I had no desire to move away from my beloved Northeast.  John had come home from work a few days earlier informing me that the company he worked for was picking up and moving to Tennessee and wanted him to go with them.  They told him all the usual things:  It will be a great opportunity; The cost of living is lower; Housing is cheaper; yadda yadda yadda.   He, being such an adventurer, thought it would be totally great.  A chance to experience another part of the country!   He had already lived in four other states and had explored a good part of the Midwest and the East Coast on a solo motorcycle trip.  This would be fun!
 
I, on the other hand, being the more cautious one, wasn’t so sure.  No, that’s not exactly the truth.  There was no way in he** I wanted to move away from the North, from my family, my friends, my house, my home.   I was 7 months pregnant with our third child, the other two being 3 years old and almost 2 respectively.  I had a network of family and friends here whom I could rely on.  Why would I want to leave that, especially on the brink of child number three’s arrival?   I had only lived in one state all my life.  It’ not that I don’t like adventure because I do.  Well, sort of.  You know I’m feeling adventurous when I order a Hawaiian pizza instead of the usual Pepperoni Extra Cheese.   That’s adventurous, right?
 
So, we did what we always did when we were younger, less experienced, self-focused individuals convinced of the rightness of our own positions. 
 
We fought. 
 
According to him, I wasn’t being supportive.  According to me, he wasn’t being sensitive.  Sound familiar?  I’ll bet it does. 
 
Anyway, one night after yet another round of arguing the finer points of why we should or should not move, one of us came up with the bright idea of praying about it.  We decided to lay it all out on the table.  I had a list of concerns that I wanted answered.  We would pray about the list then visit Tennessee to scope it out and see what God did.   We both agreed that whichever way God answered, IF He did, we would follow.  If it was really obvious that my concerns were unfounded, I agreed that we’d move.  If it was really obvious that my concerns were telling us something, John agreed that we’d stay.  It was a true stretch for both of us and not just a little scary.
 
And so, we prayed over THE LIST:
  • Schools:  Schools in our area were rated pretty well.  How were the schools rated down there?
  • Being away from family and friends:  Was it worth it to leave them?
  • Crime:  Where we were living had one of the lowest crime rates in the country.  What would it be like in Memphis?
  • Cost of living :  Is it really cheaper to live there?
  • Heat:  So, just how hot did it get and for how long?  I get ill in the heat.
  • Racism:  What about the rumored problem of racism still being alive and well there?  Where we lived, people were just people.  I had had very little if any real exposure to racism growing up.  I certainly didn’t want my kids learning it.

We researched schools online before even going for our whirlwind weekend tour.  Schools in the Memphis area had some of the worst ratings in the country at the time.  We read more negative reviews than I care to relate.  

Schools:  Check.

During the plane ride down, a couple across the aisle from us struck up a conversation.  We told them what we were doing.  They piped up that they had actually moved across country and lived that way for five years.  They were heading back because “you just can’t underestimate the value of having family and friends close by.   It is really important.”   John and I cast sideways glances at each other.

Family / friends:  Check.

While we were in Memphis, we visited a local Wal-Mart.  We were greeted by a police officer at the door instead of the usual happy-face-sticker-giving-60-something-year-old Wal-Mart greeters that we were used to.  When we made a comment about it, someone in the store piped up “there’s usually three of them.”  While perusing the store, we overheard one worker telling another of how she had gotten robbed the night before and one of her neighbors had been robbed the previous week.  Couple that with the gated communities complete with bars on the doors and windows that the realtor had showed us as “the safe neighborhoods” and we were ready to cross another item off of our list.

Crime:  Check. 

 The reason we had entered Wal-Mart in the first place was to check out prices.  We also visited a large chain grocery store.  I was a frugal shopper and knew my prices well.  They were exactly the same or higher but they had the added benefit of sales tax, something we were not used to.  Yes, the property taxes and electricity bills were lower, but the additional taxes on other things made the cost of living just about the same.
 
Cost of living:  Check.
 
