It wasn’t until the ripe age of 7 that I gave any serious thought to how God shows up.
Even with all the Bible stories about miracles, it’s not like I expected God to heal my sister.
But God is surprising like that.
It was 1972, and the family of Kenneth and Violet Aeschliman was either hard at work on our farm near Archbold, Ohio, or attending church. With cattle, pigs, chickens, crops, a large garden and the house to clean, there were plenty of chores.
And there were plenty of church services. If the Zion Mennonite Church doors were open, we were there: Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday evening, Sunday School, summer Bible school, Bible study, youth groups, children’s church. All with the usual lineup of Scripture readings, Bible stories, hymns and, of course, prayers.
The prayers landed before every meal, every bedtime and every church gathering. As with most adult routines, I mostly ignored the specifics. Pinch your eyes shut and be quiet. When someone hits the Amen, you can go play or dive into the food.
This was the rhythm of life. But then, in September of that year, my oldest sister, Pauline Holsopple, who was 29, and her two young children, Conrad and Tonya, were slammed around the interior of their purple compact at a Fort Wayne, Ind., intersection. It was a scene no one should have survived.
After the sirens cleared and vehicles were towed, an emergency room doctor put a few stitches into Tonya’s hand and sent the kids home to heal. Pauline was admitted to Parkview Memorial Hospital with multiple broken bones.
What seemed likely to be a long recovery for Pauline took a sharp turn for the worse as doctors discovered her spleen had burst during the crash. Emergency surgery revealed the extent of the damage. Inside, Pauline’s body was a train wreck, doctors said. She emerged from surgery in a coma, on life support and with a death certificate needing only the date and time.
Suddenly I started paying more attention to this prayer idea and to what the adults were doing.
It was impossible not to. Prayers were everywhere, in earnest. Prayers over the phone, in circles, holding hands, on knees, in church, in the car, in the hospital lobby and chapel, with close family, extended family.
People were praying. All the time, everywhere. Announcements to pray were made in all the area Mennonite churches. Sunday school classes and Bible study groups were praying.
As hope dimmed, the prayers intensified. Pauline was surrendered into God’s hands, and an anointing service was planned.
Although healing could have been the point of the anointing service, surrender was the focus. As we gathered, it was clear, even to me at 7, that God’s will was the only desire.
As we gathered in prayer, anointed and released Pauline to God, family visited her bedside for what would likely be the last time. But as each person came out of her room, they related seeing a small sign of life: An eyelid flickered. A finger moved. There seemed to be a slight shudder through her body.
The next morning, Pauline was no longer in a coma. By the following week she was taken off life support and returned home. Baffled doctors said she would make a complete recovery.
God showed up in a big way through the healing of Pauline’s body.
God also showed up in all sorts of little ways.
Joining in with church friends and family as we prayed, sang, read Scripture, cooked, baked, cleaned, babysat, told stories, colored pictures, played games, searched for lost toys, tucked kids into bed — all made a lasting impression of God in action.
Faith shows up and does whatever is needed, even when what is needed is sitting quietly with someone as they have a good cry. These are the small miracles that sustain faith.
What I experienced at 7 has been the foundation of my faith as an adult. And, yes, that big miracle of healing will always be a central feature. But so will being brought into the faith lives of the adults around me.
We decorate our faith with Bible stories and verses, hymns and choruses, prayers and litanies. We rely on wisdom and tradition to point the way further into the mystery. Although God does not reside in these decorations and routines, they help us remember that God is in every moment. God is in everything we do.
It is tempting to approach prayer as a formula for what we want God to do. It doesn’t work that way. Instead, prayer itself might just be the miracle: to quiet ourselves, alone or gathered with others, and recognize the mystery that is God. A God who wants to be in relationship with us.
It’s tempting to approach children with a formula for faith development. There isn’t one of those, either. Just as God desires relationship, so do children. We all do.
God shows up in the little things — a smile, a hug, a giggle, a note, a drawing, inviting someone to join in. These small acts might be the miracle someone else needs. This is what prompts us deeper into relationship.
There are big miracles, and these stories need to be told. But God also lives in the little miracles of our everyday lives.
No matter what stage of life we are in, or what joy or trauma we face, we can always ask ourselves: What do I do when God shows up?
Teresa Aeschliman lives with her husband and two sons in Asheville, N.C. She is a member of Circle of Mercy church and the Mennonite Fellowship of Asheville. She is the author of What to Do When God Shows Up, which offers a child’s perspective on faith and healing. More information can be found at NoWordsPress.org.