Friday, February 7, 2014

The Present

I used to think that I didn’t have an answer for people when they’d ask me how I know there is a God.  I struggled with this question my entire life.  It wasn’t until I reached my 40’s that I think the question became more pressing.  I may not have the best answer to this question but I do have one answer that has clarified God for me.  God isn’t just a “He” to me anymore.  God isn’t a being in the sky or an omnipotent power that controls my thoughts and actions.  No, God has been revealed to me in so many ways that I cannot define “Him” as just “Him”. 

Perhaps this story will convince others that God is real, perhaps it won’t, but it is a story worth telling because it convinced me of His mighty power to answer our prayers - especially when we least expect it. 

Anyone who has read my blog knows that my husband and I haunt flea markets and auctions on a regular basis.  We take bargain hunting to a whole new level – even attending a garage sale on our wedding day (ok, maybe it was just Bill attending the garage sale, but you get the drift).  So, auctions are in our blood so to speak.  It doesn’t matter the town or state, if there is an auction around, you can bet we’ll sniff it out.  From Florida to New Jersey, and every state in between, we have found treasures galore!

NJ is where our roots are, but Florida is where we planted ourselves 26 years ago.  About eight years ago I made a very special trip to NJ to visit my mother’s grave.  It was the first time that I visited her grave since her death in 1960. It took me years to discover the name of her cemetery because her death, her very existence, was something that was never spoken of in our family.  I don’t think anyone can truly comprehend the struggle I’ve experienced over my mother’s death.  For most of my life I harbored bitterness over losing her and not knowing anything about her.  When I visited her grave I made a promise to God and to myself that I would move on and spend time with the living.  I left my heavy heart at the cemetery that day and returned home with peace in my soul.

In fact, I wrote a story about that trip on this blog: Be Still. 

Now, more than ever, I believe that it was perfect timing that brought me to her grave eight years ago and it was perfect timing that brought me to the auction in FL shortly after I visited her grave.

The auction house was one that we frequented regularly.  On this night, they were auctioning the entire estate of a Time-Life photographer who hailed from North Jersey.  I don’t know how his estate ended up in Cape Coral, FL, but it was clear that this was his private collection of photographs and the collection completely filled the auction house.

There was one gentleman at the auction that was bidding on every photograph.  No matter how high the bidding went, super bidder (the name Bill and I dubbed him) clearly had unlimited cash.  He undoubtedly had a vested interest in winning back the entire collection and wasn’t about to let even one item slip from his grasp.  We quickly discerned that it was useless to bid against this guy.

Towards the end of the auction we made our way back to the box lots where we figured we had a chance to bid on something – anything.  It wasn’t like us to leave an auction empty handed, after all.

While Bill was busy buying his share of box lots, I was eying a briefcase shoved under the table.  I assumed everyone’s attention was diverted by the current booty up for bid, so I stealthily pulled it out and opened it to find more Time-Life photographs.  Before I had a chance to sneak the case back under the table, super bidder appeared at my side.  I did my best to pretend the case was devoid of anything worthy of a bid but I think I may have blown my cover by my reaction to his looming presence.

 “Oh, just a bunch of old papers in that thing.”  I stammered as I shoved the case back under the table, “Nothing I’d be interested in.” 

His glare told me that he wasn’t buying it for a minute.  I knew then that he had seen the contents of the briefcase and any hope of my owning it vaporized in that realization. 

Well, to make a long story short, every item in the box lots that had even one photograph was bought up by super bidder.  I had resigned myself to not getting the briefcase but I decided to bid on it anyway. 

It was the very last thing to go up for auction that night.  It was just Bill and I, the super bidder and few stragglers left in the auction house.  The briefcase was placed on the table and the bidding began with super bidder throwing out the first bid.  I waited until the last possible moment before I placed my bid.  Super bidder didn’t bat an eye as he nodded his head indicating he was in it to win it.  Well, so was I!  I bid again and waited for his nod.  I waited.  This couldn’t be happening, my mind raced, Am I actually going to win this bid!

It was as if everyone left in the auction house held a collective breath as the auctioneer counted down, “Going once, twice, all in all done…” I looked at super bidder in astonishment as I heard those glorious words…“Sold to the lady in the yellow shirt.” 

The place erupted into applause as if I had spent a fortune to win the briefcase.  In reality, I only spent $15.00.  It was, at the time, a complete mystery as to why super bidder bequeathed the briefcase to me that night.

 All I remember is his faint smile as I took possession of the case.  It was as if he was saying to me, “It was yours from the beginning.  I was just having a little fun with you.”

I was so excited!  I couldn’t believe my luck.  All the way home, I held onto the briefcase as if it contained a momentous treasure.  As soon as we came in the door, Bill and I started rifling through the briefcase like two little kids on Christmas morning.

 I noticed right away that these pictures were taken in NJ where the photographer lived as they were more personal than the others.  Some were labeled with town names that I know are in North Jersey.  As we got to the last few photographs, my heart took a little leap. 

“I remember this place, Bill” I told my husband.  “It’s the duck pond we used to visit when I was a kid.  I passed by it when I was visiting my mom’s grave.  How weird is that!”

“Wow, that’s cool.” Bill said as he moved the photograph from the briefcase to the pile on the table.

I stared into the briefcase as the next photograph was revealed.  As the photograph came into focus, my heart didn’t just take a little leap, it about bounced out of my chest.  I don’t know how long I stared at the picture staring back at me, but it took Bill’s voice to pull me out of my trance.

“Honey, what’s wrong?”

I was barely aware of the tears streaming down my cheeks as I tried to answer him. 

“I…I…I…” For about five minutes, I couldn’t put a coherent sentence together.

Finally, I picked up the picture and looked at the one below it and the one below that.  I really couldn’t believe my eyes.  There in the briefcase…the very last three photographs were pictures of the three pillars at each of the entrances of my mother’s cemetery. 

Here’s the thing, I would never had known that these pictures were from her cemetery had I not recently visited her grave.

I don’t wonder any more if there is a God.  I know there is.  I know there is because only He can answer a prayer that hasn’t even been spoken yet.  Only God can show you something in such a profound way that it is fathomless…how?  How is it that I ended up with those photographs on that night in that auction house in Cape Coral, FL just a few weeks after visiting my mother’s grave in NJ?

 I’ll tell you how.  It was God’s mighty hand reminding me that He is always in charge.  He knows just what we need exactly when we need it.  I didn’t even know I needed those pictures, but I did.  I needed them to remind me that letting go of the past doesn’t mean that you don’t grieve a loss – you just look at the loss differently.  It’s kind of like a photograph forever etched in your mind’s eye, a part of your life’s tapestry.  But, the photograph becomes a reminder that the tapestry is still being woven.  It’s a reminder that there will be more photographs to fill the tapestry.  Now, every time I look at those cemetery pictures I am reminded that, had I stayed stuck in the past, I would most certainly have lost the present.