I am used to six months of winter.  When we asked the realtor about heat, she laughed and talked about six months of summer and living indoor with the air conditioner.  Tennessee has an average of 120 days over 90 degrees.
 
Heat:  Check.
 
By this point, it was pretty obvious that we were not going to be moving.  But the real kicker was on the flight home. The lady in front of us was a friendly Memphis lady on her way to visit with family or friends and she liked making small talk.  She asked what we had been doing in Tennessee and where we had looked at houses and whatnot so we told her.  She got this funny look on her face and said “Oh darlin’, if you move to Memphis you don’t want to live in THAT neighborhood.  It was a nice place and then the blacks started moving in.  If you ask me, neighborhoods just go right down when blacks move in.”  Blink.  Blink.  Did she really just say that?
 
Racism:  Check.
 
Every single item on our list was answered, some of them in glaring neon.  We’ve laughed a lot over the years at some of the “in your face” ways God made his will clear during our two days in Memphis.  The best part about it though was that we had come to a decision peacefully with neither of us feeling like we had lost a fight or were giving in.  We were together 100%.  That was the best answer of all.

My 10-year-old had it in her head and would not give it up. 

“Mom, I want a hamster for Christmas.” 

I really wouldn’t have minded too much getting her a hamster for Christmas, beady eyes and all.  Problem was, I had priced out the whole thing and it was a pretty hefty price tag when you consider the animal itself, the cage with habitrail, water bottle, food dish, hamster toys and hamster ball.  I didn’t have a ton of money to work with and this wish seemed well out of reach.  I tried to prepare her for what I thought was the inevitable.

“Honey, I really don’t think getting a hamster is going to be doable for me.  I will try, but don’t expect one under the tree.”

Her face dropped a bit.  “I know mom.”  There was a pause for a few seconds, then her face lit back up.  “But, it still MIGHT!”  Big grin.

*sigh*   The unquenchable optimism of youth.  My gut quietly ached with the thought of being the delivery agent of disappointment (yet again) so I smiled and put on my happy face and said “Yes, it might.”   But inside, I felt like jello.  I knew there was no way apart from some supernatural intervention that a hamster would be under that tree.

Only a few weeks before Christmas, I was discussing with a friend my impossible hamster-for-Christmas situation.  She looked at me with a funny smile and said “Renee doesn’t have a hamster anymore and all of the hamster stuff is sitting in a box ready to leave my house.  I have a cage with tubes, a nesting box, water bottle, food dish, and some wood shavings.  We even have a hamster ball.  If you want it, it’s all yours!”

I got that deer-in-the-headlights look and for a few brief seconds was quiet .  Imagine silence except for the chirping of crickets.  Chirp.  Chirp.  Chirp.  Time was momentarily suspended while my brain caught up with reality. 

“Uh.  Umm.  Hmmmm.  Really?  Wait…..  Yeah, of COURSE I’ll take it!”

Not long after this day, I was checking out the posts of offers on Freecycle as I had habitually been doing for at least a year now.  I’d love to say that I started scoping Freecycle out of my noble commitment to save the earth and keep our landfills free of unnecessary stuff.   Queen Robin rescues yet another perfectly usable and wholly adequate object from offensive landfill space-taking!  Score one for the earth!  But really, the truth is I’m a sucker for just about anything with a price tag of “free”.  If it says “free”, I instantly want it, whatever it is, sight unseen.  I had learned to view Freecycle as an awesome way to scoop up some mighty nice stuff for nothing.  (And, on occasion, to get stuck with other people’s useless landfill-worthy junk.  But I digress.) 

I had only seen hamsters offered once or twice before on Freecycle so I was not expecting to find one offered now, especially so close to Christmas, but I was hopeful.  I was pleasantly surprised that day to see that someone in the next town over from me was giving away a hamster.   Her 5-year-old had lost interest in it quickly and she was tired of caring for it.  The hamster was only 6 months old and came with a small cage and a few toys.  I was a bundle of nervous energy.  Freecycle typically operates on a first come, first served basis so if you’re interested in something, you need to act fast.  I sincerely believe that there are people who sit at their computers all day long just watching the postings and swooping in within seconds to stake their claims. 

