I met my husband because of a spinning pencil.
Bill was 22, a new college graduate recently moved back to Milwaukee. After a summer of living with his parents, a high school friend convinced him it was time to move out. The pages of apartment rentals in the Sunday paper seemed daunting to the guys, so Bill spun a pencil and announced that wherever it ended up pointing to, they would live.
The point stopped on an ad for the apartment across the hall from where my college roommate and I were moving in.
Meetings and beginnings are fascinating to me. Looking back on Bill and me moving in across from one another, I know now that there could not have been a better way that we could have met and started dating. I got to know Bill as we picked up our mail together; as we talked in the hall with our keys in the locks, not opening our doors. I took note of the environmental posters and the cross on his living room wall. He was glad to see I had a high quality bike. Bill’s subtle humor and thoughtful personality came through quietly and gradually. If I had instead met him while out with friends, I might not have slowed down enough to learn who he was.
Thirteen years, one marriage, two sons and three foster children later, I think about the Holy Spirit present in that pencil spin. While I’m cautious about using the phrase, “It was meant to be,” I do believe God offers us opportunities through the people we come in contact with. God nudges us to meet those who could help us grow and learn or who could benefit from something we might be able to teach. Whether we seize the opportunity or not is where free will comes in. Yet, even as I hesitate to say, “It was meant to be,” it seems that sometimes, it is.
We received our third foster child last week. The other two have been returned to family members. For the sake of confidentiality, I will call this new arrival Jamie. She is 14 months old, Latina and beautiful.
Jamie has been in foster care for over a year, since she was two days old. Social Services called us a month ago to tell us about her situation. She was with a wonderful foster family, the social worker explained, but it was now looking like there was a chance her birth parents’ rights would be terminated. Because of this possibility, Jamie needed to be moved to a foster home where the parents were open to adoption, should this become necessary. Her current foster parents were in their 50’s and adopting baby Jamie was not an option — they had grown biological children and an adopted 13-year-old. Bill and I said that we were interested and set up a time to meet.
The night before we were to meet Jamie for the first time, I went to my monthly book club meeting.
I had not told the group about the potential foster child yet, and as we stood around drinking wine and chatting, Kris, a mom of two, turned to me and said, “I thought of you the other day. The grandmother of a girl on my son’s soccer team is a foster mother, and her foster baby needs to be moved. I told her I knew the perfect family — yours, but she said social services already picked out a family.”
Something about the situation made me ask some follow-up questions. Was the woman white? Yes. Did she have a 13-year-old African American son? Yes. Was the baby about a year old and of Puerto Rican descent? Yes.
In a metro area of over a million people, someone from my eight-person book club had met our soon-to-be foster daughter — had sat next to her at soccer games — and was telling me this twelve hours before I was due to meet her for the first time.
“She’s darling,” Kris said, as we realized it had to be the same family. “You’ll love her. Her foster mother’s name is Judy.”
Over the past month, as we have transitioned Jamie to our home, there have been other profound coincidences — spinning pencil moments — that have made both her foster mother, Judy, and Bill and me pause.
Judy’s best friend, another foster mom, turns out to be the foster mother Bill and I invited over three years ago when we were first considering foster care — we had received her name from a friend of a friend. Listening to her story inspired us to sign up for the certification classes. We had not seen her since, but Judy sees her a few times a week.
Jamie’s physical therapist, we learned, is Julie, a good friend of mine from college. Julie was working with Jamie one week, and when she heard the description of the family Jamie would be moving to, she recognized it as ours.
Jamie shares a birth date with my friend’s brother who recently died unexpectedly.
Judy told me her pastor doesn’t believe in coincidences — he calls them God-incidences, or incidences of God. My friend Amy calls them signs, and says once you start looking for them, they’re everywhere.
To me, they will always be spinning pencil moments. A flash of the divine in the ordinary. A whisper from God, who is standing closer to us than we dare to hope; closer than we have the courage to believe. Spinning pencil moments. Not lightning bolts or thunder claps, just quiet reminders that the grace of God is here. Is everywhere. Welcome Jamie.