Thursday, March 05, 2015

Thankful Thursday - Be Careful What You Pray For

Yesterday morning, I had to get up early as two people near and dear to me were going on a trip. In the fog. On the highway. When stuff like that happens, unavoidable things that feel dangerous or uncertain, I pray. A lot. Neither of them were looking forward to the drive, so I felt prompted to pray that they be "surprised by joy." I prayed that they would have moments and experiences that would cause them to smile, to give thanks, and to reflect on the goodness and generosity of God. I prayed those prayers incessantly for about four hours. When I heard that they had reached their destination safely, I gave thanks to God and went about my day.

I walked my little doggie and chatted briefly with a neighbor. I took the tiny beast back home and set out on a much longer walk by myself. By the time I got back home, the temperature had risen at least ten degrees - a warm front approached and promised us a respite from the cold we've experienced over the last few days.*

I got into my car and began the drive to church for two Wednesday activities. As I drove up a nearby street, I saw a license plate that said the following: "EPH4UNC." Unbeknownst to most people, the nickname for Williams College students is "Ephs." That word, which rhymes with "reefs," comes from the name Ephraim Williams, who was the founder of my alma mater. There aren't too many mentions of "Ephs" here in Charlotte, so I was intrigued. By way of answering my as yet unasked question, a Williams College sticker was affixed to the back window of the car. I set out in hot pursuit of the license plate. A half mile later, we approached a red light.

I pulled up next to the car in question and signaled to the driver, an elderly gentleman, to roll down his window. While I waited for him to notice me,  I offered up a quick prayer that he wasn't an advocate of "stand your ground" laws who traveled with a loaded pistol by his side. He rolled down the driver's side window, which would have been great if I had been on the driver's side. I was not. He finally figured out how to open the passenger window.

Me: "Sir, did you go to Williams?"
An enormous smile spread slowly across his wrinkled face as he responded proudly, "Yes."
Me: "I did too."
Him: "I was there back in 1948."
Me: "I graduated nearly 40 years later, in 1987. I don't see many Williams stickers in these parts."
Him: "You sure don't." His smile never faded. Nor did mine.
The light turned green, and we both drove on.

After the noon service at church, I sat in the sanctuary thinking, prayed a few more quick prayers that my beloved ones be surprised by joy throughout their day. Then I chatted with a few friends before setting out on an errand - to find a birthday gift for someone I adore.

I ventured into a shop called The Boulevard - no luck with birthday shopping. But I did find an excellent sale corner - 60% off all winter clothing. Jeans, dresses, leggings, skirts, tops - and none of it was exorbitantly priced to begin with. Jeans that were originally $36 were marked down to $14! Even though I don't need any clothes, I picked two pieces anyway: a pair of jeans and a beautiful deep jewel-toned greenish blue top. After the owner rang up my purchases and put them into a bag, we chatted for a couple of minutes about how much she wants to get the winter clothes out of the store. She said that if I knew anybody who needed those things, she would make them a great deal, and whatever she didn't sell would be given to a local women's shelter. Then she asked what color thread (I think she used the word "piping") was in the jeans I had purchased. White or orange? I responded, "Orange, I think." I pulled them out of the bag and, sure enough, it was orange. Then she PUT A PAIR OF THE SAME JEANS WITH WHITE THREAD INTO MY BAG and said, "Just take them. I really want to get this stuff out of the store." What??? And to top it all off, she recommended a nearby shop as a better place to find a gift for my friend. Her suggestion yielded excellent results.

After a successful gift purchase, I drove to a nearby park where I sat and read for about an hour. It was a gorgeous, sunny, warm day - nearly 70 degrees. Delightful. I watched two little red headed sisters as they stared and pointed at bulldozers at work. I watched boys run and play. I watched other children defy gravity and good sense on skateboard ramps. A carload of teenaged boys pulled into the space next to my car, music blaring, heads bobbing. They got out of their car, still singing, and set out on an adventure in the park - as happy as the little to be out in the warm sunshine.

The book I was reading was delightfully insightful and encouraging. About silence and writing and learning to trust that one leads to the other in life-affirming ways. I nibbled on almonds, drank cool water, and gave God thanks for the wonder, the beauty, the warmth, and the joy of that moment.

Tears sprang into my eyes as I realized that my fervent prayers had been answered. I had prayed that two people I love be surprised by joy. But as it turned out the joyful surprises landed on me. Seeing another Eph in Charlotte. Receiving communion at church. Spending time with others on the journey of faith. A gift of a pair of jeans. Meeting a woman who would rather give her goods away than see them go unused and un-enjoyed. Time in the park on a gorgeous day. Observing adults and children, families and single people basking in the warmth of the afternoon. I was the one who had been surprised over and over by laughter and grace and joy. How could I not be thankful for the many answers to my prayers?

Later in the evening, back at church, I saw a woman I met a few weeks ago in a journaling class I taught. She came into the fellowship hall with her husband and three adorable children. After her two daughters spotted me, one ran back to her mother and excitedly pointed me out, "Mom, there's Gail!" I was honored that they remembered me and recalled my name. I look forward to getting to know them all better. Surprised again by joy.

I attended a class entitled, "Race Matters," later in the evening and was profoundly affected by the stories we shared of how race has mattered in our lives. We each told when and how we began to notice our own race and the race of the people around us. Rich, deep, sad, and painful stories. Stories of open minded family members, racist family members, and oblivious family members. Stories that must be acknowledged and told so that dialogue and change and healing and reconciliation can happen. There we all sat, listening, asking questions, opening up, and being held tenderly in community. Surprised by honesty and surprised by joy.

I drove home from church, from the entirety of yesterday, thankul, so very grateful for every moment of it, every conversation, every meal, every story, every phone call, every mile I had safely driven.

Be careful what you pray for - it just might come to pass.

* Okay, okay - if you are in Connecticut, or anywhere north of Virginia for that matter, you can stop rolling your eyes in response to my comment about it being cold down here. I know that our definition of "cold" is far less nuanced than yours. But still, it has been cold for us. We've gotten as low as the single digits a couple of times this winter. We've also had snow - only an inch or two - but that's enough to close schools down here. And ice too. Nothing compared to what you all have endured. I bow in respect for your perseverance and in prayer for a respite from the brutal conditions you have endured up north over the past three months.

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