In 2004 our family went through a significant transition. We sold our house in Virginia, put most of our belongings in storage, and moved across the pond to Oxford, England for my husband to begin theological training. We were blessed to find a house that was being vacated by an American family with young kids who were moving back to Alabama the same month we needed to arrive. The house was spacious and seemed child friendly, with a lovely enclosed garden. The family was also going to leave behind some of their children’s toys and books, which would make the move easier for our two young children. They even sold us their car for a good price. We were excited about the adventure and were certain this was where God had called us.
Our flight arrived early in the morning, and we hauled our numerous bags to a waiting van. Exhausted from the long journey with two preschoolers, we forced ourselves to push through the day. We unpacked some necessities and walked to the local supermarket for milk, cereal, and other basics. I put the cold items away in our small refrigerator and began to organize our kitchen. Finally, we made the beds and fell asleep before the summer sun had set.
Early the next morning, our not yet three-year-old son ran into our bedroom saying he was thirsty. I went down to the kitchen and filled his sippy cup with milk we had purchased the day before. He sat in our bed and contentedly drank his milk. Several minutes later, with no warning, he stood up on the bed and vomited everywhere. While my husband pulled the sheets off the bed, I opened the sippy cup and sniffed. Blech! I’d just given my child spoiled milk. I was certainly off to a swell start with parenting children in a new country.
I carried all the bedding downstairs and started the washing machine. Next, I opened the refrigerator and discovered it had somehow shut off in the middle of the night. Well, that would explain the spoiled milk. Charming. It was time to get the hubby to take a look. When I returned to the kitchen a short while later, I found the floor covered in sudsy water that had poured out of the bottom of the washer. Lord, were we really meant to move here?
At this point, I decided to make use of our enclosed garden. I encouraged the kids to go out and explore, while my husband and I cleaned up the mess. Well, it didn’t take long for my son, the same child who had earlier puked on our bed, to come in and tell us that “the man in the garden” was pointing at our hedges and telling him not to go there. Say what?
Why is there a man in the garden? Where is your sister? I ran out the door to try to make some sense of this madness. Our daughter was happily playing in the garden as our son pointed at a mossy area to the side of the winding path and said, “He was right there. He pointed that way.” Our son then pointed in the direction of the tall hedge that separated our garden from a small neighborhood green space along the river. I asked him what the man looked like. “He was wearing white,” he responded. Our daughter had apparently seen nothing. Interesting.
Again our son said the man had cautioned him against going near the hedge. At this, my husband began to investigate. As he poked around the hedge and surrounding overgrowth, he made a startling discovery. There was a hole through the bottom of the hedge — perfectly sized for a young child to squeeze through. Knowing the river was just on the other side, panic seized my heart. This garden wasn’t safe at all. As I examined the hole, my husband made a second discovery just a few feet away. Hidden in the brush, was a large coil of rusty barbed wire. Suddenly the whole place felt like a deathtrap.
But as I took a breath, I realized something else was happening. Amidst all the things that seemed to be going wrong and the temptation to believe we had just made a horrible mistake in moving to this house, I saw that God was with us. Jesus wasn’t kidding when he said, “In this world you will have trouble.” But he doesn’t stop there. He continues with, “But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
God doesn’t leave us to struggle alone. He is with us —guiding us, protecting us, comforting us. To this day, I believe my son saw an angel in our garden. It was one of three times he had such an encounter as a child, and I’ve met many parents with similar stories. To me this is clear evidence of God’s protective love and guidance. I also believe children have a greater capacity to receive the things of God without question — their hearts are eager to believe. Of course, we can’t remain children forever; but a childlike heart that embraces wonder and is able to step outside the walls of disbelief can experience so much more of God.
Today, as you look at your own life, as well as the chaos in the world around you, where do you see God? Are you willing to suspend your disbelief and look for him? Take a step, open your heart, allow your eyes to be opened to his presence. He is near.
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on Shay S Mason
Featured Image by Daiga Elleby, (Middle: Richard Burton)