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Bell Tower Moments

Photo Credit: The Blue Flower
“Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.” ~Albert Einstein

I have a tendency to second guess my decisions, particularly the big ones. I also often second guess my opinions, and I think this comes from a quality in myself that is both a blessing and a curse: in most situations, I can empathize with both sides of a situation. I have a capacity to see how people on two different sides of an argument are both a little right and both a little wrong. It is rare for me to believe a conflict is starkly black and white. I tend to see the nuance. That has its benefits: I tend to quietly observe and avoid being argumentative. But it also can introduce a lot of confusion when moving forward clearly in one direction is required. What is the correct path?

Perhaps you also have trouble with second guessing yourself, with questioning the rightness of a previously held conviction or of at least some past strong hunch. I know that “God is not the author of confusion” (I Cor. 14:33) I frequently remind myself that “God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power, of love, and of a sound mind.” (II Tim. 1:7). I know my decisions should not languish in a stew of fear and uncertainty. And I do tend to act and to trust, rather than to do nothing. The problem is that when I do act, I sometimes find myself looking back and wondering if the decision was the right one. I find myself playing the role of Lot’s wife. In Genesis 19:15-16, Lot was told to take his wife and her daughters out of the city which was about to be leveled by fire. In verse 26, Lot’s wife looked back upon the city while it burned, and as she did, we are told that she was turned into a pillar of salt. Jesus warned his disciples in Luke 17:32 to “Remember Lot’s wife.” God is not a fan of second-guessing. Jesus cautioned in Luke 9:62, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God." When God calls us and gives direction, we are meant to stand fast in that conviction, moving forward in childlike trust and simple faith.

Our family recently moved from a house we’d occupied for thirteen years. We raised our two girls there during their earliest, formative years. We loved the house and the gardens we developed over time. We renovated all but one room before we left, and we had everything in the house “just so.” It was designed to suit our tastes and needs. South facing, it received loads of light, and I always loved that about it. We enjoyed its farmer’s porch and its lush, green, ample yard. We loved its attached barn with handwriting from the 1800s on some of its posts. But this past summer, we felt God called us to leave that nest and move to another. We’d been casually looking for a while, despite the dearness of the old place to us. Our youngest daughter’s room was more closet than bedroom. My husband didn’t have an office even though he was working from home. He worked out of our laundry room/pantry. We weren’t thrilled with the noisiness of the street, and there were other factors that caused us to start to consider other houses.

I think God understood that with how much I loved that old house and that yard, with all its memories and all it meant to me, He was going to have to guide us with startling clarity to get me out of there. So He sent all kinds of signs. I have a document in which I recorded every indication I received that we were to leave the known and to move into our new home in a quieter neighborhood, with an oversized room for our youngest, more bathrooms, an office and space for an Airbnb. I believe the verse that says, “My sheep hear my voice” (John 10:27), and this sheep clearly heard God’s voice and allowed herself to be led. On one fall evening, though, before I was entirely convinced, and when I felt particularly uncertain about the right decision, I opened to a daily reading in my regular book of devotions. The title was “Nudged from the Nest.” When I shared this with my sister, she was almost speechless as she went to her daily devotional and read the day’s passage that conveyed the same imagery and the same message: that of a mother eagle removing the comforts of her nest: the feathers, the twigs, to encourage her babies to fly. I know that I know God was moving us on to other things. We wanted a house where we could more easily host, where we could readily have people over for meals without scrambling space-wise, where we could have house guests. I’ve long had on my heart to one day run some kind of nourishing artist retreat. This move is one step towards realizing that vision.

Yet despite all these indications and all the assurance received, since moving into our beautiful, spacious and history-rich new home, I have wavered and wondered at times whether we got it right. Was this the right move? It’s worth noting that none of my other family members have questioned our decision. They are all happily carrying on, rejoicing over the new house, the pastoral location, and the peaceful yard. But as the queen of second-guessing, I still sometimes question, “Did we do the right thing?” And so, as always, God meets me where I am and bears with me patiently. There is one symbol, literally a glowing symbol on a hill, that points me back to the rightness of our choice. Every evening as I close the upstairs curtains, I see Berwick Academy’s beautiful gold domed bell tower, the Fogg Memorial Bell Tower, illuminated in the dark just above the trees, straight across from our house. And I am reminded of the history of our home: that it was built by Judge Benjamin Chadbourne who purchased the land for the building of Berwick Academy.

Photo Credit: The Blue Flower

When we first moved to the area, I never thought I would work at a place like Berwick Academy despite being qualified. I didn’t attend a fancy independent school growing up. I didn’t see myself, even after all of my education and travel, as being the kind of person Berwick Academy would hire. I questioned my pedigree and would have never applied were it not for a champion who encouraged me to do so. In hindsight, I realize how silly it was to deny myself the option of considering a school like Berwick. It has been my home away from home for ten years now, and I now know I belong there. It’s just like God to move me from my cozy, beloved nest, scared and off-balance, and to situate me directly across from Berwick’s iconic bell tower inside the home of one of its founders and chief benefactors and first president. The extravagance of God’s goodness brings tears and sometimes a shiver of delight when I take the time to slow down and really reflect on its scope.

And just because God knows the tenacity of my over-thinking and self-questioning, He thought He’d add one more confirmation. When a group of us celebrated our ten year anniversary at Berwick recently, we each were given a striking block print, created years ago by a beloved art teacher, Delores White. I have long admired the print and looked forward to when I would be gifted a framed copy for my 10th year anniversary. As I held it in my hands at last, however, I noticed (and this gave me chills), that the image depicts the bell tower through the trees from a height similar to that of our upper floor windows. It’s as if this print that I have eagerly anticipated and desired, painted years ago, and gifted to many other Berwick teachers, captures the exact bell tower image we see from our home every night, the exact image that God uses to remind me, “You are in the right place.” “You are in the place I reserved for you.” This is true of my placement at Berwick. This is true of my place here in our home.

Some call these moments, apparently laden with meaning and significance, “coincidence.” Some call them “God winks” or “synchronicity.” Whatever you call them, pay attention to them. Stop and notice and ask what they are trying to show you. What are your bell tower moments? What moments have confirmed for you that you were moving in the right direction, that you were where you should be, that you had a blessing and benediction over your life and its rhythms? These touchstone moments are life-giving. We might question many things, but once we have our bell tower moments, we know we have encountered some kind of divine affirmation. Sometimes they are even literal shining beacons illuminating our way.

Photo Credit: The Blue Flower

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