God’s silence during the week-long “opening” I’d given him would turn out to become the head-clunk I needed to expose my dealmaking.
But it wasn’t the thing that stung.
As the week had progressed, pretty close-to-equal portions of dread and hope had greeted me each morning. I hoped he was finally going to speak. I dreaded—if he said some “yeses”—the consequences of my rash promise. I found the vast chasms separating possible outcomes an impossible place to live. I quit counting the rabbit trails my imagination ran wildly down.
As Saturday had approached, I’d already blown the cover on my own self-induced drama, revealing everything to Tammy, apparently unable to keep it from her for a whole week—darn you, Date Night! The plus side was being able to bring someone else down to my level of wretchedness.
What stung in the service that Saturday was a song.
Not much can reduce Tammy to tears faster than one particular line in the first song we sung that day: “Savior, he can move the mountains.” The source of the pain is our Lily story, the story I told in the book that is not quite a book yet. (马上!*) By now the song has been an open-ended wound long enough that it’s become one of my things just about as much as it is hers. This journal entry is from four years ago:
God! Are you doing something? That song couldn’t have been sung last week? Or next? Why today, just as Tammy is so tender? What are you saying to her this time? Are you ever going to tell us what you are up to in all this? Are you going to move this mountain as she believes you specifically led her to ask, or not? Again this looks like an example of, just when we’ve told you we’re willing to let go, you not only being decidedly not silent, but encouraging our hope. Will I look back someday and recognize an overactive imagination? Have I been manipulating these experiences after asking you to speak? I haven’t thought so, but I don’t know what to think any more.
And here it was again. Every time we encounter that song, it pulls back the curtain on the largest story and greatest pain we ever lived through. Reminding us of questions that, frankly, never got answers.
Could there have been a worse time for it to come up again?
It almost felt like an insult.
At the end of the service, there was a short prayer time, a friend prayed for us, and that was it. We went home.
As we discussed the silence of the week before bed, we agreed: first, it hadn’t really been absolute silence, had it? Not with that song, not with our history. And second, though we could tell ourselves that it wasn’t true, it felt—because of the song, just a little bit—like he was laughing at us. Knowing that God was not of course didn’t mean we felt better about it.
My sole comfort was that clearly the thing with the teenage boy was over. God had had a wide open door, a blank check, and he hadn’t used them. Phew, at least now I know he’s not trying to get me on board with Tammy’s crazy wonderings. Phew!
Starting that very weekend, doors started closing on the thing I’d been agonizing over. The irony of them slamming just after the expiry of my pitiful little deal was not lost on me. After a little grieving, surprisingly brief, the overall effect was positive. The future got clearer and therefore brighter. I started recovering perspective; I began to pull out of my gloom. On Tuesday my emotional turnaround really began.
I took the day off from working that day to drive west. More than anything else, I needed God, and I was going to seek him until I got him, no matter how many days it took. It’s not that he wasn’t with me through the low spots—a check of my journal quickly reveals he was saying all kinds of things through his Word during that time—but I needed this kind of speaking, too: I needed a heart-level word. Mountains came into view after an hour or so, and I picked a random side road and started driving toward them. When I’d taken the switchbacks and village treks as far as I could, I parked next to the last farmer/sheepherder’s house and started walking. Violet (our poodle-y dog) joyously began her usual mad sniff for the nearest sheep. I climbed to the crown of a knoll with snowcap views and sat down.
I did the only thing that ever helps when I am in need of help the most: writing, thinking, praying. After some hours I had a collection of pages, three specific observations, and—outshining everything—two short sentences of divine encouragement that had been mainlined straight to my heart. The guy who stood up to walk down that mountain wasn’t the same guy who had hiked up, and I was beyond grateful.
Once home, however, and talking with Tammy, it was clear her burden was still an issue. She was happy for what I shared (and not a little jealous having come home as usual on a Tuesday run ragged by her pre-K class plus meetings), but she wanted God to say something to me about the boy. On some level I think she worried God might not speak to me about him at all. But a greater fear was some kind of invented anxiety about God speaking and me somehow missing it. She didn’t want the plodding denseness of her husband to be the reason she couldn’t reach peace or closure, to put it in my words. At least now she was the unstable one. Things were back to normal.
“Did you dream?”
I woke up to her nose a few inches from my face one morning. What in the world?
“Oh…you want to know if he spoke to me, don’t you? Dear, you know I’ve never had one dream in my entire life that wasn’t, as far as I could tell, complete gobbledygook.”
We moved together through the rest of the week with no more pre-breakfast scares. Saturday arrived again, along with our regular fellowship meeting. Because of the unresolved tension between Tammy’s burden and my assurance that it would surely pass, hopefully sooner than later, we were particularly expectant. “God, won’t you please stitch us together in unity today? We want life tugging us in the same directions and toward the same things, not different ones.” I kept it inside, but maybe this would be the day the adoption nonsense could end.
Our fellowship had some guests leading worship that day, which often happens as various friends of people in our group come to visit from all over the world. These guys, whom we’d never seen before, were from Colorado, and immediately gave off a likable vibe of being down to earth, spiritual, and sincere. I hoped for good things.
Until their first song flashed up on the screen.
Yup. That song.
* “Ma shang.” Mandarin for “Immediately, right away, lickety-split.” Literally: “on a horse.” A language leftover from the glory days of lightning-fast horse messengers. Even though the theoretical old nag carrying my publishing life forward isn’t the fastest stallion in the stable…it’s my horse with the problem, and the adage still holds. Just like in China, where I’ve yet to encounter the wait time for which “ma shang” is not the perfect blend of promising everything and telling you nothing .