It’s a Saturday in September, and we’re moving my oldest son Aidan into Chicago on his 19th birthday. After multiple trips from the moving van to his second floor apartment, wedging all manner of things through the narrow opening, I know I’ll never forget the unit number inscribed upon the door of my first son’s first apartment.
I think I’ve done all my grieving and worrying in advance, but when I depart from there for a three-hour road trip to Green Bay—where I’ll be delivering a sermon the following morning—I discover otherwise. I go through much of the human experience on that ride, but one thought in particular keeps repeating—a sort of wild, comical, half-crazy thought:
Someone should call DCFS on me, because I just left my baby boy alone in a big city.
I find my hotel and fall right to sleep, but then I wake up at three in the morning. This is not unusual on the morning of a speaking event. What’s unusual is that I’m not worrying about the talk; I’m worrying about Aidan doing this big, brave thing—moving to Chicago to chase his dream of becoming a stand-up comedian. I’m worrying about how it will all turn out.
Five hours later, I take the stage to deliver my sermon. It’s a round stage in the middle of a round room, with the band set up right in the center of it. I circle the stage as I speak. During one circuit, I look down and there is a three-digit readout attached to the equipment. Glowing up at me in red are these three figures:
My mind doesn’t know what to make of a moment like that. It is totally ridiculous, a coincidence of such absurd proportions that it doesn’t deserve a second thought, let alone a third thought or a blog post. Move on, my mind says, that’s just false hope teasing you.
And yet, right there on a stage in Green Bay, something is happening within me, about eighteen inches below my head. My heart is opening again. It’s quieting. Growing still. To borrow a phrase, I’m experiencing a peace that surpasses all understanding. That part of me doesn’t need to explain it; it just gets to experience it. And as I do, this is the thought that works its way up from my heart into my head:
It’s not necessarily going to be okay; it’s going to be, and that is okay.
The whole thing recalled to mind one of my favorite passages from one of my most treasured spiritual guides, the late Frederick Buechner…
I think of a person I haven’t seen or thought of for years, and ten minutes later I see her crossing the street. I turn on the radio to hear a voice reading the biblical story of Jael, which is the story that I have spent the morning writing about. A car passes me on the road, and its license plate consists of my wife’s and my initials side by side. When you tell people stories like that, their usual reaction is to laugh. One wonders why.
I believe that people laugh at coincidence as a way of relegating it to the realm of the absurd and therefore not having to take seriously the possibility that there is a lot more going on in our lives than we either know or care to know. Who can say what it is that’s going on? But I suspect that part of it, anyway, is that every once and so often we hear a whisper from the wings that goes something like this: “You’ve turned up in the right place at the right time. You’re doing fine. Don’t ever think that you’ve been forgotten.”
I write this from a conference in Wichita, Kansas, in a breakfast diner before sunrise. I just got done FaceTiming with my other two children, who are back in Illinois, and about to depart for a soccer game and a cross country meet. Why did I make such a point of calling them this morning? Is it because an old man’s wishes of luck from a thousand miles away will make any difference in their performances? No.
It’s because the biggest difference-maker in any of our lives is to be reminded that we haven’t been forgotten.
When a father or a mother, or a husband or a wife, or a human being of any kind does this for us—reminds us that they take us with them when they go, that we are a permanent fixture within them, that they remember us in spite of every other thing they’re trying to remember—we call that love. When Something bigger than any of us goes out of its way to remind us of the very same thing, we call it something else.
We call it grace.
May you, today, watch for grace and quit calling it coincidence. And may you—so opened up and quieted down by that grace—pass it on in the form of love to someone in your orbit. May you reach out and let them know they’ve been remembered—perhaps at the very moment in which they are feeling most forgotten—and in so doing, may you become someone else’s more-graceful-than-we-can-comprehend digital readout:
Note: Another quote of Frederick Buechner’s serves as the epigraph to my forthcoming novel, The Unhiding of Elijah Campbell. Click here to pre-order and register for up to $2000 in bonuses.
In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.
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Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.