I felt so lost, so confused, so small and broken. I was living in China, and a few days prior I had experienced a massive earthquake…8.0 on the Richter scale. Everything after that day was a blur of aftershocks, sleepless nights, scary news, and continuing ministry in the midst of it all. Shortly after the earthquake, my two teammates decided to join the relief efforts and head to an outlying city that had been hit the hardest by the quake. They would be offering water and prayers, and likely would be asked to assist in pulling people from rubble. I had the option to go. But I just couldn’t. I couldn’t work up the courage. I remember just sitting on my bed in my apartment paralyzed with sadness and horror, watching images on the TV screen of crushed and bloodied bodies being excavated from beneath the wreckage of what had once been schools, shops, and homes, families standing by weeping in agony. I couldn’t even move my hand to push the power button on the remote control. How in the world could I actually walk into that pit of despair and be of any use to these mortally broken people?
So I didn’t go.
I stayed behind.
And there I was. Confused, broken, and wracked with guilt for my lack of courage. How could I refuse this opportunity to reach out? I was ashamed of myself and I was feeling so isolated and alone as I faced the prospect of a week without my teammates or anyone to walk with me through the fears and the aftershocks we were still facing in the city.
So that morning I woke up and I wished. I just wished that I could talk to James. James was like the daddy in town…the man in his 60s who seemed to always walk in peace and confidence no matter what. I felt like I needed a dad to help me see clearly and to protect and direct me, a dad to speak truth and safety into my soul. You know…the way that sometimes a girl just needs her daddy to pick her up into his lap and say, “Everything’s gonna be ok, sweetheart. Everything is gonna be ok. Daddy’s here.”
But I was too afraid. I was too insecure and too shy. I couldn’t bring myself to call him. And I definitely wasn’t just going to show up crying on his doorstep. No way. So I pulled myself together and said, “Ok, I can’t just sit around here all day. I have to do something. Jesus, what do I do?” And I felt like Jesus told me to get on a bus. So I walked down the four flights of stairs from my apartment, past the floor-to-ceiling cracks in the hallways that the earthquake had created just days earlier, and headed down the block to the bus stop. I hopped on the first bus that came by, no specific destination in mind, and just rode.
While on the bus, I got to talk to some Chinese people about what they were experiencing post-earthquake. I was able to share a little in my broken Chinese about the hope of Christ to a man who had just lost everything. I thought to myself, Ok, that’s why God had me on this bus. But what now?
“Just go to Starbucks.”
Hmmm…that felt like a God-prompting, but it sounded like selfishness. I LOVED going to Starbucks in China…it was like a little piece of home in this totally foreign world. But it sure did seem like an outrageous thing to do in the middle of the swirling fear and unknowns that were whipping like wind around the city. “Go to Starbucks,” the Voice inside me continued to say. I had nothing to lose…and so, I remained on the bus to the center of the city, and got off a block away from the two-story Starbucks right there by the City Square.
As I approached, I noticed a white man with white hair sitting in a chair by the window. Hmmm…looks kind of like James, I thought. As I walked closer, I realized to my great surprise that it WAS James. I stopped in my tracks, my breath catching in my throat. Why in the world was James HERE? We weren’t anywhere near his neighborhood. We were both away from our “usual territory”. But there he was, sitting inside the window of the Starbucks that I just happened to be stopping at.
“This is why I put you on that bus, Gabi,” the Lord whispered to me as He nudged me inside.
Oh Jesus. Oh God. Oh sweet Father. How kind you are to me.
I stepped inside the door of the coffee shop and said hello to James. He looked up at me from his newspaper and smiled. It felt like we were in the countryside of England (he’s British) and he was having a leisurely morning of tea with not a care in the world. That moment was so utterly contradictory to what was happening outside the door. But I instantly knew why. It was because the Holy Spirit was there. And the Holy Spirit is peace. And James had invited that peace to the table with him. James calmly and confidently stood up, walked over to the other side of his table, pulled out a chair, and said, “Sit down, Gabi! Let me get you some coffee.”
The next hour I was completely wrapped up in the love of a dad and the Love of my Father. James asked me how I was doing and what was going on with me. He clearly and bluntly told me exactly why I should NOT feel guilty about not going to do relief with my teammates. He spoke scripture over me about Mary and how she just sat with Christ and how that was the most important thing. And as he spoke, my Heavenly Father poured incredible healing over my soul as He whispered, “I Love you so much, Gabi. I just Love you so so much.”
As I headed back home after that hour with James, that hour that felt like being “led by still waters” (Ps. 23:2), I was overcome with an awareness of the great compassion and the very real presence of my Heavenly Father. I learned in those few hours what I had struggled a lifetime to comprehend…God is my Father and He cares about me no matter what. His Love doesn’t depend on what I’m doing or what I’m not doing. He’s not keeping score and dishing out love in measurement decided by my deeds. No, in fact, He’s the kind of Father who was sitting so closely beside me that He even heard just a wish as a prayer and ran into the city to orchestrate an answer for me…because I’m His daughter and He’s my Dad.
I will never ever forget this poignant day, the day I truly learned what it means to have God as a Father.
And oh, what a good good Father He is.
See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! 1 John 3:1a, NLT