A Sign From God by Sara Jordan Panning

       I have spent my life trying to attain the patience of Job, the wisdom of Solomon, and the faith of Abraham, but have often fallen short, leaving me with the doubting of Thomas.

       Much time and energy has been wasted on raging against the injustice of this world and pondering my role in the great tapestry of life. Something happened recently that prompted me to reevaluate my philosophy.

       It was on one of those particularly frustrating days while stuck in traffic that I raised my eyes to the heavens and asked "why?" for the millionth time. This time, however, as I looked skyward, my gaze was directed toward a billboard. Usually I don't pay attention to the countless billboards throughout the city, covered with scantily-clad women proclaiming products that are probably worthless. This billboard was different, however, requiring a second look. It was black with simple white lettering:

We need to talk. - God

       As I said, I had to look twice to be sure I had read it right. A billboard from God? A moral message amidst the greed of commercialism? Could this be? I turned it over in my mind as the light turned green and I moved along with the traffic again.

       Yes, Lord, you're right, we do need to talk, I conceded to myself. We need to talk about why, when I've prayed so hard and so long, you took our two babies through miscarriage, why I was given Graves' Disease at age twenty-two, and why we are struggling even now to have children of our own, I thought in the form of a mental conversation with God. As a social worker, I need to know why there are so many unwanted, abused, and neglected children in the world while my beloved children were taken from me before they even had a chance to live. Do I sound angry, Lord? I want to be grateful, but I've been hurt for so long now. I guess I just don't understand, I concluded. I was at a low point in my life, a point where my faith had been shaken to its very foundation. I needed to reconnect with God. I needed to be heard and that billboard spurred me to revisit my relationship with my creator.

       I went through the rest of my week, giving little thought to the billboard and its message, figuring it was a fluke. It's probably some church trying to advertise, I decided, although there were no names or sponsors listed on the billboard. Just the message itself, unadorned. Still, I dismissed it, looking for ulterior motives. It wasn't until that weekend when I was in the car with my husband David, that it began to change my attitude. We were traveling along the highway at a good clip when I saw it, a black billboard with simple white lettering:

Need directions? - God

       Pointing skyward at the sign, I said to Dave, "Look, a sign from God!"

       He swerved the car in surprise at my sudden outburst and craned his neck looking for what I was talking about. "Oh yeah," he said. "I was expecting the sky to open up and angels to appear when you said it was a sign from God!"

       We laughed at the wordplay, discussed the possible origin of the sign, and then each became lost in our own thoughts again. Maybe God does give us subtle signs from time to time, I thought, even if it is in the form of a billboard. Maybe it's His way of giving us a gentle nudge in the right direction. I do need directions, Lord. Guide me.

       From that moment on, I began to consciously look for those "signs from God." I found seventeen in all, in our city and surrounding areas, from back country roads to busy highways. "Remember that love thy neighbor thing? I meant it." "If you keep taking My name in vain, I'll make rush hour longer." All of them signed God. One in particular came to me on a day I had nearly given up hope on finding any justice in this world, where permanence is a relic from the past and love is something that lasts only until someone better comes along:

I can think of ten things that are carved in stone. - God

       I needed to hear that at that moment. Of course there is something constant in this life - the word of God. I felt refocused once again by that simple reminder. We are only alone if we choose to be, I decided.

       While driving in a rundown area downtown one day, we spotted another:

Will the road you're on get you to My place? - God

       The sign was only twenty feet from a strip bar. I wondered how many men had seen that sign and still been able to go into that place. I wondered if that sign from God had prevented any of them from going ahead with their plans to sin. It seemed that that specific message had been carefully chosen for that location. Maybe God does have a hand in this, I acknowledged. Maybe He is trying to tell us all something. I was learning to put aside my usual cynicism in favor of a small dash of hope.

       It was easy for me to see the fault and failings in others, but much more difficult for me to apply it to my own life where it really counted. Our struggles with the loss of our children and the subsequent financial and emotional strain of infertility treatment had begun to take its toll on our marriage. I was disillusioned with prayer and with love altogether, although I was fighting the urge to give in. Dave and I were in the middle of one heated discussion in the car when we passed a sign that was surely meant for us:

Loved the wedding. Now invite me to the marriage. - God

       It was a powerful reminder to us of where we should turn for strength and the faith to keep on going. God had brought us together and for whatever reason He was putting this grief in our lives, He would inevitably get us through it. It was a turning point for us, a way of opening communication again.

       Everywhere I went, I found answers when I needed them most. When I was discouraged and disgusted with life, I saw a sign from God that made me persevere:

I love you . . .I love you . . .I love you . . .

       Thank you, Lord, I thought, for that simple but necessary word to the wise. Thank you for giving me just one day at a time to deal with, and for holding my hand through it all. Thanks for reminding me that I need to be grateful and that I am truly loved.

       The hardest lesson that I had to learn is that God's will is not always my will. It is difficult to let go and let God when you want something with all of your heart. Even now, I resist sometimes the things I don't understand. We are curious creatures searching to make sense out of things that often make no sense. However, I can rest assured in the knowledge that God has a plan for me, even if I don't always understand.

       I have never learned who put the billboards up or for what purpose, but I'm sure it was not for personal gain. The signs are slowly being replaced now with the usual billboard fare of radio stations, restaurants, and other commercial ads. I'm sorry to see them go, but I can only hope that someone somewhere also took something from their messages, perhaps the very thing that would change their life forever, as it did mine. In the words of one of those special messages: "Do you know where you're going? "