“Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”
But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength. – Acts 9:9-19
Paul went from persecutor and murderer of the early Christians to being God’s “chosen instrument.” A year ago I was so shattered, so broken, I couldn’t imagine I’d ever be whole again. But in that moment the scales from my eyes were also removed. That moment changed my life forever. In my own history, that day and time, is the single most defining moment of my life. Now, looking at it with a little more distance, I can see how God was orchestrating things. How he used the time I was at my very lowest to reveal to me His undying love.
Most of the time though, feeling His presence isn’t in those huge life changing moments. Most of my life, He finds me in much more subtle ways. Ways that I had previously missed in the noise of every day life. But I’ve found that when I’m disposed to prayer and take the time to be still, He speaks softly. Not through a voice from the sky (though that would be nice and a lot harder to miss!) but like a gentle breeze. A breeze that means very little to anyone else. In fact, they’re practically meaningless to anyone else. I seriously would’ve mocked someone who talked like this in the past. Sure God’s talking to you. Right. Possibly those voices in your head aren’t God and you should seriously see a medical professional. They definitely aren’t the moments that go down in history. They’re quiet and are very personal ways that serve as a light in the darkness and a reminder that even when we can’t see it, God is still there.
Because I believe that God is near us, I tend to pay attention when the same message comes to me multiple times in multiple ways. That happened to me last fall. I was running with a friend one day and knew that she had a spiritual adviser. I had been giving some thought to finding one. I felt like I needed some help and guidance in my spiritual life but wasn’t sure where to look. So I asked her some questions and didn’t think much about it. Not soon after that, Lawrence and I had plans to go camping, just the two of us. We dropped the kids off with my parents but the forecast wasn’t great and the thought of camping in the rain wasn’t all that appealing, so instead of camping, we went on a date and then back to our house for the night. As it turned out, the weather was fine and we would’ve had a nice night to camp. But we didn’t.
It was November 2nd, All Soul’s Day. It’s a day put aside to pray for the dead and I decided I wanted to go church. Off I went. In 2015, November 2nd landed on a Monday. My parish has confessions after daily mass on Mondays. Maybe they always do on November 2nd, I’m not sure, but on that day there were confessions after mass. I debated going. The line was long and confession isn’t my favorite thing to do. But for whatever reason, I got in line and waited. The priest doing the confessions that day wasn’t one I knew very well, and not who I probably would’ve picked if I’d had a choice.
It was finally my turn and I have no idea if this priest hands out his email to every person that comes in or if I was just the biggest mess he’d listened to that week. In any case, he gave me his email and told me that if I’d like to talk further, to email and set up an appointment. I’ve never had that happen before. I thought, hmmm, that’s weird. I wasn’t sure I wanted to do that, so I just tucked it away.
That week, I went to my prayer group and relayed the story because I thought it was funny. That I was such a walking disaster that priests are giving me their email addresses in confession. And after I finished, my friend, the same one I had talked to about a spiritual director, said to me, weren’t you just looking for a spiritual director? And I thought, well, isn’t that a coincidence.
So the next day, I sent him an email asking to set up an appointment. The first time I walked into his office, I looked at him and said, I have no idea why I’m here but I think you have something to tell me, so what is it?
I can’t even imagine what he thought at that moment. We chatted, I told him about my recent conversion. At the end, he said, it was up to me what I wanted to do. We could meet once and a while as needed or more often in a spiritual director kind of situation. I hadn’t brought that up. So, let’s see, over the course of a month, the concept of spiritual director came up repeatedly. Without me searching him out, I landed in his office.
In the 9 months I’ve been going to him, my life has changed radically. Not all priests are versed in mental illness but I was led to a priest who was. He, from nearly the first visit, recognized that I was dealing with something serious. He encouraged me to go back to therapy and to see a doctor. He encouraged me to explore the possibility of going on medication, a concept I was resistant to. I had tremendous guilt about not being able to pray myself out of my depression. He listened and encouraged.
So that was a long story to say, when messages come to us repeatedly, in different ways from different sources, it’s probably something we should pay attention to. And also, when telling these kind of stories, other people will probably think you’re crazy. And that’s okay too.
After my last post, when the story of Abraham popped into my head out of no where, I thought it was a little strange and I wasn’t sure why that story popped into my head.
And wouldn’t you know, this past Sunday, the reading from Hebrews was all about Abraham. I might have mentioned a few times that I’m a crier. Like a ridiculous amount of crying happens. And lately, to go along with the crying has been a whole lot of praying. For guidance. For strength. For some sort of direction because I felt so absolutely lost. And twice so far, this story has come to me.
I won’t copy the whole reading here, but the last couple verses were this:
By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac,
and he who had received the promises was ready to offer his only son,
of whom it was said,
“Through Isaac descendants shall bear your name.”
He reasoned that God was able to raise even from the dead,
and he received Isaac back as a symbol.
What I can tell you is that I 100% do not like this message. It’s a very hard one. I can’t imagine having that kind of faith. I don’t have that kind of faith. But I know I’m being told to stop worrying. Lay my anxiety down. Hand over my control. It’s such a basic message: have faith. But when you’re praying hard about something and you feel completely alone, there’s immense consolation in knowing that God’s still there. He’s always with you even in those times when it seems like He’s totally abandoned you. And He cares enough to send us reminders that we can hear when we’re paying attention.