The first Christmas my mother was in Florida, Max and I went to her mobile home to get our festive on. We enjoyed a meal together, opened presents, called my brother, laughed, and had a wonderful time. We brought a home video with us of a recent visit to Disney World. Max asked my mother if she would like to see it. She said “yes, but I’d like to tell you about something first, if you don’t mind.” She seemed very purposeful about the conversation, as if she had been saving some big news to tell us at just the right time. She told us it was something she had never told anyone before. Of course, we told her we did not mind and focused our attention on her story.
When my mother was living in California, she was the queen of the volunteers at a local dam, lake, and hydroelectric power center. She was a docent at the education center and coordinated all the volunteers. My mom’s story involved an incident that happened at the lake over a year before that Christmas. She told us that there was a group of visitors from a church group at the lake one day. After she gave them her normal educational spiel, she chatted with them for a little while. They noticed that she had a walker and that her mobility was severely limited. They asked if they could pray for her. As she explained to us, she said yes because “why not?” After they prayed, she felt stronger and more physically comfortable. When she got up to go home, she realized she could move without pain and could walk unassisted without her walker. It only lasted a few hours, but she always remembered the experience. Mom asked us if we thought she was crazy. I told her that I definitely did not think she was crazy- I thought she had experienced a mini-miracle. God was just letting her know He was still there.
I always did believe God can heal. I think He sometimes does heal, but I also think He does not often interfere with the natural order of things. Still, my mother’s experience really got me thinking about how God works in our lives in a variety of ways. Ever since she told us about her mini-miracle experience, I have tried to pay attention for little “coincidences” that might not be coincidences.
Soon after I joined the Episcopal Church, I attended a “ministry fair” after service one day. I did not know a lot of people very well at that time. My mother had died a few months earlier and I had some time to devote to volunteering. Remembering a conversation I had with the rector when I was “church-shopping,” I wanted to find a way I could serve in my new congregation. One of the church employees (let’s call him Dave) was manning a table to drum up interest in the Alpha program. Alpha is an international program designed to nurture people who are wrestling with the big questions of life and faith. Intended for people who would not necessarily identify as Christian, it is also a faith-builder for people who do consider themselves Christian but do not feel as connected as they wish they did. Alpha was a new ministry in our parish. I thought it might be a good fit for me because the techniques and approach in the Alpha program seemed similar to the leadership training programs I taught during my career.
I agreed to go to a meeting of those who were interested in volunteering. One of the positions that Dave was trying to fill was a hospitality coordinator. This volunteer would be responsible for creating environment, making guests feel comfortable, arranging for a meal to be served during each of the twelve sessions, cleaning up, and other duties as assigned. It seemed very much like hosting a dinner party for about 50 people every week for twelve weeks. Now, I am about as far on the introversion as one can get without falling off the edge of the world. Up until I started working with Alpha, I had never given a party in my life. I don’t really cook. I certainly don’t iron tablecloths. However, I do have a rather good background in creating the environment from my leadership training days. I explained my strengths and weaknesses to Dave who was quick to tell me that “we” could get me help for all the things I do not do well if I would only agree to coordinate the hospitality piece of the program. I agreed. For those of you who would like to read more about my Alpha adventures, you can read these earlier posts (alpha course – Terri LaBonte- Reinventing Myself in Retirement and alpha – Terri LaBonte- Reinventing Myself in Retirement).
I struggled my way through several weeks of hospitality-ing still wondering how on earth I ended up in this position. One day, Dave told me about a conversation he had with our rector and his wife, Sunny, early in the planning process- weeks before the ministry fair. He told them he was excited about launching the Alpha program but was worried about who he could find to do the hospitality piece of the undertaking. Sunny said, “Don’t worry. Terri will do it.” She had been praying and felt like God was directing her that I would take on the role. She barely knew me at the time and certainly did not know my leadership training background.
I have continued with Alpha in a leadership role through three courses now.
During this past Alpha season, there was another odd occurrence. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we were not able to host our regular “in person,” “shared meal” version of Alpha. We decided to try to run the course on Zoom. It turned out to be surprisingly successful, despite the lack of tablecloths, real coffee mugs, and dinner for fifty. However, there was one annoying barrier- internet upload speed. Because we were showing downloaded videos, it was critical that the person hosting the evening (that would be me) have above average internet speed and stability. In the area where I live, internet upload speed sucks. We are still living in a location that has not been fiber-opticized, so everyone’s technology is at least a generation behind more urban areas. I can easily use Zoom from my home but showing videos on it is much more of a challenge. Other members of the team tried also but were unable to do the video sharing from home. Even at the church, everyone except me seemed to have trouble getting any connection at all and certainly could not show the videos. I was going on a trip during one week of the course. One of my teammates was going to host the session that night. Laughingly, I left my laptop with her in case she had trouble doing exactly what I did each week on her computer. Neither of us could imagine why she would not be able to do exactly what I did when she was using the same program, the same internet location, and the same process. Guess what? Neither of the two computers she brought with her worked. The only way the process worked was if she used my computer in the church office.
Later in the Alpha program, I was preparing for a session about whether God still heals today. To prepare for the Alpha evenings, I usually watch the video, review the information in both the Alpha guest guide and the team leader guide, think about points I want to make sure come up in the after-video discussion, and craft discussion questions to try to elicit those points. That week, I just had an extraordinarily strong sense that I was not supposed to do any of that… I was just supposed to pray. In the days leading up to the session, two words kept coming into my head. I mulled them over in my mind and safeguarded them until it was time for the discussion. I told my group what had been going on and shared the two words with them. It turned out that they were significant to someone close to one of my group members. We prayed for that person and my group member told her about what had happened. It was very meaningful and encouraging for that person.
Recently, a close friend of mine died. A few days before she passed, I sat by her bed, stroking her hair. Suddenly, it came into my head to sing “You Are My Sunshine” to her. She smiled at me, closed her eyes, and seemed to feel peaceful. A few days later, her husband called me to ask my assistance in planning her funeral. He told me that he was arranging the music and would make sure the music included “You Are My Sunshine” because it was her favorite song. I did not know that. He did not know that I had sung it to her shortly before she died.
These are just a few of the experiences I have had that could be explained away as coincidences. I could relate many more. As their numbers start to mount up as I pay more and more attention to them, I wonder about them. What do you think? Coincidence or grace? All I will say is that they don’t call it amazing grace for nothing.
Have you ever had an experience that you cannot quite explain away as a coincidence? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have an amazing day!