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In the faces of friends: God at work in 2016

Guest blog by Jeffrey A. Schooley 

We asked our bloggers to share where they’ve seen God at work in 2016. Here is what they shared.

I’ve a very shameful secret to share.

When my friend Jake shared privately this past February that he and his wife were expecting their second child, I paused for a second. It was a brief second. Barely an eye’s flutter. But I paused anyway.

I’m ashamed because I didn’t pause in July 2014 when Jake shared that they were expecting their first child. I was instantly joyful, excited, cracking jokes of various levels of crudity. I paused this past February, though, because I was hoping to share this sort of news with Jake and other friends. I was hoping that my wife and I would be pregnant. I paused a brief, jealous, I-can’t-believe-you’ve-got-two-and-I’ve-got-none pause.

I don’t know if Jake knows I paused (but he does now!). My pause was quickly replaced by joy, excitement, another round of jokes of various levels of crudity. In Jake’s eyes, though, was just the slightest glisten – maybe I was even making it up – of concern.

You see, their first child was born with a congenital heart defect. They knew this while she was in utero. There were A LOT of prayers before she was born. I had just started a new call and I solicited the congregation – still relative strangers to me – to pray for an even greater stranger, my friend and his yet-born daughter. That they did so is a testimony to their character. There were prayers and doctors visits, discussions and then more prayers.

So the brief flash of concern I saw in Jake had reasonable enough roots. Would this new child also face this genetic heart disease?

That glancing look of concern on Jake’s face took me back to March 2015, when Jake arrived with both of his dogs and all their necessary accoutrement so that my wife Brianne and I could watch them. The doctors had decided rather suddenly that – though they would’ve preferred to wait a few more months – his daughter was going to need to have open heart surgery at just two months old. On that night, there was a raggedness to Jake’s face, a soul-deep fatigue that even the false energy of nicotine wasn’t about to mask.

You should understand something here, I think, to better know what I’m trying to say: Jake’s face doesn’t have a raggedness to it. It is youthful, even with a beard. There is this shine behind his eyes, a rascality. Remember that friend who could (or at least tried to) charm your mother when you two were clearly up to no good? That’s Jake. That’s the look. That’s the look that friends and strangers alike see most commonly in Jake’s face. If holy mischievousness is a thing, Jake has that thing.

As such, I wasn’t used to seeing raggedness. I wasn’t used to seeing fear and dread, stress and tears. I’m sure Jake has all these emotions and more, but they all seem to pass through that filter of his defining expression of a sanctified scoundrel. So seeing what I saw – or, maybe more importantly, not seeing what I was used to, hoped to, needed to see – when Jake arrived with the dogs… well, I was scared.

After my brief, shameful pause of jealousy, I came around to asking how soon ‘til we learned of this baby’s heart health. A little while longer, he said. I looked back into his face and saw something new. A resolve. A trust. A face full of faith. Jake had walked the hard road of one baby’s bad heart health. He had seen our Heavenly Father secure his daughter’s heart through the well-trained hands of surgeons. He had prayed for the Lord to hold his baby’s heart – and realized that this was the prayer every parent, regardless of a congenital disorder or not, ultimately prays.

All at once, my shame rebounded, but not because of the jealousy I initially felt. Yes, sure, that feeling was ridiculous, selfish. No, now my shame rebounded because I, too, had walked that path with Jake. Surely not in the same way, of course, but walked it nonetheless. I, too, had prayed scared prayers. I, too, blinked back tears of gratitude when the surgery went well. Yet my face didn’t bear that same resolve. In Jake’s face I saw discipleship, true discipleship. Not the pat, neat answers from seminary. Not false piety. Just a firm resolve that whatever should come, well, it could come because it would be weathered by Jake and his God.

That I should answer this year-in-review prompt about where I’ve seen God at work with the answer of “in my friends’ faces” is not surprising. The faces of my friends are often the location of God’s work in my life. Thankfully, though, it isn’t always so traumatic.

This past week, I caught another glimpse of our God. It was in the smile of Jake’s second-born. He’s just over two months old and his eyes are starting to focus, he’s starting to take in the world. His heart is healthy and his eyes full of near-constant wonderment, a reminder of how splendid a world we live in and how splendid its Creator. And with that look, Jake’s second born has joined the ranks of friends in whose faces I learn to see God at work in the world.

JEFFREY A. SCHOOLEY is the teaching elder at Center Presbyterian Church in McMurray, Pennsylvania. In his spare time he binges the best of Netflix, goes to the gym, reads 20th-century dystopian literature and cuddles with his old dog, River.