[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, and allowing a second chance for those who missed them the first time, I reprint them here, with permission. The following ran in The Forum newspaper on Sept. 6, 2014.]
Living Faith: Chip aisle provides ‘God moment’
By Roxane B. Salonen
Her face showed she was rushed now, too; this surely would be a short and sweet “good to see you” kind of deal.
But a few words into it, there between the candy and the potato chips, something began to happen, and by the time I got back to the van, my clock showed after 11 p.m.
Ninety minutes from starting, I had only one item in hand, but a full heart.
I am reliving that moment again now, remembering her with her grocery cart half-full and the weight of the world on her face, and me on a mission to make a hasty getaway.
But God had other plans. First came her update, then mine. Before we knew it an invisible force had pulled us together and was keeping us bound, unmovable, in the grocery aisle.
We were two mothers whose summers had exploded – a couple of hurting souls confounded by similar things – and we couldn’t part.
It was a “God moment” of potato-chip proportions, you might say.
At one point, the guy cleaning the floor had to clear his throat as he waited for us to move. Finally feeling his stare, we mumbled a collective, “Sorry,” and relocated around the corner, transfixed anew now near the center-aisle cereal display.
At 10 p.m., my husband called. “Where are you? Are you OK?” Yes, yes, all is well. Just ran into a friend. Be home soon.
How could I begin to explain what was keeping me attached to that small section of grocery-floor tile? That despite our inability to seal a connection several months back, and being worn and weary this night, God had arranged a way for us to meet anyway, right here and now?
What words could relay well enough how looking into her deep brown eyes and hearing of her trials, not as in a “woe is me,” but an “I am in survival mode right now and this is hard” kind of way, had left me no choice?
And then she became very quiet. “I have to admit, there have been times in all this that my faith has felt very weak.”
“My prayers have become pretty subdued lately, too,” I said, nodding in understanding.
“I feel guilty,” she admitted.
“It’s hard, I know,” I said, “but you can’t always be strong. I think sometimes all you can do is coast, to survive off the prayers of others, and that God’s OK with that.”
It’s hard to admit we are broken and doubtful.
“God, why aren’t you intervening here? This is too much,” we might say, tempted to shake our fist at the almighty.
She’s been there, and I have, too.
But then, as another floor cleaner whooshed past, forcing my friend to pull her cart flatly against the juice section to make room to pass, she said, very intently, “It’s crazy, though. Despite all of this, God keeps showing up.”
She shared about the many in her life who have reached out in love, and how it’s kept her buoyed even as she’s been on the verge of total immersion.
As I listened, I saw a woman who knows she’s blessed despite trial and who loves her child with a boundless love, even though right now things aren’t as she wishes.
I saw a friend clinging onto life by a thread, but one that has been fashioned by a good God who loves her and her daughter even more than she can, and who will see them both through if only she hangs on and trusts.
I saw myself.
We agreed together to keep moving ahead, to keep trusting in God, to not give up on the good ending we know will come, even though it seems so unreachable now.
Fiction author Madeleine L’Engle once wrote that it is when our prayers seem to have been lost that God is most present.
“We do not need the sheltering wings when things go smoothly,” she wrote. “We are closest to God in the darkness, stumbling along blindly. There is no such thing as belief without doubt or struggle.”
It’s true, and it helps me know I can hang on one more day, and then another after that. Together, we can do this.