This is not a story I tell a lot of people. Usually, when I share this experience, it’s in a one-on-one conversation with someone I trust, or it’s with a smaller group that I know well and feel comfortable with.
This story is about an experience I had with God that has served to ground me in a very meaningful way over the past thirteen years. The memory of this event and the word I heard spoken to me from God has kept me pursuing a journey of personal discovery and spiritual growth even when—and especially when—life in ministry was particularly difficult. And just this week I think I have gotten even more clarity on what God was assuring me of all those years ago. So, now seems like the right time to share it here.
After my daughter, Rachel was born, and after being on maternity leave for six weeks, I was headed back into my regular pace in the youth ministry world. But this re-entry was much harder for me than it had been after my son was born. In fact, the entire postpartum experience with my daughter is something I NEVER want to experience again, and something I wouldn’t wish on anyone. It was a dark time when everything was hard, everything was dark, and my view of myself was particularly low. I remember feeling like I had no idea how to relate to teenagers anymore. I felt unequipped and useless—very “unable"—like everything was foreign to me.
One night I came home after leading a girls’ small group feeling especially down and like I had no idea what I was doing anymore. I was really beating myself up and doing some pretty serious negative self-talk, when my two-year-old son ran up to me and started begging me, “Please come take a bath with me, Mommy!”
Honestly, that was the LAST thing I wanted to do. It would require a lot of energy and effort that I just didn’t have in me. I was depressed. I was self-pitying. Everything involved with drawing a bath and getting in a tub sounded like a lot of work. And spending one-on-one time with a chatty two-year-old sounded exhausting.
But Will BEGGED me, and so I consented—into the bath we went! And, of course, this would be no short bath. No, no. Will wanted the tub filled to maximum capacity. As I sat in the tub with water up to my armpits, Will picked up his little blue cup and began to fill it with water. He then held it up as high as he could reach and watched the water fall as he poured it out into the tub.
He did this over, and over again until he finally said, “Mommy, can I pour water over your head?”
“No, I don’t want to get my hair wet.” Again, having to dry my hair sounded like a lot of work…and I wasn’t interested in work.
Oh my goodness, he was so cute! Eventually, he wore me down and I said, “Sure. You can pour water over my head.”
I bent my head down and closed my eyes. He filled his little cup with water, reached up, then slowly and purposefully poured it all out over my head. The water ran down my forehead and my cheeks, onto my neck and shoulders. Again he filled that little blue cup, and slowly and deliberately poured it out over my head.
This happened over and over again for several minutes. I distinctly remember feeling like I was truly being cleansed —like every negative thought or emotion was just being gently and lovingly washed away. I had a very real sense that God was silently, but profoundly, present with me using my son to pour his healing, cleansing water over me—relaxing me… soothing me…comforting me.
At some point, Will stopped, so I took the opportunity to wipe my eyes and lift my head. And then it happened. Will looked straight at me and said something to me I will NEVER forget.
“You’re a special girl, like Esther.”
What did you just say?
I was stunned. I just stared back at him while my mind tried to grasp what my two-year-old had just said to me. “Why would that even come to his mind to say,” I thought?
The Bible study I was doing with the girls was a study on Esther. Maybe he had overheard me talking about that. There was also a new Veggie-Tales out about Esther. Maybe he had been watching that. Maybe that’s what spurred on this comment.
As I stared at him in stunned silence, Will went right back to filling his little blue cup with water and pouring it back out into the tub. Things were back to normal for Will, but I would never be the same. I was sure that God had just opened the mouth of my sweet little boy and told me something I desperately needed to hear—that I was a special girl, like Esther.
Even though I wasn’t entirely sure what that meant, I received it and held it tight. It gave me such strong assurance. I felt so seen. So noticed. So loved. That experience and that word from God kept me going during some of the darkest depression I’ve ever experienced. It stayed with me constantly. And years later, even after the postpartum depression and anxiety had lifted, I would remember that moment. However, I always felt like there was more for me to understand about that statement.
Then, just this week I was doing my homework for a Bible study I’m facilitating. It’s called Encounter the Spirit by Carolyn Moore. The excerpt below is what I read, and when I did, it was like the Spirit gave me the understanding I needed about what He had said to me all those years ago.
“The book of Esther relates the tale of how an ordinary person is placed in a position of great influence for the cause of furthering the kingdom of God. It is an awesome and humbling place to be. Intimidating, even. Esther feels the weight and importance of her unlikely position and even wonders if she’s up to the task. Then Mordecai sends her a word of advice: “Who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” In other words, what if the whole reason you are where you are is to participate in God’s plan for His people?
“What a question! What if the whole reason you are where you are —at this moment—is to participate in God’s plan for His people? What if God intends to fill you and use you, as surely as He used Esther, as surely as He used His first followers, as surely as He often uses ordinary, sometimes rough-around-the-edges people who are in tune with His purposes?
“What if God intends to fill you with the Holy Spirit so He can use you for such a time as this?”
This is so simple. I mean, I have said this and taught this. But for some reason, this week, a new clarity has hit me. Because when I think back to the time when God first spoke this word to me, I remember just how useless and incapable I felt.
But I am now at a time in my life when I feel more confident than I have ever felt before. I am stepping out into brave new adventures that the 32-year-old version of myself would never have considered.
So this is the new clarity that has hit me this week:
What God said to me thirteen years ago was a promise. He was making a promise to me and stating a truth over my head that was both true then but has become ever more true over the journey of the past thirteen years. He was saying, “I intend to—and I will—fill you, and use you, as surely as I did Esther.”
And now, looking back all these years later, I can see it with so much more clarity. I can see how God has taken this ordinary, scared, intimidated, flawed, woman, and filled me more and more with His gifts. I can see how He has stretched me and grown me and used me to make a difference. I can see how he has prepared me for new and beautiful adventures. And I can see how God has used me in impactful ways for His Kingdom—even when I was terrified and uncertain.
This is the beauty of our God. He is not bound by anything. He will speak to whomever He chooses, whenever He chooses, and however He chooses. He will use whomever He chooses, whenever He chooses, and however He chooses.
YOU are valuable.
YOU are seen.
YOU are a special person.
YOU have a beautiful purpose in this world.
Ask God to speak that truth over you. Even if you can’t see it or believe it all the way right now, just receive it, and hold it tight as you continue your journey of faith.
And listen carefully. You never know who God is going to use to speak His loving truth to you.
Will Eaton with his sister, Rachel Eaton, approximately two months prior to the event detailed above.