Sometimes I have a fleeting thought that it is foolish for me to chalk up a beautiful serendipitous happening to Providence. As if God would really care about little requests like an unbroken toy train bridge without crayon marks or a bear sighting when there are starving children and other atrocities taking up His time and attention. There's also that voice in my head that tells me it's stupid to think that He would do little things like that precisely because starving children and atrocities exist, and clearly, He hasn't solved those problems.
This, I think, is where faith comes in. It's really up to me making a choice to believe or not to believe. For me, despite all the unanswered questions about why God lets children starve, why wars still happen, why women are widowed and children are orphaned, and why people still die of terrible diseases, I choose to believe that a God who is bigger than I can comprehend with thoughts I cannot understand does indeed reach down to bring a perfect toy train bridge to a boy and a bear sighting to a couple of girls. Maybe some day I'll understand the whys and why nots of what He does. But for today, I'm just grateful.
Last week I planned to spend what was to me a large amount of money on some used toy train tracks and train accessories. I knew the money should really be saved for groceries, but the deal seemed too amazing to pass up, and the provision seemed timely. My little guy is starting to really enjoy trains, and a little one we watch a few times a month LOVES trains. It seemed like the perfect idea.
But then I picked it up and discovered that the picture I'd studied online so carefully was incredibly misleading. The trains, tracks, and buildings were dirty and colored on. The main pieces I cared about like the bridge and a few special tracks were broken. I was frustrated with myself for being such a people pleaser that I did not take time to look over the pieces and refuse the purchase in the first place, and worried that my request to bring back the set and get a refund would not be met with willingness. Thankfully, the seller agreed to take them back and refund my money.
I drove home and just chatted to God about life. "God, if we really are your children, that makes us sons and daughters of a King. That means we're princes and princesses. And princes and princesses don't have to accept what even a thrift store wouldn't accept, do they? Do we really have to be content with what is essentially broken garbage? Do you have something better in mind? Please?"
I was disappointed too, knowing that my little boy was at home waiting to get a "surprise that you can't eat". I knew he would be sad that I had let him down, and I mentally chastised myself for getting so excited that I had told him even that little bit of information. A Tim Horton's donut seemed a lame consolation prize, but it was all I could do.
He was so excited that he popped up from his pillow when I got home and asked to see the surprise. I had to tell him that the surprise was too broken and too dirty for me to bring home, that I was sorry, and that I was going to work very hard to find just the right surprise to give him. Then I told him he had a donut waiting for him in the morning and kissed his smooth cheek goodnight, and went to go call my friend who was scheduled to arrive the next day for a visit.
I called her and she mentioned how excited she was to get together. I told her that I was sorry, but my home was not in perfect order because of the day's events, including the train fiasco that took an extra couple of hours out of the day. She said she was just coming to see me, and suddenly the boxes in my bedroom and the unmopped kitchen floor seemed inconsequential to this perfectionist. She asked about the trains, if they were wooden. I said that they were, and then we signed off with "I love you" and a promise to see each other on the morrow.
When I picked her up, it seemed strange that along with her small suitcase she also had two large boxes tied with string, but I didn't question anything. When we arrived back at my home, she told me that the boxes were for my son from her children.
Trains. Tracks. A few buildings. Two PERFECT bridges. More accessories than a kiddo could dream of, and in better shape than a mama could imagine. More than double, maybe even triple, what I'd tried to buy. For free. To keep. A gift of love from three kids who no longer played with them.
It was like being hugged by God.
God doesn't always operate this way in my life, but for this moment, I was swallowing tears of gratitude and wonder at His providence and the way my friend was being Jesus-in-skin to not only my child, but to me.
The next morning we took off, just the two of us, for a park in the mountains where my husband had booked a retreat for us. She and I caught up on 37 years of living, 11 years of life since we'd last seen each other, and all the growing and learning we'd done in between conversations. We snowshoed, swam, ate, laughed, cried, talked, napped, had lightbulb moments, laughed and cried some more, and just enjoyed the fact that somehow a friendship that began when we were 9 enabled two grown women to let their hair down and feel completely at ease with each other despite the lack of consistent contact.
And on our way home when the largest animal we'd seen was a Columbian Ground Squirrel, we saw it. A black bear, maybe a yearling, by the side of the road. He was placidly eating, occasionally looking at the curious onlookers pulled over to the shoulder to watch him. We were so close my friend could have reached out to touch him and pet his head. He seemed so peaceful that it was tempting to get out and get closer. But with one eye on the rearview mirror to make sure we didn't get hit, the other eye on the bear to make sure he didn't decide to get too personal with my friend, and one foot ready to hit the gas, I soaked up the experience of seeing a bear.
And inside I remembered my crazy prayer on the way up. "Please, God, could we see a bear? I mean, I don't want to see him on a hike, and I don't want to be in danger. And I don't want to have to use the knife, the bear horn, the whistle, or anything else I've got with me. And I don't want to get attacked or anything. But could we see one in some kind of safe environment?"
He apparently said yes. He even let me see it in my very favorite type of comfort zone - the mobility provided by my car.
Coincidences? Maybe. Providence? Maybe. Gifts to a redhead longing for sweet favors and some respite from the hard things in life? Most definitely, yes.