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Lisa Denton

Three Sundays ago in church, my pastor told the story of a seemingly misplaced phone call that ended up connecting him with a friend in distress. When he finished the call and went back to find the right number, he saw that it was actually crossed out to the point of being illegible. Yet he had seen that number and dialed that number, enabling him to come to the aide of a friend who needed comfort. (See the Rev. David Anderson's story below.)

That's a God Thing, I thought as he spoke, his voice cracking as he recalled the providential forces that made such an unlikely event happen. I recognize them because they've happened to me.

People label them in different ways: God Things, God Winks, God Pokes. But they all represent a sort of everyday miracle we can't explain, a feeling of divine providence that others might call coincidence, reminders that God is in control and at work behind the scenes.

As I listened to the sermon that day, I began to wonder if readers of the Times Free Press might have their own God Things they'd be willing to share publicly. I wasn't sure if it was a viable idea, if readers would respond if I made the request in the newspaper.

I was still in this internal debate as I left church for home. When I started the car, the radio came on. US-101. "Crook & Chase." The hosts were talking to a band, Locash. And then they played the band's new song: "God Thing."

I had my answer.

Thanks to all of you who wrote with your own God Things — some everyday miracles, some even bigger. We have a selection of them here today, and we'll run more in next Sunday's Times Free Press.

Contact Lisa Denton at ldenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6281.

 

Holy Week at Walmart

It was a routine Friday — early morning prayer group, followed by the grocery gauntlet. Coupons in hand, I headed out to several stores, finally winding up at Walmart. The thought of crossing the Friday finish line in record time quickened my pace. I cruised past the detergent and the fabric softener but ran into a traffic jam across from the paper towels.

An elderly woman blocked shoppers in both directions. With a prosthetic foot, she inched along in a wheelchair, mumbling apologies. Her right hand nudged the wheel, while her left hand trapped toiletry items in her lap. Surely someone must be here to help her, I thought, glancing at my list and then my watch. The crowd thinned. I turned the corner and reached for cereal on Aisle 8B.

You go and help her. An audible command couldn't have been more compelling, but this one came from my heart. I never imagined that this could be an answer to a prayer — my own.

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Marcia Swearingen

Retracing my steps, I parked my shopping cart next to a display of potato chips. There she was, all alone, bewildered and disoriented. I gently grasped the handlebars of the wheelchair and bent over to meet her gaze.

"Here, let me help you," I said, and it warmed my heart as if I'd been the one in need. "Is there someone here with you?"

"Yes," she stammered, "but I don't know where she's gone."

"Is there a place where you are to meet?"

"Take me to the checkout, and maybe I'll see her at the front."

As we rolled along, I introduced myself and learned her name was Ellie. She thanked me profusely and I told her I was happy to do it, and I was. The smell of her hair reminded me of my grandmother. Once we got through checkout, we looked in both directions, but her friend was not there.

"Honey, I have to go to the restroom. Can you wheel me inside?"

"Sure, I'd be happy to."

Like the words to an old song, a once-familiar routine came back to me. I pushed the wheelchair into the handicapped stall and locked the brakes. Supporting her under the arms, I helped Ellie stand and turn around.

"Oh, honey, I'm so sorry you have to do this. And me, a total stranger."

"It's OK, Ellie. I took care of my grandmother for 10 years."

But my grandmother never wore a diaper. Not a problem ... a strange enablement continued, even as her bowels moved at an untimely moment. The floor was badly soiled, and so was the one and only diaper. Still, the strange peace persisted. I managed to seat Ellie without either of us stepping in the mess all over the floor. Humiliated, her shoulders began to heave as tears flowed. "I can't believe you have to do this," she sobbed, shaking her head. "I'm so sorry."

I put my arm around her shoulders and words came: "Maybe someone will do this for me someday. Jesus cleans up my messes every day."

And that thought gave me the grace to joyfully tackle the mess around us with toilet paper. I couldn't let her slip in it and fall. Never could I have pictured the women's restroom in Walmart, a week before Easter, as holy ground. But in that moment it was a privilege to be there and humbly serve. Jesus has done so much for me. As I worked, my heart overflowed with a supernatural peace and joy.

Somehow I salvaged the diaper and helped Ellie back into her chair. "There now, we did it," I spoke as if nothing had happened, but we both knew better — a sacred serenity still lingered in the air. I rolled Ellie out of that dark concrete cubicle, and we exited the building into a bright spring day. An attendant from her assisted-care center came running up to greet us. She thanked me, and I gave my new friend a final farewell hug.

"Happy Easter, Ellie."

"You too, dear."

That's when I remembered the prayer I'd prayed that morning: Help me help someone else today in your name. Help me do something I'm afraid to try, by relying on your strength alone.

