I validate my life through signs. My dear, deceased mother-in-law flits from tree to tree in the form of a bright red cardinal as I sit at my desk on the verge of writing something nasty to someone who may or may not deserve it. More than once I’ve looked out my window and seen Sally who was, at her meanest, kinder than I’ll ever be. I take it as a sign and push delete instead of send.
I find pennies, so many pennies on my walks. One day I found a quarter. Followed by a dime. And a few steps later, three pennies. I knew they came from my father because years and years ago, on a walk around the neighborhood, we found a similar configuration of cents. True to character, he made some remark about how foolish and careless the person was who dropped all that money. And so, I took my newfound coins as a sign that what I was thinking about on my walk was indeed foolish and careless. I canceled my order for that Louis Vuitton tote bag that I had coveted for so long.
When I hear about accidents on roads not taken, scandals in schools not chosen, food poisoning on cruise ships not sailed upon, I consider them signs.
I believe in everything happening for a reason, being in the right place at the right time and getting what you deserve. I also believe in four-leaf clovers, wedding rings and rainbows.
But I didn’t see the rainbow yesterday.
Because I believe in doing what I believe to be the right thing, I’ve spent a lot of time building my resume as a good Christian. I go to church almost every Sunday (except of course in the summer). I had all my children baptized and raised them to go to church (unless of course there was a Sunday baseball game). I have taught Sunday School. I make tuna fish sandwiches for the Holiday Fair. I have served as a Deacon (though am almost positive I would have been impeached had my term not expired first). I am on both the Outreach and Membership and the Mission and Stewardship Committees (though I’m not sure I know the difference between the two). I go to Bible Study every single week (though I rarely confess my whereabouts unless I’m trying to impress a random church-goer).
On paper, I’m a pretty good Presbyterian. But out in the world, boy, am I a heathen.
Ask me in public what I think about religion and I denounce the bejesus out of the whole crazy concept. Because heaven forbid I be one of the fools who’s left believing in the resurrection and some omnipresent supreme being if the whole theory is shot to Hell.
Despite my efforts to keep the Holy Spirit at bay, I grew very close to the pastor at our multi-cultural church. Debra Given came to The Presbyterian Church in Leonia in 2000 and I’ve been a challenging project for her ever since. She’s a hard and fast ex-Jesus freak liberal who accepts everyone, no matter what they believe or where they are in their journey of faith. She does not cower when I say to her holy face,”You really think this Jesus stuff is true?”
She smiles and promises me that I’m holier than I think.
We talk about signs a lot in Bible Study. Debra believes that certain signs just may be divine coincidences. It sounds good, but not quite good enough to believe.
We’ve known since November that Debra was retiring this week and of course I was recruited to be on the Party Planning Committee. After all, everyone knows I’m looking for a couple more kudos from God. Just in case.
Losing a pastor is not an easy thing. It’s worse than losing a boss or a principal or a child to college. There’s a whole protocol to be followed which, for some strange reason, includes actually letting the pastor retire. And, for us, that kind of means severing our relationship with Debra and her family. There’s no meeting for lunch next week or guest appearances at Bible Study or coming back to baptize a baby. There will be a period of uncertainty while we search for a new pastor and certain personalities will surely rear their ugly heads as we battle for who we consider to be the best of the bunch to take over the helm.
But, at the party we made Debra a promise that we would be good. We would survive. And we would make her proud. One of my very favorite people in the whole church, and maybe the whole wide world, came up to me at the end of the very moving and lovely party. Because she is as private as I am public, though perhaps equally as holy, I won’t call her by name, but here’s a hint. She’s young and pretty and sings like an angel. We both had tears in our eyes as we started talking about the changes we were facing and how much we were going to miss Debra.
“As sad as it is, all this makes me feel like we’re a church again,” she said.
And I knew exactly what she meant.
In Debra’s final sermon, I was called out, not by name because she’s way too kind for that.
“I’ve heard that some of you,” she said in her jokingly chiding way. “Have said once I’m gone you’re not coming back to church.”
And I have said that. Out loud. To many. Because that’s the kind of thing all good heathens say. But I’ve always amended it by saying that because I love my spouse and he loves the church, I’ll continue to come.
There wasn’t a dry eye in the church after her goodbye sermon which was filled with many messages, including these words:
If you are one of those people who wants or needs to know God’s love in your life, you can pray and ask God to show it to you. God answers those kinds of prayers. But also pray that your eyes may be open to see, because sometimes God’s love comes in unexpected ways. So if you decide to pray, you also need to pay attention.
Well, that wouldn’t be me. Cause I don’t pray. And I’m not real good at paying attention either.
When church let out, it was pouring down rain. Teeming. Monsooning.
Another sign, I thought wryly. Another sign.
And, just like that, the sun burst through the clouds and lit up those rain drops on the barren tree branches. My buddy Suzanne and I dashed to the doors, certain we’d see a rainbow.
But it wasn’t there.
I cried the whole way home.
Later when I was flipping through Facebook, pictures of the double rainbow that spanned across the Hudson River popped up all over my page. I smiled. So, there was a rainbow after all.
Funny thing is, I didn’t pray for a sign. But maybe, just maybe, Debra did it for me.