I was thrilled to meet Marilyn Gardner, another third culture kid (TCK) online. I was doubly thrilled to find out that Marilyn is also Eastern Orthodox! Marilyn writes about culture, faith, home, and belonging. She has such a wealth of experience working with people from a variety of cultures and religions, and her love for all people comes through in her writing. Check out her new book, Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging. I welcome Marilyn to this space today.
Where I Found God: At the Office
It was Christmas a number of years ago where our family experienced what we now call the “mother of all crises.” The collective grief and pain that happened to and around us was mind-numbing in its scope, eye-popping in its magnitude. There was death, betrayal, sickness, dysfunction, hurt, sadness, and anger everywhere.
We cried out in pain. Our pain reverberated back to us empty and mocking.
I was desperate to find and feel the presence of God, to know that he was there, that he heard our cries. I tried to find his presence with friends, in small groups, in solitude, listening to music, going to church. Anything – anything to comfort and soothe the pain. But I came up empty.
He was silent. I was alone.
At the time I was working as a public health nurse at a busy visiting nurse association. I had a private office and daily I would go to my office and shut the door, catatonic and unable to function. And there I would sit, all day long. A dear friend would come by daily, just to check up and see that I was still breathing.
But something odd began to happen. This office in an institutional building began to be a place of safety and rest. I would enter in the morning and there on my desk would be money with an anonymous note “Here’s your coffee money for the week. Enjoy.” There were small notes of encouragement and messages of concern. One day I came in to wrapped Christmas presents for the entire family. Another day there were Christmas goodies; the next day scooters (the ‘toy of the year’) for three of my kids. There was even a full Christmas dinner complete with cranberry sauce, stuffing, and a massive turkey left with a lovely note, just wishing me peace. I was receiving abundant care, without hesitation, without questions, without obligation.
It was in the harsh light of fluorescent bulbs that I realized I had found the presence of the Living God. In the ringing of the phones, in the sound of nurses, physical therapists, and nursing assistants making appointments to see patients, in the buzzing of the fax machine, in the murmur of medical consultations was the presence I looked so hard to find.
There is an old story in the Old Testament book of the Kings about the prophet Elijah. He has run for his life and he is alone and exhausted. After giving Elijah time to rest and eat, God hears his pain, hears his anger at the situation. And then God tells him to go out on the mountain, and he, the Lord God Almighty, would pass by. So Elijah goes out on the mountain to find God.
“Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper….” (1 Kings 13:11)
God was not in the likely places. He was in the gentle whisper.
So it was for me. God was not in the likely places where I looked hard and came up empty. Instead, the gentle whisper of his presence was in the buzz and efficiency of an office work place.
It has been many years and events since this time. And through the years, I have found his presence in unexpected places and ways. Yet, this is the beauty of a God who cannot be silenced, who cannot be contained, the beauty of an infinitely creative God who delights to show himself and shine his presence in unlikely spaces.
Marilyn Gardner is an adult third culture kid who currently lives and works in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She loves God, her family, and her passport in that order. Marilyn is the author of Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging released July, 2014 by Doorlight Publications and blogs regularly at Communicating Across Boundaries and A Life Overseas.