Thursday, February 25, 2016

Send Me a Sign

The other night, Bubba asked Mister to teach him a new card game. Apparently, the only card game that came to mind was a game of solitaire I used to play with some regularity and that Mister remembered only half way. I’m not sure that’s exactly what Bubba had in mind, but that kiddo will do just about anything his daddy suggests.

This version of solitaire is easy to learn and almost impossible to win. There is zero skill involved, no strategy, just utterly mindless play. I’ve played scores of times, maybe even hundreds (perhaps, I shouldn’t admit that), and have won precisely once. One time.

I was fifteen, and it was the summer before my junior year of high school. I was at my grandma and grandpa’s home several states away, where we always spent two weeks in July. I was playing solitaire when the phone rang. It was my best friend Shelby. Now, Shelby and I talked every day when we were home, but she had never called at my grandparents’ house. In fact, I didn’t know anyone knew the number there, most certainly not her. But there she was on the other end of the line, telling me that our dear friend Tori had been in a terrible car accident and was in critical condition. She was going to require brain surgery, and no one had any idea if she would pull through.

I wanted to rush home – to do what, I don’t know – but I couldn’t, of course.  So in an effort to settle my shaking hands and swirling mind, I picked up the cards again. I needed something mindless to do. As I shuffled, I prayed. I don’t remember most of it, but it was probably a jumble of Help and Please and No Not This.  I do remember how the prayer ended. I asked God to show me through the cards if Tori would be okay. Let me win if she’s going to live.

I won that very game. And Tori lived.

I struggle with prayer. I haven’t always, but as my faith has grown and evolved and, I hope, matured, prayer has become harder and harder. I feel perfectly comfortable going to God in prayer. I believe He is there and listening. I even believe in the power of prayer. I just… don’t know what to say. Some of it, I’ve got. I pray the Lord’s Prayer. I ask for forgiveness. I pray for comfort and guidance. I say thank you. All good. But what about other requests? Is it okay to pray for healing? Safe travels? What if, as it was suggested to me years ago, you tack on “if it’s Your will”?

I don’t know. But I’m becoming more comfortable with the idea that it’s okay not to know. Of all the miracles and mysteries of my faith, prayer is the one I have the hardest time wrapping my mind around. To me, prayer is the ultimate mystery.

But I do know that in many of my most desperate moments, the one prayer that forces itself to the front of my mind, the one fully-formed, if brief, prayer is Send Me a Sign. And that He has.

The day I prayed for God to show me if Tori would live was the first time I remember praying for a sign. But it wasn’t the last.

My grandma died this past summer. She had been in failing health for years, with her health more rapidly declining in recent months, so it wasn’t unexpected. Still, one can never be fully prepared for news like that.

I was on vacation with Mister and the boys. The news came at the beginning of our final week away. We started making mental preparations while we awaited news of the dates for the visitation and funeral. Ultimately, the visitation was planned for the evening before we were to leave (packing night), and the funeral was planned for the morning we were to begin the seven hundred-mile drive home. The logistics of my getting to the funeral (a three-leg flight) and of Mister packing up and driving out with potentially minimal help from me were overwhelming. Yet, somehow, we got it done. Travel plans for me easily fell into place. Mister decided he and the boys would leave a day early and drop me by the airport on their way home. There were a lot of moving parts, but they all lined up beautifully.

Now, I need to pause here, back up a bit, and mention that our family hiked a mountain the day I learned about the funeral arrangements. I was actively grieving at this point and overwhelmed by the travel logistics. I told Mister that I needed some space on that hike, and at one point I found myself with enough distance from the family that I paused and lifted my face to the sun. I was flooded with the unmistakable feeling that I was not supposed to go to the funeral and was to stay with my husband and boys. But that just seemed wrong. I mean, you’re SUPPOSED to go to funerals when people die. Especially when it’s your grandmother. So I made plans to go, and when the logistics worked themselves out so easily, I assumed I had heard wrong.

Which means I was honestly surprised when I woke up at 4:00 a.m. to take a quick shower before leaving for my flight and found that my flight was delayed four hours.

