Friday, January 26, 2007

Was It Really a Miracle?

What constitutes a miracle? I had to define the word "miracle" for myself recently because I asked God for one. And I knew if I asked, I'd better be sure I knew what I wanted. It seemed pretty rotten to ask God for something and get it, but not recognize the gift.

We've all seen this happen in our human relationships. We ask our friend or sweetheart for something, then we're disappointed with their response. Maybe our loved one didn't understand the request. But sometimes, our disappointment results from not being specific enough in making our request. And sometimes, we simply don't know what we want.

For Christmas one year, I asked my husband for a digital camera. He did a little research and bought me an awesome one. Yet I felt deeply disappointed when I saw the bill for the camera--it was a lot more expensive than I'd imagined. In my mind, I figured hubby would buy me a low-end, cheapy model because that's the kind of person I am: I'm frugal, I'm intimidated by pricey gadgetry, and I like to buy cheap stuff so I won't worry about breaking it. Of course, I never told my husband those expectations. So he gave me an awesome camera, the one he truly believed would be best for me. And I didn't appreciate his gift.

I later discovered I love this camera. It's perfect for me--the right size, the right features, and it's sturdy to boot. If my husband had bought the cheapy camera I'd wanted, I wonder whether I'd still be using it. Or perhaps I'd have broken it by now.

There was a reason I wasn't more specific about my requested gift: I wanted my husband to figure it out himself. I wanted him to prove how much he loves me and how well he knows me by buying the exact image I had in my mind. Now that I think about it, that was pretty silly. I should have just talked with my husband about the gift I wanted. And I know he would have told me, "Honey, I know you only want a cheap camera. But trust me, there's a camera you will appreciate even more if you just let me give it to you."

I'm pretty sure you're following the analogy between my husband and God here. So let's get back to that miracle I asked for.

Last fall, I started seeing a flashing light in one of my eyes. I had my eyes checked and was told this was a relatively normal phenomenon, and there was little cause for concern. A few months later, there was a drastic change in my vision. Everything in my left eye looked several shades darker at night. The center of my field of vision was blurry in the left eye. I couldn't read a book or see the digital numbers on our alarm clock in that eye. When I returned to my regular doctor, we were both shocked I couldn't see the big "E" at the top of the eye chart out of my left eye. He immediately referred me to a specialist.

The specialist told me there was permanent damage to my eye, and that it would not get better. He also told me my vision could worsen, and the symptoms might even spread to my right eye. The news hit home when I tried to read something on my computer. I was so thrown off by the difference in vision between my two eyes, I had to turn the computer off. That night, I told God how sad I was. I also told him I could accept this vision loss if he would just provide some meaning in it. I immediately felt a deep sense of peace.

My friends and family tried to find comforting words. Some talked about how I would someday have perfect eyes in heaven. That was comforting. Some shared their own struggles with illness or pain. That was comforting. And some talked about supernatural healing. That made me uncomfortable. I wondered, Should I really be accepting this? Or should I be asking God for healing instead? I fully believed God was capable of healing me. Asking for it seemed a step I wasn't ready to take. Part of me thought, God already knows what I need. If it's his will to heal my eye, he'll do it.

Thing was, I knew if my eye got better, I wouldn't know whether to attribute it to God's doing, or chalk it up to natural causes. I knew what I'd say--that it clearly was God's doing. But in my heart, I knew I'd believe it was something natural that was going to happen anyway. That made me extremely uncomfortable.

Even more than healing, I wanted a change in my heart. I wanted to trust God. I wanted to believe every good and perfect gift truly did come from him. I wanted to feel him working directly in my life. So I prayed a new prayer. I told God I wanted to observe a miracle. I told him, "God, I don't care what the miracle is. I would love for it to be healing in my eye. First and foremost, though, I want to feel you. I need to know you are near me. I need to feel your presence. So please give me a miracle. Let me know, without any doubt, that this is a miracle. Show me this thing you have for me, and let it be exactly what I need right now."

I also was honest with God about how my eye was affecting me. It was keeping me from serving him with my writing. It was making me very sad when I struggled to read and write, the two things I love best. I prayed, "God, please give me enough--enough strength and physical ability to do the things I long to do. Whatever you give me, let it be enough."

A couple weeks ago, I received two emails from the editors of two Christian magazines. I'd told them about my vision problems, and they asked if I needed to cancel the writing projects I was working on for them. Instinctively, I told them both, "I'm going to write the stories." My left eye was bad as ever, but I believed God would give me enough of what I needed to finish the projects.

I booted up my computer last week, expecting it would be a struggle to write. I was a little amazed at how well I could see the words on the screen. I'd smiled, knowing God was meeting my need. As the week went on, I felt more and more confident each time I went to the computer, believing God would be right there with me. At the end of the week, a thought popped into my head, Could I read out of my left eye? I covered my right eye. My vision wasn't perfect in my left eye, but it was easy enough to read the words on the page. Later, as I was setting my alarm clock, another thought popped into my head, I wonder if I can see the digital numbers on the clock. Sure enough, I could. I peeked at every digital clock around our apartment out of my left eye. I could see all of them.

On Tuesday night, I got into my car and noticed my night vision was even--no darker shade in my left eye. At that moment, I was 100 percent certain this was the miracle I'd asked God to give me.

My return appointment with the ophthalmologist was on Wednesday. When I told him about the improvements in my eye, he told me he didn't know what was wrong with my eye, and he was "surprised" my sight was better. "I have no idea why your vision has improved," he said.

I recently began reading C.S. Lewis' "Miracles." I wanted to know how Lewis defined a miracle, but shortly after I began reading the heady text, I decided it didn't really matter as far as my feelings about my eyesight. Regardless of the word I used to define my vision's improvement, I'd gotten exactly what I'd asked for. And it was more than enough.

While I hope and pray my left eye will stabilize, I've decided my sight matters less than my miracle. Whatever happens next shouldn't lessen the fact God met my need and allowed me to deeply feel his presence. This always will be a miracle to me.

I've learned some big lessons about prayer this week. Now I know I can ask God for stuff. Now I know I'm able to be honest with God. Most importantly, I've learned that prayer goes two ways. It helps me to understand and trust God. I know he wants to give me good gifts, and I want to make sure I'll recognize and appreciate what he gives me. Just like my husband knew to buy that awesome camera, God knows the perfect gift to give--even if we don't yet see how truly perfect it is.

To ponder:
How do you define "miracle"?

2) Think about a gift from a friend that exceeded your expectations. What made it so perfect? What gifts has God given that exceeded your expectations? Try making a list of God's gifts to you.

3) What are some "natural" ways God intervenes in our lives (ie. a friend encourages us when we're down)? Think of some everyday events God has used to encourage or help you. Thank him for those blessings.

4) Some people want to define "miracle" solely as "a supernatural act." Their idea is that we should fully acknowledge moments when God intervenes in a supernatural manner. So, they say, we shouldn't casually proclaim, "It's a miracle!" every time anything remotely good happens. And we shouldn't call something a miracle if there's any way it could happen by natural means, some say.

There are many words we struggle to define throughout our lives: miracle, Christian, faith. Do you rely on definitions from other people? Does the way someone else uses these words lessen or strengthen them for you? Who do you trust to help you figure out such definitions?

5) Think about your deepest need. How can God meet it? What would it take for you to recognize God's involvement?

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