As I walked back to the potato chip display, tears streamed down my face. My shopping cart was right where I'd left it, but I was in a different place — where finish lines don't matter.

— Marcia Swearingen, Hixson

 

'Stop!' said a voice

It was a beautiful evening in May 2007 as I drove through the Falling Water community, heading toward the first hairpin curve at the bottom of the very narrow Roberts Mill Road at the base of Signal Mountain.

I was returning from work, listening to a beautiful instrumental CD, reflecting on the beauty of nature surrounding me, just seconds before I made the first turn, when a very LOUD and distinct voice commanded me to "STOP!" It sounded as if another person were in the passenger seat, issuing the command.

Without any hesitation, I immediately slammed on my brakes and came to a complete stop, only to see an oncoming car IN MY LANE, rounding the hairpin curve in front of me. The driver swerved when he saw me, missing the entire front of my car by only a fraction of an inch. Had I not listened to that mysterious voice and halted, I most likely would have had a head-on collision that evening.

Afterward, the other driver continued on his journey, speeding away without stopping, as I breathed a sigh of relief and a prayer of thanksgiving for my guardian angel who was with me that day.

— Carol Sharpe, Signal Mountain

 

Searing message

About 25 years ago while living in Akron, Ohio, I was in need of a full-time job as my own business was struggling. The job search was underway, and I looked at a couple of possibilities plus I had been praying and I'd asked others to pray.

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Rich Eberly

One night in bed and just falling to sleep, it was as if a vibrant branding iron had seared my forehead flashing "CALL VMI."

VMI is a company that I had worked for previously, left under good conditions, but with pride, etc. I did not want to go crawling back to them.

When I woke up the next morning, I wondered if this was really a God Thing! I waited all day to give them a call but thought if this was God I better call.

When I reached my old boss, he was very excited to hear from me as the president of the company was about to hire a guy my boss did not agree with. I had lunch with them the next day and was hired on the spot!

Had I waited and not been obedient to God's guidance I would have missed this opportunity, which incidentally also paved the way 10 years ago for my wife and me to move to beautiful Chattanooga, where our only child and grandchildren live.

God is so good.

— Rich Eberly, Chattanooga

 

Miracles in hindsight

Sometimes what you experience as a God Thing is in hindsight.

I lived in Ohio. I was looking for a job in TV. I interviewed in several cities, including Chattanooga. I ended up going to South Carolina, 500 miles from everything I knew — home, family, friends.

The second day in town, I met my future husband. I believe my leaving home, going 500 miles south to a little town called Spartanburg was a God Thing. I never thought I would marry. God had other plans and he took me to South Carolina so I could find my husband. We've been married 35 years!

— Mary Ann Bryant

 

Phone calls and flowers

Can God "wink" at you through a phone call or a simple flower? These were the reminders that I believe God gave me one special day, which happened to be on my birthday.

This story actually begins some 12 years ago when my husband passed away. He had had a brain hemorrhage and had been comatose for over 24 hours. He had always been a lively, strong man. This day was different. The family and I were gathered by his bedside. What happened next was quite unexpected and disturbing. He suddenly sat straight up in bed and let out a loud moan that sounded much like a scream. We all jumped back a bit, and then he calmly laid back down and drew his last breath.

This moment haunted me for years. I even began to doubt whether or not he had gone to heaven. Dick had gone to church for many years, but after he had suffered a stroke, it was more difficult for him to speak in the way that he once had. At this point, church attendance became less and less. However, I know that he believed in Jesus and had written in his Bible asking Jesus to take him to heaven one day.

It was morning, and I was sitting outside in the swing when I got the first phone call. The caller ID indicated that it was from "Richard," Dick's given name. It was a family member calling to wish me a happy birthday. I received another call that day, and the caller ID indicated that it was from "Willard." My first thought was of Dick's father, whose name was "Willard." Once again, it was family calling.

Later that day, I was sitting on the porch when I noticed a red flower blooming. It was called a four o'clock. I had planted a few small seeds months ago that were given to me by a friend. I had actually forgotten all about it. When I saw the flower, I thought about my grandmother and remembered how I used to pick four o'clocks at her house when I was a child.

On the day that that these strange things occurred, I just believed that the calls and flower had all been a God Thing, a sweet reminder that I need not worry. God wanted me to be at peace and trust in him in ALL things.

— Phyllis D., Harrison

 

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Stephen and Margaret Smith hold the class ring they recovered more than a year after losing it in 1971 at Hamilton County Park (now Chester Frost Park).

Lost and found

One summer afternoon in 1971, Steve (age 21) and Margaret (age 19) took a picnic lunch to Hamilton County Park, now known as Chester Frost Park. While we planned to swim, Steve knew I had a major fear of touching the bottom of the lake.

