My sister’s bathroom floor seemed like the only option. I slumped down leaning against the wall, cooling on the air-conditioned white tile, and prayed for forgiveness. It was time for God to lay me down over his knee, get out His holy hockey stick and give me a spanking. I deserved it. Like lava bursting from a hot magma core, dinner with a fighter pilot pulled up judgmental thoughts from my insecure teacher’s heart. Thoughts like “is he interested in any subject other than himself” rolled around in my head as I jabbed at each bite of my sister’s lasagna. There was no mercy in me, and by the time I was sitting on the bathroom floor, I knew I didn’t deserve any mercy either. Deb had gone to bed early with a cold, and we were looking at a 10 hour drive to the airport the next day. Life just seemed hard, and I was a puddle of whiney selfishness. I definitely deserved a spanking, but that’s not what I got. When I finished praying, sitting on that cool tile, I opened my Bible. For no apparent reason, I flipped open to Isaiah 29, and when I got to verse 23, I could barely see the page. Tears were welling up in my eyes: “When they see among them their children, the work of my hands, they will keep my name holy; they will acknowledge the holiness of the Holy One of Jacob, and will stand in awe of the God of Israel.” The verse was new to me, but God’s tenderness was speaking through it. Punishment was obviously not on His agenda. Instead, like a giddy child about to burst, it seemed like He was letting me in on a secret. After 3 years of seeing doctors, taking tests, and hearing bad news, could it be a dream my wife and I thought was gone was actually about to come true–was He giving us a baby? It was just like God. In the midst of our sin, when we feel we least deserve it, He unveils His greatest treasures. That’s the way He rolls, with a love and grace that grows in radiance as it shines through the mess of our lives. I went to bed that night trying to protect my heart with doubt. “It probably wasn’t from God,” I thought, but that spark of hope lingered. The next day, while zipping up my fly coming out of a gas station bathroom, I saw my wife running around our car holding a stick in her hand like Lady Liberty. God apparently likes to use bathrooms to show me He is near, but He also used a manger, so it makes sense. For the first time in our five years of marriage, Deb had a positive test. We were going to have a baby, and that spark of hope exploded in me with joy.
We named her Hope. When despair seemed to have the upper hand after 3 years of not being able to have kids, God kicked in the door and gave us a little girl. Of course we named her Hope. That was 13 years ago, and just yesterday, we sat in our camping chairs and watched her do what she loves. As a wing on her soccer team, with a fire in her heart, she ran up and down the sidelines fighting for the ball, running past gritty, opposing players and kicking it with just enough force to put it right in front of the net for her teammates to score. She shouts, “Let’s go ladies. Let’s see some intensity!” and we yell from the sidelines, “Way to go number 40!” That aggressive play drew some attention and comments from the other team’s parents. They got so bad that the ref came over to the sidelines and told all of them to “please address the players on your team only, not the players on the other team!” A few minutes later, a girl from the other team went down as she and Hope were fighting for the ball, and the sidelines exploded. One parent yelled, “I can’t believe this. You’re not going to call that? You suck ref!” Hope’s position was right along that sideline, and just as she got within earshot, a mom on the other team yelled out, “Whoever is the parent of that number 40, your daughter is from hell!” The ref had to stop the game when the cussing started, and three of the parents were ejected as all those girls waited for the poisoned tongues to cease fire. My son, David, was seething, his chest violently moving in and out, staring at what was becoming an angry mob. He was escalating to fight or flight mode, and the flight option had been declined. My heart was racing too, but I whispered, “It’s ok David,” trying to believe what I was telling him. Tears were streaming down the face of one of the girls watching her dad walk to his car while the ref held the game, and I looked at Hope. Trying to be strong, she looked down at the grass, avoiding eye contact with those parents. Her expression gave her away. She was straining to hold back the floodgates. Before the ref could blow the whistle to resume play, Coach Chris yelled out, “Subs ref,” and motioned for Hope to come off the field. When she got to the sidelines, the ref blew the whistle, Chris brought her into his arms, and she melted. As girls yelled for the ball and kicked it back and forth, my eyes weren’t on the game. Hope’s coach was doing what I longed to do but couldn’t from the sidelines. She was wiping away tears and looking down at the grass, but he was holding her, whispering into her ear words she needed to hear. When the game was over, as our family walked back to the minivan, we asked about her conversation with Coach Chris. Hope sat in her seat, put her bag down with a smile and said, “He told me I’m Heaven sent.” Chris didn’t know about the secret God told me on the bathroom floor 13 years earlier. He didn’t know about the smile on my wife’s face as she held the stick at the gas station, but His words could not have been more true. That number 40 is Heaven sent, and when he held her in his arms and whispered that truth into her ear, the entire sideline got a glimpse of what God longs to do with us. In the middle of our game, in the heat of battle, the whistle blows and He yells out, “Sub ref.” Motioning from the sidelines, He calls us to Him, “Come to me,” and when we finally get to those strong, tender arms, His head bends down for a whisper, and we melt as He reminds us we are loved.