I entered the workroom at school, relieved to find it empty. Grateful for the quiet, I fed subtraction practice pages into the copy machine. My second graders needed extra practice with two-digit regrouping problems, and I needed a moment of solitude.
At the low-income school where I’d spent the last ten years, behavior problems were the norm. Teachers knew to expect two or three students with extreme anger, ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, or a host of other issues to be on their roster each year.
This was part of the deal, and I was accustomed to the routine. Redirect an explosive child to his cool-down spot, pick up the desk he knocked over, soothe the child whose work he tore up, remind the class that those are not the words second graders should use. Call the child’s parent after school to express your concerns, and discover where he learned those words.
But this year was different. My class was loaded with not two or three, but nine students with extreme behavior issues. They set each other off like matches to gasoline, and there wasn’t enough space in the room to keep them separated. I spent most of my time putting out fires rather than teaching.
At this point I’d been a single mom for ten years. Home was a haven after a stressful work day, but no one was there to share my burdens. In addition, two years previously I’d lost Will, my oldest son, in an accident. Grief sapped my strength, leaving little for everyday tasks. Dragging myself out of bed and through the shower was enough of a challenge most days. By the time I arrived at school I had little energy left for dealing with the demands of my students.
The only place I found any hope was in my writing. I started writing stories as a kid, and continued throughout high school. In college I set it aside as a childish hobby. I graduated, got a real job, got married and divorced. A few years into single motherhood, I felt God nudging me to write again. I was 60,000 words into a novel when Will died. Grief derailed my writing for a couple more years.
But recently I’d opened my laptop and begun a new novel.
Writers will tell you that we are divided into two groups, pantsers and plotters. Pantsers write by the seat of their pants, letting the story lead them, while plotters outline and diagram for months before writing a word.
I’m a plotter. I need the security of knowing what’s ahead for my characters, a luxury not afforded people in the real world. I’d meticulously summarized each scene on sticky notes and arranged them on a bulletin board above my desk. Every evening I’d lose myself in the fictional world I created, finding respite from my grief and the trials of my job. It was the only place I experienced enjoyment or hope.
The night before, I finally reached a scene I’d looked forward to writing. It starred a goat who creates havoc at a small town’s Founders Day. Being a suburban girl, I knew little about goats, so I immersed myself in goat research.
- Do goats chew cud?
- How long do goats live?
- What color are goats’ eyes?
- How high can goats jump?
- Given the chance, would a goat eat vinyl upholstery?
I studied pictures of goats, read articles about goats, watched YouTube videos of goats. I wrote my goat scene and reread it, elated with the outcome. I felt more in tune with God when I wrote than any other time. If only I could write full-time, and never go back to work.
But here I was, back in the fray. I rested my head on the copier as it cranked out pages. That morning a student had bolted from the classroom in anger and run out of the building. He was apprehended and returned by the principal, at which point he crawled under his desk to sulk and hurl out insults. I wasn’t sure I had the strength to return to class after plan time.
Desperation gripped me. I whispered an agonized prayer.
Jesus, I need you to do something to deliver me right now!
I lifted my head. I hadn’t been magically spirited away, and I had ten minutes to return to class. I stared at the empty expanse of white board above the copier.
Only it wasn’t empty. Right in front of me, stuck between the frame and the board, was a bookmark. It had red roses over an aqua background with the slogan, “Take time to eat the flowers.” And at the bottom of the bookmark, a goat.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. Was I really seeing this? I plucked the bookmark off the board and turned it over. Scholastic, $0.50. It was a leftover from the book fair we’d just sponsored, but to me, it was so much more than that.
It was an immediate answer to prayer. It was God saying that he saw me in both places, at home when I was writing and happy, and at work where I was weary and miserable. He spoke volumes through that bookmark.
I see you. I know you. I’m always with you.
I clutched the bookmark as I picked my students up from Art. I opened my desk drawer several times during class to look at it and assure myself it was real. Since that day, goats have become God’s calling card, a kind of secret code between us. Later that year, overwhelmed by weariness on the way to work, I prayed for deliverance again. When I got to school, I discovered the first graders were learning about animals, and the Art teacher, who had a small farm, had brought two goat kids for them to draw. I spent my plan time that day cuddling real, live baby goats.
A few months later I discovered a tray of pendants in a boutique. They were square with letters on them, and had a picture to match the letter. A bear for B, a cat for C, and so on. I sorted through them for an L. I found one, but instead of a lion or a llama, it had a picture of a goat.
A couple of years later my novel was complete. I was ready for the next step, but I knew it needed polishing before I sent my proposal to publishers. I attended an intensive writer’s retreat a couple of hours from home, and got excellent critiques from industry professionals. I left ready to do a final edit, then see where God would take my work. I prayed enthusiastically on the way home.
God, what’s next? Where should I send it? To an agent or a publisher? Tell me what to do!
I felt mildly silly. Had I expected an audible voice? Traffic slowed in front of me and I sighed, waiting my turn to pull out and pass the truck that was going ten miles below the speed limit. Two cars in front of me made their escape, then it was my turn. I scowled at the trailer that was slowing the truck and everyone else down. Something inside caught my eye, and I stared, open-mouthed.
Three goats stared back at me.
Since that day in the copy room, the phrase “God works in mysterious ways” has taken on a new meaning. I don’t expect God to use a goat every time he talks to me, but I have more goat stories than I have room to write about in this post. (One actually turned out to be a bighorn sheep, but at the time I thought it was a goat and that’s all that matters!)
Five years later I still have that bookmark. It lives in my office where I can see it as I work on my second novel. My first novel, with the goat scene that started it all, was published by Bold Vision Books in March 2017. It’s called Doubly Dead. The goat scene is in chapter thirty-five. I hope you’ll read it and tell me what you think.
Everyone’s relationship with God is unique. I believe he tailors his communication to the needs of each person. I’d love to hear stories of how God talks to you!