After months of anticipation about our family’s first trip Mexico and an escape from the Wisconsin winter, the weather report turned foreboding. All eight days were calling for rain. Kim and I were crushed. Our family had finally recovered from a three-week battle with the flu over the holidays, and we were really looking forward to the time away to recharge in the sun and surf.
On the plane, I read something in a devotional about God being a “living God.” That really struck me. I too often think of God as some far-off historical figure who did a lot of neat things in olden times, forgetting that he lives in the present tense, active in the here and now.
In that moment, I felt totally at peace. I knew that God knew how big of a deal this trip was to us. I believed that if he was willing, he could easily blow a weather system a little north or a little south in order grant us at least a few days of sunshine.
My wife was especially fretful about the forecast of rain. I tried to reassure her that she had nothing to worry about. Her incessant checking of the weather app on her phone told me she didn’t believe me. I couldn’t blame her, for I had no real proof, after all. Just faith.
Every single evening, the weather app on our phones indicated storms for the next day. And every single day, we woke up to sunny skies while the thundercloud icon had vanished. The only rain we experienced was about a half-hour’s worth on our last day (which came as a welcome relief during a hot walk at the Tulum ruins.)
The abundant sunshine became a symbol to us of God’s goodness. As the trip was coming to an end, we searched for a sunshine-themed souvenir to bring home with us, something to remind ourselves of our mini-miracle and God’s active presence in our lives. We never did find anything just right.
We arrived home at about midnight. My youngest was asleep as we pulled into our driveway. A handful of police officers were canvassing the street with flashlights, clearly looking for something. We didn’t think much of it, figuring the neighbor kid was in trouble again.
As our tired bodies and overfilled suitcases stumbled into the house, my oldest daughter said, “Hey, what’s that on the ceiling?” I looked up and saw a gash in the drywall. The directional groove led my eye to the window, which had a bullet hole in it.
A bullet hole.
“Kim,” I said, “Hurry and go tell the cops that we have a bullet hole in our window!”
The rest of the evening was a blur. We found small bits of glass all over the carpet and on the piano across the room. The officers pulled a bullet fragment from the ceiling, but it was too mangled to be of any use. They had very little information for us, except for the reports from neighbors who heard multiple gunshots and a speeding car with a bad muffler. At first, I was annoyed that I had to postpone the date with my bed to deal with this after having had an awesome vacation, but eventually, it hit me. “Wait. What if we had been home? This could have hit one of my kids.”
The mood quickly turned from annoyance to anger and fear.
None of us got much sleep that night. (Except Ginny, who was already asleep and would ask about that taped-up cardboard patch on our window two whole days later.)
The next morning, my six-year-old son Ben brought a bullet to Kim that he found in the bedroom hallway. “Momma, what’s this?” he asked.
Another call to the police.
The next few weeks were a blur of logistics and emotion. Assurances from the police that our neighborhood was historically among the safest in the city didn’t seem to help. Calls to the insurance company and various vendors about replacing the window and fixing the damaged ceiling were interspersed with the feelings of being violated, and wondering if we were still in danger. I’d never seen my wife cry so much in all of our 18 years of marriage.
We heard stories from neighbors who’d been home. Three young girls next door were in the front room watching TV when the shooting happened. An elderly neighbor across the street told us the gunshots were so loud that she thought her house was the one under attack. A young mother in the home next to her was nursing her two-month-old in her front room. She hit the deck when the shots rang out. Everyone was shaken. For days, we saw cars slow down in front of our house to gawk at the scene of the crime.
And then God showed up.
He showed up in the realization that our house was the only one on the whole block that was empty when the shooting occurred. He showed up in the neighborhood meeting that was organized two days after the incident to comfort one another and talk about practical ways to protect our neighborhood. It was neat to see connections get made and friendships deepen.
Eventually, Kim and I finally got to a place where we could ask, “What does this terrible event make possible?”
Years earlier, we stayed in a vacation home in Santa Barbara that featured some stained glass windows. We’d aways been smitten by their charm, and wondered if we could replace the broken front window in our living room with a stained glass work of art. The fact that the window in question was a decorative half-circle above the normal windows made it a perfect candidate. Maybe I could even design it. And maybe it would serve as a beacon of hope to the entire neighborhood. We knew immediately what the design had to be.
We got connected with the guy who did the stained glass windows at our church and I gave him a sketch.
God showed up yet again, when we received a check from the insurance company that took care of everything that needed to be fixed. We got our ceiling repaired and painted.
And we got our sunshine souvenir after all.
We never expected to get it AFTER we returned home, in a form we never anticipated.
We live in a dark world, where tragedy and pain are all too common. Sometimes vacations do get rained out. Sometimes bullets don’t miss. But I believe this: God is a living God. He gives us small signs – signs that that don’t seem like much in the grand scheme of things – just to let us know he is there. I think the reason he does this is so we’ll remember he is still there when the bad things happen, ready to bring good things out of terrible circumstances. He gives us the sunny days to recharge us, to fill our reserves with hope that lights the way during the dark times, reminding us that the sun will shine again.
It’s worth remembering that even on the darkest, cloudiest days, the sun doesn’t disappear. It’s still there; it’s just hidden. The people who see silver linings are the ones who look for them. If you are in a dark season right now, keep looking for the light. It’s coming.
Finally, I believe we are called to be a light for others. We do this by sharing our gifts, but also by being kind. When it comes to people who disagree with us, instead of calling them names, call them up for coffee. The smallest things can make the biggest difference. Our happiness increases when we help others, shining our own light outward.
In the battle between light and darkness, the darkness doesn’t stand a chance.