Early in 1999, my daughter, my dad, and I started collecting the new series of quarters that featured the states on the reverse. Five new quarters would be introduced each year, and all fifty states would have their own quarters by the end of 2008. Emily was eight and enjoyed starting a new hobby. Dad died later in 1999, but she and I continued our collections in two coin-holding books.
2008 seemed a long way off, but now that year has passed! All fifty states have been minted. Our two collections are almost complete, but we both need Utah quarters from the Denver mint. We both keep looking in change but those quarters still elude us.
Eventually we’ll find our Utah D’s; they’re out there somewhere and will travel to us via change at a store or a vending machine.
The thought of coins “traveling” among cash registers and pockets made me think of the scene in No Country for Old Men, where the killer Anton Chigurh tells the gas station proprietor: “You know what date is on this coin? …1958. It's been traveling twenty-two years to get here. And now it's here. And it's either heads or tails. And you have to say. Call it.”
That’s a dark movie to introduce within my family memories, but “randomness” is both an interesting and scary thing. Don’t we all worry about the safety of our family members because of random events: the drunk who happened to be driving in the same area as your loved one, or the psycho with a gun? I once had a comparatively minor traffic accident: if I hadn’t stopped at a particular store, I could’ve avoided hitting a van that went through a red light, I would’ve already been down the road.
But randomness can be “serendipity,” too. Emily went to camp one summer at Lakeside, OH, became friends some kids from western Pennsylvania, and eventually investigated colleges in that area; she loves the one in which she’s enrolled. We meet people we love, and find new opportunities, through small encounters.
Ten years ago I took karate lessons, but we moved to another city before I progressed very far. When we moved, the instructor told me to contact her brother, who happened to work at the same university to which we were going. When we first got together for coffee, the brother brought along his pastor, whom he thought I’d enjoy meeting. A few years later, I met the pastor again when my daughter was in the same community choir with his daughter. This past year, when my wife accepted her new position, the pastor introduced me to his friend, the president of a school in the same city as my wife’s new position. Soon I had a new teaching job before I’d made a single contact of my own.
Someone once said that it’s not “a small world,” as the Disney song goes. If we’re active in our lives and open to other people, we’re bound to encounter persons who connect us to other people and places. God certainly uses these encounters to work for good (Rom. 8:28). Some theologians and philosophers, in fact, have written on “encounter” (Begegnung) as a constitutive quality of human beings.
We also never know exactly how God cares for us amid our life’s events. Maybe that fellow who ran the red light would’ve caused a worse accident up the road if I (and another driver who had worse car damage than I) hadn’t “met” in that intersection.
One of the most haunting stories in this regard is that of the evil King Ahab. Elijah prophesied about his death (1 Kings 21:20f). A little later, Ahab dies in battle … but the arrow wasn’t even aimed at him. An Aramean soldier simply shot an arrow at no one in particular, and the arrow struck Ahab in a vulnerable place between his armor (1 Kings 22:34).
In a more positive story (closer to our own experiences), Paul and Timothy served in Lystra and Iconium, and then planned to go preach in Asia but were forbidden to do so there, as well a Bithynia. Eventually they arrived at Troas, where Paul received a vision to go to Macedonia (Acts 16:6-10). What was the Spirit up to? The text only says they were guided.
Similarly with us. By opening ourselves to the Spirit’s guidance we can may find ourselves led in amazing ways, through meaningful opportunities, with wonderful people.
(And while you're out there, look for a couple Utah D's for us, will you? :-)