Since the beginning of time, people have asked God for signs – something to let us know the Almighty is paying attention. I’ve requested quite a few in my lifetime, but what’s even more exciting is receiving revelations without ever having to ask, like spiritual freebies. My husband, Flash, has had freebies of epic proportions.
Back in the days when he worked in the heart of Houston, he came through the door one evening excitedly reporting, "You’ll never believe what happened to me this morning.”
“You had a Close Encounter of the Millionth Kind, and got a ticket?”
“Not this time. But I was running late to work, and I hit all the lights green. It was a total God thing.”
“A God thing?”
"Um, you work downtown."
"The lights are on a timer."
"They've never done that before!" In the midst of his certainty, I felt like a blasphemer.
"You never timed it right,” I explained. “If you drive 17 miles per hour, you'll hit them all green. Since you have a history of excessive speed, I understand why you didn’t know this.”
"Whatever. It was God."
“God and a timer.”
The Man of Much Faith glared at me.
Mom used to tell me, “Sometimes we give God too much credit, not only for the good, but the bad. Regarding some decisions, He’s probably okay with either choice we make.” She gave me a banquet of food for thought. God doesn't have a preference for what color car I buy? I thought to myself. Or if I should buy black boots or brown ones? Or whether I choose paper or plastic?
After going through a stack of 439 cards that had never been sent during our previous 24 Christmases together, Flash announced, last December, "Christmas cards were a God thing this year."
"What do you mean? Aren’t they always about Him?"
"Well, I was looking for a card for Martha, and found one with birds on it. Can you believe it?"
"A Christmas card with birds on it? Yeah, I've seen that before."
"But have you seen two red cardinals?" He was beaming.
I didn’t recall anything particularly spiritual about cardinals, unless you happen to be Catholic.
"She likes cardinals?"
"Does she like them? Are you kidding me? She loves cardinals! She fell off her roof trying to get a picture of a cardinal!"
Suddenly, I was talking to Buddy the Elf and picturing a septuagenarian tumbling onto a lawn.
"Okay, honey, that’s great." The last time I’d seen Flash that happy was after he came home from spending three glorious hours in our local Harbor Freight store.
"And I found a card with a puppy on it for Cesar; he loves dogs."
I took a whiff of Flash’s morning coffee to make sure the only "Jack" joining us that morning was Jack Frost; the coffee was kosher.
"A dog on a Christmas card. Wow. Bark, the herald angels sing," I replied. But I continued to listen, not wanting to grieve the Spirit of Christmas Greetings that had fallen on Flash. Then he proclaimed the greatest miracle since the creation of hydraulic car jacks.
"And for my friend Joy," he said.
"Don’t tell me! You found a Christmas card that said “Joy” on it? What are the odds?”
"Right across the front, in big red letters!" He was unashamedly giddy. I heard the Hallelujah Chorus in my head as I grinned at my delighted 54-year-old boy.
“It’s a Christmas miracle!” I shouted.
“And I didn’t even have to pray for help.”
Well, I’d hope you’d be praying for more important things, I thought to myself. When I make my requests known to God, I focus on the most vital needs in life. Finding parking spots, getting upgrades to better hotel rooms, winning trips, and losing weight after binging on grape Nerds and banana Laffy Taffy. But my faith grows most when I’m clothes shopping; it’s not an easy feat.
Last spring, I wanted a blouse in bright coral, the color of an autumn sunset. Since it was close to the end of the season, I was certain it would be the proverbial needle in the haystack. With faith the size of a speck of dust on a mustard seed, I walked into the store with an impossible dream. But I didn’t pray; God knew the deepest desires of my fashion heart.
Three seconds into the Misses Department, Raiders of the Lost Ark music began playing in my head. Directly ahead of me, illuminated by fluorescent lighting from above, was a rack of coral. Could it be? Surely, the piped-in music and the sweltering May heat were causing hallucinations as a retail mirage enticed me with an oasis of brightly-colored blouses. I pinched myself to ensure I was in reality. After yelping in pain, drawing the attention of small children with strange looks on their faces as their mothers held onto them tightly, I realized the coral blouses were tangible.
I shuffled through the rack as I held my breath. And the prayers started. My Father, who art in heaven, give me this day a blouse in my size. As I got off my knees, stood, and lifted my previously bowed head, I saw my treasure - the only coral blouse left in my size. I’d found it in a section I never peruse, in a store I seldom frequent, on a day of the week when I rarely shop. Clearly, I was smack dab in the will of God. I ran to the cashier with my “pearl of great price.” Okay, my pearl of reasonable price; I’m a frugal shopper. I didn’t even try it on to see how it looked on me. Did Indiana Jones say, “Hmmm. Let me see if this ark is really what I want,” after his excruciatingly long search on the big screen? Whether or not the blouse would flatter me didn’t matter; I couldn’t slap a miracle in the face.