Four hours. That meant, at a minimum, I would miss that night’s visitation and family prayer service. At that point, I was just hoping to arrive in time for the funeral and some time with my extended family. Because Mister had already planned to leave that morning and drive me to the airport, I was able to reschedule my flight from a larger airport (with more options) five hours away that was on the way home.

When we left, it was immediately apparent why my flight was delayed and why it was hard to get re-booked. Fog. For the next five hours, the only time it wasn’t foggy was when it was raining. And this was the case from the mid-Atlantic through all of New England. We had no confidence that I could even make it out on my rescheduled flight. As we drove, Mister, who travels extensively for work, taught me all his tricks about how to figure out what specific plane had been assigned to my flight and to determine what other legs it was flying that day. We went round and round about my options until we arrived at the final decision point. If I was going to try to fly out, we would head straight to the airport. If not, we would exit right to bypass the city.

I had no clarity about what I should do. I desperately wanted to make it to the funeral, to say goodbye to my grandmother, to mourn with my family; but the weather was bad and not improving. I was already going to miss fully half of the events. I feared I’d be stuck at an airport hundreds of miles from home, husband and boys hours down the road, when I learned my flight was cancelled and that I’d miss the funeral, too, and would have to use my ticket just to fly home. How, for the love, was I supposed to make this decision?

And that’s how I found myself asking God for a sign, while sitting in the car at a gas station hundreds of miles from home.

I asked Mister for a few more minutes to think, and he exited the highway so we could take a break we needed anyway. We filled up the car with gas and used the bathroom and got water, and I was absolutely no closer to having made a decision. So I asked for a few MORE minutes and dropped my head and closed my eyes, and this is what I prayed:

God, I have no idea how I’m supposed to make this decision. I want to go and I feel like that’s what I’m supposed to do, but there are SO MANY obstacles and so it feels like maybe I’m not REALLY supposed to go. But how could that be? How could it be that I’m not supposed to go to my grandmother’s funeral? What will people think of me if I say, “Enough!”? Shouldn’t I do every last thing possible to get there? God, can I ask for a sign? Is that a ridiculous, childish way to pray? I don’t know. I DON’T KNOW. But if you were ever to send me a sign, this is it. I need to hear from you in no uncertain terms what I’m supposed to do.

I sat there for another moment, thinking, “This is absurd. This is the stupidest prayer I have ever prayed. I know what’s in front of me. There is a propane tank display on the sidewalk and a giant poster in the window advertising soft drinks. This is ridiculous. WHAT AM I THINKING?!”

I forced myself to open my eyes because, well, eventually I had to, I reasoned. And the first thing I laid my eyes on were the words


Chills. Well, for one split second anyway. Because my next thought was, “Nope. Can’t be. I’m SUPPOSED to go to the funeral.”

God whispered to me on the mountainside, and when that wasn’t enough, I woke to half of the East Coast socked in fog and a delayed flight, and when I still didn’t listen, when I asked for a sign, He sent me an ACTUAL, PHYSICAL SIGN, and STILL I DOUBTED. (There may be no one who tries God’s patience like I do, y’all.) But finally, I turned to my husband and said, “You’re not going to believe what just happened, “ and we drove home.

I’ve told almost no one this story because I feared people wouldn’t understand. But if I’m serious about my faith, it doesn’t matter if my family judges (and truthfully, that concern is born solely of my own insecurity and not of anything they have done), if friends think I made the wrong choice, or if I fail to comply with societal norms. I, also, feared people would look askance when told I asked for a sign and got one. But the truth is that sometimes God gives me signs (even actual, physical ones), and sometimes He talks to me (which, lest you be concerned, sounds a lot less booming-voice-from-the-clouds and a lot more unmistakable-voice-from-within).

From this experience, I’ve learned that it’s possible to both desperately want something – something good and worthy – and understand it wasn’t meant to be. It is possible to simultaneously ache to be elsewhere and know you’re right where you’re supposed to be. And I know this because I asked, and He answered.  I prayed, and He responded with a sign even I, though I tried mightily, couldn’t ignore. Despite my muddled, if sincere, mess of a prayer, despite my complete bewilderment about how prayer works, it did.

And I learned it’s hard for even the biggest skeptics in your life (I’m looking squarely at you, Mister and Bubba) to ignore the mystery and power of a sign.

No comments:

Post a Comment