“Mom! I can’t find Lamb!”
We’d just gotten home after four days in the mountains outside of Asheville for the kids’ fall break, and I was sorting dirty clothes in front of the washing machine. I stepped across the hall to Nathan’s room where he was waiting, his brown eyes wide and worried. I peeked on top of his loft bed where I’d already unpacked his favorite Star Wars blanket and the four stuffed animals he’d brought with him. Cedric the Saint Bernard, Lovey, Lambie … but no Lamb.
I sighed. The last two trips we’d taken, his sister Ellie had left a favorite blanket behind and we’d needed the management company to mail it to us.
“Buddy, you might’ve forgotten him. I told you to double-check your suitcase before we left.” The exasperation was evident in my tone, and Nathan nodded quickly, masking his sadness, because that’s what Nathan does. He readily accepts blame and fault, stifles any disappointment that he thinks he’s responsible for.
I felt a brief flare of guilt; I know it is my frequent irritation and my temper that are responsible for this part of him. The guilt dissipated instantly though when I flipped back the blanket, and there was Lamb.
“He’s right here, Nathan. On your bed, under your blanket. Did you even look?”
“I did, I swear, Mom.”
But I am having none of it. In the prior 24 hours alone, Nathan had lost a compass, the back of the Smokey the Bear pin a park ranger gave him, and two LEGO pieces to his brand new Harry Potter Quidditch set. Except none of them were actually lost; each one was found with a quick search through the last spot Nathan had them. If it’s not in plain sight it’s lost to Nathan, and his inability to see what’s right in front of him stoked my anger and frustration.
I took a deep breath, reminding myself that Nathan needed my calmness and not my rage.
“Did you remember to look with your hands and not just your eyes, like we’ve talked about?” I asked, as evenly as I could manage.
“Oh. Right. No, Mom; I forgot. I’m sorry.”
“Try to remember next time, bud. Just because you don’t see it right away doesn’t mean it’s lost. Sometimes you just have to look a little harder.”
At the beginning of September, I joined a Discipleship Group at my church. The class meets at 11:30 on Wednesdays, which I thought might mean I’d meet a mix of moms and work-from-homers, like myself. Instead I am the youngest member of the class by 20 years, which doesn’t bother me as much as I expected it to. When it comes to matters of faith, a difference in age becomes a blessing rather than a stumbling block.
The structure of a Discipleship Group is different from the typical small group. There is no text to study or lesson; the purpose of the class is to share about our faith walk and encourage one another toward transformational change.
It is exactly as uncomfortably vulnerable as it sounds.
In the first class, we went around the table and rated the closeness of our relationship with God. I was the second to last to share and, as the others spoke, I warred internally with myself while trying to appear an attentive listener. My desire to give the right answer is one of the strongest parts of myself, and nowhere is this truer than in my faith. I am a fount of Biblical information and dates and theologies. I can quickly rattle off the disciple I identify most closely with (Barnabas) and explain easily how I reconcile the Biblical story of creation with what we know scientifically about evolutionary timelines. Facts are my wheelhouse. Talking openly about the most personal aspects of my faith with people I met 10 minutes ago? Not so much.
I wrestled with my need to be correct. The right answer here felt like a 7 out of 10 rating. High enough to sound good, but low enough to sound honest. But while I wanted to be a 7, my honest number was lower. Much lower. Finally it was my turn and, with an uncharacteristic display of vulnerability with strangers, I began to speak—haltingly at first, then slowly gathering confidence.
“If you asked me how much I loved God or how much faith I have in him, I’d be an 8 or 9, easy,” I said. “But it’s that word closeness. If you’re asking how close I feel to Him … the answer is, not very. I’d say maybe a 4 out of 10.”
I explained that I could blame the season of life I’m in—busy kids, busy career, busy husband, busy life—but that felt weak and untruthful, and if there’s two things I eschew with all my being, it’s weakness and lies.
“My life looks full, but I still make time for Netflix. I can’t seem to find a lot of room for God, though. I can’t see Him in my life, even though I know He must be there.”
