The Places I Saw the Face of God


I grew up in a family where we were measured by performance. In elementary school, we were given quarters for our A’s. We were given dessert if we finished all of our food on our plate. We were given shelves for all our trophies.

I did not have a shelf. Sports was something I did not excel in.

I did have quarters, though.

If I were to fill my shelf now with things I am good at, they would be so weird. I have a freaky sense of direction. Freaky. I can go anywhere one time and I can tell you how to get back there. I can’t tell you road names or specifics like right or left. But I can tell you landmarks and colors. If you put me back in the car, I could sense where to go just by the things I see. 

While I could never win you a champion softball game, I am the person you want next to you when your google maps fail you. While this may seem quite impressive to some of you who dab in traveling, when it comes to moving on with your life, it can hold me captive.

I remember everything. 

And shame likes to make sure I do.

I can recall every trauma. Every broken promise. Every moment of survival.

Shame holds my arms tightly, looks me sternly in the eyes, makes me remain in that place until all my penance is served. Until I feel the weight of evil wrap around me and strangle me into submission.

Shame is such an ass.

Shame does not get to hold my place. Or keep my place. Or take my place. Shame doesn’t even get a seat at the table. Liars aren’t allowed.

The places I want to remember are the places I saw the face of God.

Two weeks after we’d learned that the unthinkable had happened to our child, I found myself running on the dirt farm roads of West Michigan. We’d packed up all of the kids and headed north from Chicago. We needed to breathe. We needed to not be home. We needed it to not be real.

My brother lives situated between dairy farms and wild flowers. There’s space to scream into the trees. His home became our safest landing. That August morning I could feel the dust cake against my face as I just ran to feel something. To feel nothing.

I couldn’t listen to music. I couldn’t listen to myself. And I sure as hell was not listening to God. I was done. Done believing. Done praying. Done going to church. God and I were done. Who the hell did he think he was allowing this evil to not only happen to me, but to my child?

My flesh. Torn.

A dear soul once shared with me that she believes that God love is so vast that she comes to us in a way that only we will be able to see her face. That the mercy of God is so intimate, most of us will never experience it, because we are too busy, or too busy looking for the God that fits everyone else.

I rounded the corner trying to catch my breath onto another dirt road. The horse farm was at the top of the next hill. Three goldfinches started flying in front of my face. Dancing. Annoyed, I stopped. Thinking, I just want to run. I just need to keep going.

And then God.

Three goldfinches. They continued to fly back and forth. Chasing each other through the summer sun.

And then God.

That whisper.

Turn to your right.

A field of thistle.

Thousands of goldfinches swarming purple thorns, pleading for relief.

I sat in the middle of the dirt road that August morning, weeping. Pleading with Whoever was trying to love me, that this couldn’t be true. How could a mother ever be asked to carry such grief? How could a child ever be asked to carry a child? How could a God who is love, abandon us?

According to the goldfinch is most often found in the religious paintings in the hand of the infant Jesus. Goldfinches symbolize and relate to the healing of the sick. Goldfinches are part of redemption.


If you can not believe that I see you with three goldfinches, will you believe I will HOLD you with a field of finches?

The grief did not dissipate. The suffering did not go away. The story is not wrapped up in a pretty Christian bow.

Healing did come. Is coming. Will come. It is messy. There is a lot of cussing and asking questions. Jacob has nothing on me when it comes to wrestling with God. We have gone around after around. I am still not sure what I believe or who I believe. I listen to those who have walked through suffering before me and sit with those who lament now. I have come to understand that the holiest of places is grief. It is the moment oxygen is swept away and God herself has to breathe for you.

Shame does not get to claim that place.

Mercy does.