Rene had the gift of prophecy. You know those stories about the man who feels led to buy a gallon of milk at midnight in the pouring rain and take it to a random house and knock on the door? After knocking, an exasperated, young mother answers his knock and cries, “Oh my goodness!! I have no money and the baby is so hungry! I just prayed that God would provide and here you are!” That man was my husband in countless scenarios over the years. I was the chauffer for three of the random milk trips, among countless other short and long adventures that I followed him on, simply because God told him to move, so we did.It sounds far-fetched. If you haven’t had the opportunity to see God work tangibly with your own two eyes, it’s a hard sell. I needed some convincing at first, but after a cynic like me sees, hears, and feels God working in undeniably clear ways, I’m a believer for life.
After my marriage became something unrecognizable and my life fell off of the edge of the earth and shattered into a trillion pieces, I grieved for many things. I processed the loss of my best friend and partner fairly normally. I went through the stages predictably enough and came to terms with the end of us and the emergence of I. I missed the father Rene used to be for all four of the kids, but I worked through that and leaned more on my family to help fill in the gaps. After all was said and done, my relationship with God was really the only wound that still laid torn open, raw and bleeding. I never lost faith or questioned God’s existence, but my interactions with God were very different after I lost Ren.
During the good years of us, the God I had come to know was very much present in our home, at our dinner table, at soccer games and in line with us at HEB. My husband was an amazing spiritual leader and lived in prayer so he wouldn’t miss his next opportunity to carry out his purpose. I could tell stories for days that would give you goose bumps – both the good and the bad kind. Through amazing victories and gut-wrenching spiritual warfare, we fought together, supported each other, and believed whole-heartedly that we were exactly where we were supposed to be. I felt it.
The tallest and most substantial trees fall the hardest. According to him, Rene had issues with abandonment from childhood. There was some abuse mixed in there with general apathy, which was the same thing in his mind. The issues led to hard drug use at a young age, which we know makes quite the difference in terms of addiction, recovery and recidivism. The drugs made their exit when Rene accepted Christ, but we all know the life of a Christian isn’t guaranteed to be easy and free of temptation. We are actually guaranteed the exact opposite. In fact, Jesus tells his disciples at Gethsemane, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” (Matthew 26:41) The body’s weaknesses create quite an elaborate feast for Satan. He preys on preexisting, toxic behaviors and aliments we have and pushes the buttons he knows are likely to make us stumble. Addiction was Rene’s weakness, and mixed with compounding mental illness, it was the only axe that even stood a chance of falling that tree.
After the fall, I doubted that what I saw in Rene was real. I doubted everything and everyone I knew to be true and just and right. For years, I slunk back into apathetic Christianity. I desperately needed to understand why God had allowed Ren to fall as he did and if his tangible presence in our lives was simply a figment of my spiritually romanticized imagination. Losing the God I knew so intimately for years resulted in me losing my purpose and myself. I still knew God, but He was more like a distant third cousin than my dad. Because of the lack of understanding and doubt, I had no idea what kind of God I even knew anymore. I am stubborn and very often have a one-track mind. I need clarity and specific directions. God knows this. I depended so heavily on the very clear and tangible directions literally plopped in my lap for years that I forgot how to seek guidance and direction from God. I prayed for some kind of recognizable two-way communication from God so I could know for sure He was hearing me. Nothing. I got nothing. I prayed for God to please talk to me in a way that was familiar. Silence. I couldn’t hear anything. Desperation, anxiety and sheer panic all made their home in the pit of my stomach every day all day. Lots of things happened. People came and went in my life. More hurt and more uncertainty prevailed. I prayed. I heard nothing. La Vega happened. I accepted the job. I have to drive by our old neighborhood every day on my way home. It hurts every day. Like clockwork, I pass Kendall Lane and here comes desperation, anxiety and panic again, so familiar that they are almost welcome. The job is draining on all levels, with the very rare burst of validation from a student once in awhile. It seems like a very hard, possibly wrong path in my journey.
And then one afternoon, Mr. Smith came into my room. He cleans the school and I’d never looked up long enough to notice him before. It was after school and I was entering grades. He came over to my desk and said, “The kids are going to be okay.” I looked up and gave him a painted smile. I said, “Oh yes, they will be fine. This is just a hard stage for them and some of them come from less than desirable situations at home.” He said, “No, your kids. They will be fine. They have everything they need. You are loving them and it will go a long way. They will be just fine, Miss.” And then he said, “I didn’t want to come in here. I don’t know you, Miss. I told God that I didn’t want to come in here and I didn’t know you, and he said, ‘I know her,’ so I came in to tell you that. You’re a threat, Miss, and you’re on display. Satan thought he had you, but when he got to you, you were already God’s, so he couldn’t have you. You were already spoken for. All he can do is torment you and make you miserable, if you give him the chance. Don’t give him the chance, Miss. You got this. The battle is already won. Think about who is leading your army. You got this, Miss. I just wish I could make you see it like I see it.”
My goodness, I saw it and heard it, bright, shiny, loud, and clear. I know the look a person has in their eyes when God is telling them to say or do something that makes them feel awkward or exposed. I know the sometimes reluctant leap of faith it takes to follow God’s call when you’d rather retreat into your bedroom and sleep for a few years, or put in your ear buds and keep buffing the hallway, in Mr. Smith’s case. I know the burden, the stress and the pressure associated with it, too, and how it shows in your eyes and sounds in your voice and is embodied in body language. Its not all magic and rainbows and happy endings. Following God’s call is never easy and always costs us something. I thanked Mr. Smith and told him I saw what he was saying. He said, “I know you do. Keep doing what you’re doing. Keep moving. That’s all you have to do. You got this, Miss. He’s got you. He hears you. You think you’re not praying right or saying the right words. He knows you. You’re His.” And he walked out of my classroom.
I never lost faith, but my path was so clouded with doubt and desperation. I needed to hear with my ears and see with my eyes that God still had me, and that he always has. I desperately needed reassurance that what I saw in Ren and what we had was very real and not delusional. So I needed it, and in a very tangible fashion that He knew would be a breath of fresh air, God said, “I’m here. I’m listening. Lean not on your own understanding, but on Me. You know Me. You always have. Just keep moving. You got this.”
Since that day about a month ago, I’ve talked to Mr. Smith only a few times. He said what needed to be communicated, and faded back into the background. If La Vega was a wrong turn, and the last several years have been a complete wash, I am okay with that. I needed to have that man walk in my classroom that day. I needed to hear what he had to say from a complete stranger and see the awkward, shifting eyes and the reluctance in the demeanor. My life has not been ideal, but some things I know to be true. I always have. I just needed some reminding.