We’d been in line since 10 a.m., sitting on concrete and quaffing lukewarm water from plastic bottles. It felt like we’d been there for two days, though it was only 1 p.m. The doors of the Staples Center wouldn’t open until 6 p.m., so we weren’t even halfway home. But it was worth it, and not just because we were waiting to see U2.
Six months earlier, my wife Shelley gave birth to quadruplets. The first month was filled with joy and celebration because they were all healthy and thriving … and because they were still sleeping at the hospital. After they came home, there was still plenty of joy, but it came packaged with sleep deprivation, constant work, screaming infants, and the gradual collapse of our bodies and minds. At home, every day was nonstop chaos, so sitting on a sidewalk for eight hours chatting, reading, and snacking wasn’t so bad.
We had general admission tickets for the floor. The farther up we were in line, the closer we would be to a stage. But U2 added a twist that made things interesting. About five percent of the people with general admission tickets would be randomly selected to enter “the ellipse.” It was an area in front of the stage enclosed by a circular ramp. People lucky enough to be in this little corral would have the best seats in the house. The band, especially Bono, spent a lot of time running around the platform encircling the ellipse. Anyone inside would be literally in the middle of the concert.
The opportunity to get in to the ellipse filled me with pleasant anticipation, because I knew we were going to get in. I had no inside connections and I hadn’t bought anything special on ebay. Nobody told me we were going to get into the ellipse—I just knew. More specifically, I knew that Shelley held the golden ticket that would get us both into the ellipse. We’d been through a lot in the past six months, but she’d suffered most. Between a painful and dangerous pregnancy and countless nights without sleep, Shelley was due for a lucky break. This wouldn’t be luck, however; it would be God.
Shelley and I met at a U2 concert. We had our first kiss after another U2 concert. We spent the first day of our honeymoon at a U2 concert where Bono grabbed a sign we were holding up and ran around the stage with it. Not to deify Bono more than everyone already does, but there is a pretty clear line of God touching our relationship via U2 concerts. It seems to be his favorite way to surprise us with joy. I was confident that it was about to happen again.
This feeling of certainty was unusual for me. I don’t get premonitions, I’m not very intuitive, and I’m not one of those Christians who runs around “prophesying.” I didn’t hear a voice or see writing on the wall. I just knew. My heart told me that God wanted us to have fun. He wanted to see us jump up and down and go crazy. He wanted to give us something to restore our strength and make us feel light as air. God didn’t tell me in a dream that Shelley’s ticket would get us into the ellipse. I just had a deep sense that this was something he wanted.
When the doors finally opened, U2 fans stampeded like mad cattle. Grown men and women with executive jobs cursed and threw elbows as they jostled for position. Security guards barked commands until order was restored, and people began moving slowly toward the gates.
After a few minutes, we could see the point of no return. A woman with a laptop was scanning tickets. Occasionally, the screen of her computer went red and flashed the word “ELLIPSE.” But most of the time it didn’t.
Shelley walked in front of me toward the woman with the scanner and held out her ticket. I started to smile even before the matrix of lasers hit the bar code.
The screen turned red. “ELLIPSE” filled the screen. Shelley made a squealing noise I hadn’t heard in over a year. I tilted my eyes toward heaven and winked.
“Thanks,” I said. “You’re the best.”
This is my second version of this article. The first one was about the dark points in our lives when it feels like God has abandoned us. I’m not going through the best of times right now, and I was trying to tap into that for this column. But when I tried to think of the times in my life that I couldn’t feel God’s presence, I could only come up with two or three. Then I compared that to the number of times I could see God’s hand in my life. There were a lot. Then I tried to remember the times where I could see the pinky of God—not the instances where God used his hand to shape and mold me, but the times where he just used his pinky to make me laugh in surprised delight. I have never reflected on those times as much as I have the dark times, because that’s the kind of cynical punk I am.
Time after time, it seems like God defies the odds just to make me smile. Like the time I ran into two of my best friends in a Paris metro station at midnight, and we spent the next three days together. Like the time my friend Dave surprised me with a visit on my birthday. Like the time we found the perfect dog at the pound. Like the first time my daughter Emma snuck up behind me and gave me a kiss. Like the time I won $2000 dollars in Vegas.
Okay, I doubt God participated in the Vegas thing, but you get my point.
It’s easy to think of God as an aloof, distant chess master, moving history toward some mysterious end. That’s part of what he does, but I think he also likes to tickle us once in a while. He doesn’t do it to teach us a lesson or hatch some grand design; he just wants us to laugh, sing, dance, and rise above the fray for a while. He sticks out his pinky and flicks us some joy with it.
He gives the exhausted mother of quadruplets a front row seat for her favorite band.
Read October’s God on the Ground