There are times when scripture speaks to me more loudly than others, when words dance off pages like animated stories setting my imagination on fire. Then there are times when passages settle into the hollows of my life quietly and without fanfare. For weeks as I prepared for our trip to visit our son in Africa one certain passage kept creeping into my thoughts without my willing it:
“The Lord replied, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Then Moses said to him, “If your presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.” (Exodus 33:14,15)
And because I was clueless about what to really ask God for concerning our trip, I just asked for his presence. I didn't even pretend to have one bit of it together, I dropped all the pretense, all the ideas, and instead clung to the scripture from Exodus he seemed to be sending me.
We spent seven hours with Isaiah on our last day at his orphanage. We fed him lunch, we played ball discovering he was left handed, we played matching games learning he could say “monkey” and “no bananas.”
But nothing would stop the countdown that marked our departure time. The time went by slowly while the day flashed by like lightening.
When suppertime drew near our three-man crew looked at one another and silently began gathering our backpacks. I carried our son down the now familiar flight of stairs and opened the door into the baby area. The sisters and nannies were waiting for me at the end of the hall as I approached I tried to hand him over.
But no one made a move to take my son and my heart broke all over that dingy tile floor because I had not imagined needing to leave him standing on his own two feet.
But I did.
I set him at his nanny’s feet, gave him one last kiss while running my hands over his closely shaven head, and stole another neck snuggle while breathing him deeply in before I walked away from my son.
I turned at the door to see that he had followed me halfway across the tile, his little hand raised just a bit in my direction. And I waved goodbye to him all the while telling him,
“Momma’s coming back for you.”
I can still feel his small sticky hands on my face.
I made it down the remaining stairs and through the orphanage, talking with the other children, telling them all goodbye before I lost my composure. I made it just out of their eyesight, past the playground equipment and over by the nun’s vegetable garden before the tears washed out of me.
To be sure I was empty and tired. Desperate to hear that his papers were done or that some miracle was going to let us bring him home.
But there were no miracles. There were no last minute reprieves.
There was only the glaring honesty of where we were and where he was. There was only the spiraling frustration of a situation and a system that defined the word unjust. And I stood there in the middle of the unknown surrounded by my weeping family and I was not undone.
To be sure there was scorching pain, there was a fear that threatened to swallow me whole, and there was the unknown weight of knowing my son was staying and I was going.
But it did not end me.
And friends I really thought it would. I truly thought that when the moment came I would not be able to leave him. I worried that this pain, this thing I feared the most would absolutely unravel me to my core leaving nothing behind but the tangled strands of a life I could not knit back together.
But I was wrong.
There was a peace in the pain that I can only describe as a blessing from the hand of the Father himself. As I stood in that narrow courtyard separating the church & school I knew that the Father was there too. There were no trumpets sounding to announce his presence. There was no rainbow crossing the sky at the perfect moment. He didn't send a pair of doves to assure me of his love.
There were no signs or grand gestures.
There was only my weary heart and my salty tears being wiped away by the nail pierced hands of the Savior.
There was only me and only him. And it was enough.
I found it was enough to be in the presence of the Lord without the guarantee of anything else.
I’ve spent most of my life asking my God for blessings, I was raised that if you want something you should ask for it, perhaps you were too. But these days I’m more careful about the asking, not because I’m not worth it, but because I’ve been gifted a taste of his presence and I have to tell it’s been sweeter than any tangible proof of his love that I could hold in my hand. Some of you know what I’m talking about. You’ve knelt at the grave, you’ve rocked your terminally ill baby, you’ve nursed your spouse through Hospice, you’ve watched the chemo drip from the bag and into your arm without a promise of earthly healing.
You know what it means to be sustained by the sustainer.
Please don’t be quiet about it. Whisper it if you must, shout it if you can, but never stop telling folks that the real secret blessing of the Redeemer isn’t the comfortable life they’ve been praying for but is instead a life lived within the presence of the Master.