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In college, I had a conversation with a Mormon woman. We discussed God and the Bible, weaving different ideologies for one another to look over, hers’ based on Mormonism and mine from Protestantism. As we dove in, she told me that Mormons do not believe the Bible to be inerrant.

“For example,” she said, “the Bible says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Why would He do that?”

In that moment, I wondered, too. Why make that kind of trouble?

There’s a famous moment in Exodus when the Israelites are drawn up against the Red Sea. In movies, or storybooks, we might see the people running straight to the sea from their captivity, when Pharaoh thrusts them out with a pointed finger, his iron-clad will broken, doubled over the still figure of his firstborn. But after the people are released, having completed the inaugural Passover, they first travel to Succoth, and then move on to camp at Etham (Exodus 12:37, 13:20). From there, the LORD has the people go back the way they’d come, to Pi-hahiroth, which is by the Red Sea (14:1-2). The LORD tells Moses,

“For Pharaoh will say of the people of Israel, ‘They are wandering in the land; the wilderness has shut them in.’ And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD” (14:3-4).

This means that the Israelites were backed up against the sea almost conspiratorially. It was intended. God boxed His people in, and not Pharaoh. He explains His rationale for this, saying that He wouldn’t take His people straight into the land of the Philistines, because they’d be put off by war and run back to Egypt (13:17). So He takes them to the sea. There, they are hemmed in by the water’s line. The Egyptians are approaching, at first a fuzzy black line cresting a sandy plane; then small, individual forms, tiny glinting swords and helmets, speeding chariots; a wave of war-cry rushes over them like a sonic boom in front of the fray; their chests feel the feet of the warriors crushing over the distance between them; finally, the band is close enough for the people to see spraying froth from the mouths of racing horses.

The Israelites almost die from fear. I imagine them screaming and struggling to breathe through panic attacks, heads swiveling around as they look for an escape. They are screaming at Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?” Mothers hold their children in vise-grips. They see their firstborns, alive, by a miracle, about to be slaughtered. “What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt?” Helpless eyes look to their parents. Babies wail at the breasts of their wailing mothers. “Is this not what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.”

Moses is assuring the people, screaming above the noise: “Fear not! Stand firm! See the salvation of the LORD! He will fight for you! You need only be silent!”

And then, like a heavy fog, the angel of God moves the pillar of cloud between the Egyptians and the Israelites, obstructing their view of one another. No one could cross the divide. And then God sent a powerful wind to form in the sea a hallway, lined with watery walls. In the morning, the Israelites are saved, and the Egyptians are washed away.

That was a moment all unto itself, but it was meant for people forever, to look back on and be amazed. To know that God is almighty. To know that God might bring us to trouble on purpose. To know, amid the frenzied fear of it, that salvation is coming like a welcome wind, and that, heaven help us, we should know that salvation comes from One hand alone.

I keep thinking, uncertain, “brought to trouble on purpose?” Not an unnatural thought – or an original one. Didn’t the disciples chastise Jesus when He spoke of His death? “Brought to trouble on purpose?”

But yes, of course; how else could it be for such a stubborn people? Brough to trouble on purpose, and saved on purpose, too.

When I was little, I had a mental list of things I wouldn’t do when I was a parent. Most children do this. Things like, won’t make kids eat what’s on their plate if they don’t like it or will greet them with popcorn and a movie if they get out of bed. It wasn’t a fair list, but it was a natural one, derived from feelings start to finish. I didn’t know how tired my parents were or that uncertainty sat behind certain noes and yeses. Their tiredness wasn’t my fault or my brother’s; it was a consequence of living.

If you have read Garrison Keillor, then you have laughed, I’m sure. But here is something resonant from the introduction of his book, Leaving Home: “Every time I read a book about how to be smarter, how not to be sad, how to raise children and be happy and grow old gracefully, I think, ‘Well, I won’t make those mistakes, I won’t have to go through that,’ but we all have to go through that. Everything they went through, we’ll go through. Life isn’t a vicarious experience. You get it figured out and then one day life happens to you. You prepare yourself for grief and loss, arrange your ballast and then the wave swamps the boat” (xix).

I know sometimes that I know nothing about anything. I know it positively. Not as a confession but as welcome admission. Sometimes I know so little that I begin to think in tight circles, round and round rows of thought until the thoughts are so tight I cannot think another stitch. So I go and eat a KitKat. Sometimes lightning strikes epiphany and I go to bed triumphant: we have cracked the bedtime code! It is the moon lamp, left on! It is two books and a cuddle! It is a drink of water, no matter what we said about water after teeth brushing! And then the next day knocks that absurd certainly over and we start again, remembering – you remember—that we know nothing.

