Just One Grape: A 2017 P.S.

The following essay was written and submitted by Dr. Elaine Eng, Associate Professor of Mental Health, Alliance Graduate School of Counseling(pictured far right standing)

The discouraged young man lamented, “Why doesn’t God give me something…even if it is just one grape?”

He needed a glimmer of hope from the Lord. Having been denied over and over again a simple interview for his applications—his quest to answer the God-given call to be a psychiatrist to the homeless, marginalized and mentally ill—met with inexplicable obstacles. This believer realized that he could no longer shake the stalls and rejections of his applications to training programs while others moved on with interviews and invitations. Medical school graduation and an arduous two-year process with many attempts to make it into the psychiatric arena fruitlessly transpired.

The Lord prompted me to invite him to an employee Christmas brunch at Nyack College as a tool of encouragement. As he opened the car door to enter, he pled,” Lord, just one grape.” During the drive there, I had explained to him the spiritual discipline of noticing God,” and the prayer authored by St. Ignatius of Loyola.

“The prayer of examen is a three-part prayer process. First comes gratitude. We scan the previous twenty-four hours in order to notice the gifts God has given us. We thank God for all of this. Second, we review the previous day again, this time seeking to notice God’s presence. We ask the Holy Spirit to show us in the everyday events of the past day where and how God has been present and working in us. Third, on the basis of our gratitude for the gifts of God and our awareness of His work, we again examine our day. This time we ask the Spirit to show us the ways in which we have failed to respond to God or not lived up to our calling as Christians. We ask to know our sin and failure. Because we come to sin and failure through the path of gratitude and awareness of God’s presence, we are able to face and own these shortcomings; we know that even in the midst of them, God still loves us and is at work in our lives. We don’t make light of our shortcomings. On the contrary, the more we are aware of God’s active love for us, the more sorrow we feel for our refusal to respond, and the more effort we make to follow God. But we do this out of gratitude, not guilt.” **(Peace 1992, 102).

We entered the festive cafeteria and the Nyack staff warmly welcomed us. As we approached the breakfast buffet, he exclaimed, “I see grapes.” (I didn’t know whether he was giving me the food menu, since I am blind or whether he noticed God.) But I did and quickly replied, “Just one grape?” “No, he said, “a whole bunch.” This was “God-sighting #1).

We were put at a table with Wanda Velez, Heather Butcher, Maggie Labocki and others, a table which we dubbed “a table of favor.” Over the course of the Christmas program including choir-led singing, the reading of the gospel account of the birth of Jesus, and thanksgiving, there was intermittent drawings for gift cards awarded to winners by lot.

Over the two hours of festivities, we began to notice an unusual trend; it seemed like everyone at our table was winning gift cards, a statistically impossible happening. Unused to this, I remarked “Don’t worry. I never win anything, never in my whole life.” Then a voice rang out, “Elaine Eng!” There was applause and I learned I won a gift card to Chili’s. I thought, Lord, wouldn’t it be amazing for the young man next to me to get more than grapes? Fifteen minutes later, his name was announced for a Cheesecake Factory gift card! This was the second God-sighting. As you can see from the photo above, God made our table show him that God is to be noticed as a spiritual practice. Often He seems silent, but this time He was trying to be loud and clear to encourage this young man that He is the merciful and compassionate Father, that He has always been.

Two days later, just three days before Christmas, I received a phone call from the young man. On this unlikely late date, he received the best Christmas gift from Father—an interview for the psychiatry training program at a well-known university. It is a fit for this young man’s personality and call with the unique history of the institution, seemingly a match made in Heaven. This was the third and long-awaited God-sighting.

Would you pray with me that the Lord carries this young man all the way to fulfill the call He implanted in his heart?

Luke 15 reads:17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

**Richard Peace, Spiritual Autobiography: Discovering and Sharing Your Spiritual Story, Colorado Springs: Navpress, 1998) ISBN: 1-57683-110-8