“Les accidents arrivent betement.”
In her chic, lilting Lebanese-Liberian accent, a dear friend taught me this beautiful expression the other day. Translated, it means: “accidents happen foolishly.” What could be more true??? You get up off of the couch incorrectly and throw your back out; you reach for a coffee mug and injure your shoulder; or in my case, you do a simple exercise in the gym (one that you’re good at, for goodness sake) and you tear three major structures in your knee. Accidents, God bless them all, do indeed happen foolishly. And they can have an impact.
There’s nothing new under the sun so when I find myself wrestling with something (an accident, a life event, a decision, a relationship, an unexpected twist in the narrative of my life), I often go quiet, draw inward, and think. Really think. About who and where I am, how God has molded and shaped me thus far, which way He seems to be pushing me, and the patterns in my life that have preceded whatever the “something” is. I think about the narratives (productive and unproductive) that repeat themselves throughout my life. I run through the constructive “I am enough…”-style narratives and the destructive “I never measure up…”-style narratives and take stock of which ones have faded away, which ones are in the process of fading and which ones have persisted, for better or worse. Basically, I survey the mental and emotional landscapes and storehouses of me and calibrate that against the direction I feel God leaning in (there is always a direction…).
But not that get-down-on-your-knees-in-a-quiet-room prayer. More like an honest, running, slightly protracted chit-chat with God (some might prefer to call it a check-in with your “inner voice” or your conscience). There are awkward silences and “aha” moments. There are moments of complete clarity and peace, but others of shoulder-shaking sobbing. It’s an honest talk. And I think it’s an important one to have every now and again.
So I’ve been chit-chatting with God since yesterday (when I got the MRI report), and this morning, a story from one of the great spiritual texts came to me: the story of Moses in Exodus 4. In terms of personality traits, I’m a little bit like Moses (rather than, say, Joshua) in that I am laid back, sometimes to a fault. Kind of a consummate pacifist. Not wanting to step on people’s toes, be too bossy, too directive, or too offensive, I will often wilt rather than stand proudly both for and in what I believe. On any given day, I’m apt to bite my tongue rather than run my mouth (which has its pros and cons!). Moses required a bit of prodding from God to get fired up and moving -- so do I. And like Moses, when I am finally alight, things happen. Usually, pretty fast.
The story of Moses in Exodus 4 starts with him timidly asking God (from the NIV version), ‘ “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, 'The LORD did not appear to you'?” ‘ (He had just written the 10 commandments on Mt. Carmel after having been visited by God). ‘Then the LORD said to him, "What is that in your hand?" "A staff," he replied. The LORD said, "Throw it on the ground." Moses threw it on the ground and it became a snake, and he ran from it. Then the LORD said to him, "Reach out your hand and take it by the tail." So Moses reached out and took hold of the snake and it turned back into a staff in his hand. "This," said the LORD, "is so that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers--the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob--has appeared to you." ‘
First, it’s kind of funny to me that he ran from the snake. Like, how far? It’s a comical, God’s-Must-Be-Crazy-scene in my mind’s eye (and Moses definitely has long hair and sandals). Second, the question that popped into my spirit – the central question of this text in fact, is:
“What do you have in your hand?”
What are you working with? Better put, what resources have you been blessed with – human, intellectual, athletic, emotional, material/tangible and immaterial/intangible? This is the central question of the text because God can use anything to do any and everything but it is our job to do what I have been doing for the past 24 hours: take stock, assess the landscapes and the storehouses of your life and see what God has to work with. Then let Him work.
For me, this comes after this new knee diagnosis. My patients often describe getting a new diagnosis like a trauma. Their whole world changes – just temporarily, after hearing where their bodies have failed them. All of a sudden, they have to move differently, set up a different set of appointments, and come out of pocket for unexpected expenses. I know what they mean and how they feel. And I was sorely tempted to allow the inertia of disorientation and confusion to consume me. So I had this long chit-chat with God. And came to the question: what do I have in my hand(s)?
It all came back to what I love. At this moment, uniquely, the relationships swirling through my life are all edifying. Categorically. I’ve learned and am still learning how to put myself in environments where like-minded people live and have been blessed to know, re-connect with and meet angels of authenticity over the past few months – and I am so grateful for them. Too, there is a shift in the types of opportunities I’ve got to care for patients (whom I love), there is a surge in family cohesion (which I love). Look people, God talks to me. And at different moments in my life, He leans me in one direction or another (I know it’s the same for you) and whether I am aware of it or not, He orchestrates beauty out of the most seemingly-disparate scenes in my life. There was a purpose to my random stint in Omaha (career re-direction). There was a purpose to the 2016-17 athletics season, injury, abuse and all (understanding harassment and abuse like no one on this planet!; re-connecting with the love of my life). And there is a purpose to this (and every) new diagnosis.
Please note: this is NOT a “just roll with the punches” moment; I hate (!) those. It’s a stop, look and listen moment (see? I paid attention in grade school). There’s intention and action and purpose to the unexpected event that seemed to be a “pause” button in your life. Even if you’re initially like me and Moses and initially, sort of comically run from the way God uses what you have in your hand, thank God for His patience with you… Go back and pick it up… Stay in the mix until you learn the lesson fully… And work with what you have. Accidents may happen foolishly, but our responses to them don’t have to. Work with what and who have, where you are; and watch what God can do.
When we find that moment of quiet, when we truly look up, we’ll see what and who we love so clearly. Now is the time for that. He never leaves us, His wind never stops blowing in our lives; blowing things into and out of our worlds whether we knew they were coming or not; they are here and God is simply looking to us to take care of them fully. Thank goodness He’ll keep teaching us lessons until we learn them.