In other words, I didn’t think I had a snowball’s chance of getting this hamster. 

I was delightedly surprised to discover only a little bit later that day that I indeed was first on the list.  I won!  I won!  The woman graciously held onto the hamster until Christmas Eve, when I drove over to pick him up.

The following morning, it was wonderful to watch Kayla open up her presents.  When she opened up the hamster cage with all the fixings, she thought it was for the stuffed hamster we had purposely placed in her stocking as a red herring.  It was so hard not to spill the beans right then and there!  At the end of the unwrapping, we pulled the real hamster out of the closet to much ooohing and ahhhing.  He really was a cute little thing with his pure white fur.

“I’ll name him Snowball!”  Kayla said triumphantly!

I snickered quietly to myself at the appropriateness of the name.  We went from a snowball’s chance to Snowball in just a few short weeks.  I just love God’s sense of humor!

There were two answers to prayer at this Christmastime a few years back so I’ve decided to break it up into two posts.  Here’s the first answered prayer: 

Gabrielle was 7 and had only one item on her Christmas list.  She desperately wanted a stuffed Penelope dragon from the “Barbie as Rapunzel” movie.  Brie had gotten her original Penelope two years earlier for Christmas and loved to press its tummy and watch the wings move back and forth while it said things like “I AM a mighty dragon!”.  She brought Penelope everywhere with her and played with her every day.  

She even slept with her at night.   If only I hadn’t let her….

You know, it’s really not a good idea to sleep with stuffed animals that have somewhat fragile moving parts that could potentially break if you roll over in bed.   Broken wings don’t flap; they flop and then the sounds that come out are more reminiscent of horror movie psychos than innocent cartoon characters.  It isn’t pretty.  At all.

And so, this is how the word inconsolable took on new meaning for me.  Gabrielle was absolutely inconsolable without her Penelope.  Problem was, Penelope wasn’t being sold in stores anymore.  She wasn’t being sold on Ebay either.  Or Craigslist.  I couldn’t even find her on Freecycle.  Nobody had Penelope.

As Christmas got closer and closer, I was desperately seeking Penelope without any luck.  I pictured Christmas morning being up to my eyeballs in boxes and wrapping paper hearing the sobs of my broken-hearted child from somewhere amidst the fray. 

I have to tell you, it’s not that I have this compulsion that some parents have to give their children everything they want.  My children know well the meaning of the word “no”.   I’ve said it for many a thing that I thought was not good for them or simply a waste of money.  However, I do love to give my children gifts that I know will touch their hearts.   (Kinda like Someone else I know….. )  Penelope was one such gift that I really wanted to give because I knew what it would mean to one little girl’s heart.

By the time I walked into the children’s consignment store, I had already given up hope of finding Penelope and was searching for a last-minute gift or two that would even up the gift-giving all around.  “God, help me find something good for the money I’ve got” I prayed, more out of habit than conscious prayer. 

When I walked to the back of the store and started perusing the shelves, I nearly missed her up there with all of the other stuffed animals.  I was back there for a good 10 minutes before I spotted her.  I did a double take.  Way up there on the top shelf was a beautiful, working Penelope!  The best part was that she was well within my price range, only $5!!

That Christmas turned out to be really wonderful.  When Brie opened up the box containing Penelope, she looked at me and said “you found her!” with the biggest smile you’ve ever seen. 

Yup, I did find her, thanks to a heavenly Father who loves giving good gifts even more than I do!

I’ve been debating for a few weeks now whether or not to post this answered prayer.  It is not so obvious an answer as some of my previous posts but it was very real to me.  I’ve got a few other more dramatic stories but this is the one that is nagging at me begging to be written.  I’m going to assume that it is a God-thing and go with it.  So, at the risk of being dismissed as silly or psycho-analyzed as (fill-in-the blank), here goes.

