Before I completed my transition to being on staff at AFA, I worked out of Mobile, Alabama, in the glamourous world of lumber sales. Truly, the lap of luxury (she said with a facetiously grinchy smirk).
Not many days in Lumber Land stick out as they are all pretty mundane in every boring, uneventful sense of the word.
However, this one day, in particular, sticks out like a French fry in a bag of tater tots.
It was an unusually long day, er…week; I can feel the tired in my bones just thinking about it. At home, at work, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally, nothing seemed to be going right and everything seemed to be going wrong.
As if that wasn’t enough, the sour icing on this cake – and I’ll do my best to spare you the head-aching details – was a special order that had shipped out the previous week and had shown up on the customer’s yard from one of our partner mills in Virginia – soppin’, stinkin’ wet.
Usually, the materials we dealt with were either shipped in weather-retardant packaging or shrink-wrapped. Well, I guess somewhere along the way from the mill in Virginia to my customer’s yard in Meridian, Mississippi, it had rained. And this material, of course, came packaged in cardboard.
I’m not talking about a few boxes either. No, we were looking at somewhere around 150 damaged boxes. Miraculously, the product on the inside of the boxes was unharmed and thankfully it was all for exterior use. Crisis averted, right?
Yeah, not so much.
My customer was adamant that we send him new material in new boxes. He was aware that the material on the inside was fully intact, but he was unwavering in his request.
I told you I wouldn’t bore you, so I hope you’re still with me; I promise this gets better.
After wrestling with our vendor for new boxes – a request I guess they had run into, I don’t know, never – the replacements came in at 4:55 PM. Five minutes to quittin’ time and all fingers pointed to me.
My heart was not cheerful. In fact, I’m sure you could smell my bad attitude and hear my grumbling and complaining from miles away.
So, there I sat, in a staring contest with a pile of cardboard that wasn’t going to make boxes out of itself.
About an hour into breaking down the old boxes and putting together the new ones, I noticed that a soggy packing slip had fallen out of one of the waterlogged boxes. As I reached to pick it up and put it in the new box, something typed in the top right-hand corner grabbed my eye.
Faded and cracked, I could barely make it out. Pinelake Church.
It was one of those 2+2=5 moments where what you’re looking at doesn’t quite line up with what you know, and your brain suddenly feels more like scrambled eggs.
A very important piece to this story is that I had attended Pinelake Church all 4 years of college in Starkville, MS, which was at least a four-hour drive to Mobile and to my knowledge no one else in our warehouse even knew what Pinelake was. Even more than that, I had seen with my own two eyeballs, this piece of damp, mildewed paper fall out of one of the wet boxes from Virginia.
As I squinted and strained and tried to make sense of the rain-stained pulp, I began to piece together Scripture references, verses, and what looked to be handwriting.
“Search me, God…,” the oddly familiar handwriting trailed off into dirt and smudge.
The paper speckled with mold looked more like a war relic than church notes, but I continued to study what I could make of the muddied pencil markings and ink.
Hindrances of Prayer. Tears began to burn hot behind my eyelids as I made out the title of the page. Faint handwritten answers in blanks that followed read:
Ulterior motives keep my prayers from being answered by God. James 4:3.
Unaddressed sin keeps my prayers from being answered by God. Psalm 66:18.
Idols keep my prayers from being answered by God. Ezekiel 4:3.
Unforgiveness keeps my prayers from being answered by God. Mark 11:25.
Doubt keeps my prayers from being answered by God. James 1:6-8.
It was at that moment that the weight of the week began to shift off of my shoulders. It was quite the scene; sawdust clung to my sticky skin as I sat on that muggy warehouse floor surrounded by cardboard boxes and began to call out the obstructions in my heart one by one.
God’s timeliness felt like the sweetest bear hug from heaven. All week I had been wrestling with discouragement, “God, can you not hear me? Why are you being quiet? Hello?” And all along it had been me standing in my own way.
I wanted God to answer, but I hadn’t been willing to ask Him to search me and know my heart; to call out the dead things and prune away the fruitless branches. I wanted Him to answer, but I wanted Him to answer my way and for my good. I wasn’t concerned at all with His position in my life or His glory.
I laughed to myself between sobs – this must’ve been how Moses felt, or at least a fraction of it. Is that bush talking to me? Did those notes from my old church in Mississippi just fall out of a wet box from Virginia and minister to me?
I felt so seen. So loved.
Picking myself up off of the floor, the one warehouse light crudely dangling over me lit up a corner of the warped worksheet that had been dog-eared before. To this day I can’t quite put into words the electricity that surged through my body other than it was a holy, anointed moment as the scribbled letters came into focus:
These weren’t just someone’s notes. They were mine.
I don’t know if I’ve ever wept like that in my life or if I ever will again. To this day, if you asked me to make logical sense of it, I couldn’t. I couldn’t tell you how my church notes from Starkville, Mississippi, 3 years prior wound up in a box from Virginia. And these weren’t just your everyday, run-of-the-mill packing boxes. No, they were extremely specific to the material that was being shipped inside of them. I couldn’t even begin to tell you how any of this came to be.
But what I do know is that my God is not confined to the box of logic. The Lord is mysterious, and He is good, and He is still in the business of getting the attention of His children; be it through burning bushes, talking donkeys, or wet boxes from the other side of the country.
When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. James 4:3
If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. Psalm 66:18
And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. Mark 11:25
But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do. James 1:6-8
Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23-24