Some might hear the story I’m about to tell and say, “What a happy coincidence!”
Because, as much as they might find the story inspiring, they cling to the notion that they’re the master of their own fate and the captain of their own soul. The idea that our lives unfold by divine decree repulses them.
And honestly, it makes me wonder. Why would anyone hesitate to relinquish the illusion of control and be swept up into the purposes of this good and holy Divine? The God who unfolds humanity’s story page by page is the same God who spoke the universe into existence and holds it together by the word of His power — the One who flung the stars into space and calls them by name, and who feeds the sparrows, and clothes the flowers, and numbers the hairs on every head. This almighty and majestic God transcends time and space, yet humbles Himself to bow low, rejoicing over the works of His hands with tender intimacy, hilarious joy, and unsearchable layers of design. I can’t for the life of me understand how we mere humans think our own ideas or ambitions could ever top His plans for us.
But we get caught up in the whir of our hamster wheels, running, running, running toward whatever it is we think we must have or do, and most of the time we miss it. We miss the convergence of His subplots, a thousand subtleties masterfully maneuvered, suddenly colliding into one, glorious moment of brilliance. We miss it, because we’re too sophisticated. Too intellectually informed. Too wise in our own estimation to grasp that the very atoms bend to the will of this Author, and He invites us to become active and aware participants in His wondrously unfolding adventure.
The good news? Our self-important tunnel vision doesn’t hinder Him one bit. The story progresses as planned, whether we see it or not.
But when we do see it? Oh, the glory!
So then. Once upon a time (the first week of June), Grace came to town for Mom’s memorial service, and before she left again, she handed me a padded envelope. She didn’t tell me what was inside, but only asked that I be sure to pack it when I went to Kazakhstan. A couple of days before I left, she sent a text to remind me. I stuffed the envelope in my backpack.
In the wee morning hours of June 23, somewhere in the sky over the Atlantic Ocean, I opened the card taped on the outside.
And my heart swelled with gratitude — for the thoughtfulness behind this gift, for her heart, and for the connection I would feel to her and her prayers each morning as I read the day’s note.
But I never imagined what God had in store. And neither did she.
As she’d explained, many of the notes were simply scripture verses, and I was delighted with the way each one seemed to speak to the exact need of the day.
That alone would have been enough. But then the first divine collision occurred.
I’d told the moms about Grace’s rheumatoid arthritis during the first session — how the Lord’s beautiful, redemptive work in and through Jacob’s brain injury had enabled her (and all of us who love her) to trust God with this painful and potentially crippling disease. I’d told them how we ask God for healing, but we know He is good, and if He chooses this affliction for her, it is a gift.
That was the first day, and then the third day, we’d jumped into the theological deep end and boldly laid some really hard questions on the table. We’d asked if God foreordains tragic events, and we’d asked why (if He is loving and all-powerful) evil is so abundant in the world, and we’d asked if suffering is a punishment for sin. We’d asked, and we’d plunged deep into scripture — Christians, Muslims, and nonbelievers together — examining the promises God made to Abraham, including the promise that his descendants would spend 400 years in captivity; and how God used suffering and persecution to shape Joseph into a man of faith before He exalted him to power; and how God’s plan before the foundation of the world was for Jesus to suffer and die, the perfect sacrifice for sin. We considered the fallacies behind popular prosperity doctrine, and the good, loving, necessary purposes for God’s refining fire in our lives — and then we opened the door wide for their questions.
And these moms, who’ve always believed that their children’s disabilities are a curse or punishment for sin — these moms who’d just heard the life-changing news that God planned their children’s lives with purpose, and suffering can actually be a gift — they asked their questions. Not in an angry, challenging tone, but as those who’ve been long blind and are now beginning to see light and hope for the first time.
If there was ever a time in my life when I knew I was very small and yet part of something very big, it was now. I was a tiny piece of a magnificent whole — God’s great story where all stories converge — and these moments we were living connected us to each other and to years of suffering and faithful intercession and hearts crying for mercy. This was a “fullness of time” moment — all its magnificent mysteries and mercies pointing to Him.
So they asked, and God gave answers. (Oh, friends, do you know He is never far from the broken heart that is willing to hear?)
They asked, and He prompted, and I told them the story of Grace’s struggle with guilt after Jacob’s near-fatal drowning. How she believed a simple, non-malicious statement she’d made might have influenced Jacob’s decision to go to the lake that day. How she couldn’t shake the weight of wondering if his devastating injury was her fault. And I told them how, when she finally found the courage to confess this to me, I prayed for wisdom, and then I told her a truth I needed to hear myself: that God doesn’t give us that kind of power in another person’s life. That He’d been at the lake that day, and He’d seen Jacob go under, and He could have prevented it in a thousand different ways, but He didn’t. So He must have eternal purpose in it. Must have a plan. Must have known this was coming before He formed Jacob in my womb, because every day ordained for Jacob was written in His book before there was one of them. And this day was no exception. Brain injury was always going to be part of Jacob’s story and our family’s story, not because God was angry with us or we were cursed, but because — in God’s goodness and mercy and infinite grace — this was the best possible story for all of us.
They asked the hard questions. God gave the liberating answers. And they heard.
And then, the next morning after our last session, one of them spoke up.
Gulmira was a leader among the Muslim women at the conference, and her son was one of the most severely disabled campers. She spoke up that last morning, and she shared the story of her son’s birth — how the day he was born she’d gone canoeing, and it had started to rain. She’d had to help some kids out of the water and scramble up a bank, and then she’d gone home and showered, but she didn’t realize her water had broken and she was in labor.
By the time she delivered, her son had suffered oxygen deprivation. He was born with cerebral palsy.
She said she’d never told anyone that story before. She’d never told it, because the weight of guilt had suffocated her to silence. But she wanted to tell it today, because she now understood that her son’s life was ordained by God. For the first time in twenty-five years, she carried no guilt.
Her face was radiant as she spoke, and as she concluded her story she smiled and added, “Even my breathing feels different.”
With every breath, His name.
Then she turned to me and explained it was the story about my daughter’s battle with guilt that had helped her see.
And I thought my heart might burst with wonder and awe, and with gratitude for this priceless moment and all the meaning packed into it. We all thanked Gulmira for her bravery and honesty, and then I told them about the daily messages Grace had given me. And I pulled out that day’s note with Psalm 119:73-75 and her remark written on the back, and read it to them. And as they listened, the subplots converged, and they saw it all — her false guilt lifted, the affliction of rheumatoid arthritis accepted with trusting faith, and the abundant, other-centered life that had lovingly prepared prayerful notes for a mother traveling to the other side of the world. They saw, and they understood that redemption is real — that this freedom from guilt and this humble trust aren’t mind games, but solid ground we can build our whole life’s house on, and nothing can shake it.
Those who fear You shall see me and rejoice. These notes were her “best attempt” to share in my experience there. And so much more.
You tell me.
And that would be the end of the story, except it isn’t.
Because, in addition to the notes, Grace included one other thing in the padded envelope. A CD. And it opens another subplot that involves other characters, and evokes other joys, and reveals more layers this divine Author wrote into His intricately scripted, interwoven tale — a whole new chapter for another day.
Oh, and then there’s the question Gulmira asked me after the final session — a question that led to a request that opened yet another subplot. I’ll tell that story later, too.
But hey, if you came here looking for coincidence? I’m sorry. I can’t help you there. You see, I’m not the master of my fate or the captain of my soul. Long ago I traded all my illusions of control for faith in the Author. And the smaller I get — the more I trust Him fully and simply enter the moments of my days — the more clearly I see.
And the story? It just keeps getting better and better.
* * *
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(With all my heart.)