For years I asked myself the question that has plagued believers down through the millennia, “How could God have allowed this to happen?” Born from anger and resentment, it sat in the back of my mind only to rise to the surface whenever I was tired or upset. How could God in all his wisdom bring such suffering onto one of His flock? Nan’s, my mother-in-law who suffers from dementia, faith was strong, as was mine; it seemed like God had forsaken us. I felt we were alone in a small boat in the middle of a thick fog. Then on one seemingly ordinary day a sweet kindness silenced this question forever.
Nan had developed a large goiter on her thyroid and her doctor had ordered an ultrasound in order to check for further abnormalities. This was scheduled as an outpatient procedure at our local hospital. At this point in her disease, although Nan was still able to transfer from her wheelchair to the front seat of my car, she often refused to stand up once she was in a seated position. Because she was not accustomed to being in the outside world, she easily became distracted or afraid. When planning doctor’s appointments, I always had to add additional minutes to our travel time, just in case I had trouble gaining her cooperation.
On this particular day Nan broke her all-time record for stubbornness. It took twenty minutes for me to convince her to move from the front seat of my car into her awaiting wheelchair. I was just about to throw in the towel, when she finally relented and stood up. Along the outside of the facility there were benches for people who were waiting to be picked up from their appointments. I didn’t know it at the time, but a woman was closely watching our exchange. As I wheeled Nan into the facility, little did I know then, but I was passing by an angel.
The scan went beautifully, but I was dreading what lay ahead. Now I had to work a reverse miracle and try to coax Nan back into the car. After about three unsuccessful attempts, I heard a soft gentle voice behind me say, “I saw that you were having trouble before, so I went inside and bought her a little present in the gift shop. Maybe it will grab her attention so that she will listen to you.” I turned to see a small wrinkled woman with a broad smile and kind eyes. There in her outstretched hand was a doll wearing a crocheted dress and matching hat ornamented with a dangling price tag reminiscent of Minnie Pearl. I almost cried.
This perfect stranger was empathetic to both my frustration and Nan’s medical condition. She had taken it upon herself to try to help. And now for the best part, it worked! Before long I had Nan safely settled in the front seat holding her present. I offered to pay the woman for the doll, but she would not hear of it. She was just glad to be of help. I was limp with gratitude.
Although this occurred many years ago, I have thought of this exchange countless times since. A woman whose name I don’t even know saw that Nan and I needed help, and with no benefit to herself, came to our rescue. She made me realize that God is caring for Nan through all the special people that touch her life. Nan is a catalyst that brings out the very best in others. Now I vigilantly search for these angels. And to my wonder I have come to realize that Nan is the daily recipient of an endless stream of Godlike behavior, beginning with her caregivers and professional medical team, stretching all the way down to a kind, unknown woman sitting on a bench outside a busy medical facility on a warm summer’s day.
Glimpses of grace are all around us every day of our lives. But if we are to experience its wonder, we must change our focus. We must become attuned to the joy that grace can bring into our lives. We must break down the barriers of our heart and become open to the possibilities of unlimited gratitude and love. We must shift our attention from the measurable tenets of the material world and take notice of the often-overlooked tender mercies that lay in our path. Like the morning you felt that your friend was in pain and after telephoning, you learned that she was in need of help. Or the day you took the long way home from a college class and met your future husband. Or the afternoon a kind stranger gave a doll to a woman and her daughter-in-law in a hospital parking lot. Or when you found a pressed flower tucked between the pages of a poetry book that your late mother used to keep on her nightstand. But remember to tread lightly. Sometimes grace arrives in packages so small that you almost let them pass by unnoticed, like puddles after a thunderstorm, the smile on a friend’s face, or the song of a distant skylark.