The Silver 1978

Originally posted to Blogspot on:

January 31, 2014

Earlier this week my pastor brought up a small but relevant point about the voice of God. In short, he reminded us that we never really hear it. Not the audible voice at least. Not like we did in Moses’ time. If I go to a snowy mountaintop in Alaska right now, expecting to hear God’s mighty voice of instruction for improving my life, I might hear some heavy wind, and some crackling trees, and I’ll probably freeze to death in the long, dark night, but I probably won’t hear the audible voice of God tell me, “Get off this mountain before you freeze to death!” In my spirit, however, I’ll likely hear him warning me plenty well using a wonderful tool he has in his human creation arsenal called “common sense” and another tool called “body temperature.” Of course, if those fail to warn me, maybe the old man in the cabin will. Doesn’t matter—if God tells me to get somewhere warmer, He’ll know how to reach my ears. Whether I listen to Him is another story. However, if I have any sense, then I’ve already heard Him. I won’t need to hear him shouting it at me from Mt. McKinley for His words to be so clear.

Why do we want to hear the voice of God? Well, we want instruction generally. We want resulting peace, prosperity, or whatever makes us better. Many of us are pioneers at heart and know that we can solve our own problems and make our own choices without asking or even acknowledging God’s position on the issue, if we just find the right combination of actions, or perform the right guesswork. We have free will, and if we don’t want to ask God for help, we don’t have to. Maybe we’ll spin the roulette wheel and it’ll land on the number or color we want. Risky, but we’ll do fine if we actually get what we want. Maybe we’ll spin the wheel again. Maybe we’ll land on the wrong color this time. Maybe we can correct our mistake by spinning again. Maybe we can’t. Maybe our failure leaves us humble. Maybe we ask God for help after all. Would we even hear Him speak if we did? How would we know if we’ve heard Him? He doesn’t exactly shout to us from the mountaintop anymore.

Knowing when God speaks is a tricky thing because it often comes suddenly and deeply. We understand that the audible voice of God is something that only a few have heard and haven’t heard since the Old Testament days. Doesn’t mean He’s silent. Doesn’t mean He ignores us when we talk to Him. Just means we have to do better to train our ears.

In 2003, a friend was turning 25, and I had thought of this cool idea to do something creative for her birthday gift. I didn’t want to do anything fancy or crazy—just something neat and somewhat memorable, something I couldn’t buy, and something that couldn’t be duplicated for any other occasion. I decided to write something interesting about turning a quarter of a century and paste an actual quarter from the year of her birth, 1978, to the card. Sweet, cheesy, but memorable. I knew it would be appreciated.

Problem was, I didn’t have a quarter from 1978 on hand, and I had less than a week to pull this off. So, I did what anybody who likes God’s help would do; I prayed that I’d find one before it was too late.

I was no money hoarder. I didn’t have mountains of change to convert, or a stack of bills to break down. What I had was not entirely sufficient. I did have an ATM and a cafeteria at the hospital I worked at, so I had access to quarters. And every time I went to lunch, or bought a cookie, or converted my dollars into change, I’d keep my eyes open for that 1978 quarter. Yet, none appeared, no matter how many times I’d go making change to find one. I asked coworkers to search their pockets and wallets for that elusive year. None turned up what I had wanted. Time was ticking away. My friend’s birthday was closing in. Several days had passed and I was nearly out of time. I began to wonder if God had even heard my prayer.

On Sunday this week, my pastor opened his point about hearing God speak to us by asking, “How many of you know that God has a sense of humor?” Well, back in 2003, when the desire to finish this custom gift had reached the eleventh hour, I’d experienced that answer firsthand.

My job at the hospital was to take inventory of any equipment that belonged to my department and catalogue its location. That meant scanning each volumetric infusion pump, each gastrointestinal suction pump, each feeding pump, and so on that we could find, every morning, and it meant supplying requested machines to needed rooms, and decontaminating used equipment prior to returning them to our storage room, and it meant, essentially, that I had free reign to travel to all four corners of the hospital, including critical care rooms, the emergency room, and any of the hundreds of patient rooms on the hospital’s floor plan.

I had been spending most of my week hunting for that quarter, searching every known quarter-supply outlet I knew, and praying for God to supply me one before time was up, but to no avail. I was getting restless. I was losing heart. Then, partway through my shift, on what I believe was the last day before I’d see my friend and have nothing to offer for her birthday, I was walking into a patient’s room with either a pump or the handheld tracker (doesn’t matter what, and I really don’t remember), basically dismayed and ready to give up, when I accidentally bumped into the patient’s table and suddenly heard the voice of God go clink, clink, clink, clinkclinkclinkclinkclink….

I looked at my feet and saw the patient’s pillar of quarters (yes, he didn’t have just a couple pieces of loose change sitting on his table; he had a tall stack of quarters sitting on the edge—really, who does that, in a hospital room no less?) now lying all over the floor around me, and I just felt God saying, “There you go. Prayer answered.” I just stared at the pile, smirked, and felt not even remotely surprised as I knelt down, grabbed at the first quarter that caught my attention, flipped it over, and saw the year 1978 staring right back at me. When I told the patient I had been looking for this and offered to trade him (as I was picking them up—I didn’t just make a mess and leave!), he told me to just take it. So, when I got home, I pasted it to that index card, wrote my note, and ended up putting a smile on a friend’s face for birthday number 25. (The note itself helped, but I don’t remember what I’d written, so I can’t share that now. Sorry.)

In the past I used to think the voice of God was the same thing as the voice in my head. Sometimes I still think it’s possible that God speaks to us in actual words that can double as our thoughts. Honestly, I’m no expert on the subject. However, my experience with that has been poor and generally misleading. But that day I finally understood not only that God speaks to us on occasion, but I also figured out what He sounds like. It isn’t verbal so much as it’s just a silent but understood language spoken to our spirits. I had spent all week praying to find that quarter. I was beginning to think my prayer wouldn’t get answered. Yet, just as He’s done in times since that day, He answered it in the one way I wouldn’t expect Him to. I thought I’d find my quarter in a cash register or a friend’s wallet. Nope, God decided I was better off finding it in a stack of change on a random patient’s bedside table that I’d eventually accidentally bump into, aka the most ridiculous way possible. Thanks, Lord.

There’s something to be said about that fine moment when peace overcomes a person’s heart. Sometimes it comes in the form of relief: That test we’ve spent all week studying for, dreading, losing sleep over, and suddenly finish, leaving us happy to get it over with. We expect the ending; we expect that luscious moment when there is nothing more we can do but wait. Then we fear the unknown: What if we fail? We won’t get our license. We won’t get our perfect record. Then we get the results and respond. If we pass with flying colors, we celebrate at a fine restaurant. If we fail, we question what went wrong and start thinking of ways we can do better next time, if there is a next time. Peace has its price. Peace has its reward. We have to allow it into our hearts if we want it at all. We have to surrender our pride and admit that we don’t have all the answers, and that sometimes we just have to believe that God has a better way, and a better system for getting us there. That peace is basically what the voice of God tends to sound like to me, not just a basic peace in my heart, but a targeted peace in my spirit. I tend not to trust the voice in my head alone, especially when it tries to convince me that a formula is required to get what I want, or that I even deserve what I want. Not once did the Lord tell me I’d find that quarter. It was only after I had seen the mass of quarters at my feet that I knew He had heard me and wanted to help me. I didn’t have to check the stack to know that 1978 was in there, waiting to be picked up and pasted to a card. Obviously, I had to thank God for that. It was certainly one of His finer answers to my prayers. Ironically, it was also the one that made the most sense to me.

I should also thank my pastor for rekindling that memory this week.