The sun came out again on Sunday afternoon and we played another family game of soccer in the hospital parking lot. We had the added challenge of about an inch of snow/ice on half of our “field,” so we this time we played Slip and Slide Soccer. Joshua, David, and I took on Charly, Jordan, and Daniel.
As we started playing, I realized that Daniel didn't get the concept that we had changed teams from last week, and mistakenly thought that he and I were on the same team. Early on in the game I attempted a goal that was a little to the left of our artificial tree boundary line. Daniel was the first (and only) one to congratulate me with a happy high five. My ball didn't make it in the goal and the two of us weren't on the same team, but those things didn't matter. His high five communicated that he was loyal to me. He was happy that I was his Mom and happy that we were playing a game together. And that's what really matters, isn't it?
Two summers ago we were fighting for David and Daniel's adoptions. We had been given information about their files and then told later the same day that it was not possible for us to adopt them together. We were advised to consider another match. It became quite clear that in order to bring David and Daniel home we desperately needed God to move mountains for us. It Had to Be God. I remember praying in the kitchen one day that summer; an image came to mind of huddling up before an important game. Giving a high five to the only One who could win this battle for us, I yelled out “Go God! You've got this!”
And God answered our prayers (and the prayers of many of you who were praying with us), by making a way where there seemed to be no way--for us to adopt both boys together. Not by moving the mountain called Special Approval that we were praying for, but through another route: an extension-we'd-never-before-heard-of granted to us in Guangzhou and people in Beijing agreeing to match both boys with us as soon as their files appeared on the Waiting Child list.
“Your road led through the sea, your pathway through the mighty waters—a pathway no one knew was there!” (Psalm 77:19, NLT)
God came through for us with a victory and David and Daniel are now part of our family. But God also gave us A Sharp Turn in the Path that we didn't expect, through Daniel's encephalitis and resulting brain damage. It Didn't Feel Exciting to me when we brought the boys home. But He has helped our family grow in countless ways through the difficulties. God answered our adoption prayers in ways that have kept us clinging to Him. Dependent. Very aware of our many weaknesses. Knowing that we are not able to keep going in our own strength.
The most inspirational movies are the ones where the underdog triumphs in the end, aren't they? We love to cheer for the team that has to overcome obstacles to make it to the championship. And when they win that final game, we feel satisfied. Because the good guys should win, right? The good guys like you and me.
But what about the times when the good guys don't win? When it seems like God must have switched sides, like in my case of mistaken identity in our Saboteur game. Even when we're cheering hard, “Go God! You've got this!” and believing with all our hearts that what we're asking Him for is right and good, could it be that He is now against us instead of for us?
I just started reading the book my friend Sarah recommended to me, When God Doesn't Answer Your Prayer by Jerry Sittser. He writes, “We often turn to God at our most vulnerable moments, when all seems lost unless God steps in. Why does God remain distant, silent, and hard when we call on him? If God doesn't respond when we need him most, then why pray at all? What should we do if God doesn't come through in circumstances that make us desperate for his intervention? It is hard to accept when God seems to ignore our best prayers, and harder still to keep praying.”
But then he says, “Perhaps the question Why doesn't God answer our prayers? is not even the best question to ask because there might not be a simple, convenient, and obvious answer. It might be too mysterious and lofty for us. Perhaps how we respond in the face of such mystery is more important than whether or not we ever find an answer to the question itself.”
And so, I wonder if we can still give God a high five when we're disappointed with the outcome of our game. When He writes a very different story for us than we would have written for ourselves, if He had handed us the pen. Can we see higher than our difficult circumstances, that may not have changed at all or may even have gotten worse in spite of how hard we and others have been praying?
Can we still believe that God is on our side and that He loves us unconditionally, undeservedly, unchangingly. That sometimes the answers He gives we won't be able to understand until we see Him face to face. But we can trust that He is good and that His plans for us are still good in the midst of our pain and suffering.
Because He is loyal to us, and it's our relationship with Him--not the answers to our prayers—that really matters, isn't it?