I was knee-deep in the early child-rearing years.  I worked part-time from home to supplement my husband’s income but for the most part I was a stay-at-home mom.  My days mostly consisted of wiping up boogers, poop and spills, kissing boo-boos, picking up toys, refereeing fights, locking myself in the bathroom for five minutes of “me” time, dispensing snacks, and trying to have a nutritious dinner on the table at a reasonable time, like before 9 PM.   When John would come through the door around 6 PM, it took monumental self-restraint not to pass him the teary child in my arms like a pro quarterback and go running for the nearest exit until well after bed-time.

The life of a stay-at-home mom can be incredibly exhausting.  It isn’t as much a physical exhaustion as it is an emotional one.  You are on 24/7/365, expected to be bright, cheerful and ready to tackle any problem head on with the patience of Gandhi.  But even more than exhausting, it can feel unbelievably insignificant.  As you say to your child “sure honey I’d love to play Candyland with you (…..again……for the 3rd time today)” it is easy to wonder if this is all there is.  Boredom sets in and cements into your heart with a leaden feeling of purposelessness.  Mundane defines your life and threatens to define you.

This is the place I was at, feeling small and invisible, insignificant, that day in the car.  I don’t remember how it came to be, but I was actually alone in the car, a rare luxury for a stay-at-home mom.  As is my habit, I use those alone times to gather my thoughts.  Sometimes I consciously bring those thoughts to God.  My conversation with Him that day went something like this:  “God, isn’t there something I can be doing for You?  I mean, I don’t really have the ability to participate in much, actually probably nothing, but, well, isn’t there SOMETHING?”.  I wanted to feel useful, more than just needed.  I wanted to know that my life mattered.

Most often, my prayers are met with silence.  Sometimes, I will later on come across a scripture that speaks directly to me.  This time, God knocked my socks off by showing up in the car.  No, He did not physically appear in the passenger seat and start talking to me.  Instead, I felt enveloped by a presence that threatened to suffocate me with love.  Like the biggest, deepest hug you’ve ever felt in your life from the person who loves you most.  There are no words to adequately describe what it was like.  I was reduced in an instant to a little girl.  My heart was brought to the surface and tenderly but vulnerably laid open. 

As I basked in this overwhelming presence, a picture of my husband and children formed in my mind.  Then I heard a voice speak these words.  It wasn’t physically audible, but it might as well have been.  “This is your ministry.  Do not underestimate it.”   That’s when the tears spilled out uncontrollably.  A peace I hadn’t felt for years settled in and soothed my soul.  I was right where God wanted me to be, only now I knew it. 

It was simultaneously one of the most frightening and one of the most comforting experiences I have ever had.  And the best part about it?  I know that my life matters.  God said so.

We had been at it for weeks.  Our van’s heating element had given up the ghost right as fall was bowing out and Old Man Winter was settling in and we were at an impasse as to how to handle it.  Money, that ever-elusive but necessary evil, was at the heart of our squabbling.  That and pride.

I was absolutely convinced that there was no argument here; we MUST replace the heating element regardless of our ability to pay for it.  After all, we had a 4-month-old and she needed to keep warm.  We should put it on the credit card and figure out how to pay for it later.  And what about me?  I hated being cold, despite my northern roots.  What was my husband thinking?

He, also, was absolutely convinced that there was no argument here; we MUST NOT replace the heating element precisely BECAUSE of our inability to pay for it.  After all, if we didn’t have the money now, what made me think we would suddenly have the money later?  He was already working double shifts to support our growing family.   There was no way he could work any more.  What was I thinking?

This particular night, we had rather heated discussions all evening while out for a drive in said cold van that left the air positively frigid.  What was supposed to have been a chance to get away for a while and reconnect had turned into an all-out argument fest that left us both feeling farther apart than ever.   Each of us was convinced that we were absolutely right and the other was absolutely wrong.   We did not see any third options.  We were stuck good.

Sitting in the driveway still fuming from our lack of ability to agree, I got a brainwave.  Why don’t we talk to God about this and see what He has to say about it?  Inwardly, I was sure that God would show my husband the obvious sense I was making.  I mean, think of the baby!  I was later to discover that John felt pretty much the same way, convinced that God would show me the obvious sense that my husband was making.  I mean, think of the money!

