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Overlooked Gems

Overlooked Gems

I have hidden Your word in my heart. Psalm 119:11

On a rainy day like only the Outer Banks can provide, I went to the aquarium, along with everyone else in the area. While in a little hallway, I saw an unusual photo of Outer Banks history — a line of men dressed in uniform, headed by Richard Etheridge, keeper of the Pea Island Lifesaving Station. The photo was more than a century old. Mr. Etheridge was a freedman — a formerly enslaved person who served with the Union in the Civil War. Mr. Etheridge was the first African American to hold such a post at a lifesaving station (picture a Coast Guard outpost before the Coast Guard existed). He and his crew often rescued those who shipwrecked in the Graveyard of the Atlantic, another ominous name for the Outer Banks. (The shoals and sandbars sometimes move so indiscriminately and violently that, before radar, storms could be world-enders, and navigation was a form of rolling the dice.)

After being intrigued by the photo in the hallway, I learned one particularly mouth-shutting story: In 1896, the E. S. Newman went down in a hurricane. Etheridge and his crew attempted to launch boats to make a rescue. The waves were too overwhelming for any rescue craft to maneuver, so the team went bodily into the churning water — nine times — throwing a line into the grounded ship and ultimately rescuing every person on board.

Until that rainy day, I had never even heard of Richard Etheridge and his courageous company. Pockets of people are learning of the heroic work they did (someone please make a movie) while facing repugnant racism, arson, and robbery.

As I think about history’s oversight, I’m a pinch pained by their invisibility. Yet I wonder: Had they been any more visible during that dangerous age, would their work have even been possible? Maybe the Pea Island Lifesavers preferred obscurity, so they could do their work in peace without fear of retribution. Hard to say for certain, but we do know that Etheridge and his lifesaving crew pioneered an astonishing work on an Outer Banks island while being overlooked, the lasting effects of which we are only just beginning to understand.1

Turns out,

excellence doesn’t always equal exposure.

On and For Purpose

For years I’ve been gabbing about God’s penchant for hiding His people purposefully now for a purpose much later. Hidden on purpose, for purpose, purposefully. A sovereign secreting away. We see a repeating pattern of long seasons of concealment in the lives of Joseph, Moses, David, Paul, and, of course, Jesus. When I see a scriptural pattern on repeat, I know to keep my eyes peeled. And when I personally chafe during seasons of concealment (which I often do), I peek into the spiritual rearview mirror, remember I am not alone, and head out on a spiritual treasure hunt.

The following spiritual presents were tucked away on the spiritual shelf for a mighty long while:

  • Joseph: 11–13 years
  • Moses: 30–40 years
  • David: 15 years
  • Paul: 2–3 years2
  • Jesus: 30 years

Now, what the Lord was accomplishing during each of those concealed seasons was unique, and we could never fully explore their stories. But we can rest assured that each season of hidden development was commissioned and utilized by a sovereign God.



Perhaps most obviously, there is the gift of preparation in the seasons when we are concealed. We are being made ready for something as yet not made known to us. Interestingly, David’s long years between his anointing and his appointing were over a decade. God prepared David and his mighty men to lead Israel through the desperately arduous war games they endured in those hidden desert years. Saul likely never realized that his hunting David was being used by God to make a king and leader out of David. Every battle, every deprivation, and every strategy prepared David to take the kingdom’s mantle. These unseen years became a hidden forge that helped to mold him into a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22).

But it is the earliest story of David’s young life that speaks most to my impatient heart about the deep preparation of being hidden. The prophet Samuel, mourning over God’s rejection of King Saul, was directed by God to fill his horn with oil (the mode of anointing) and make haste to Jesse’s house, where he would find the new king among Jesse’s sons. Here, we pick up the story midstream:

When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.”
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The Lord has not chosen this one either.” Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the Lord chosen this one.” Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The Lord has not chosen these.” So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?”
“There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.”
Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.”
So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features. Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.”
So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers.1 Samuel 16:6–13

Scripture implies that Jesse had brought all his sons to the prophet — after all, a house call from the esteemed prophet Samuel was no garden-variety experience. Jesse proudly paraded out his sons, surely hoping for the destiny-making declaration: “Behold the head that will wear the crown.” However, with each passing form of tall embodied glory, the Lord instructed, Don’t look at his outward appearance, Samuel; look at his heart. He is not My chosen one. In other words,

God doesn’t see as the world sees.

His omniscient X-ray vision penetrates to the deeper stuff, to what is hidden beneath physical beauty, physical prowess, or even irresistible personality. Some of the wisest people I have ever known have been wrapped in it-takes-time-to-penetrate introversion. Some of the most caring and kind souls have been hidden in social awkwardness. Sometimes the most interesting person in the room is sitting in the corner of it. Sometimes it’s easy to overlook these gems. But we’re not alone in that all-too-human tendency. It gives me great hope that even the prophet Samuel, who walked in close concert with God, at times focused on the wrong validating elements. Speaking of which, let’s dip back into the waters of his story.

