“This American Life” is a public radio program found on NPR. I downloaded their recent free podcast and made a cd to listen to in my car. That practice resulted in my hearing a show on “Coincidences” which, not so coincidentally, inspired this piece. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of people sent in submissions to the radio show describing coincidences from their lives. Simple ones, like seeing a stranger at one store and then an hour later, the same stranger is eating at the same restaurant as you. That one has happened to me several times. There would be that same guy! Who was he? I decided he wasn’t CIA because what could I be doing that would attract them? “Agent Cederquist , there’s a boring guy in Anchorage, Alaska who is living an insignificant life. He is often seen eating at McDonalds. Follow him! He may be a threat to the nation!” Most coincidences are merely random chance. But some, not so much. This story from the program is an example.
Paul lived in Chicago and was dating a girl named Esther. He had grown increasingly fond of Esther after about eight dates and decided to ask her for a ninth date for the coming Friday. There he would invite her to be his girl friend. It being lunch time, he stopped by a local deli to buy a sandwich. As he handed over a five and a couple of ones to purchase the six dollar and some odd cent sandwich, he pulled back one of the dollar bills. On it in pencil was written “Esther.” Odd coincidence but sort of romantic so he kept it. Even more, he went to a store and bought a picture frame and put the bill over a gold background in the middle of the frame and wrapped it up.
Friday during the date, he asked her the committment question (Will you be my girlfriend making us an exclusive couple which might even lead to a marriage proposal someday?) Also he presented her with the framed dollar bill. After opening the present, a look of speechless shock appeared on her face. Making no comment, she merely said to remind her to tell him a story about this someday.
A couple of years later, the now married couple were unpacking in their new apartment when Paul found the frame with the dollar bill and put it on the nearby dresser. Esther walked into the room and he asked her to explain the story behind the dollar bill.
Esther worked at a coffee shop in Chicago and was dating a guy who just wasn’t working out for her. (That was probably me since that happened to me often as a young man. I was ‘a guy’ but not ‘THE guy.’ Of course, I have never lived in Chicago so it was some other guy just like me, maybe pretending to me.) Esther asked herself a common question, “How do you know who the person is that you are supposed to marry?” (I could do an entire post or two on that question alone. Maybe I will.) She decided to create her own portent.
Esther wrote her name in pencil on 10 or 12 dollar bills in the coffee shop till and told herself that she would marry the man who gave her one of these dollar bills. The dollars went out to circulate in the roughly 3 million people who live in Chicago and beyond. You can imagine her shock when she opened her present that day a few years later and found one of her dollar bills in the middle of that frame. She couldn’t tell the man who had merely asked her to be his girlfriend that this meant he would marry her so she kept her silence. But of course he did marry her and was as amazed as she had been. Incredible true story. Coincidence?
I have always believed there are no coincidences in the life of anyone who follows God. This is not to say that I believe there is only one perfect spouse out there in the masses and you must wait for the one who has a dollar bill with your name on it to appear. Nor do I think the coincidence of the guy from Fred Meyer who also ended up eating at the same McDonalds as me is a sign from God. There are random moments in every life.
I have learned over the years that God is in the details as well as the big picture. He can and often does use little things to move forward His great plan to redeem mankind. He also uses little things in the continuing struggle to make me holy. I’ve learned to stay alert for tiny moments of significance. I don’t have to stay awake for the big moments like finding my name where I didn’t expect it. Anyone can see the huge signs. It’s the little ones like running into someone unexpectedly at Costco and realizing that it is time to attempt to reconcile over that silly little thing from last year. (Okay it might have been a big thing but it is time nontheless.) Life is full of little things that can be used by God when He pleases, to nudge us. What it tells us all is that there is more drama to our humdrum days than we might have realized.
After all….He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake. Psalm 23:3 (NASB)