After a short, tense prayer together, we entered the house ready to relieve my mother-in-law of babysitting duty.  Before we even got our coats off, she blurted out,  “By the way, before I forget, your father and I have agreed that we’d like to pay for the heat in your van.”   Our mouths dropped open wide and we looked at eachother more than a little bewildered.  She had no idea about our icy evening and the resultant prayer just moments before.  The timing was too good to be coincidence. 

And we were definitely not prepared for this answer.  God hadn’t decided who was “right” and who was “wrong” after all.   He had honored us both.  We would have heat in the van AND we wouldn’t go into debt over it.  We were more than a little humbled.

That night while settling into bed, the coolness that had haunted us for weeks gave way to a warmth that came from our newly found mutual respect.  This incident started a foundational shift in our marriage.  We began really seeing eachother for the first time all over again, each a person in his or her own right with thoughts and feelings just as valid as our own. 

Philippians 2:3-4  “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

Imagine that.

I really, really needed a new pair of sandals. My cheap Walmart vinyl ones were giving me blisters and were more than just a little worn. The girl in me dreamt of getting brown ones made of real leather; ones that would be comfy, versatile and easy on my feet. Unfortunately, we were living on the edge financially week to week. Heck, I couldn’t even replace my cheap sandals with other equally cheap sandals, let alone real leather ones. We did have to eat after all.

So, I was feeling pretty defeated, wondering if God had forgotten all about me and my needs, the least of which were shoes. How many prayers for wisdom, for guidance, to be able to keep my house, to be able to buy clothes for my kids, for a better job, for any kind of sign that He was paying attention and actually cared about me could I continue to utter only to be met with silence? I was thouroughly discouraged and disillusioned. Did He care? Was He even there?

Still, I am not one to give up easily, even in the face of certain abandonment (or at least neglect), so I prayed though the voices in my head told me how foolish I was to think that God had me on His radar. Why would God care about giving me leather sandals when He obviously didn’t care about other, much weightier things like food, clothing and shelter? Discouragement had settled in for the long term.

Three days later, my aunt unexpectedly came for a visit. She lives several hours away so visits are few and far between and staying in touch can be difficult. (What that means is that she had absolutely no idea about my need for sandals.) We’d been chatting for a while when she suddenly blurted out “Oh Robin! I brought some shoes that I don’t want and was wondering if you’d like them.” One thing that she and I have in common is our shoe size. That might not sound like a big deal, but when you wear a ladies size 11, well, it is a big deal. As she reached into her bag my heart quickened. What if? What if? The small ember of hope that I had tenaciously been guarding began to glow brighter.

She pulled out a pair of black slip on mocassin-type shoes, which I gratefully accepted though my my insides wilted. “I knew it” sentiments rang unbidden in my head. Still, I needed shoes and these would do…..I guess. We went back to talking but inwardly I felt that God had played a cruel joke. Why raise my hopes only to dash them? I thought He was supposed to be loving. Is this what loving looks like?

A few minutes later, my aunt said “Oh, I almost forgot! I have another pair of shoes for you.” With my hope cautiously renewed, I waited anxiously. As I caught a glimpse of the shoes in her hands, I held my breath and tears pooled in my eyes. There in her hands were sandals. My sandals. My brown leather sandals, ladies size 11. And not just any brown leather sandals either. These were practically new $100-a-pair Naot brown leather sandals, only worn twice. The fit and feel of them on my feet was like heaven.

I wasn’t just being loved, I was being lavished on.

God doesn’t have to give us everything we want. As a matter of fact, I’m glad He doesn’t. I would be in a heap of trouble if He did! But I’m also glad that He knows I spell love “g-i-f-t-s” and He chooses to use gifts to spell out His love for me when I need to hear it most.

Matt 7:11 “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

It was thirteen plus years ago and I had just had my first baby. I had quit my office position and instead had taken on a nannying job to make up some of my lost income. Of course, things were still tight and I was worried about trying to clothe this rapidly growing bundle of joy that we had been blessed with.

