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How Big is a Mustard Seed? March 21, 2011

Posted by J. in Genius, Other People's Genius.

I am a woman of faith.  But because it’s been my experience that the people who love to debate issues of faith are usually the ones least equipped for the job, for the most part I try to stay away from the sacred on the blog.  By and large, I prefer to remain profane.

I have a story that keeps getting caught in my brain on a playback loop a lot lately, though.  It gets to scratching about in there any time the very nature of faith is called into question and God becomes suspect.  I remember it to myself whenever I see hateful words thrown around in God’s name by people who wouldn’t know God if he kicked them in the ass.

I mean, I suppose any time there’s a natural disaster (or three), it’s natural to wonder where God is.  Maybe you are a person of some faith who finds himself confused as to why God seems content to let bad things happen to good people.  Maybe you’re someone who sees signs of God’s wrath in the shaking of the earth and is already preparing to be raptured, or perhaps you just reject the notion of God entirely and prefer to lean on intellect alone to get you through the night.

Whatever tickles your peach, man.

I honestly try to stay out of the fray.  Arguing about “who’s right” is a fool’s debate, and just I try to remember what is important to me and let the rest of it be the background noise that it is.   I don’t like it when others try to ram their beliefs or lack thereof down my throat, so I try not to do it either.  I’m not an evangelist, or an apologist.

So if you’re still with me at this point and you continue to read on, and I hope you will because I think this is a pretty good story, bear in mind that this isn’t my attempt to preach to you or proselytize or knock on your door with leaflets or anything.  I don’t wish to challenge what you personally believe or don’t believe so much as I just feel like offering a bit of insight as to What Makes Poops Tick.

This story is a series of events that I think about whenever events in the world get to a point that make me wonder what God could be playing at.   I reflect on it when my kids ask me in their innocence about how God works and I’m in a position to help build their faith.  I use it as a talisman in my metaphorical pocket to touch when I start to lose my faith in humanity.  Which is why you may find it curious that the story isn’t about me at all.

The story starts with some hard questions, which of course tend to come up when times are hard.

Why would a loving God allow dreadful things to happen to us if he loves us?

Why would he send earthquakes and hurricanes and tsunamis if it’s not a punishment?

If it is a punishment, who is he punishing, and what the holy hell did they do?

Why didn’t he save the innocents?  What about his faithful?

I’m sure there were lots of people fasting and praying for an earthquake to not hit them.  Why didn’t he answer those prayers?


If you can hear me…if you are real…just give me a SIGN.

I mean, if all it would take is for a simple magic trick to make someone believe, why doesn’t God just do it already?  Moses got a burning bush, and Jesus thrilled the crowds with walking on water and the whole raising Lazarus thing.  Is it so much to ask in a troubled world that you make a mountain move?  What about something easier like making a statue cry real tears or let Christ’s wounds appear on my body?  If God is as real as we seem to think he is, you think he would give us a little something, right?

Here’s what he gave me.  It’s a true story, too.

Years and years ago, a young man named Ray was living out West, and he found himself in the Rocky Mountains, looking at the scenery and having a bit of a crisis of faith.

“Lord,” he prayed, “I don’t know what to do.  I pray, but I feel like you don’t hear me.  I feel like you don’t answer me.  I need a sign.  Help me to believe.”  In desperation he challenged God, “If you’re real, prove it.  Make a mountain move.”

Ray was no doubt remembering the gospel story where Jesus tells his followers about faith, about putting your trust in God, and how when you do that, anything is possible.  Jesus told them that if they have faith the size of a mustard seed, they could say to a mountain, “Move!” and it would move.  Ray sighed because he knew deep in his heart that the gigantic mountain in front of him wasn’t going anywhere.  Certainly not with his faith, which he felt was even smaller than a tiny mustard seed.

Ray eventually got sick of waiting for God to do his thing, so he got up and dusted himself off and went back down the mountain.  As he tells it, he soon found himself a lovely lady named Lauretta to marry, and they moved here to New Hampshire and started their family.

One day, some many years later, one of the groups at their church was presenting a documentary about Mother Teresa of Calcutta called Something Beautiful for God. Lauretta recalls that the presentation was poorly attended with only a few people turning up, but the show (as the show must) went on anyway.

Later that night, Lauretta woke from a nightmare.  She told Ray she couldn’t get the images of those poor people out of her head.  Every time she closed her eyes, she’d see them.  Ray comforted her as best he could, but the images haunted him too.  Night after night, Ray and Lauretta dreamed about those people.  Poor people.  Hungry people.  Sick people.  Dying people.  So many people in need of basic care, and so few people reaching out a hand to help them.

They talked about it every day to the point of obsession.  They sent donations to India, but the dreams persisted.  Finally, when most of us might have sought the help of a psychologist, Ray suggested, “Perhaps we should travel to India and see what we can do to help.”

Once Ray said it out loud, they knew it was what they had both been thinking but they were to afraid to voice.  Travel halfway around the world?  Go to the poorest and most destitute of places?  Leave the comfort and safety of their little home to walk into God knows what?

It was a terrifying thought.

They wrote a letter to Mother Teresa and asked if they might go to her in India and help her in some way.  And then they waited.

Mother wrote them back.  She asked them to think long and hard about making such a long journey.  She told them to pray about it and to make very sure that this was the path that God wanted them to take.  Mother Teresa, you see, knew a little something about following a call.

So Ray and Lauretta prayed, and the dreams and the nagging feeling that they should “do something” just continued.   They wrote to Mother again and said that while they weren’t sure what path they should follow exactly, they were quite sure that God sent them to her for a reason.

Mother Teresa again answered their letter and offered a suggestion.  She told them that her order had established a hospital and orphanage in Port-au-Prince, and would they consider traveling to Haiti instead and helping out there.   She assured them that there was much they could do to help and that they would be welcomed by her Sisters.

So Ray and Lauretta and their two young daughters took their first trip to Haiti.  They got off the plane and were so overwhelmed by the poverty around them that they wanted to turn around and go right back home.  In fact, they tried to leave almost immediately but there were technical problems and as fate would have it, they were forced to stay.

The conditions were, as Mother Teresa had warned them, bleak.

Ray and Lauretta called up all the strength they had, rolled up their sleeves and set to the work they had gone to Haiti to do.  They worked very hard with very little, feeding the endless lines of people that came to their door with the little stores they had, helping provide medical assistance with no training and few supplies, and holding the hands and praying with people who were dying, offering them comfort and care and helping them to die with dignity and surrounded by love.  By the next day, they had given no more thought to leaving early.

In fact, they visited Haiti again and again, each time bringing more supplies with them, and when they got too much stuff to carry, they shipped it.  Boxes and cartons turned into shipping containers, and one container turned into many, many containers.

For thirty years from their family home, Ray and Lauretta supplied the Sisters in Port-au-Prince with giant shipping containers of food, clothing, medical supplies, and even toys for the children.  They visited and helped and lived with and prayed for the poorest of the poor in Haiti many times.

And they, like the people who had visited their own parish years earlier and screened a documentary about Mother Teresa, they put together a slide show and presentation about their beloved Haitian friends.

I’ve seen it three times so far.  You can’t see it and not be moved.  In fact, the older pictures are just Ray and Lauretta and their family in Haiti, but newer slides have more and more familiar faces as people who have seen their presentation have asked to join them on their trips.

The slide show lasts over two hours and the more Ray talks, the more you want to hear.  I only wish it was possible to capture the essence of Ray and Lauretta in this or any other article about them.  Love radiates from them.  You can feel it the second you walk into the room, in the same way you can feel the heat from a fire when the rest of the room is cold.  I don’t know of any other way to describe it.  You’ll have to trust me and my common sense when I tell you that there is something different about them that is tangible, but indescribable.

Anyway, after one of their talks at our parish, when the slide show was over a few of us were left sitting in the chapel chatting casually with Ray and Lauretta and Ray told us about that time when he sat on the mountain and asked God for a sign, for some proof that he hears prayers and answers them, and how he in his youth had so brazenly challenged God to move a mountain.

