I used to think that God worked in details, orchestrating events and people in time like a tapestry. Then I didn’t believe it. Then for a long time, I hoped it was true. Yesterday, God showed off in a hatful of ways about the veracity of that belief: even if we can’t always see it, God is always working for the good, making connections between people and events in time. He’s an artist, and time is his medium and we are his masterpiece.
On one Sunday in November of 2002, I was hurrying out of the back of church after mass with my two little ones when Jodi stopped me. “I’m going on a retreat next week and I was wondering if you might like to join me,” she said, a bit nervously. And though I hadn’t ever considered the idea of a retreat in my busy life as a stay-at-home Mom of two babies, I found myself saying yes, and that decision has changed the rest of my life for the good. Being a part of my local retreat house has connected me with many of the best people I’ve ever met, and led me to community in a local charity, My Brother’s Keeper (MBK), where I’ve served and connected with even more wonderful people over the years.
Fr. John was our chapel priest way back in the late nineties. He was sweet, kind, and gave the best homily I’ve ever heard. Fr. John baptized our son Brian in 1997 and left our community soon after to join the staff of a Catholic college a couple of towns away. We exchanged Christmas cards for years and in 2013, a few months after my husband joined the staff of that college, Fr. John became its president.
I met Bill and Joanne when our kids were small. A group of us became friends and hung out and even camped together. We had a group name and custom-made t-shirts. (Seriously!) I was so happy when Bill and my husband went on the same retreat I had gone on with Jodi just a couple of years earlier. I was honored when he asked me to sing at his father’s funeral.
Alex is a new friend in my church community. She’s new to this area, and she’s such a bright light of a person that I wanted to get to know her a bit more. We made plans for me to show her around the area, some places to walk , run, eat and pray. We were running much later than I thought we’d be yesterday morning, but drove amiably and leisurely through a couple of towns as I pointed out good places for coffee, candy, breakfast, and ice cream. As we made our way to that Catholic college campus to check out some walking paths and prayer places, I told Alex the story of how Fr. John baptized my kid and then came back around into our lives as the president of the college where my husband worked and where that same son went to school. We stopped into MBK, where Jodi’s husband Erich now serves as president. Though he doesn’t normally work on Saturdays, he opened the door for us and showed Alex around.
Have you ever heard that song, The Circle Game, by Joni Mitchell? You’d cry hearing her sweet voice earnestly sing some of the truest words ever written in a song, all about the movement of time and how we learn and grow and how the seasons come round and round again. I know I’m supposed to know Jodi, Erich, Fr. John, Bill, Joanne, and Alex. We’re spokes on a wheel that goes round and round again. I wonder, as you’re reading, if you recognize the spokes on your own wheel, those people who were placed in your life by a kind and benevolent force you couldn’t have orchestrated yourself.
Some of what happened yesterday that helped me see the Hand of God in these connections has to do with parallels in our personal stories and some are details you couldn’t make up if you tried. My day with Alex got off to a late start, but if it hadn’t, maybe we’d never have seen Erich in a place and time where he seldom worked on a Saturday. If we hadn’t stopped for candy, if we hadn’t looped around the retreat house in the car, if we hadn’t gone into a building we didn’t intend to, if she didn’t decide to stop to use a restroom before leaving the building, maybe we wouldn’t have found ourselves walking out the door when Fr. John entered in search of a bottle of water in the campus ministry office. He was red-faced and smiling from watching a collegiate game in the heat, and as he waved at me through the glass door, I shook my head in disbelief. I had just finished talking about him. Fr. John connected Alex with really helpful resources and a heartfelt welcome to her new community. It was a remarkable, fortuitous, against-all-odds chance meeting, and Alex and I both knew it. Like I said, we’re supposed to know each other. She gets it.
Bill and Joanne had generously invited us to be their guests at a fundraiser for MBK’s new site that very evening. Bill had taken on a role in working with the new location’s development board, and gathered with him and Joanne were his sweet Mom and siblings. Bill introduced me as ‘the person who sang at Dad’s funeral’, and you could feel the weight and love and presence of his father enveloping them all right where we stood. These connections matter and they tie us together, no matter how much time passes by.
As I scanned the crowd that night, I found old and new friends, people who have changed the trajectory of my life in all of the best ways. I saw Jodi from way across a stone patio and rushed over to hug her. We don’t get to see each other often, but we belong to each other, anyway. We’ve shared a lot of history and our lives have mattered to each other in ways we might not even know yet. We’re spokes on a blessed wheel that goes round and round and round in ways we couldn’t have predicted or expected. What an absolute wonder. What a tremendous gift.