It will be five years ago this May that our family picked up and moved from Connecticut to Orlando in order to be closer to our extended family. If you are new around these parts, then you missed that great transitional period in our lives. It was a terrible, turbulent time in our home, when we were broke, unemployed, uninsured, and trying desperately to hold on to what was left of our faith.
Chris and I prayed and prayed about our move back to Florida. We had a wonderful, thriving life in Connecticut, and it was a complete leap of faith in the truest sense for us to quit our jobs, sell our house, and back up our infant baby boy to move across the country. But we were confident that it was what God wanted for us, and so we happily, hopefully followed.
And then all hell broke loose.
I couldn’t find a job, Chris’s company didn’t offer health insurance for our family, our rental house was in an unsafe part of town (and would later be broken into and most of our valuables would be stolen), we were homesick for Connecticut, we felt guilty that we weren’t happy here close to our extended family, and then I found myself unexpectedly and untimely pregnant.
When our daughter was born, we named her after the one thing that was sufficient enough to cover all these terrible fears and doubts and anger that we felt towards God. We called her Grace.
In the worst of times, I clung desperately to my faith. My prayers were ugly and angry. They were questioning and searching. They were hopeless and hopeful at the same time. They were really all I had. And on those really hard days when I ran out of faith completely, I would stand in my shower, crying, and singing quietly, “Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father. Morning by morning, new mercies I see. All I have needed thy hand hath provided. Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.”
Sometimes that hymn was sung as a desperate plea. “Father, show me new mercies! Please!” And sometimes it was sung in bitterness, “All I have needed thy hand hath provided. Do you feel like providing yet, God? Because we certainly are waiting.” But, mostly, it was just my heart emptying out the very last bit of faith that I had left in me.
It has taken us five years to rebuild our lives. Five years to find a community to be a part of. Five years to make a new house a home. Five years to let go of that anger I had towards God and to trust him again. And in five years, he has brought us through such trials and tribulations, but also such sweet moments of triumph and joy. I have grown in those five years more than I ever thought I could.
In my experience with faith, there are many, many moments when we feel God present in our lives. We feel him settling into our hearts. Feel him guiding our feet. Feel him holding our hands. But, there are far fewer times when you SEE God present in our lives. I know that sounds so unchristian to say, and I don’t mean it to be. But it has been the real truth in my life. I feel his hand on me and guiding me far more often than those times when I can point to something physical and say, “That is God.”
Maybe a beautiful sunset here and there. A majestic mountain top. The smile of my new little niece. The faces of my children. I can point to those things and know that is God looking at me. But those tangible moments of God’s presence are rare and special when they happen.
This Saturday, Michael had his first tee ball game. After his game, we headed over to the Opening Ceremonies celebration for the league. My mom and Grandmother were there, and so was Chris’s sister and her boyfriend (our latest and greatest addition to the family). And as I cheered for Michael and hugged friends and neighbors we saw at the ball field, I could point to God. He was there in the faces of all those people who have become our community. The community I prayed for and the community God promised me.
After the baseball ceremony, Gracie wanted to go home with Nana to spend the night, so my mom and Grandmother took Gracie home with them, and I agreed to come pick her up on Sunday afternoon. And God was there. He was my mom and my grandmother. Because he promised me that he would fill my life with family. And he has.
We left the ballfields and headed straight to back-to-back birthday parties for some of Bean’s friends. One was a friend whose family we have known for a few years through our daycare. Their daughters are the same age as my kids, and so we have endured the full spectrum of parenthood together. And we laughed at the birthday party at how different age six is than when we first met at age three. We left that party and went to another for a new friend of Bean’s from his kindergarten class. When we were there, we ran into a family who also went to our daycare and now goes to our church. And I smiled this morning as we dropped Bean off at Sunday school and that same friend was waiting for him in the Sunday school classroom. And God was there. Looking right at me in the face of that child and his mom. In the face of every new friend Michael is making. Because he promised me our children would grow up in a community just like this. And they are.
I squeezed Chris’s hand as the two of us walked into the fellowship hall for Sunday morning worship. “It’s all coming together, just like He planned,” I said to him, smiling.
We walked into church and I was already fighting back tears at all the places I had seen God’s face in our lives recently. My heart was full of the peace that comes in knowing that I am exactly where God called me to be. He promised me this life we are living, and he said, “If you will hold my hand, I’m going to take you where you need to be. But the road will be challenging and you might trip and fall. But I will pick you back up, if only you trust in me.” And I did. Not gracefully. Not perfectly. But in the only broken, blemished way I know how to love my God.
The praise band began to play, and my head instantly popped up from the church bulletin I had been perusing before the service started, as the congregation began to sing, “Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father. Morning by mornings, new mercies I see. All I have needed thy hand hath provided. Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.”
And, like a movie, the past five years came flooding back to me and in each memory, there was God. He was standing in our rental house on the night it was broken into. He was standing next to me at the Health Department when I had to go for my prenatal visits because we had no health insurance and I would cry all the way home from every appointment. He was standing in the conference room where I interviewed for my first teaching job. He was beside us in the operating room when Gracie was born. He cried with me when I met my mom at the hospital the night my dad died. He stood next to us when we left our first church home here to find one in our own community. He waved with us when Chris and I dropped Bean off on the first day of kindergarten.
Five years ago, God promised me that he would bring our family to a place of belonging, to a place of family, to a place of abundance and fulfillment and contentment. And with each passing day, I see that promise lived out in my life. Is our life suddenly easy? No. Will it always be this joyful? Probably not. About ten minutes after I left church this morning, all aglow in the goodness of God, my check engine light came on in my car. Go figure.
But today, at this moment in my life, I can point to tangible, real, good things in my life that God has promised and has provided and that gives me strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow. Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside.