I heard the words so clearly in my mind on that sunny day a couple of years ago. “Why do you worry, Sue? I’ve already taken care of it.” It caught me so off guard that I stopped right there in the middle of my lunchtime run to catch my breath. With all the noise and traffic around me, I wondered, Who called me by my name?
I had been worrying though. My company was about to go through more layoffs and change, and even though I would probably be compensated for my many years with the company, I began to worry about the uncertainty. What should I do.. how will it affect my son’s last year of school.. should I roll over my 401k.. should I take another job? All of this was running through my mind while I was running that day. It took my focus away from peace and filled it with unnecessary worry, especially since the decision about my job was not mine to make anyway.
And that’s when I heard this internal voice, gentle but very clear and distinct, say to me in caring way, “Why do you worry, Sue?” It felt personal. At that moment I felt Jesus telling me that He knew the details of my situation, and not only was it in His control, it was already taken care of. The future was already known, so why worry about it. I picked up my running pace again, looking ahead to the curve in the road where I was about to turn. I knew that I could not see what was around the corner, but Jesus could and He was already there waiting for me.
I headed back to the office after that, but I no longer worried. Over the next few weeks, my co-workers noticed a difference. “Aren’t you worried?” they would sometimes ask. “No,” I said, “I’m ok with whatever happens.”
~ Matthew 14:23-33 Jesus walks on water ~
Jesus went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. When evening came, He was there alone. The boat with the disciples was already over a mile from land, battered by the waves, because the wind was against them. Around three in the morning, He came toward them walking on the sea. When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost!” they said, and cried out in fear.
Immediately Jesus spoke to them. “Have courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
“Lord, if it’s You,” Peter answered Him, “command me to come to You on the water.”
And climbing out of the boat, Peter started walking on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the strength of the wind, he was afraid. And beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus reached out His hand, caught hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. Then those in the boat worshiped Him and said, “Truly You are the Son of God!”
I imagine Peter no longer looked at things the same way either after Jesus asked him,“Why do you doubt?” And as for my job, it was eliminated soon after, but I was rehired in a similar job within the same department. I was finally able to tell my son a couple of months later (just a few days before the deadline) that I got the new job and wouldn’t be out of work after all. He seemed surprised. “I thought you already had the new job,” he said, “you didn’t look worried.”
Twice in my lifetime the doctors have been wrong. Don’t misunderstand me, I believe in doctors and have a great respect for their intelligence, training and sacrifice. I thank God for them every time I have to go under the knife. But it’s just that I also know God is the ultimate Healer and He has the final word.
It was my 37th birthday as I sat in the doctor’s office and heard those words: “You will never be able to run again.” The cartilage in my knee was gone. I sat there in silence. Running has always been a big part of my life; it is where I draw my confidence; it is my time alone with God and my thoughts. And it had always been a lifetime goal of mine to run a marathon. But more than the doctors words, I also knew from where my strength came, from God alone, and I decided I would not give up that easily. After two months of pain-staking physical therapy followed by some very careful training, I ran across the finish line of the Chicago Marathon – before my next birthday.
The other time the doctors were wrong it was a more personal one. I was a few months away from my wedding day when I had an emergency surgery. I heard the doctor’s words once again: “You will probably never be able to have children.” I understood the complications of my situation, resulting from a life-threatening appendectomy years earlier. But I also knew that God, the Creator of all life, could give me a child if he chose to. When that time came later on to start a family, the doctors words seemed to come true. I decided I would try another surgery in hopes of increasing the odds. I began the process of finding a doctor and pleading my case for surgery, but I soon faced another obstacle. The insurance would not pay for the surgery, as it was considered infertility surgery and therefore was “optional”. Again I sat in silence. Looking down at the sheet of paper with the estimated costs for the doctors, surgery and hospital, I wondered how we would be able to pay for it on our own, or if we should even try. We were still newly married and did not have much money saved. This would take all of our savings plus a little more. Even so, I decided it was worth the try and I could not imagine anything more that I would rather spend my money on.
As the day came, the one-hour simple surgical procedure turned into a five-hour operation. The anesthesia alone was more than my body could handle and I threw up all the way home from the hospital. I laid in bed sick for days. The doctor had said my best (and only) chance of getting pregnant would be in the first six months after surgery. Well, six months came and went with no news. But I also noticed during this time that I never received the bill from the hospital for the surgery or the anesthesia. It did not show up as a claim on my insurance either. No co-pay or deductible was ever paid, and I never received a second bill in the mail or a phone call. It seemed to disappear. And, about a year later I delivered a healthy baby boy. He truly was a gift.
I have come to the end of my year-long running journey, where I had decided to run through the last twenty years of my music collection, going back-in-time with my thoughts and musings to see where it led. Each song or album that I acquired over the last twenty years had a memory or meaning attached to it. So I began the journey by loading up my MP3 with a variety of songs and genres and took off running. As the year came to a close, I found the last artist on my playlist – U2. It seemed appropriate enough. This particular album was a collection of four songs from a Starbucks CD back in the early 2000’s. Ah yes, I remember those early Starbucks days, juggling morning carpool and a full-time commute into downtown. Starbucks had become my refuge for a while and this CD had offered solace.
So I began my last musical journey listening to the songs, “All You Need is Love” and “I Believe in Father Christmas”, and then finally came to the last song: “The Redemption Song”. It was originally sung by Bob Marley, and his words played over in my mind as I ran…
“Won’t you help to sing these songs of freedom Cause all I ever have is Redemption Songs.”
Redemption. Such a powerful word. It’s a transitional word, bringing to mind many other similar words and progressions.
Atonement. Restitution. Forgiveness. Grace. Love. Jesus. God. Heart. Soul. Life.
A great way to end the year’s running and thoughts – Redemption. After all that a year can bring – happiness, sadness, new beginnings and old friends – I am forever humbled and grateful to be here, and hopefully a little wiser. We are all on a journey; let’s make sure we’re on the right one because we only have this one life to decide. What will be your last song?
Let us lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and have sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2
I wouldn’t have seen it this morning if I had not ventured out for a run. I would have missed a lot of things. The sun was shining bright and warm, calling me outside, but I had lots to do today. I need to do some cleaning and catch up on emails, I thought. Sounds silly now. Life can pass us by while we’re busy doing stuff, and not just in a big way but in the small simple ways. Following my new year’s promise to myself, I had decided that I will try to enjoy and experience life with every possible minute this year, and to do the most good with all those “lost opportunities” that come across my way.
What if we each took this one year and tried to make the very best of it, no matter what. One year of our lives, given to the very best we can do. To resolve to smile and laugh more, even during those stiff business meetings or tough times; to resolve not to spread hate no matter what the principal may be; and to resolve to help our fellow human beings more. It really wouldn’t take that much effort. It might even make things easier. And it would change the world.
So I stopped what I was doing this morning, none of which will matter for very long anyway, and I went down to the beach for a run. The tide was high after the storm and the only part of the sand not covered by water was still too soft for running, so I settled into a walk instead. As I slowed down my pace, I began to look at the sea shells beneath my feet and caught the glimpse of something glistening, sticking out above the sand. I reached down to pick it up and could not believe what I held in my hand. It was a piece of milky white frosted glass, perfectly polished and smoothed around its edges from the friction and waves of the sea. My first sea glass find! I have always enjoyed reading about these elusive treasures from the sea, studying their colors and origins, and following the stories of those who collect them. But as much as I have searched, I have never found any genuine shards of my own. I wondered what far-off shore or boat this had come from. It was a small treasure indeed! And I would have missed it if I had not taken the chance to venture out on this day.
(Today is Day 16 out of 365 God-given opportunities this year)
“As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” – Marianne Williamson
The musical group, Train, always makes me smile. Their songs have that nostalgic,
feel-good feeling mixed in with a little hope and inspiration. I ran across one of their older songs on my running journey today – a song called “Calling All Angels” from 2003. Ten years later, the song is still relevant, perhaps even more so today.
The lead singer for the band is Patrick Monahan. His unique sound and onstage presence of a messy-haired, slightly awkward little kid makes you want to root for him even more. His songs invoke memories and hope. This particular song begins with those familiar words, “I need a sign…”
As I began to listen to the song once again, my immediate thoughts take me back to a time at my workplace ten years ago. I was facing a tired and beaten project team near the end of our project, and they had just discovered why our new computer programs were not working as planned. We were getting our data from an accounting software program that did not use negative signs in the dollar amounts. Instead, it used a debit and credit indicator to determine if it was a negative number. Now all of our data was showing up as positive numbers and over-inflating the balance. I looked around the room at all the long faces, and without hesitation, immediately jumped up and started singing those words, “I need a sign…” while using my best Train impression. They did not see the humor in it, or perhaps it was just my bad singing. Eventually though, we got through the project as we always do, but I still remember that memory and smile to myself. It was good times during the bad times.
Signs of another kind at work began to jog my memory as well – the signs of God’s constant care and interest into the details of our lives. There is one story in particular that stands out above the rest; one lesson that I will never forget. Many years ago, I was responsible for a large project that was beginning to take a wrong turn. The team had split into two different groups, each with different ideas and agendas on how to complete the work. Each group was working independently on their own, and often against each other. I knew the project would not be successful if we continued like this, and we would certainly not make our million dollar deadlines. I decided I had to call a meeting with the new Director of the company to express my concerns.
I sat in the stark conference room with the Director on that day, and began to explain the dire situation to him. After I finished, he just sat there and said nothing in reply. He turned his head slightly to the side and quietly spoke as if saying to no one in particular, “It wasn’t supposed to be this way.”
“What?”, I thought to myself. I was expecting to hear a typical response like, “how
did this happen?” But his answer struck me as odd. What did he mean it wasn’t supposed to be this way? Who told him that? And then he did something more. He closed his eyes and bowed his head. At first I thought he must be thinking, but after an uncomfortable amount of silence, I realized he wasn’t thinking; he was praying.
It seemed to be one of those serious conversations with God too, not the quick desperate kind we often pray when we’re trying to get out of a situation. I sat there in silence, realizing this one was not about me. When he finished and looked up, he did not apologize or make excuses. He only said, “Will you give me a day?”
“Ok sure,” I replied as I fumbled around for my things and left the conference room.
I ran into my manager on the way out and he asked how the meeting went. “I’m not sure,” I said, “but we will know tomorrow.” I walked away leaving my manager with a puzzled look. “This is not how corporations are supposed to handle things,” I said under my breath, shaking my head with a sigh.
The next day I waited in anticipation. I was also a little skeptical that this too would fall short like most other good intentions do. Then miracles began to happen. Barriers were knocked down, obstacles broken, and the bureaucratic red tape that had been in place for years had suddenly disappeared. The team reunited and we were back on track with a new purpose. People asked me how I did it, but I could only shrug and say that I had done nothing.
I learned a lot that day, about how to live the rest of my life at work. I can choose to just work harder, always beating my head against the wall, or I can first go immediately to God with my problems, unapologetically to everyone else, and do things His way. After all, I have the greatest Computer Designer of all times by my side. God cares about us and our well-being, but He is not as overly concerned as we are about how to handle negative signs and computer designs. He parted the Red Sea. He raised the dead and healed the sick. He designed the Universe!
Now I understand now why Jesus refused to give the Pharisees the sign they asked for in the New Testament. There are miraculous signs all around us in everyday situations, but we must be open to believing them or we will not see them. I often wonder what could have been the outcome of our recent government shutdown and arguing between the divided groups in Congress, if they too had first tried the approach that my Director took that day.
Thank you again, Train, for the memory during my run today. Your video is a wonderful reminder of the human potential and spirit in all of us. It definitely makes me smile. But I don’t need a sign. I see God’s handiwork all around me.