A few summers back, for reasons known only to God and my son, Zac began to doubt the existence of the Almighty.
"How come, if he spoke to the prophets, God doesn't speak to me?" Zac asked one morning.
"He is speaking to you," I said. "Maybe you're just not realizing it."
Zac was silent for a long minute. "Don't you ever doubt, Mom? I mean, how do we know he's real? What if we're just making it all up?"
Calm down, I told my thrashing heart. "I don't doubt anymore," I said, in a voice more neutral than I thought possible. At least nothing in my tone betrayed my sense of panic. "But I did when I was your age. Younger than you, actually. I used to lie awake at night and make myself sick worrying that God wasn't real and that when I died, I'd just cease to exist."
"But you're convinced now," Zac said.
"Yes, I'm convinced." I couldn't put into words the rush of memory that filled my mind. I saw a hospital room, and the newborn I'd just watched delivered. I saw my friend stroking her son's face, and remembered the awe that swept through me and pushed aside some of that long-held doubt. I saw the northern lights again, on a night when God revealed himself through fingers of incandescent color that teased and tickled the sky, beckoning me to believe. I saw myself praying with a friend at 3:00 a.m. one morning, and heard again the unexpected thunder in my ears, saw again the orange, fiery glow behind my eyelids, felt again the weightlessness as God's Spirit filled my being and whispered, I'm here.
"I know he's real," I told my son.
"Well, I don't."
Before I could give release to the fear that surged through my heart, the voice I've grown to love so much whispered again. You can't give him your faith. He has to discover his own.
So God wasn't panicking.
"Why don't you just ask God to reveal himself to you?" I heard myself say.
"How do I do that?"
"Just ask. Just say, 'God, if you're there, show me.' "
Zac didn't answer me until he'd mounted the last stair. I felt his gaze from the upstairs loft. I looked up. "Can you do that?"
He waited a moment before answering. "Maybe. I'll have to think about it."
He left, and I started praying. "God, show him. Show him you're real, and you're near, and you love him."
Sometimes, God's answers take a lifetime of waiting and watching and listening. But some come mercifully quick. The following afternoon, Zac rushed through the front door and pounded into the living room. I sat on my same spot on the couch, only on this day, the thrashing heart beat in his chest.
"He's real, Mom," my boy said. Before the next words left his mouth, I'd already uttered my silent thanks.
"You'll never believe what happened today." With an exuberance pulled off best by fourteen-year old boys, Zac launched into the retelling of his day. He'd been walking along State Street with his friend, Broc. A man was drilling a sign about fifteen feet above the sidewalk, and Zac looked up to see exactly what the man was doing. In the same moment looked up, debris of some sort dropped from above and landed right in his eye. Zac staggered forward a few feet, bent over, and tried to blink out the intruder. And just as he did so, he heard and felt a fierce "whoosh" streaking past his head.
"Look out!" Broc yelled.
Zac froze -- but opened his eyes. And he saw a city bus zooming just inches from his head. The whooshing sound he'd heard came from the bus's side mirror -- which missed smacking Zac's head by a mere inch.
"Mom, that bus was going 40 miles an hour. If that mirror had hit me, I'd be dead right now."
I couldn't even let that thought sink in.
"God saved my life, Mom. He caused all that to happen -- me looking up, the dust hitting my eye, me bending over at the right time -- so I'd know he's real."
I could only stare.
"I did what you said. I asked God to show himself to me ... and he did."
Zac still has questions. So does his mother. So do most of God's children. But he's on a path. And every time I worry that he might wander a bit too far off that path, I have only to look at the picture posted above. Just a week after Zac's experience, he went to Whistler with our friends, Glen and Sonya Acord, and their three kids. While walking through a Canadian forest one afternoon, Zac noticed four or five doves flying from branch to branch. On a whim, he took some of the chips from his lunch, crushed them, and lifted them up to the birds. One accepted his offer ... and Sonya snapped this picture.
When she sent it to me, I printed it out and stared at it for a long moment. I thought about how much I loved that boy and how much I'd give up to know he'd always have a desire for God. The longer I looked at that picture, the more meaning I saw. Both Zac's wristbands bore embroidered doves. And there was something about the reaching and filling that caused me to pray out loud, "God, let this be a symbol of my son reaching for and being filled with your Holy Spirit."
On the heels of my plea, he reassured me with a whisper.
I want that even more than you do.