Twenty-five years ago we caught Sara, our firstborn daughter, jumping on her bed and singing the “Johnny Appleseed Blessing” with the greatest of enthusiasm:
“Oh, the Lord is good to me | And so I thank the Lord | For giving me the things I need | The sun, and the rain, and the apple seed | The Lord is good to me.”
Only with no front teeth, she was mispronouncing “Lord” and praising a yet unknown deity called the “Yord.” Her song spawned a family expression that we use whenever we see an event working in our favor – we call it “a sign from the Yord.”
We aren’t the only family who looks for signs from God. As a hospital chaplain, I met another such family some years ago in our pediatric unit as they sat with their daughter, Laci.
Laci’s father placed a pacifier in his toddler’s mouth and recounted the neonatal doctor who’d said Laci wouldn’t live more than a few hours. “I knew different,” he said. “God gave me a sign.”
“Tell me more,” I said.
In the next few minutes, the doting dad described the fretful prayer he voiced in the hospital garden moments after hearing the poor prognosis.
“When I finished praying,” he said, “a butterfly fluttered around me, and I knew it must be a sign.
“Yes,” Laci’s mother added. “And God must be watching her because now we see butterflies everywhere.”
“It even happened again yesterday.”
“Again?” I asked.
“I was talking with a friend by phone,” she explained. “My friend has a picture of Laci on her desk. Suddenly my friend said, ‘Oh wow, a butterfly just landed on Laci’s picture.’”
“Chaplain,” Laci’s mom whispered, “I’d never told my friend about the butterfly sign.”
Like Laci’s parents, many of us seek a sign from God to answer our questions during desperate times.
“Please, God,” we’ll ask, “if you want me to marry this woman, let it rain tomorrow.” Or in another instance, maybe we’ll wonder if a cloud or piece of toast really resembles the face of Jesus.
When people ask if God can speak to them through signs, incidents or dreams, I’ll sometimes tell them, “I suppose God can speak through Barry Manilow if you’re listening, but there is a more important question than the sign.
“How does the sign make you feel? Hopeful? Or anxious?”
If the feeling is one of desperation or anxiety, I challenge them to consider whether they might be creating the sign out of their own need.
When someone is creating a sign out of their own need, they’ll use the sign to insist on getting their desired outcome. Worse yet, they’ll imply that others aren’t spiritual if they don’t see their sign as proof of God.
However, if the sign is really a “God thing,” as I’ve also heard it described, then it should inspire you. You should feel hopeful and peaceful. The sign will be proof not that you will get your way, but that you’re not alone.
I’m happy to report that Laci developed well over her next few hospitalizations, and I have every reason to believe that she remains in good health today.
As for my daughter, she’s teaching school in Honduras and making her daily commute on a motorcycle. We’re praying for a sign that she’ll come home soon, but I guess only the Yord knows for sure.
Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, CA 95759. Twitter @chaplain. Leave your recorded comments at (843) 608-9715. Visit my website at www.thechaplain.net where you can download a free chapter from my new book, “Hero’s Highway.”