Faithful Living: There are bells chiming all around

By Joan Bay Klope

When my daughter Katie is in a playful mood and decides she’s hungry, she’ll occasionally say to me, “Come now, Charles. Chop! Chop! It’s time to make me some food!”

Depending on my schedule, I’m frequently drawn in by her charmingly fake British accent. Besides, I love to cook. I also understand that before long she will fly away to complete a bachelor’s degree elsewhere in the state. In her absence I’ll use her bedroom as a guest room and only I will hear, “Chop! Chop! I’m hungry mom,” within the confines of my memory.

I think many people believe they can gain God’s attention in a similar way. While 92 percent of Americans claim to believe in God, I know that his ways of interacting confound most of us. We tend to urgently request his presence at moments of great extremes: those times when we’re flying high as a kite with joy or free-falling in despair.

More often than not it’s a day like many others when easy detection of his nearness, a blessing, or renewal would be a treasured experience. Many times God seems only a distant deity. We believe he’s present, but there appears to be a great divide. So we grab our Bibles and read in the book of Matthew, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). We pray a response, only to worry that our prayers are bouncing off the ceiling.

I long for personal interaction. I want God’s touch to be frequent and real. Nothing fancy, just something obvious to me. But the longer I live and the more I experience as a Christian, the more I realize this fact: God comes on his own terms.

A year ago, when I learned that my dad’s stomach pain was advanced pancreatic cancer, I immediately experienced the effects of shock. I’d walk around the kitchen but could not decide what meal to prepare. I found it difficult to concentrate and make simple decisions. I felt too tired even to pray. I’d quiet myself, only to realize I had been sitting there, no prayers or words uttered.

I began to hear chimes, after asking God to draw near to me, for I needed his strength to balance my own feelings of fear and utter sadness. I understood I was teaching my children, in particular, how to respond to such a crisis and I took the assignment seriously. Yet I did not have the energy to do the things I normally do to connect with God: join in organized worship, attend a Bible study, read my Bible and pray.

I needed God’s presence more than ever and he signaled his nearness using chimes. At first I could not believe what I was hearing. I honestly thought some of the extended family members who had gathered to help would think I was losing it.

But Dad’s condition deteriorated quickly and our days were filled with his care, phone calls, hospice volunteer visits, people dropping by with food, and rescheduling our activities and work schedules so we could give Dad our full attention. I’d be smack dab in a conversation or care-taking activity and my head would turn to hear that sound: chimes.

One day, too tired to be calculating, I asked out loud, “Is that someone’s phone?” When those present said no, I dove further into my investigation. “Does a nearby neighbor have wind chimes?” Again, the answer was a simple no.

“Can you hear that?” I asked in desperation.

“Hear what?” my family wondered.

I was too far into the conversation to back out, so I confessed: I was hearing chimes. They always sounded the same and were loud enough to catch my attention. Each time I heard them I experienced surprise and complete delight.

I knew it was God, signaling to me that he was near. I guess I wanted group confirmation.

Emboldened, I’d let those around me know when I heard them. I wanted them to be as encouraged by God’s presence as I was. On one particular occasion I turned my head to listen as I stood in a hallway, talking with the hospital chaplain.

“Do you need to go back into your dad’s room?” the chaplain asked.

“No, I think he’s okay. I’m hearing chimes. They began the day we learned of Dad’s illness,” I replied.

She gently patted my shoulder and reminded me that there are times when we lack the energy to communicate with God, but he knows what will capture our attention and when we need to know he’s near.

I no longer hear the chimes, but continue to look for him daily. Next week we’ll talk about what appears to be God’s terms for communicating with us. Some of the best information surrounds the story of the Arc of the Covenant.

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