This I know: Today the baby snuggled his head into my shoulder after nursing. He sat up and stared into my face, his eyes crinkling into a smile before his mouth. I kissed him. My big boy looked through the crack in the doorway, and when I encouraged him, he threw it open wide with loud hellos, bounding out as quickly as he had bounded in, the baby leaning all his weight forward to get after his brother. The house managed to get cleaned (today). The big boy gave the little boy kisses on his arm, because he acknowledges him now, and for that we say amen. He steadies the baby when he shakily pulls up to stand, and he hugs the baby’s head too tight (and, for pity’s sake, boops his head despite his mother). We played the floor is lava. The baby was a lava monster. I hopped a couch cushion across the living room without touching the floor, with hidden muscles I thought had long ago moved away to the home country. (I think, I’ve still got it.) I made the toddler eat his food. And at the end of a long day, we put him to bed.

Many times.

I want you to stop what you’re doing and go read Sean Dietrich’s new post, The Kid. For real. The man writes all kinds of things. Mostly, stories about real people. And sometimes, more than once or twice, about people encountering something special. Alright, now go read it before I say anything more – I’ll be here waiting.

Did you read it?

What did it make you feel? Moved? Uncertain? Comforted? Unsettled?

It left me a little teary. Stories like this always do. Except, I used to doubt them more, because I wasn’t there to see it, or know the character of the teller, or see honesty in their eyes. But some things have happened since then that have eased my doubt. There’s still some healthy skepticism, sure, when the details are wonky or there’s sensationalism, but mostly I don’t hesitate to reach out and hold onto stories like these.

A couple years ago I was praying. I’d just had a sizeable writing rejection. I was questioning the rationality of such a winding endeavor: writing, submitting, getting accepted, getting rejected. Hearing from writers ahead of me that this journey is a journey, and that the payoff is questionable. I was wondering if I was wasting my time, which I guess for me at the time meant, I was going to be writing into the void for my whole life without much of a return. I was praying about this for weeks. Maybe months. A merry-go-round of prayers, asking God, “am I getting this wrong? Is this writing thing for me? Should I call it quits?”

And, well, what I want to tell you is, He answered the prayers.

But before I tell you how, I need to make some disclaimers. Firstly, I have resisted writing this story. Telling it feels . . . vain, honestly. And that makes me uncomfortable. But despite that, it’s worth the telling. I know this because every time I read a story like this, I feel amazed. I feel the closeness of God. Because stories about what God has done for other people have a power to encourage our own selves intimately. To remember what He has already done for us, what He might do yet, and that He sees us. And cares.

Sometime after these months of praying, I went to the park. It had been a long time since I’d spent any real time reading the Bible, and I was kind of doggy-paddling through life. Definitely not butterfly-stroking. Just the barely-swimming kind of wrist movement required for living, neck strained above the water line.

There was a wedding happening at the park that day, so it was bustling when I got there. Tuxedoed guys everywhere, photographers meeting up, and also the usual dog-walkers, friends, moms with strollers. I always go for the secluded benches. The ones tucked into trees or bushes, under a veranda, in a weird dead-end of a path. Somewhere I’m not very seen, so I can stare into space while I think or pray and not look slightly crazy.

I ended up having to take a front-row bench to the pavilion, where all the wedding rush was taking place. I did get some reading and praying in, but I started people-watching before too long. Two young women passed by, both blond, chatting happily. Two men saddled with camera bags, clothed in black, shook hands and greeted one another. There was a man walking a pet goose.

After a while, the two blonds circled back around. One of them stepped toward me.

“Hi,” she said, peeking toward the bible on my lap. “Are you a Christian?”

I said I was.

This was enough for her, because then she said, “Sometimes I get these nudges from God to tell someone something.”

(At this point I was girding my loins for come what may. I’d already slapped a plastic smile across my face in case this was total nonsense, because my face has not been known to lie.)

She continued. “Today He told me that your gift will spread farther than you can imagine. Like a dandelion, whose seeds spread.”

She went on to actually answer another, separate prayer that I’d been praying, but I won’t get into that. I’m not sure what my face said at that point, but I can promise you it wasn’t lying. Because I knew this was God’s answer. And I was astonished that He’d replied.

The point of all this is, God sees you. Really, actually sees you. And He cares. Like, really cares. He knows about that rotating prayer, the one that’s starting to get tough because it’s been on the spit for so long. Maybe He won’t send a blond in a park to answer your prayer, but then again, maybe He will. Either way, He’s so close you could touch Him.

Trust your prayers are in good hands.

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