I've heard folks tell of God speaking to them audibly, or in a dream or vision, and with very few exceptions, I never doubt their assertions.
I believe God's relationship with us is so individualized, when He has a Big message to convey He uses means of delivery which we can personally grasp -- one whose source we can't doubt or dismiss. I get photos. Could be I've received a lot of them over time and was just not cognizant, but my memory recalls just two. One was a Polaroid which took form over the course of 10 days in 2001 during my daily commute. Working through that one felt like Jacob wrestling with an angel. When clarity arrived, I had to pull to the side of the road to absorb the message. The experience transformed me.
This January I was marveling at the notion that the baby of our household had turned 14 years old. Where did all those years go?
My nest is emptying. My oldest is 23 and still in Arizona. Our son will be 16 this summer, and is already counting the days until he is on his own.
Miss Margie will be with us through adulthood, of course. My mind wandered and I delighted in imagining the woman that she would become. Strong and beautiful already, my mother's eye can't identify a single flaw in her. "Thank you Father. How blessed I am!" I said while in prayer.
My sister recently mailed to me photos I had never seen before. Me, in front of a Christmas tree, blond pigtails, showing off the brown-bear three-button coat Santa left.
Then came the God-picture: I saw that same girl, pigtails and all, in front of a Christmas tree crying piteously over the remains of a wrapped gift. Clearly, this was a spoiled and selfish child.
I saw, and all at once I understood.
Our pediatrician sent us to the genetics department at Vanderbilt when Margie was just eight weeks old. We spent years having tests, visiting specialists before we stopped chasing a diagnosis.
There would be no pill, no procedure which could cure. Having a label for what was 'wrong' with Margie was meaningless in the big picture. We went home and simply lavished her with love.
But I remember well the tears I cried in those early months. Babies arrive as a bouncing bundle of hope for the future. When 'normal' gets chucked out the window, grieving the loss of it is a process to be expected.
Now equipped with 14 years of hindsight, my tears seem purely foolish. I can't imagine my life differently, the Tracy I would be if Margie weren't Margie. I can laugh now at the then-Tracy: "Girl, what is wrong with you? Don't you see the gold and diamonds before you?"
Later I would embrace the story in John 9 of a man who was born blind.
Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"
Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him."
Just two years ago, everything I thought I had built with my work and the force of my will collapsed in a puff of air around me. Disappointment was followed by loss and then by misfortune -- on and on for months until even the best of my friends ran out of words with which to encourage me.
There's lots of legalism in my upbringing -- that's programming which is hard to erase.
I like reason and order and logic. Thus, if my life is in disarray, surely I've created that state.
If God is in all the details of our lives, then He's allowing this season.
So it naturally followed in my logic that the failure and disappointment was a part of the penance I must pay before I could be restored.
Blond pigtails. Brown-bear three button coat. May I confess that right about this time 14 years ago I was grieving piteously over the loss of normal -- quietly wondering if my daughter's condition was a consequence of some prior bad deed?
Yet the very basis of my faith is this: I do not serve an angry or vengeful God, but an abidingly loving one, who desires for His children only the best gifts.
The year 2010 and the resulting shrapnel in my life didn't feel like much of a gift. I haven't yet gained a perspective on what this season meant -- and in my flesh, I very much want it all to mean something.
I think that's what He's teaching me now. One, that my relationship with Him doesn't actually require knowledge and understanding -- just a really big faith and confidence that His hand is on my life.
Second, that each season of struggle is also a precious gift. In my spirit I heard this, "Honey, hush. Don't you know how much I love you? This too is a gift. You'll see. You will see."
-- Tracy Simmons is a features writer for the Times-Gazette. She may be reached at (931) 684-1200, ext. 217, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.