Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God who sees”; for she said, “Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?” Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi (“the well of him that liveth and seeth me,” or, as some render it, “the well of the vision of life”, the well where the Lord met with Hagar), it is between Kadesh and Bered. Genesis 16:13-14
In the spring of 2011 I traveled to northern California to attend the Twin Cities Church annual women’s retreat. It was being hosted at beautiful Lake Tahoe’s Zephyr Pointe Conference Center. It was the first time I had ever visited northern California and it was such a pleasant surprise for me. My previous travels to the west coast had led me to the southern regions of the state, where sandy beaches and rows of palm trees fit perfectly into my preconceived notions of California life. But I soon realized that California’s terrain was as diverse as the people who lived there.
As my dear friends and I made our way from the Sacramento airport to the Sierra Nevada foothills, I was awestruck by God’s creation. The drive from Nevada City to Lake Tahoe was nothing short of breathtaking. The tree covered mountains, winding roads, and crystal clear streams were like nothing I had ever seen before. I still remember the moment I first stepped out of the car and took a deep breath of the fresh mountain air. It was so heavy with the sweet aroma of pine trees you could almost taste it. I still miss that wonderful smell.
My visit that spring was monumental in many ways. Not only was I traveling some 1400 miles to a place I had never visited before, but I was also going to be staying with friends I had never actually met face to face before. As is common today, I had met my California friends online. It was a chance meeting while playing an interactive game on a social networking site that knit our hearts together. One of the many things we had in common was a deep love for God. And even though we lived so far apart, through the wonders of technology we became quite close. We visited regularly through texting, phone calls and social media. We exchanged gifts on birthdays and holidays. We shared our faith, our fears and our challenges as well as a Bible study or two. In fact, the retreat I was attending was hosted by their church. A church I had also come to know quite well by watching their online sermons.
And even though I felt that I was traveling to see old friends, in practical terms everyone and everything I would experience there was new to me. It took a leap of faith to make that initial journey. Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t anything as monumental as going on a mission’s trip or the like, but it was definitely something well outside the comfort zone of my tiny North Dakota world. And even though it was clear to me at the time that the experience was having a major impact on me, I didn’t realize at the time that it would change the course of my entire life.
One of the things that really impressed me were the hearts of all the women attending the retreat. I had never been surrounded by so many passionate, genuine followers of Christ. My friend was on the Women’s Ministry Team and so we arrived early to help with set up. The conference room was buzzing with activity. Every woman doing their part while smiling, singing or laughing. The only break in the work of preparation was for the occasional embrace of an old friend that had just arrived. As for me, everyone welcomed me with open arms. When I offered to assist, they gladly accepted my help. Within minutes, I felt like I fit right in. At one point, I gazed out of the conference room windows onto the shimmering lake. I felt like I had found a bit of Heaven on Earth. I felt like I was home.
The speaker, Laurie Jennings, gave a sermon series that was titled “How Deep the Father’s Love”. On the first evening, she spoke of Hagar running from Sarai and how God saw her in the desert and sent an angel to her side. The angel’s message was one Hagar didn’t want to hear. “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her authority.” In other words, “Have you forgotten your part in this mess, and how you despised Sarai? Now go back home and take responsibility for your part in all of this. Take responsibility for your life”.
Laurie also shared a bit of her personal experience with a devastating loss she had encountered. She asked us if we ever felt insignificant, invisible or forgotten. And she reassured us that we were daughters of the God who sees us, El Roi.
By the end of that first evening, it was clear to me that God was using the speaker to address some pain I was still struggling with from my past. I realized that in some ways I was running from my pain just as Hagar had. Forgetting my part, I was entirely focused on how others had failed me. And I wanted out. I had no idea where I was going to go. I just knew I couldn’t survive with the way things were. And so I was running. Running towards the desert or a desert-like experience that would eventually bring me to the end of myself and to life as I had known it.
I vividly remember Saturday morning breakfast. No longer feeling “at home” at the lakeside retreat, I was dreading the return to my painful life in North Dakota that was soon to come. I felt so lost, like I didn’t belong anywhere. I was sure that God had caught me running. I was sure He was telling me to return and own up to my part in my struggles. And I was dreading it. I felt foolish for traveling so far to hear a message God had been whispering in my ear back home, long before I had ever packed my suitcases and boarded the plane. I felt rejected by Him, alone and terribly sad. In fact, I was struggling to keep from bursting into tears as I stared down at my scrambled eggs. The dining room hall was bursting with laughter and prayers, but I heard none of it. I was alone in my misery and wondering where to go from there.
And that’s when he caught my eye. I happened to lift my head to glance out the windows, hoping to stave off the tsunami of tears I felt building up inside of me. As I looked out the wall of windows in front of me I found myself searching for something, anything familiar. And there, perched on the tree right in front of me, was a beautiful blue jay. At first glance I thought nothing of it. But something about him captured my focus. As he cocked his head slightly, he appeared to be looking right at me. I couldn’t help but giggle. As strange and silly as it may seem, I felt like the bird saw me. He saw me. He saw me. El Roi, saw me. Through His creation, through His heart, through His Spirit, God was letting me know that just like Hagar, He sees me.
Suddenly there was hope. Yes, I was still in pain. Yes, I was still uncertain of what lay ahead. But I felt hope. I felt encouraged. I felt grateful for God taking the time to see me and speak to me. And I was excited to return home.
That breakfast encounter wasn’t the only time that weekend that God reached out to me. In fact, every time I felt overwhelmed and afraid I would discover a blue jay at my side. On the last morning there, I was standing outside the conference center waiting to leave. I glanced up at the massive beams that framed the awning above me and there he sat. With all the activity and noise around us, he never flinched or flew away. His gaze was fixed on me. Truly God watches over us and can use anything to speak to our hearts. Are you listening? No matter how much pain you’re in. No matter how alone and rejected you may feel. God sees you and He loves you.
I can’t say I was thrilled with God’s instructions to me any more than Hagar was when God spoke to her. But He helped me to see that His correction and discipline were evidence of just how much He cared for me.
For whom the Lord loves He reproves, even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights. Proverbs 3:12
El Roi, thank You for making Yourself known to me. Thank You for showing me that You are fully aware of my struggles and available to help me in whatever it is I need. Your discipline is often quite difficult, but it also brings me so much hope. You love me enough to share the truth with me even when it can be painful. And You walk right alongside me as I face my own weaknesses and sin. I am so overjoyed to realize that with You I can overcome anything. I love You Dear Lord. Amen