76: Exactly What We Needed

76: Exactly What We Needed

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings

Exactly What We Needed

All God’s children need traveling shoes.
~Maya Angelou

I gasped and blinked back tears, hardly believing what I saw. For the second time in four months, the sight ahead of me stopped me in my tracks.

First had been the sight of my husband walking down the sidewalk to meet me, briefcase in hand, in the middle of the day: a picture forever etched in my memory. It was the day the Gulf War began, and the day the life we’d known ended. A friend had come up to my husband at work that morning and told him to clear out his desk. Small comfort that my husband was one of the last laid off as his company downsized from 2,500 to just 500 employees. His job loss at this date meant hundreds of engineers had already filled any openings local companies had. We both shrugged that thought aside, certain that my husband’s abilities and God’s guidance would connect him with another job in a short time.

And that’s exactly what happened—almost—when four weeks later, another aerospace firm offered my husband a job on exactly the kind of project he’d been working on. We rejoiced because this company was closer to our church, and we envisioned a new house in a new neighborhood and our long Sunday commute whittled down to a few minutes.

That was Friday. On Monday, my husband was scheduled to settle on a salary and sign all the paperwork. The new boss called instead to say, “The government pushed the contract back six months. Could you wait six months to start work?” Six months for what might never materialize at all? Our elation evaporated, leaving a vacuum quickly filled with confusion and questions without answers, not the least of which was my wounded cry, “God, why? Why put something so perfect in our reach, and then take it away? Don’t you care about us?”

“Between unemployment and our savings, we can make it through the summer,” my husband quietly advised me, “but we’ll have to cut everything non-essential from our budget.” We gritted our teeth, retrenched our hearts, and set our minds to eliminating as many expenses as we could. That meant I sewed shorts for our rapidly growing teenage son. If it embarrassed him to wear homemade clothing, he graciously never said so. It also meant our entertainment now consisted of borrowing videos from the public library, rather than even going to the dollar movie theater.

We tried to make a game of finding free or inexpensive new options to replace our old activities, intentionally putting a positive spin on our circumstances and conversations for the sake of our two children. My husband and I were both concerned as we watched our savings dwindle week by week, but the last thing we wanted was to pass our anxiety along to the boys.

Weeks turned into months as my husband networked, searched, and mailed résumés, diligently looking for work, with not even one interview to show for all his perseverance. I substitute taught as often as I could, but that meant many days when my husband had to stay home with our four-year-old son—days he couldn’t devote to job-hunting.

Any vacation was out of the question, so when my sister called to ask if we’d like to go boating with them at the lake for the weekend, I joyfully and thankfully shot back, “Sure thing!” Excitedly I began checking off things we’d need: “Sleeping bags, check; fishing poles, check; bathing suits, check …” A sudden realization sank my anticipation like an anchor tossed overboard. Most lakes here in Arizona are formed by damming rivers and filling canyons with water. Our lakes don’t have sandy beaches; instead the shallows are covered with sharp rocks, so you have to wear shoes to go swimming. Our younger son only had two pair of shoes: one dress pair and one good pair of tennis shoes. We couldn’t afford for him to ruin either pair, but we also couldn’t afford to buy another pair of even cheap shoes for him.

The last thing I wanted to do was cancel the trip and sink our sons’ happiness at finally doing something resembling our old “normal” life, so I asked my husband, “Could we stop by the thrift store on our way to the lake on Saturday?” I had exactly one dollar to spend, but I felt cautiously optimistic that I could find an old pair of children’s tennis shoes that might come close to fitting our son, so we piled our gear into the car that Saturday morning, relishing the eager “on our way” chatter from the back seat.

At the thrift store I leaped out of the car, praying, and dashed into the shop. That’s when I stopped short, gasping and blinking at what sat on a display rack directly in front of me. Almost afraid to look, I turned over the brand new pair of blue “water socks,” still sporting their original price tag, to look for a size. They were exactly the size our son wore, and they were exactly one dollar.

Many people would consider this a minor coincidence. To me, it was a major miracle. As we drove on, one elated four-year-old in the back seat happily trying on his glorious new shoes, I pondered all the “coincidences” that had to come together to create this small piece of providence:

• Someone had to buy the shoes in exactly our son’s size.

• Those shoes had to be unsuitable for some reason.

• The purchaser had to choose to donate rather than return the shoes to the store.

• The purchaser had to donate the shoes to that particular organization.

• The shoes had to make their way to that organization’s particular small thrift store in our neighborhood.

• They had to come in at exactly the time we needed to find a pair of shoes.

• They had to be marked for exactly what I could afford to spend.

• No one else could have spotted and bought them before me.

• I had to decide to stop at that particular thrift store, on just the right day, at exactly the right time.

At least nine coincidences had to converge to create this “ordinary” yet exactly perfect provision for us. What we found was more than just a pair of shoes! Though the shoes were exactly what—and even better than—we needed, what we needed most of all was hope: tangible, clear evidence to me that “someone” knew and cared about our needs. My wounded faith was healed at that moment, my heart dared to hope again, and I knew somehow our family would be okay.

It was two more months until my husband found a job, the week his unemployment benefits ran out. In yet another “ordinary” miracle, he applied for an assembly line position, but was hired as an engineer for an opening the company hadn’t even advertised.

That was almost two decades ago, but those blue water socks have served as a ramp to launch my hope and confidence in many turbulent waters since then. I remember them and their miraculous message of hope now as my husband and I face retirement in another season of financial distress with our assets reduced by forty percent just a few years before we need them. Those two blue shoes still reassure me that God knows, God cares, and God will still fashion coincidence upon coincidence to create “ordinary” miracles that exactly meet our needs and stop me in my tracks with thanks and wonder.

~Rose M. Jackson

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