When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name.
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From the ages of 6 to 16, I didn’t see my father or know where he was. So right after getting my drivers’ license, I went to the first phone book I could find (we had those back then … in things called phone booths), looked him up, and drove to his house. When he opened the door, he said, “Well, hi, Shanny,” like it hadn’t been ten years but ten days, and invited me in to meet his new wife and five step-children.
I remember feeling so disoriented by that. I had thought he might still be consumed by grief over the loss of me, but he’d managed to get back out there and live a full life without me. And there were all those kids …
So when, a few years later, I found a church and began walking with the Lord, I brought some misconceptions with me. I figured that God was out there, somewhere, but that He had all these children, and was far too busy with them to take note of me. I wouldn’t bother Him with my problems.
And then I married Dave, and lost my grandfather and mother, and found out—all in the same rush—that I couldn’t have children. It all combined together to tear the heart out of me.
We tried the first of our adoptions. That one failed. It was my first adoption-loss devastation. Shortly after that, we started a new church where no one knew us, and joined the choir so we could get to know some people.
We joined just in time to attend their annual choir retreat. It felt strange to go away for the weekend with all those strangers, but we knew it was the best way to feel a part of the choir, and the church.
On the second night of the retreat, sitting around the camp fire with pastor Jon Courson, who had driven up from Oregon to be our keynote speaker, he handed us all a small piece of paper and presented a challenge to us.
”Write down the thing you’re most longing for, and when you’re ready, throw it in the fire and give it to God.” I didn’t have a hard time writing my biggest longing. I want a baby. But throwing that in the fire? I didn’t want to do it. I’m sure I was the last to do so, but as those flaming sparkles ascended, I rescinded the gesture. Please bring me a baby, I prayed.
As we stood around the fire, a woman said, “My cancer is back.” Those nearby put their arms around her, and we all prayed. Then a man said, “I can’t seem to get over my divorce.” We prayed for him too. And then a voice I knew well spoke up. “My wife can’t conceive.” I looked up at Dave with wide eyes. How had he spoken our great grief in front of these strangers? But then the woman next to me put her arm around my shoulders and said, “I’m infertile, too.”
That was it. That was the moment those strangers became family. Through the crying and hugging and praying, our hearts were knit to theirs.
I could hardly wait to get to choir practice the following Wednesday. This time, I was walking into a room full of friends.
One of the women, Mary, came right up to me and said, “I need to talk to you.” We went out in the hall, and she said, “I didn’t know you until last weekend, right?”
”Right,” I said.
”So I knew nothing about your situation, right?”
Mary then told me about her homecoming on Sunday night, and how she’d been reunited with her two young boys, who had stayed with her mother. After a quick catch-up, she tucked them both in bed. When she turned to the youngest, a 4-year old named Brian, he said, “Mom, is there a lady in your choir named Shannon?”
Mary was surprised. “Yes, there is. I just met her this last weekend.”
”Does she want a baby?” Brian asked.
”She does. She wants one very badly.”
”Oh,” Brian said. “I’ve been praying every night that Jesus wold bring her a baby.”
I stared at Mary and tears began spilling out of my eyes at the realization that came over me: God knows my name. He sees. He understands my grief. And He enlisted a small boy to encourage me.
I saw Mary and her boys the following Sunday. Walking up to them after church, I knelt down by the smallest and said, “Are you Brian?” He nodded. “And you’ve been praying for me?” He nodded again. “Please don’t stop,” I said.
Four months later, when we brought our three-day old newborn, adopted son to church, Brian was the first person I introduced him to.
I don’t know if Zacchaeus ever felt that same kind of emptiness, or the same longing I had for a child. But I know for certain we have one thing in common: a shared awe at discovering that God knows our name.