We've had so much going on lately, and I have so many things to say about our current lives that I will never be able to get them all said, so this seems like the perfect time to tell a story that's four years old, right? Actually, having said that, I'm first going to start with a much older story, one that's several thousand years old. God has been revealing much to me through the story of Hagar found in Genesis 16. It struck me powerfully when I read it earlier this year, and then a few weeks ago, it was used as the topic for the closing session at a wonderful retreat for adoptive mamas that I had the privilege of attending. This will be a long post, but I promise that eventually I will tie it all together, so bear with me here!
To put the whole Genesis story in a nutshell, Abram and Sarai had been promised a child by God. When things didn't happen in their time-frame, Sarai decided to help God out a bit by taking matters into her own hands and offering her Egyptian slave to Abram as a surrogate. (Oh what disasters we create when we try to take over God's plans!) I want you to put yourself in Hagar's shoes for a moment. She was a foreign slave, the lowest of the low. She had lost everything that she knew years earlier when she had been taken from her homeland. She had been abused by her master and mistress....used for her body's ability to have a baby....and now she was pregnant with a child that she would not be allowed to call her own. This is undoubtedly NOT how she had pictured her life turning out when she was a little girl back in Egypt. For a moment, she may have thought that her circumstances would change. She was going to mean something to a wealthy, God-fearing man, because surely, bearing him a child would make her indispensable, right? At any rate, we know that when she conceived, she began to despise Sarai, who in turn, complained about her to Abram. Abram took the coward's way out and essentially responded, "Look, she's YOUR servant. You deal with her." This resulted in Sarai treating Hagar harshly, and Hagar, having reached her limit, runs away into the wilderness.
Here's where the story gets really interesting. "And the angel of the Lord found her by a fountain of water in the wilderness....and he said, 'Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?'" Did you get that? God Himself....not bound by time or place or class distinction or any of the other boundaries that we put on ourselves....chooses to reveal truth in a personal way to a runaway, pregnant, unwed slave girl. He calls her by name, and he asks about her welfare. He tells her to return to Sarai and submit to her, and then He gives her promises for the future. "Behold, thou art with child, and shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael, because the Lord hath heard thy affliction. And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man's hand against him..." Notice what God doesn't say: "Hey, Hagar! I've just been to talk to Sarai, and I've completely changed her heart toward you! Go back home because you're going to be best buddies now. Oh yeah...and by the way...YOUR child is the promised, chosen one, and he's going to be a wonderful, loving, affectionate son." No, not at all. In fact, God has just told her that things are still going to be pretty tough. She is going to have to submit to her mistress, and Ishmael is going to have a difficult personality. God didn't change anything about her circumstances....but He changed her heart by revealing Himself to her. Look at the way she responds. In verse 13, she says, "You are the God who sees me" and she names the place "The well of Him that lives and sees me." Because really....what else do we need when God has taken the time to meet us where we are and speak directly into our lives? At that point, what others think of us or even how they treat us ceases to matter nearly as much as it did before.
Now I'd like to share a story from my own life....of how God met me during one of the most difficult days that I've experienced so far. Passion week 2009: David had just had surgery to have the remainder of his colon removed. We had also just accepted the referral for Yikealo, and were nervously anticipating our entrance into parenthood. David kept this picture by his hospital bed and showed it to everyone who came into the room.
On Thursday of that week, we hit a low spot. David was on his third day post-op and was getting worse instead of better. He weighed a whopping 130 pounds, couldn't keep any food down, and his pain meds were really messing with his moods. David has always had a great attitude about his not-so-great health, and he typically keeps things very light-hearted and positive. Not so on that day. He was angry, and depressed and so sick, and he appeared to be giving up. He said over and over that he would never get better, that he was going to die, that he couldn't see the end of the darkness and the pain. He was very demanding with me and very rude to almost everyone else. He'd been in the hospital for a week at this point, and I was feeling exhausted with the worry, the long drives to and from Cleveland every day, and I was starting to panic about the adoption (again.) WHY was God asking us to move forward with a child now? Where was the healing that we'd been so sure God was promising? How in the world was I going to be a mom to a needy little boy when I had an invalid husband to care for? Who was this person in the hospital bed? He didn't resemble my husband of 14 years in any way. I had a minor melt-down on my sister-in-law's shoulder at one point that afternoon, and by the time I left the hospital around 9 that night, I was utterly spent. As I made the hour-long drive home, I called my parents and our best friends and filled them in on the latest, pleading for their prayers. Did we need to back out of the adoption, or should we stay on the current path even though it seemed completely impossible?
When I got home, I turned on some music as I went through the stack of mail that had piled up that week. The first line of one song grabbed my attention, "Oh God, my God, I cry out. Your beloved need You now," and I fell apart on the living room floor, on my face before the Lord, sobbing out my fears, my pain, my anguish and begging for help. I remember feeling so discouraged and alone, and telling God, "If only You would have someone call me right now. That would show me that You are listening to me....that You hear me." I dismissed the thought almost as soon as I had it. It was well after 10:00 on a week night. I had already spoken to the very few people who might have called that late. The song ended with the same line, "Oh God, my God, I cry out. Your beloved needs You now,"....and the phone rang. I stared at it in disbelief. NO. WAY. But there it was again. I walked over and picked up to hear the voice of a dear friend of David's. He apologized for calling so late, but said that he had suddenly had the overwhelming urge to check in. He had the most beautiful prayer with me over the phone, and that moment shimmers with holiness in my memory.
God wasn't done either. After the phone call, I took a quick shower and headed to bed. As I was climbing into bed, I realized that I hadn't checked e-mail that day. We were communicating closely with our adoption agency at that point, and I knew that I needed to check it, so I dragged my weary body to our basement computer. There I found the most incredible gift of an e-mail from one of my closest friends. It was a link to something she'd heard on Christian radio earlier that day, and she had typed in huge letters, "A MESSAGE FROM GOD!!!! You have to read this!!" What followed was one of the most perfectly-suited-to-my-situation things that I have ever read. Read it here: "A Bumpy Road to a Beautiful Place". I read it with tears of awe streaming down my face. Not only had God heard me....He knew my exact circumstances and had answered me in precisely the way I had needed Him to. That question about whether or not to back out of the adoption was answered with crystal clarity.
Today I cannot look back at that night without seeing God's mighty hand gently moving the pieces of an extraordinary story into place. I am stunned and driven to my knees over the way that He chooses to continually reach out to me, and really, to all of us. I want to leave you with the encouragement that He is the God who sees you too. No matter your circumstances, no matter your level of pain, discouragement or despair, He knows you. He knows where you are, what you're going through, WHY you're going through it. When you can't see how the pieces fit together, when you can't see any hope of good, HE CAN. He's not going to speak to you in the same way that He spoke to Hagar, or to me, because you are YOU, and He's going to speak intimately to you in a way that is most likely to reach you where you are. Not because you deserve it....but because THAT'S WHO HE IS, AND THAT'S HOW HE LOVES US.
"He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" Roman 8:32