Then told us of the day many years later when he was giving an interview to a local writer, and the writer asked if Ray knew off-hand how much stuff they had collected and sent to Haiti over the years.  Ray had to admit that he really didn’t know.  It hadn’t ever occurred to him to total it up.  So he and the reporter started going through the shipping paperwork and added up how many containers they had sent over the years.

After doing the math, the writer said to Ray, somewhat off-handedly, “You know, if you stacked all those boxes and shipping containers on top of each other, the pile would be taller than Belknap Mountain.”

If you are real, God, then prove it.  Show me.  Move a mountain.

And God did.

Do you want to know where I see God?  Everywhere.  He’s in the faces of the Haitian people.  He lives in the dirt and the mud.  He is alone, hungry and forgotten. He’s sick.  He’s scared.  He’s next door at the food pantry.   He’s that woman trying to find a decent pair of gently-used winter boots for her kids.  He’s in prison.  He’s addicted.  He’s deaf, dumb, and blind.  He’s confined to bed or in a wheelchair.  He’s being beaten up for his lunch money for the third time this week.  He’s standing in the rubble in Japan, and he’s crying.

You know where else I can find him on any given day?  He’s in the face of all the Sisters around the world who continue to do Mother Teresa’s work.  He’s on the ground in Japan and Haiti in the hands of rescue and aid workers.  He’s in the hearts of people like Ray and Lauretta who do what they can, and then do a little bit more. He’s in the big family with lots of mouths to feed that somehow every week still finds enough extra money to donate a bag of groceries or two to the food pantry.  He’s spending his spare time at the nursing home building puzzles and playing cribbage with the residents.  He’s leading a prayer group at the State Prison.   She’s delivering Meals on Wheels.  He’s sharing his lunch with a kid who had his lunch money stolen three times this week.

Miracles don’t fall from the sky like manna from heaven anymore.  I rather think God gives us more credit than that.  If we want to see God at work, if we want to see him move mountains, we have to stop staring at the sky and look around.  God answers prayers alright, but he doesn’t do magic tricks.  We can go ahead and pray for a pony or a big, fat bag of cash or a cure for cancer, but we have to bear in mind that he’s not Santa Claus.

I think I know why God allows suffering to happen.  It’s so that we are always reminded that we need each other.  We are the answers to each other’s prayers.

I’m quite certain that God is trying to show us signs, but we’re too busy looking for weeping statues to see a child that is too hungry to cry.  If you need to see Christ’s wounds so that you can believe, look no further than the person standing next to you; we all carry them around with us every day.

I know in my heart of hearts that God moves mountains.  He just does it one bag of rice at a time.


Click the picture of Ray to read more about the Seabecks and their story of making miracles happen.

Ray and Lauretta Seabeck are still working to provide the poorest of the poor in Haiti with the basic necessities of life through donations, prayer, and by simply sharing their story.   And even though advancing age keeps them from collecting and sending the containers of material they have all these years, and their health prevents them from sharing their story as often as they’d like, the people of Haiti are never far from their hearts or minds, especially as they continue to face the new challenges brought on by the most recent earthquake.



1. Nancy Jacobs - March 23, 2011

You made your Aunt Bunny cry. This is such a lovely read when we look around and see what is happening worldwide.

2. Trillian42 - March 23, 2011

Dammit, woman, I’m pregnant, sitting in a hospital waiting room while my mom has prep done for her surgery. you can’t throw something like this at me and expect me to keep from tearing up!

What an incredible story. Ray and Lauretta are truly angels.

3. Kate - March 23, 2011

I’m not in the least, tiniest bit Christian… spiritual, yes, Christian, no (which, is there really a difference? …but that’s a discussion for another time). And yet I have great, great appreciation for what these people do, and how they do it, and people in general who do classify themselves as Christian (present company included) but who don’t feel a need to whip out the toilet plunger so as to adequately cram it all down my throat.


4. Bike racks - September 1, 2017

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How Big is a Mustard Seed? | askpoopsplease

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