I chanced a quick glance around the table, and received a few encouraging smiles. I let out the breath I didn’t realize I’d been holding. The rest of the hour passed in a blur as I nursed my vulnerability hangover.
At the end of the class, we chose our discussion question for the next meeting from the blue piece of paper the leader had passed out earlier.
How did you experience God this week?
“Be prepared to share about your experiences with God this week when we meet again next Wednesday,” the leader said as we gathered our things and headed for the door. I slipped out quickly, reluctant to get caught up in idle chit-chat. As I walked out the door and to my car, I whispered a prayer.
I can’t find you, God. Show me where You are.
The third week of September was the most hectic our family had experienced in a long time. I was slammed with planning a fundraiser and leading a writing workshop, plus a new freelance opportunity presented itself that I felt like I needed to jump on. My husband Jon was traveling for work, like he would every other week that month. By 6 p.m. every day I was frustrated with my children and barking orders. Once they were in bed, I was back in front of my computer again, working until 11 or 12.
More than once, I remembered my prayer that God would help me find Him, but so far I was coming up empty. His silence and distance only added to my frustration. It was the day before our next Discipleship Group meeting, and I had no answer for how I’d experienced God. I had deadlines and stress and worry and guilt, but God? He was glaringly absent.
Dinner was finished, and I had high hopes for getting the kids in bed early. As I shepherded them toward the bathroom for showers, I glanced out the bay window in our living room, and stopped so quickly that Ellie ran into the back of my legs. We’d had several days of rain, which had only added to my misery, but that evening the clouds were breaking right at sunset. It was going to be beautiful.
Sunsets are my thing. On vacation, I will check sunset times online and make dinner reservations accordingly. I’ve told Jon I could be perfectly content to stay in our current house forever if only it had a decent view of the sunset, and he’s joked about building me a bird’s nest in our tallest tree so I can get my fill without the hassle of moving.
I hesitated only briefly; it was as clear an invitation as I could imagine.
“Change of plans, guys—grab your shoes; we’re going to watch the sunset at the lake park.” I loaded the kids into the car and drove two minutes to the arboretum around the corner from our house. We rushed down the paved path to the edge of the lake, right as the sky turned a brilliant mix of gold, pink, and lavender. The kids threw rocks into the water and ran around, while I stood perfectly still. It had been months since I’d seen the sky painted in such vivid colors. I felt the week’s tensions ease from my shoulders as I drank in the view and—for the first time in a long time—I felt less alone.
I know the sun sets every single night, but I’m equally certain that September 25th’s sunset was for me.
The next day, I had a quick phone call with my boss before my Discipleship Group to work through a checklist of items for the upcoming fundraiser dinner. Right as we were about to hang up, he mentioned that he’d been hanging out with one of our board members, Mills, the night before.
“We always pray before we go our separate ways,” he said. “And last night Mills prayed for you by name, that you’d have peace and feel encouraged.”
I don’t remember what I said in response, but when we hung up tears filled my eyes. If God had grabbed me by the shoulders and shaken me in that moment, I couldn’t have heard Him more clearly.
I’m right here.
It didn’t matter that I was annoyed or frustrated or tapped out mentally and emotionally. In the middle of A Week—capital A, capital W—I found Him. And it didn’t take searching high and low, either; He was in plain sight, spread across the sky and speaking through my phone.
I didn’t find Him through my knowledge or facts or memorizations. I found Him because He knows me. He knew I think of Him every time I see a beautiful sunset, and that I’m terrible at praying for myself and even worse at asking others to pray for me.
Knowing God meant I recognized Him when I saw Him. But God knowing me is what helped me see Him in the first place.
Later that day in our Discipleship Group class, I had none of the inner turmoil from the week before. When it was my turn to speak, I knew exactly what to say.
The rest of the week was a parade of exquisite sunsets, each one more beautiful than the last. And each night I stopped what I was doing and watched them from the shore of the lake, the smooth water reflecting the colors so I could enjoy them twice.
As for my answer for my Discipleship Group, it was simple:
You can’t find what you’re not looking for. And when you look for God, you find Him everywhere.
Words and photo by Jennifer Batchelor.
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