A few days ago, I was on a Skype interview from Lambeth Palace, London and the Reverend asked me a very interesting question and he said: “at what point in your life did you find God?” I answered without thinking. I talked about the ugly experience I had where I heard God speaking to me through the pages of the Bible. Oh well, I really did find God in that situation but truly speaking, I have been finding God in just every situation of my life.
I have had both terrible and awesome experiences in life and I can tell the difference between the tastes of the two! Just like you know honey when you taste it and you know something is wrong when bitter leaf syrup is given to you in the place of honey. The terrible experiences I have had in my life is truly what I wouldn’t want a repetition of same, it is like watching life been literally drained out of your body.
But guess what?
Whenever the emotions cool off, when the highs are down and the heat is cold, I look back again and I get amazed at how God has worked His purpose out through it all. God may not have orchestrated certain troubles I have had, my weakness and carelessness is a good place to look if I am searching for the cause of some of my troubles but in spite of it all, I have always found God.
Now read carefully
I am not finding God at the end of the tunnel, it is not like God has been at the end of the tunnel saying “if you could walk this far, you can hold my hand and I will pull you out!” No, I looked back and I realized God has been there from the very beginning of those awful journeys. Maybe, that is my experience of the valleys of shadows of death and at first, I don’t realize His presence because I always let my fears speak louder. It is not that God’s voice isn’t superior to that of my fears, but maybe I have always listened at the direction of my fear!
If I was to be the writer of Psalm 23, I may have started with “the Lord is my shepherd but I never realized at first… When I walked through the valleys of shadows of death, I never knew He was there until He walked me through.” For every terrible thing I questioned God on initially, I have seen the hand of the Lord turning those situations to my good. You know, the Bible says all things work together for those who love God (Romans 3:28) but I can’t say I really loved God so much to deserve it but God had always turned all those ugly situations for my good.
I remember my secondary school days when Dad suddenly lost everything he had, I remember we completed secondary school at the mercies of the founder of the school we attended. Before then, Dad had always desired that we further our education outside Nigeria. I was particularly sure of myself that Dad wanted me to study in Israel on a course they do so well. He loved Israel so much that he wanted one of us to have the print of Israel and I happened to be the one who had some kind of passion towards that. I remember overhearing him that morning before the bad news arrived, he was discussing with mum about how he wanted us all to further our education abroad and he also wanted to buy mum a car. We left for weekend classes only to see mum in school break the news to us. Dad had lost all of his goods; he invested everything on it hoping to make sales quickly.
It was like the end of life, the world changed before my very eyes and the once celebrated “Nnadozies” who were usually the first family to pay school fees and even pay in arrears became a mockery in the eyes of many. I experienced what people call “grace to grass” and I remember been humiliated in the presence of the junior students for not being able to pay for the school diary. I watched my dad; the once rich man who had driven us to our land in Asaba to show us that work was in progress as we expected to have our own family house. He stayed for a complete four years doing nothing!
You won’t understand this so well.
My dad would always sit at home every morning, thank God for my mum! Mum made sure he never gave up; Mum was the only one who saw God in all of this at first. We lived throughout these four years at the mercies of our closest relatives, thanks to God for them! For four years, they were the reason that we fed. I and mum would usually get to their house on weekends to pick up foodstuffs and I remember one evening, I entered the bathroom crying, I was to sleep over and mum was about going. They came calling me to tell me that mum was about going, I needed to see her and bid her goodbye but I didn’t want her to see my crying. I pretended I was taking my bath but I was sitting on the floor of the bathroom crying my heart out and allowing the shower to wash it all down the drain.
I remember I got up and looked from the bathroom window, I saw mum carrying the “sacks” of food items, walking towards the gate with her hair tied up. She was going to take a bike and then a bus and I know she would want to bargain so much so that she could save up a little and I imagined a woman who was celebrating the coming of her own car now struggle with every other commoner. Mum wasn’t as weak and hopeless as we were, in all these things, she was very strong, she acted as though all things were alright and even while insulted, she would smile but deep down within me I knew mum would always spend her nights crying because life was really miserable at that time.
