There are six or eight little white utility vans that zip around the university campus where I live, and I often see them while running, walking the dog or sitting on my porch. The vans are identical except for the drivers, whom I never notice, and their three digit license plate numbers, which I always do.
I don’t remember the first time I noticed that one of the license plates read ‘914’, but I can tell you that it hit me like a ton of bricks. I had been walking and praying and talking to my mother who art in heaven and I asked, maybe even audibly, for a sign that she was around. The van pulled out in front of me and there it was: 914. September 14 is my Mom’s birthday and I see the number sometimes when I really need a hopeful sign. From that time on, it was a fairly regular occurrence to see that van when I really needed it. I always wondered at what it took for an angel or very intent ghost mother to sway a driver to cross my path at various times of day and locations on campus. When it happened, it always made me smile.
Those were the days I actively looked for, received, and recognized signs from God.
The road of life twists and bends and we can’t always know why things happen the way they do. In my walk with God, I try to exercise hope in darkness, however clunkily, and I frequently receive the blessings that come with that. I’ll see things come together in ways I didn’t expect or receive peace where I didn’t know it could be found. God has taken good care of me. He knows my need and how I am really a six-year old girl in an adult body who needs to hold a much stronger hand to make it through, and his kind hand has always been extended to me. This last stretch of road felt different.
In this season, it has been very hard to pray, or at least, to pray with the kind of end-of-the-branch-sitting expectation I usually brought to prayer. I moved through days feeling sort of numb and colorless. When every ‘amen’ is followed by a citing of Mark 9:24, something feels very, very wrong.
“Lord, I do believe. Help my unbelief.” Mark 9:24
I persisted, even without the feeling and intimacy with God I missed so desperately. One morning at mass, I prayed for a dear soul I know to find direction, peace, and fulfillment in his vocation. I prayed that he would find God in the details, and that he might feel fully known and loved. I had wanted all of that for myself but didn’t feel strong enough to ask for anything for me anymore. And when, an hour later, I saw circumstances twist in that dear soul’s direction, saw him remembered and favored, and a door open for him, I had to nod my head in quiet gratitude.
Later that day, I walked with the dog on campus and wondered at the weight of what I had seen earlier. Was it coincidence? Mercy? Grace? Something to hold onto when everything in my hands felt like water slipping through fingers? I didn’t know, but just then a van came around the corner like an answer to my question and I removed my sunglasses just like Moses removed his shoes. If this was holy ground, I wanted to see it. If God was acting and with me, I wanted to feel it. I wanted to read the numbers. The van approached and I squinted to read the license plate, which read:
Of course it did. I put on my sunglasses, gathered up my dog, and walked away, dejected and deflated. I was grumbling on the inside about how deluded I had been, and about how things work out for others and never for me. It was ugly inside my mind and my spirit, honestly, and I’m glad we didn’t run into each other just then. I kept on walking, looking down and being generally awful, when suddenly there it was right in front of me. Parked in a place vans are not allowed to go, completely in a pedestrian path, in my path, was my van. 914, directly in front of me, unavoidable, parked and waiting.
And it made me wonder at the times when blessings come later than we hope. And how things are put in our paths in ways we can’t miss when it’s their time to be seen. And how looking up is always a better practice than looking down. For today, it’s enough to hold in my hands, like a bulb ready to plant deep in the ground. Small, dirty, seemingly dead, but with the hidden potential for astonishing, jaw-dropping beauty. Wait and see.
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