I fretted and fussed and fought insomnia trying to figure out how to eek out a clothing allowance from our squeaky tight budget. I prayed that somehow God would keep my baby clothed. Little did I know!

It did not take long for the calls to start coming in.

“I’m cleaning out our attic and I’ve got a few bags of baby clothing. Would you like them?” “Hey, my baby is 6 months older than yours. Would you like to take her clothes as she grows out of them?” “My sister’s husband’s second cousin once removed has some bags of clothing for you. Are you okay with hand-me-downs?”

I was thinking plastic grocery bag sized bags. What I didn’t realize, however, is that when people said “bags”, they usually meant 30-gallon trash bag sized bags!

Mountains of them.

I can recall sitting in the living room one afternoon, after more than a year of hand-me-downs flowing my way, being surrounded by the contents of no less than four of those mother-honking bags. As I surveyed the carnage of baby outfits sorted into keep for now, keep for later, pass along and what were they thinking, it dawned on me that aside from socks, I hadn’t needed to purchase ANY BABY CLOTHING WHATSOEVER FOR OVER A YEAR!

I laughed to myself at the Lord’s sense of humor. I had been worried about having enough clothes and here I was up to my eyeballs in them! I shot my hands up in surrender and acknowledged “Okay God, you win! Kayla now has so many clothes that she could go a month and not wear the same outfit twice!”

I had read it many times before, but I now understood the full meaning of this verse:

Matthew 6:25-29 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.”

Believe it.

The kids were 2, 5 and 6 when it started.

“Can we have a dog? Huh mom? Huh dad? Can we? Pahleeeease?!?!”

Each time they asked (which was every night at bedtime), my insides would tighten up into a knot even as I put on my best smile. John and I had talked this over privately after the first few times the request came up. We were in complete agreement on this one. There was no way in the world we wanted one more thing to take care of. Heck, we’d already gotten rid of the fish. Not to mention dog fur all over the place and possible allergies.

Besides, I like cats.

So, we came up with a plan.

“Kids, mom and dad really don’t want a dog but here’s what we’ve come up with. If you really want a dog that badly, you’ll need to pray for one. We’ve got a list of requirements. If these requirements are met, then we’ll know that that dog is meant for us. The dog has got to:

  • Not be a puppy but not be an old dog either.
  • Be good around children.
  • Have hair, not fur, to decrease the chance of allergies and so as not to shed.
  • Be a mid-size or smaller dog.
  • Be fixed already and have all its shots.
  • And (here’s the kicker) be free and delivered to us.”

We were smug, sure that that this list would never be met and that we had squelched all future arguments of getting a dog while allowing the kids time to hope and then slowly forget about owning a pooch.

Kids, bless ’em. They were too young to be cynical or doubting. They were forever hopeful. Forever dreaming. And they wanted a dog, dang it! So, faithfully they prayed. And prayed. And prayed.

Every night.

For TWO YEARS.

And then the phone call that they had been waiting for came.

“Robin, I think I’ve found your dog!” Not my dog; I don’t want a dog, remember? “Oh really?”

“Yes! My friends are moving to a place that doesn’t allow dogs. They’ve got a 5-year-old Malt-A-Poo (maltese / poodle mix) that they need to find a home for. She’s fixed and up-to-date on her shots. The woman does day care out of her home so the dog is used to little kids. They don’t want any money for her, just a good home. Her name is Lucy and if you want her, I can bring her to you when I come up this weekend.”

Silence. This could not be. This was NOT in the plan! Not in our plan anyway.

But, we couldn’t deny it. Every single requirement was met. Malt-A-Poos are small, practically hypoallergenic dogs with hair, not fur. This one was in the prime of her life and was used to children.

It was the fact that she was free and would be delivered right to us which convinced us. We hadn’t told anyone about that part except the kids. All we had to do was say yes.

John and I looked at each other and had to admit it. We were defeated. God had provided a dog for our three kids who faithfully asked day in and day out and never gave up hope. How could we say no when God had said yes?

“We’ll take her!”

