Extravagant Gifts and Unnecessary Signs

I've always thought it was sort of silly when someone was too proud to ask for or accept help. I've always thought that when someone offers you a gracious gift you should accept it with gratitude and the hope that one day you could graciously gift someone else. But, today I'm sort of struggling with those concepts. Here's why...

"We want to buy you a car." My dad's words where clear, direct and concise  but I am pretty sure I still responded by saying "What?" into the phone a number of times. I was stunned. And he wasn't talking about just getting us any car, he was talking about getting us a new car, a minivan - something large enough for the wheelchair or other equipment Sage will most likely need eventually - something reliable that will last us a long time.

Only a week before they had told us they wanted to pay for our airfare to go back to Prague for a visit this summer.

It's too much. It felt like too much to accept.

And for some reason it's harder for me to accept right now. It feels excessive and unnecessary.

We have spent years of our married life living below what the US federal government considers the poverty line. We have in the past made choices to value time together, traveling and living abroad over building up some post-college career in a specific location. We have lost jobs unexpectedly. And we have made a few poor financial decisions (like buying a condo in Prague just before the market crashed everywhere).

Because of that we have had opportunity to accept help from friends and family alike in the past. We lived with another couple in Prague without them charging us rent, we accepted an older car as a gift from our church, and whenever my mom came to visit I let her buy groceries for me. These were not terribly difficult things to accept beacuse they were things we really truly needed and things that at the time we really truly couldn't provide for ourselves.

Our financial situation is very different now. Bryan has a steady full-time job with a decent salary. We are slowly starting to build up our savings again. Sure, medical bills continue to come in and slow that process down, but we are doing well, really well, relative to past years.

Despite that, a trip to Prague and a new car are far outside what we can afford. They are things that we definitely can't give ourselves. They are not necessities. They are extravagant.

We don't need a trip to Prague. We want to go back to Prague and visit our friends and show the kids where we used to live, but it's not a necessity.

And neither is a new car. Sure our present car is older and has had some problems in the past few months. It's not completely reliable, but it works (most of the time). Sure eventually we will probably need a different car - soemthing that's easy to get Sage in and out of even as she gets bigger without gaining much mobility and something that would allow us to carry around any equipment she may need, but for right now, at this season, our current car still meets our needs.

And that's where my struggle comes in. I'm struggling to accept these extravagant non-necessary gifts.

I was thinking today about how I also struggle to accept God's extravagant gifts. It's not terribly hard for me to believe in a all-powerful God, or to accept that this God desires to save humanity - I need a God like that. I need saving and it feels necessary.

But, is it necessary for him to love me in the daily bits of my life? Is it necessary for him to provide for us time and time again? Is it necessary for him to pour out grace upon grace on us? No not really. And honestly I often struggle to accept that God really loves me and cares about me. That the eternal creator, that the Spirit of life, wants to give me good things.

Even with Sage's diagnosis and Bryan's diagnosis too, I haven't felt angry with God or even questioned why. He doesn't owe me anything. He has every right to give AND to take and I don't struggle to accept that. What it's harder for me to accept is that perhaps he would want to miraculously give Bryan more time. Perhaps he would want to miraculously surprise us with Sage's abilities.

I pray every day that God would grant Bryan and I more time together, that he would extend Bryan's life like he did Hezekiah's, but even as I pray this prayer I feel like God granting it would be so extravagant, that I struggle to accept that he might.

The other day I was talking to a friend about this and telling her how I feel like dispite the fact that I do pray for a miracle like Hezekiah's what I really need is for others to pray for that, because I can't fully enter into that prayer. I need someone else to hold my arms like Moses and intercede on my behalf in my weakness and unbelief.

A few days ago I was reading the story of Hezekiah again and was struck by the fact that after Isaiah told Hezekiah that God was going to extend his life for 15 years Hezekiah asked for a sign that it would really happen and God graciously granted it. Hezekiah didn't really need a sign, Isaiah had already told him. Perhaps Hezekiah was a bit like me and struggled to accept God's gracious gift. Remarkably God gave Hezekiah an extravagant gift - an extravagant sign - talk about an extravagant sign too! He added more hours to the day just like he was adding more years to Hezekiah's life!

As I prayed and did the dishes that night I told God I wanted a sign. I wanted to know like Hezekiah knew. I wanted that sort of extravagant unnecessary gift of knowledge from God.

Then I started wrestling with myself about whether or not it was even right for me to ask for a sign. I thought of the verse in the Gospels, "A wicked and idulterous generation asks for a sign and none will be given it accept the sign of Jonah." I felt guilty. It must be wicked of me to ask this of God.

But, as soon as I thought of that verse I looked up and saw our goldfish swimming in his bowl.

The sign of Jonah... three days in the belly of a fish. I know this is refering to Christ being burried for three days before rising again, but somehow I felt like God was trying to tell me something about this goldfish on my counter.

"Could that be my sign?" I wondered.

And then a thought came to me that didn't feel like it was my own - perhaps it was my subconcious, perhaps it was just me, but it felt different, you know?

"This goldfish looks strong and healthy and there's no reason to think that it will be dead tomorrow, but statistically goldfish don't live very long. Bryan looks strong and healthy and there's no reason to think that he won't live long, but statistically people with melanoma don't."

"Lord, could this be your sign to me? If the goldfish lives or dies?" The question bounced around in my head as I got ready for bed and as I woke up the next morning to be greeted by a happy goldfish. I thought of it all that day.

That night as I lay in bed I asked God, "how would it work if this was your sign to me?" And instantly, clear as day, a thought popped into my head that again seemed not my own, "Every day is a year."

"Starting from this morning or tomorrow?" I asked.

"Starting today." The answer came.

It has now been eight days. And as each day has come I have felt more hopeful, but also more doubt. I can't fully believe that God would grant us another eight years or more. It's easier for me to believe that things won't go well, than it is for me to believe that God would want to give us the gracious gift of more time. It's easier for me to believe that I am making up this whole goldfish sign nonsense than to think that perhaps God would give us this clarity.

And so with each passing day that my fish lives I wonder, "Is this really God's sign to me? Or did I just make it all up? Would God really be gracious enough to give us more time like he gave Hezekiah? Would he gift us as extravagantly as my parents want to? Would he gift us as extravagantly as to gift us with the knowledge of how much time we have? Is he really that extravagant in his love?"


Do you ever struggle to accept the extravagant love of friends, family, or God? Has there ever been something that has helped you to accept a really big, or unnecessary, or unbelievable gift?

Rejoicing in the journey, Bethany Stedman