It was a beautiful, genuine fur-lined coat. The gift was from a close friend, who had moved to a warmer climate, and I couldn’t wait to try it on. As I wrapped myself in its plush softness, I felt that no matter the temperature, I would be toasty warm. It was a small coat, for a small frame, and the expensive coat fit like a glove, lavishly covering me (almost) to my ankles. It was perfect! A splendid coat made just for me.
Or so I thought.
An allergic reaction to the fur prevented me from wearing it, so I reluctantly hung it on the coat rack while I contemplated its fate. For days, a niggling ‘impression’ would flit across my mind whenever I saw it. It was like a snapshot -of me handing it over to someone in dire need. The thought would not leave me…that the gift held some sort of significance, and that it belonged to someone who desperately needed to be wrapped in its luxurious warmth.
Eventually, I took the coat to my church, thinking that there might be someone in our congregation who could use it. But then, there was that persistent feeling that this particular coat belonged to someone who was in dire need. So, it hung on the coat bar of the foyer, patiently waiting.
The weather had turned nasty. An early snow with unseasonably bitter wind chills had called a halt to any promise of an extended Fall. As I drove to Sunday worship, the coat came to my mind, and I decided to put it in the trunk of my car. In all honesty, I had begun to question the rationality of the stubborn, internal dialog around the fate of the coat, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was a bigger purpose behind the nagging thoughts.
After the morning worship service, I decided to drive to my daughter’s home for an impromptu visit. I found myself thinking about the coat, asking God for a “big ole billboard sign” (and the awareness necessary to see it) when/if a specific recipient ever crossed my path.
After releasing the prayer, my thoughts moved toward sweet anticipation of the impending visit with my family. A last-minute decision to stop for a travel snack changed my route plans, sending me down the back streets toward my favorite natural food store. As I neared the rear parking lot, I saw a figure appear out of a heavily wooded area through which a creek passed. Deliberation around snack choices was immediately dispelled by the unusual sight of what looked to be a small-framed woman, pushing a rickety shopping cart from the protection of the trees. I slowed the car, creeping toward her, watching as she wrestled the cart from the tree-line. Her back was toward me, and as I inched by, she turned to meet my gaze. There, in her panicked eyes and life-worn face, was my billboard sign.
I pulled into the lot to retrieve the coat and turn the car around. Driving back toward the wooded spot, I saw the cart, but the woman was not there. I thought about simply placing the coat in the cart, but there was that quiet “impression”, again, urging me to wait for her. So, I decided that if I had to drive up and down that street a thousand times (before she re-appeared) I would do just that!
One pass. That’s all it took. One pass and there she was. She pushed the wobbly cart, which held what I imagined to be the sum total of her earthly possessions, along the sidewalk toward me. I motioned to her as I pulled next to the curb. She seemed so small and frightened, tentative and unsure of my intention.
I hit the button, rolling down the passenger-side window, and was met by her distraught expression and a frantic string of fear-filled words, “I’m moving! I’m trying to get out. I’m going. I’m going…”.
My heart buckled under the weight of the moment. Interrupting her, I implored, “No. No…I have something for you…a fur coat. A few minutes ago I prayed to God, and He told me that it belongs to you.” I heard my words spill out, in full realization that many would question the validity of such a claim. I wondered if she would be able to comprehend or accept what I was telling her.
She paused before a second distressed stream surged from her trembling lips, “They put a sign on my tree, telling me to get out. I’m trying to go. I don’t want someone to take my stuff. I’m trying to go somewhere else. Please pray for my stuff. I don’t want anyone to see me moving my stuff.”
I listened, desperately trying to comprehend the horrific reality of her life. Her words, “My tree”, reverberated in my head. “My tree”…her home. Her desperation around securing the tattered cartful of possessions was gut-wrenching. I wondered how someone like her, whose means of existence lay crumpled in a rusty cart under a winter-bare tree, would ever be able to see a glimmer of hope within the threads of a mere coat? What feeble words could I possibly muster that might help her understand the reality of God’s love and care for her? And yet, I knew that this moment had been precisely orchestrated by divine Love And, I believed that the power of that Love would be big enough to bridge the chasm between my inadequate attempt and her great lack.
Handing the coat from the warmth of my car, into the hands of her cold, stark world, I hoped that she would be able to sense the deep compassion that welled underneath heartfelt words.
“You were chosen, by God, to receive this gift. It will keep you warm. He loves you and is watching out for you. I will pray for you and the security of your stuff. Just know that you are loved.”
I drove away, wishing that I could have done more, regretful that I had not even asked her name. Then it occurred to me…
Her name is Beloved. As is mine. We are, all, God’s beloved. Every one of us is immersed in our own, unique, personal struggle while (mostly) unaware that He, who placed the stars, intently works for our good. From the sacred realm of stillness, the Spirit of God quietly orchestrates a complex choreography of care, whispering to those who have more, nudging them to help those who need more.
As I sit in the early morning hours to write the account of yesterday’s event, another winter snow falls. Watching quiet flakes dance on dawn’s light, from the warmth of my home, I pray for Beloved and (as promised) for the security of her stuff. In my mind’s eye, I can see her. I imagine that she is huddled under a different tree, perhaps deeper into the woods and farther from the eyes of those, whose own lack lies within the boundaries of compassion. I pray for her safety and that she might be able to feel the softness and warmth of the love of God as she pulls the coat a little more tightly around her neck. And I pray for myself, that my eyes will be keenly focused, my ears a-tuned, and my heart wide-open to the great need around me.
As the holiday season of giving approaches, I am sharply reminded of extreme need, which lies hidden between the cracks of plenty. I am acutely made aware of panicked cries that will lie muffled beneath the hearty strains of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”, and my heart aches for growling bellies that will not be filled around a satisfying table of plenty.
May we each be presented with the blessings of hope, peace, joy and love that will come wrapped within the moments of this holiday season. May we also remain alert to the opportunities, which will surely arise, that could help bring a measure of the same to others who will not be so easily and richly blessed.
If you were touched by this poignant story of God’s loving care, you might also be blessed by reading the story Beloved.
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