I entered Chickamauga Lake with a float and a belly flop. As soon as Steve joined me, I realized I had his high school class ring on my finger. He said, "No problem. I'll just put it in my pocket."

Next, my worst fears came true. When we returned to our picnic area, he discovered his ring was missing. Later that day he returned to the park with a snorkel and mask. Sadly, his ring had vanished.

On May 20, 1972, we were married. In the winter of 1972, we returned to the park for an afternoon walk on the dried lake bed. After walking for a few minutes, I felt some gravel in my shoe. I stopped and looked down. I immediately saw Steve's high school class ring next to my foot. To this day, I can see the design of my pants and the shape of my blue suede shoes. His 1967 Brainerd High School ring included his three initials inside: SCS.

In May 2019, we will celebrate our 47th wedding anniversary, and this is certainly a blessing!

— Margaret M. Smith, Signal Mountain

 

Persistent cardinal

Birds of all sorts abound in our little forest — wrens, thrushes, mockingbirds, yellow finches, blue jays, chickadees, bluebirds, hummingbirds and blue buntings. We feed them all.

But my favorites are the cardinals. We have three distinct families who are a joy to watch. One male in particular caused this love affair to flourish.

It began 26 years ago when I returned home from my first chemo treatment. I was feeling rather puny when I heard a tapping on the dining room window. Stepping into the room, I saw this brilliantly red cardinal gripping the screen and tapping away. I called to my husband, and we both watched and stared for several minutes.

Mr. Cardinal kept bobbing his head and peering in the window. I then spoke words of sweet wonder to him, and he appeared to be listening. Eventually, he flew off to the trees and did bird things. But my spirits were lifted, and I rejoiced in that seemingly insignificant visit.

Three weeks later, after my second chemo treatment, that same bird (I'm positive it was the same) clung to the screen and tapped a cheery hello. Once again we were enthralled with his bright redness and alert demeanor. We crooned to him again and, satisfied, he flew off.

He visited again after the third and fourth treatments. By now, I knew something special was happening. Birds don't normally act like this.

Each chemo treatment was progressively stronger and harder to take. After the fifth treatment, I was lying on the couch in the den and heard the familiar tapping. I was too sick to go see him. But my cardinal was not to be thwarted. He flew to the den window, latched on to the screen and proceeded to rhythmically tap away. What elation to my very soul! I spoke gently to him and thanked him for his visit.

After my sixth and final treatment — the hardest yet — I was bundled up on the couch in the living room. This room is on the other side of the house, and cardinals never appear there. Sure enough, the expected tapping on the dining room window was heard. I couldn't respond. Then I heard him at the den window.

I still couldn't respond. I thought, well, that's the end of that. But, lo and behold, he tapped all around the house until he came to the room where I was! I cried in my delight at God's faithfulness in sending me this precious visitation to let me know I was not alone. Not once since my chemo ended has any cardinal, or any other bird, grasped the screen and tapped on my window.

My gracious Lord has taught me much, and I'm eternally grateful for the whole experience. Truly, my God is faithful. And the gift of a cardinal's visit was truly a spiritual gift. I know in my heart that this bird's actions were a direct result of the movings of God upon it. Scripture tells us that his creatures respond to his bidding. It is a small thing for the Lord to bid a cardinal to bring a message of hope to one in distress. But to me, this message rang loud and clear: God loved me!

— Elizabeth "Betty" Lindauere, Ringgold, Ga. (age 88)

 

Called to serve

Years ago I lived in South Pittsburg. We had a small phone book with a page near the back for special phone numbers. One Saturday morning, I decided that I'd like to talk to my seminary friend, Phil, who lived in Alabama. I got out the phone book, found the number on the page at the back and dialed. A woman answered. It was not Phil's wife. She was crying. I was embarrassed and told her that I must've dialed the wrong number. She was saying, "Oh, that's all right," when I blurted out, "Celia?" She said, "Yes. Who's this?" I told her. We had been seminary supervised ministry classmates (along with Phil). I had not seen her in at least three years. In school she had been concerned for her mother who had a debilitating disease.

It turned out that Celia had been moved to a new church that week, and she had just received word that her beloved mother had died — and there she was, in a brand new place, not knowing anyone. She needed someone who knew her and loved her to talk to for a mere moment.

After I hung up, I looked at the phone book. There was Phil's name. The number beside it was X'ed out with three horizontal lines through it. I could not be sure of all the numerals.

Phil's new number was written right below the crossed-out old number. He had been moved to another church the preceding week, and Celia had moved into the parsonage. God wanted to give Celia comfort, and I guess I was available.

— David Anderson, Daisy-Sale Creek United Methodist churches

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