When God's presence dims

When my son is in a playful mood and decides he’s hungry, he’ll occasionally say to me, “Chop! Chop! It’s time to make me some food!” before laying on a big bear hug.

I’m frequently drawn in by his charm and I love to cook. I also understand that before long he will begin college on the “east side.” Too soon I will only 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 demand His presence at moments of great extremes: those times when we’re flying high with joy or free-falling in despair.

Many times God seems no more than a distant deity. We believe He’s present, but it feels like there’s a great divide. We pray in response, only to worry that our prayers are bouncing off the ceiling.

I want God’s touch to be frequent and real. Nothing fancy, just something obvious to me. Yet, the longer I live the more I realize this fact: God comes on His own terms.

Nearly four years ago, when my dad was diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer, I immediately experienced the effects of major 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 did not have the energy to connect with God through organized worship or reading my Bible. Even the natural beauty of Whidbey Island, that always reminds me He is near, dimmed.

I needed God’s presence more than ever and He signaled His nearness using chimes. I could not believe what I was hearing. The experience completely confounded me, at first.

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 lives so we could give him our complete attention. I’d be smack dab in a conversation or care-taking activity and my head would turn to the sound of 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 began reporting when I heard them. I wanted people 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 when she observed me turning my head in his direction.

“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 attentions and when we need to know He’s near.

I no longer hear the chimes, but this week I hear the delights of spring. The frogs are croaking in our small pond. The owls are busy nearly every night. And the thrushes have returned to the island to call each other from nearby tree tops. God has gifted us with His presence, indeed.

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