A few weeks ago something happened that I didn’t write about immediately, for several reasons. But now I want to share it, not least so I can remind myself.
As I drove down the highway that afternoon, enjoying the lush greenness of the grass and trees, savoring the brilliant blue sky, singing at the top of my lungs to classic rock, I had the sudden realization that I felt whole.
Months ago, my aunt had said to me, “What God wants is for you to feel whole.” I thought that sounded wonderful, but I didn’t see how it would ever happen. And the sense of wholeness hasn’t lasted: Most days I still feel fractured, splintered, holding on with white knuckles that are sweaty and slipping, certain that I’m about to lose my grip and at any second I’ll fall. But in the moment I knew exactly what she meant. I didn’t feel happy or fulfilled, necessarily, but like I was enough, complete. Like nothing was missing from my soul.
Later that day, I stopped by a thrift store, where I immediately strolled over to the books, because I’m me.
Also because I’m me, there are a half-dozen series I’m actively collecting so I can read them in order. I have lists on my phone of the titles I need. (Hey, I have never claimed not to be a total nerd. But that’s cool now, right?) So I walked to the first shelf, and there were pristine books from two of the series. Books that I realized, when I checked my phone, fit some of the gaps on my shelves. The store didn’t have everything I wanted, and they had a couple of titles that I already own, but it was still a pretty exciting discovery.
And that, to me, is the joy of thrifting: You walk into a store with no idea of what you will find, and sometimes what you find is perfect.
I continued to shop, accumulating a stack that included, in the final tally, books from four different series I was seeking, as well as a Christian title that had been on my wish list for months.
I browsed for a bit, then went to check out. A woman was bagging items and loading them into her cart, so I waited a few minutes before I finally worked up the nerve to ask if she had already paid. She laughed and apologized and commended my patience. I told her if I went home, I’d have to clean my place, so it was in my best interest to stall. We chatted for a few minutes — nothing earth-shattering, just how much we hate housecleaning and about the home business she had just started. The kind of small talk I have missed so much since COVID hit.
As we spoke, I gave my books to the woman working at the register, held out my debit card, and finally realized she wasn’t accepting it. So I looked at her in confusion.
And she said, “Baby, this is your lucky day. I am not taking your money for books, and all you have are books. In fact, you go back over there and pick out more books if you want to. Take as many as you want. Books are free to you today.”
I stared at her. “You just made my day.”
She bagged my books and handed them back to me. “Go, knowing the Lord blesses you,” she said.
And I did. I knew.
Something else had happened earlier that day, between my feeling of wholeness and the thrift store visit. It is the most dramatic example I have experienced of God keeping a promise I hadn’t even been sure was from God. It’s something I cannot, and probably never will, speak of publicly, but it was decisive and soothed doubts about a choice I had made.
So the woman’s gift of books wasn’t just a kind gesture that saved me $15-20 and offered an unexpectedly sweet moment of grace from a stranger — although it was both of those things, and I badly needed the sweetness and grace. It was also a benediction, an underscoring of the wholeness and the fact that I’d just seen God fulfill a promise.
I am trying to hold to this now, while I’m in the empty space after one job has ended and I don’t yet know the next step in my life, the next place I will land. I am trying to trust that whatever follows will be good — and in ways that I can recognize as good, not just some inscrutable “I trust this is somehow ultimately good even though it sucks in the moment” state.
I’m trying to believe God loves me even though I am terrified I will fall through the cracks in the world and vanish, and even when I think I fell through those cracks long ago and I’ve spent my life as little more than a ghost.
I’m trying to recapture that sense of spontaneity and delight and pleasure, trying to link those feelings to God, because the word “God” still evokes in me the image of a joyless, puritanical, power-drunk sadist. I am trying to replace that with the experience of a God who drew my eye to the color of the sky, the freshness of the grass; a God who grinned and maybe even hummed along with my enthusiastically off-key rendition of REO Speedwagon’s “Take it on the Run”; a God who had spoken specific words into my mind weeks earlier and gave me a clear confirmation that day that I’d heard them right; a God who, instead of scolding me for acquiring yet more books (like everyone else in my life, myself included), gave them to me as a gift; a God who smiled at me out of a pair of kind brown eyes and spoke a blessing through a woman’s lips.