Finally, surely feeling confused, the prophet asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?”

Jesse sheepishly admitted he had one more son — the baby, who was out in the field.

My theatrical brain fills in the blanks of Jesse’s subtext: Surely it’s not David. If you think it’s David, think again.

I’ve always puzzled over why Jesse didn’t remember David. Was David seen more as a pseudo-servant than as a son? Did Jesse discount David because of his age or view him as the black sheep? All are possibilities, since the Hebrew word Jesse used, translated as “youngest,” is qatan, meaning small, young, unimportant, the last.2 Apparently, David was so out of sight and so out of mind that Jesse thought of him — in this case — as outside the family’s inner circle, unworthy of consideration. Unworthy of inclusion. David was so forgotten by his own family that Samuel had to ask his father if he had overlooked anyone for the spiritual parade — “Are these all?”

Rejection and exclusion can create deep spiritual and psychological wounds. In fact, recent studies report that “an experience of rejection and an experience of physical pain can both activate the same areas of the brain... We all have a fundamental need to belong to a group. When we get rejected, this need becomes destabilized and the disconnection we feel adds to our emotional pain.”3

When we sense rejection from people who should accept us, include us, and see us rightly — especially family or friends — well, the poison is distilled rather than diluted. We don’t need to go down the wormholes of rejection and exclusion to understand the septic wound these unholy twins cause, but I would be remiss if I didn’t write these words:

  • In Christ, we are not rejected, for- gotten, excluded, or marginalized. In Him, we are accepted in the Beloved. In Him, we have a seat at the table. In Him, we are considered. And even when no one else affirms us, Jesus does.

Fellow sojourner, if you have ever been forgotten, resist the temptation to misinterpret that forgottenness. And be careful about doing faulty math on your season of forgottenness (by others), thinking, God has forgotten me too. I’m invisible to God.

  • A season of “human forgottenness” may be forging something in you of great worth spiritually.

Your season of hiddenness may be preparing you in ways you can’t yet conceive. It may be preparing you by inoculating you from seeing as the world sees. And, friend, I am not sure we have ever needed a heavenward, “fix your eyes” view more than we need it now. Our world is in desperate need of Christ followers to say prayers instead of post insults, to let go of offenses instead of making a list and checking it twice. To reach across the divide rather than blowing up spiritual bridges. To turn the other cheek rather than to prepare a backhand slap. And sometimes it is our hiddenness, our pain, our forgottenness — used and transformed in His nail-scarred hands — that give us such rare gifts.

When you have been forgotten, you tend not to forget others. When you have been on the periphery, you’ll tend to notice those on the periphery. When God chooses to bring you in from the shadows and the field, you tend to focus on Him, not man, as the door opener. This will surely develop an urgency to be one after God’s own heart. Don’t short-circuit the gift of hidden preparation.

In a much smaller way I had a season of hidden preparation as well. Right out of college, I auditioned for a Broadway revival and learned I was up for one of the leads. Ultimately, I did not land that role but was cast as that role’s understudy, meaning I would go on when that actor could not. The whole thing was a master class in preparation: I apprenticed under someone with far more tools in her tool kit. She was an oak; I was an acorn. I was very much hidden in her shadow, but it wasn’t bad; it was beneficial. And when I finally stepped out and played the role, which I did close to fifty times, I had been made ready. Though I was a bit whiny when I didn’t land the role, being hidden was the Lord’s gift to me.

I was being prepared for an assignment that God had prepared for me from the foundation of the world. You are, too, friend. Don’t rush the process. Waiting time in Christ is never wasted time. Never.

Let God prepare you, making you ready beforehand.

  1. “Freedmen, Surfmen, Heroes: Richard Etheridge and Surfmen of the Pea Island Station,” Pea Island Preservation Society, Inc., accessed September 13, 2023,; Historian’s Office, United States Coast Guard. “The Long Blue Line: Keeper Richard Etheridge and the Gold Medal Lifesavers of Pea Island.” United States Coast Guard, February 3, 2023. /Article/3259413/the-long-blue-line-keeper-richard-etheridge-and-the-gold -medal-lifesavers-of-pe/.
  2. Brown-Driver-Briggs, s.v. “qatan,” Bible Hub, accessed September 13, 2023,
  3. Guy Winch, “10 Surprising Facts About Rejection,” Psychology Today, July 3, 2013, -wheel/201307/10-surprising-facts-about-rejection.

Excerpted with permission from Seen, Secure, Free by Allison Allen, copyright Allison Allen.

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Your Turn

Do you feel overlooked or hidden? Have you been waiting for a long time and wondering if this time is wasted? We can only wonder what God is doing in you through this season, but He has plan for His hidden gems, you. If you’re still hidden, then it’s not time yet. Hang on and trust Him to do what only He can do in just the perfect time! ~ Devotionals Daily