And you know, we couldn’t have been prouder parents than the day Lucy came home, a result of persistent, childlike faith.

Besides, she really is pretty cute.

“Mommy, I’ve never been to an amusement park; will you take us to one? Will you take us to Canobie?” my daughter asked as she batted her eyes and stuck out her lower lip in the biggest put-on pout she could muster. My 13-year-old was getting really good at this. She and I exchanged smiling looks that said we both knew the cute act was a bunch of baloney. After all, she knew the drill. Our money had been super tight for so long she could barely remember a time when it was different.

I could also see that though the desire to go to an amusement park was real, she didn’t dare to hope. After all, how many times had she wanted something and simply couldn’t have it because of lack of funds? The list was getting exhausting. She was being a good sport about our financial situation, but I could sense a resignation to certain disappointment in her and that alarmed me. Learning delayed gratification is a good thing; learned hopelessness is not.

Hating to say it for what seemed like the gazillionth time in the last few years, I hesitated and exhaled slowly before saying “Sorry honey, I just don’t have the money”. There was a loud silence and the air hung heavy between us. I thought for a moment and said “….BUT….how about if you pray about it and I’ll pray about it and we’ll see what God does?”. She gave me a wan smile and said “Sure” in a tone that said she was anything but. I watched brokenhearted as she turned away, shoulders down in defeat.

“Lord,” I prayed with my heart in my throat, “only you know what it would mean to her to be able to go to an amusement park. If it’s the right thing for her, please provide a way.” I left it at that and went about my business.

Barely a week later, the phone rang at 9:30 on a Saturday night. A friend from church, the secretary there, called. “Sorry to call you so late at night but this is time sensitive. Peter’s company outing is tomorrow and we don’t want to go.” I was a bit confused, not really understanding where this was going. Did she need me to do something at church for her? “The passes are only good for tomorrow but Peter and I were wondering if you and John would like them. They’re for Canobie Lake Park.”

My mind went blank for a minute as I processed what she had just said. I stammered a bit before asking “How many passes do you have?” I was quivering inside. If she only had four passes, we still couldn’t do it. There are five of us in the family and even one pass to Canobie was too much for us.

“Six.”

Pause.

“You have six passes to Canobie Lake Park for tomorrow only and you want to know if we want them?” I repeated aloud for the whole family to hear. There was an instant hush and the room grew still as everyone stopped what they were doing and looked at me wide eyed.

Blink, blink.

All at once, pure cacophony broke out in my kitchen. Arms were flailing, feet were dancing, and voices were rising in uncontrollable chatter. It was deafening. It was daunting. It was delightful. The votes were in and the results were tallied; we were going to Canobie!

At the end of the following day, as we ate ice cream after a satisfying day of roller coasters, water rides and bumper cars, I silently shot up a prayer of the deepest gratitude to a loving God who cares not only about our needs, but also our desires, even a trip to an amusement park.

I was a junior and taking driver’s ed after school. The half hour wait between when school ended and when driver’s ed began afforded me some time to do a little homework, so I sat myself on the floor near the gym and pulled out my books. Leaning against a vending machine, I munched on the mediocre candy bar purchased from some fundraising drive with my last dollar.

Towards the final bites of my candy bar, I began to realize just how thirsty chocolate can make you get. I turned my pockets inside out. I scraped the bottom of my purse. I turned my backpack upside down. I sighed and sat back down. No mon, no fun. Resfusing to drink the toilet water that came from the water fountains, I resigned myself to being thirsty and got back to my homework.

Only about a minute later, one of the basketball jocks came jogging out of the gym during a break from practice and ran right up to “my” vending machine. He put in his money and pushed his selection. Out popped two sodas. I did not know this kid, and this is New England, so it really stood out when, without a blink, he turned to me and said “You want one?”.

I gratefully accepted the can he held out to me. When I looked to see what it was I had been blessed with, the biggest, stupidest grin you can imagine made its way across my face. It was a Cherry Coke, my favorite at the time. I got goosebumps and uttered a simple Thank You that came from my toes, then tipped the can and drank up. God had given me a Coke. And a smile.

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