Second to praying for shopping needs are weather prayers. But sometimes I forget I’m not the center of the universe, or the only person on the planet. One day last year, I prayed, “Lord, please don’t let it rain today.” I’d sprayed the yard with Mosquito Beater and it needed to fully dry. That’s my third priority in calling upon God – the death and destruction of insects. Immediately after my “Amen,” I heard that a tsunami was flooding parts of Asia. Since I wasn’t experiencing a malaria outbreak in my backyard, I felt a little selfish asking for dry weather, when Asia clearly needed it more than I did.
While driving from Houston to Illinois with my friend Birdie in 1988, we drove through rain showers, repeatedly. About the time the sun would come out, another shower would hit. And rain always makes a long trip feel even longer. Finally, it was time to ask for help. When I prayed the rain would stop, it stopped. Of course, then, the blazing sun felt like a heater blowing on us, turning the air-conditioned car into a sauna. So, I prayed for cloud cover, and the clouds soon blocked the sun. But of course, the clouds then dumped more water on us. It was a vicious precipitation cycle. The day consisted of rain, prayer, heat wave, prayer, cloud cover, happy prayer, rain, more prayer. Rather than our experiencing some kind of predicted weather pattern, I was confident God was hearing his people, precisely me. Birdie exclaimed of my answered prayers, “It’s just like Elisha, in the Bible,” which added to my piety, until a flash of lightning scared me back into humility.
Once the weather is squared away, my fourth most commonly used request is the If-Then prayer. If you don’t want me to talk to this person, then don’t let them answer when I call them. The human factor is taken out of the equation; it’s all about divine intervention. If the person I’m calling picks up the phone, I’m locked into the scenario. With everyone in the universe having some kind of Caller ID, I can’t hang up if I change my mind. Because that would be creepy when they see my number. So, if the person answers, it was meant to be. Otherwise, God would’ve had them stub their toe on the way to answer my call. Or their phone number would have changed. Or they would have opted to screen my call. Usually, relief sweeps over me when nobody answers, which should be my clue that I should refrain from using this method of prayer.
If you don’t want me to have another cupcake, then let them all be gone when I get home. That prayer’s especially tricky for someone who lives alone, unless they have a dog. But sometimes, I get upset when the last cupcake or brownie is gone. What if I’d wanted the last one? Perhaps it was my destiny, and my family circumvented God’s will for me in the enjoyment of food.
If you want me to stop at the store and get food for my family, in the midst of a million Christmas shoppers at Walmart, then let there be an empty parking spot on aisle 9, right by the door. I often use that prayer after a long day of errand running in December. When I saw the empty spot last week, I amended my prayer, And let there be a waxing crescent moon in the sky tonight as a sign that I must enter the store. I sighed with relief as I spied the full moon above me, and made my way home to hungry Flash and Cowboy.
My favorite kind of shopping consists of sitting on the couch, in my pajamas, and letting my fingers do the walking. In His long line of miracles, on-line shopping is one of His finest. No parking lots, no grouchy customers, no freezing while walking down the meat aisle, no oh-my-gosh-if-one-more-person-pulls-out-in-front-of-me-with-their-basket-I-will-lose-my-serenity moments, and no cutting off the circulation in my arms while carrying heavy-laden plastic bags into the house. My biggest obstacles when shopping from home are the dogs’ wanting to sit in my lap.
Last Monday, as I sat with my trusty cup of coffee by my side, my teeth unbrushed and my nightgown on, I fired up the laptop to complete my Christmas shopping. But not before offering up a few prayers. God, if you want me to buy something for myself, let the remaining seasons of Monk, to add to my collection, be on sale. And a new DVD copy of my favorite Neil Simon movie, The Goodbye Girl. And Mary Higgins Clark and Alafair Burke’s new book, Every Breath You Take. Better yet, if you want me to have those things, tell Flash to buy them for me, through divine revelation. That would be an even better miracle; I wouldn’t have to return any gifts from him this year. Oh, and help me find something perfect for everyone in my family, at half price. May my financial burden be light. Thank you for the miracle of computers, for Amazon, and for coffee. Amen.
God was faithful in answering my request to find gifts at great prices. While I was on line, I saw something about it being Cyber Monday. But, dear reader, that was mere coincidence. It was my fervent prayers that brought tremendous savings, gift wrapping, free shipping, and ordering fulfillment. Clearly, those were signs that God led me in choosing the best day to shop. As for my other requests, I’ll soon see how closely Flash is listening to the Lord. Flash says I’m difficult to shop for, but all it takes is a little faith.