I got to fly home to Illinois last weekend. One of my favorite parts of the trip was getting to spend time with my little niece, who’s 3 years old. It was interesting and entertaining to see the world through her eyes.
As we were driving down the highway, she noticed lots of wind turbines in the fields.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“It’s a windmill,” I said.
“What does a windmill do?”
“Well….” I paused to think of how to explain the concept to a 3 year old. “Well…it kind of….it’s like….it just…it takes the energy from wind and converts it into energy that you use to do practical things — like turning on the lights in your house.”
As I watched a puzzled look spread across her face, I felt bad that I couldn’t think of any way to make the concept more simple. She would just have to accept my words at face value until she was old enough to grasp some simple physics.
A few minutes later she asked where my house was, and I told her I lived by the ocean in California.
“Where’s California?” she asked.
I wondered how to explain it to her — how big the world is and how many hundreds of miles I’d traveled to get to her.
Later that night she was in the bathroom with me while I brushed my teeth with an electric toothbrush.
She asked me why my toothbrush was vibrating, when hers doesn’t do that.
“Well, there’s a little motor inside here that makes the toothbrush vibrate so it cleans my teeth better.”
She tilted her head sideways and studied my face, as if to determine whether I was yanking her chain or telling the truth.
The next day I got to go to her ballet recital. Afterwards, I met her in the hallway and gave her a gift bag that held a ballerina Beanie Baby. As I knelt down to give her the gift, I felt her wrap her little arms around my neck, and I realized that in spite of all the things that don’t make sense in her world, all she needed to know was this: I’m here. I love you and I’m here.
The following day I drove to downtown Chicago with my dad, and we visited Mark, a 20-year-old who was diagnosed with leukemia in the fall and is still going through treatments — and experiencing some terrible side effects after a bone marrow transplant.
I’d visited him in the hospital in December, right after he was diagnosed. Now it’s 5 months later, and he’s still enduring treatments. As I talked with him, I knew exactly how he was feeling because that’s how I’d felt, too, when my chemo and radiation seemed like they’d never end.
At the lowest point, my social worker had told me to take it one day at a time. But a day — a whole 24 hours of nausea, vomiting, joint pain, loneliness and fear — felt like an eternity. So I broke it down to the simplest unit of time. One breath, I told myself. If you can take one more breath, and then breathe again, and then breathe one more time after that, you’ll survive this.
And as I was struggling, I wondered where God was and why he’d let this happen to someone he purportedly loved.
Mark and I talked about all the questions that go through your mind, like Why me? Why this? Why now? And we talked about how frustrating it is not to have satisfying answers to those questions.
“You know,” I said. “Sometimes God doesn’t give us answers to all the questions we have; he just gives us himself. His presence is the answer, at least for now.”
And I realized as Mark and I were chatting that we must seem to God what my little niece is to me. I can no more understand why I got breast cancer or why Mark got leukemia any more than my little niece can understand where California is and what altitude and flight path my plane had to take to get to her.
And maybe God realizes that we can’t comprehend everything he’s doing in our lives. But, just like I met my niece backstage, God finds us in our lostness and in our pain. And instead of trying to explain his reasons, which are as complex as wind energy and electric toothbrushes, he simply says the same words I spoke to my niece, because these words are all we understand for now. And in the end, these words are all we need:
“I’m here. I love you and I’m here.”
I’m convinced that one of the reasons we’re all on this planet is to be the tangible evidence of God’s love for the people around us. So…can you do me a favor? Take a few minutes to pray for my friend Mark’s total and complete healing. Also, my parents’ church is trying to raise as much money as possible to help Mark’s family cover the cost of his medical care. There’s a lot we can’t do for them, but we can help alleviate the financial stress of cancer treatments. Please flex your generosity muscle today and join me in mailing a donation to
The Schwartz Family
℅ Grace Church
1311 Hovey Ave.
Normal, IL 61761