I remember that morning. We were in the sitting room when the bell rang. We went to check and it was the lawyer and some thugs. We hadn’t paid rent for a few years and the kind of humiliation we witnessed that day was the first of its kind. They took away everything we had, no stone was left unturned. The only thing they left were things that no one would want. We watched them cart away all the properties we bought when things were good and they also took away mum’s sewing machine. If mum had wanted to start something, this was a big discouragement.
We had nothing and our voices would always re-echo in the building because it was empty. Some suggested to dad that it would be better if we pick up the remaining meaningless things and move to the village. Perhaps, we would be able to farm our village land and survive by it. With mum’s backing, dad refused and I heard mum say “God allowed them to take everything so that when he starts making His own supplies, we can know it is Him at work!” Well, it sounded like those usual religious comforting lies because in the midst of all these things it seemed God was on a vacation.
At a time, things had got worse. That was the time of the “Trojan biscuit”. I remember it became our favourite lunch. Get what I mean, four pieces of small cookies served as launch and we would be so happy. Then, anytime we had the opportunity to buy anything, we do not consider the taste or nutritious content, we simply check the weight!
At a time, dad became a driver, driving for an old woman, a headmistress of a small school who paid him six thousand naira every month, about 17 dollars. The first salary he was paid, he came home celebrating it. He bought a socket extension and it was as though we just got a new home theatre. He was praising God for a salary of six thousand, a man who once controlled millions. I had never always been in good terms with dad as things hadn’t always worked out between us but that night, I rushed into the toilet and shed tears. None of my siblings knew about this, they would probably be reading it from this and I was very sure each and every one of them felt this same way but might have also decided to pour out their heart discreetly. I didn’t tell you we started cooking with firewood and charcoal at that time! Mum’s eyes were affected by this, her hair too got bad with many years of neglect! Her beautiful skin that men always stared at whenever she was taking me to school darkened un-adorably.
At one point, few people showed empathy, at another point, the same people rejected us and made a mockery of us. Life played out that way and everyone thought that would be the end of it. We walked through it. Things never remained that way, it did for a long time but not for a lifetime. I can’t really say at what point God started re-writing the story but somehow, dad started his importations again, gradually new and better properties were bought, we started building a new house, dad bought a new car, some of my siblings were enrolled in the higher institution, life just eased out as though nothing happened all those while! I will not bore you with the entire story.
I had looked back at the past and I had found God in all of these things. We may not be able to explain certain things but one thing is sure, I saw God using those negative situations to write a beautiful story. The delays I had in life became for a purpose and while situations were delaying me, God was busy playing His own puzzles and rearranging where to fix me. God never orchestrated those bad times but He used those bad times, He owns time and therefore He did with time what would benefit me.
This would sound crazy but I found God! I realized that not going to Israel, graduating with my mates, getting the kind of job I wanted and doing so many things turned into a blessing. It would still have been a blessing if all those happened but it would have been entirely another story and what I have done today, I may not have done it. God used the twists and turns to land me on the seashores leading to a place of destiny.
I am not a result of frustration! Answering God’s call today wasn’t as a result of confusion and frustration, the twist and turns may have played a role but in the midst of it all, I found God and I couldn’t resist His call because I was convinced beyond every reasonable doubt that God wants me to help others find Him.
This is just one instance out of many instances where I found God. I may not be able to communicate it exactly the way it is but one thing is sure. I have looked into the near future and I have seen the arrangements. I have looked in the near past and I have seen how God has connected the dots for my good.
Next time I am asked at a point at which I found God, I would just respond “at every point.”
Just take a closer look at those problems, reduce the volume of your fears and you will realize that God is there. Those thrown into the fire got God right there with them! Daniel got God right in the den of lions! It may never seem like it but never overlook the wisdom of God. Look at Stephen, at the point of his death, he still knew God was right there and he didn’t mourn. God’s glory compelled him to pray for his killers. You never can tell… If Stephen didn’t find God in that situation, we wouldn’t have had Paul who was right there as Saul.
I leave you with the words of the Psalmist but I will address it to you. “Even though you walk through the valleys of shadows of death, God is right there with you.” Just look, you will see Him. It doesn’t matter if you triggered the experience with your own mistakes. Criminals find God in prison and you too can find Him in that situation. Can you just trust Him? Yes, you can!”
God bless you!
~ George O.N