Following the Signs

“…praying only for God’s will for me and the power to carry it out.”

I’ve accomplished a lot of things in the short time (six and a half years) that I’ve been sober. I learned to walk again, I learned to be a good mom again, I met a man, fell in love and got married again. I’ve participated in the family garden and slowly and steadily preserved more and more of the yield each year. I went back to school and earned a baccalaureate degree. I’ve been accepted to graduate studies, earned a “full ride,” found a part-time home in a city two hours from home, have become a college instructor, have seen a number of my essays published. Each year, I’ve looked back in amazement at the changes, the forward progress I can see and wonder – how’d that happen?

In recent conversation with a lovely woman named Maryanne, we discussed the concept of following the signs. The twelve steps provide the path to recovery, and the text of Alcoholics Anonymous provides clear-cut directions to following that path. We came to the conclusion that in following those directions, our primary job is being conscious of the signs along the way. I can plan to visit a town a few hours from here and have an address in front of me, but without directions, I’m likely to have some difficulty getting there – even if, say, I know the town is to the southwest. I can head in that general direction, though I’m likely to find myself frustrated, taking wrong turns, backtracking, and not making near the forward progress that I would if I had directions in hand.

But even with directions, I’m going to have to stay alert to road signs. I once heard Father Joe Martin talk about putting God in the driver’s seat. He said, “Don’t do that! You’ll crash!” Instead, he suggested, let God provide the map!

During my active addiction, everything seemed so hard. I was the quintessential quitter. I’d get so far along in something, find myself at what appeared to be a dead end, and I’d quit. I wouldn’t ask for help. I definitely wouldn’t pray for help. If I couldn’t bulldoze my way through something, I just quit. Working the twelve steps with a sponsor is truly the first action that I’ve begun and saw through to the end. Each time I would complete “formal” step work, my sponsor would say to me, “Now, put that step into your life.”

Somewhere along the line, I began praying a very simple prayer in the mornings. “God, guide my thoughts and actions. Please make me useful today.” And up pop the signs. All I really have to do is to follow along. Like what happened this past week when I took my car in for service.

I took a book along because I was told when I made the appointment that it would take an hour for the repairs. When I got there, I was told it would be more likely a two-hour wait. The service manager gave me directions to a nearby trendy coffee shop – plush sofas, classical music piped in, and over-priced but very good fare. While I sat curled on one of the sofas, reading my book, nibbling my berry-mango coffee cake and sipping my caramel latte, a young man and woman came in and set up a chess board on a table nearby. The young woman was very soft spoken. Her voice didn’t carry to where I was sitting, but the young man’s did. He took out a cell phone, and over the course of the next few minutes, I couldn’t help but hear him talking to someone at the Salvation Army. It quickly became clear that he was calling asking to be admitted to their drug and alcohol rehabilitation program. I started to pray. Was I to stop and talk with him? I wasn’t sure. I did overhear him say, “Yes, I tried AA, but it didn’t work out.” What did that mean? Would my presence be intrusive? Again, I prayed, and when I got up to leave, he and his companion were in deep conversation. It seemed intrusive to interrupt, so I said another prayer for him and I left…

…just in time to see an AA friend, Sam, sitting at the café tables outside the coffee shop. I caught him just as he was getting up to leave, and when he saw me, he sat back down and we visited for a bit – mostly small talk. We discussed fancy coffee drinks, and I told him that my husband really liked the Dairy Queen Mocha Moolatte, though he hated ordering it because he felt it was such a frivolous, juvenile sort of name. He felt undignified asking for it. Sam told me about his new scooter that gets upwards of ninety miles per gallon. I looked at my watch, realized my car was probably finished, and we said goodbye.

I don’t know if I’ve ever gotten out of a doctor’s office or a car dealership in what I’d consider a reasonable amount of time (patience is a virtue I have only sporadically), though this day, I was pleasantly surprised to find my car finished just a few minutes after I walked in. I kept thinking about the young man in the coffee shop and meeting my friend, Sam, outside. I don’t believe in coincidences anymore, so for the first ten minutes of my hour drive, I was meditating on the significance. I recalled the last time I’d seen Sam, a little over a week before. I traveled to a meeting that was along my route home to see a young woman I’d recently begun sponsoring. She’s been through some struggles. After the meeting, I followed her part-way home and remembered where she’d turned. When she came to visit me at my house so we could do some step work, she mentioned the name of the road she lived on—five miles, did she say, off the main road? I hadn’t heard from her in a few days, and there wasn’t much cell phone reception along that country road (and, besides, I don’t like to make calls when I’m driving). Could I stop in? Supposing, of course, that I could find her?

That little voice was whispering in my ear, telling me she was a country girl like me and wouldn’t stand on ceremony when it came to a drop-in visit, so I decided to give it a shot. I passed a lot of side roads, all marked, and none with the name of her road. Finally, nearly five miles out, I thought I saw her truck along the road next to a field with some horses. She has horses. I slowed. A blonde came around the back of the truck. She’s blonde! But…the woman was much too young to be her. I drove several more miles, looking for a place to turn around, and there it was – her road. Go left or go right? I chose right. I passed one house, then another, then another, and then – there she was. Standing beside a ’69 Chevelle (she told me she was looking to buy one) was my sponsee and another fellow from the rooms, a guy tattooed up both arms and known for his mechanical skills. She turned her head when she saw me pull off the road, and her eyes were big as saucers.

Now, she didn’t know I was coming. Turns out she’d called our mutual mechanic friend a few days ago, and he, too, stopped on a whim to look over her new purchase. When I got out of the car, she said, “Okay, okay. I slipped!” She assumed that I’d conspired with the mechanic to show up and 12th step her—and of course, that’s what we did once she fessed up.

There’s more to the story, but it’s that sequence of events that’s important to this little essay. I wake up most mornings having no idea what God has in store for me, though I’ve come to the conclusion that if I listen and follow signs, I’ll fall in step with God’s will for me. And I’ll be given the power to carry it out – in time, resources, inspiration, or whatever else I might need. I’ve come to count on that.

Oh – there is one teensy little thing I have to add. When I got home, my husband’s vehicle was missing, as was the “kid car” that my middle son uses for work. I found no note, which was unusual. I put on a pot of coffee and sat down to wait, and within a few minutes, my husband pulled in with our son in the passenger’s seat. The young one had somehow broken the key to the car, and the spares had mysteriously disappeared. But, my husband was in a jovial mood—which was also a little strange, as we’d been having responsibility issues with all of the kids (not just this one). After telling me what had happened, he turned to our son and said, “This is what saved you from my wrath today,” and he played a saved message on the answering machine. It was our friend, Sam, calling just to let my husband know he was sitting at Dairy Queen drinking a MOO latte. “I was in such a good mood after I heard that, I couldn’t be angry with you.”

I don’t ask, “Is it odd, or is it God?” anymore. I know :-D

Peace & Love,
Jody K.

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