Holy Coincidence

Cicely Tyson as Carrie Watts and Cuba Gooding Jr. as Ludie Watts in The Trip to Bountiful. Finally back home.

As I grieve the death of my father, I find myself searching for moments of comfort in the scriptures and in my own life. And I have been drawn this week to a passage we studied in our Young Adult Fellowship a few months ago. The words are from Jesus’ last night with his disciples. Jesus is about to die, and he is trying to prepare his friends for what is about to happen. He says,

12“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, she will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on her own, but will speak whatever he hears, and she will declare to you the things that are to come. 14He will glorify me, because she will take what is mine and declare it to you.15All that the Father-Mother has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

John 16:12-15

It’s almost as if Jesus is trying to describe what it will be like when the disciples are introduced to this strange entity called the Holy Spirit after his death and resurrection. And he’s trying to vouch for the Spirit. He wants them to know that this Spirit is not something new or foreign, but she comes from Jesus—their friend—and from the God they have known all their lives. After his death, they can trust this comforting Spirit.

Today, like the disciples later on, I am wandering the unfamiliar territory of life after a death, and I want to tell you just one story about how the Spirit, the Divine Comforter, has shown up this week for me.  Last year, I had the privileged to be present with M for her father’s death. Early this year, M handed me a card that she had kept forgetting to give me. It was a thank you card for my presence the year before, and inside were some generous TKTS gift certificates—totally unnecessary but incredibly thoughtful. The gift certificates sat around our apartment for months.

Last week, after I found out about my father’s death, Bishop J graciously encouraged me to take any time I needed from work, which I did. My husband, who has also known loss, knew just the right balance of care, comfort, and distraction. And he suggested we finally use those TKTS certificates. A friend told him about a play called The Trip to Bountiful, and—knowing only that our friends enjoyed it—we decided to check it out.

Well, it turns out The Trip to Bountiful is about an elderly woman who just wants to go back to her hometown to live out her last years. Her son and daughter-in-law, who care for her, refuse to take her back home, so the woman runs away and catches a bus back to her hometown of Bountiful, Texas. Unfortunately, she finds that, after 20 years of being away, her last friend in Bountiful has died and the town is completely deserted. But despite the town’s decay, she experiences pure bliss being back in the fresh air of her home and watching for her favorite birds. And she finds that fulfilling that one last dream gives her the strength to endure whatever she must in her remaining days.

The play hit incredibly close to home. Most of us with aging parents have to make a lot of difficult decisions. It is hard to be with a parent who is having trouble accepting the reality of changes in their body and in the world. And we are sometimes forced to choose between giving a parent what they want and their safety and our sanity. I had to make a very difficult decision last year to take my dad to Taiwan, where he had always dreamed of spending his remaining years. I knew that Taiwan was not going to be like he remembered it, and his leaving the U.S. would mean I would almost never see him. The process was painful for me, but I made the decision—for better or for worse—to take him home.

When I realized the plot of The Trip to Bountiful, a question popped into my head and wouldn’t go away: “God, are you telling me that I made a good decision to take my dad back home?” It felt silly to ask it because I don’t usually think this way. But there is such beauty in the coincidence of it all. Much of the pain I have comes from having made the hard decision to take my dad home, which prevented me from being present for his death. But, because I was present at the death of another father, I saw a play that gave me comfort about taking an elderly parent home. I don’t know if this was just a nice coincidence or God’s active aligning of earthly events, but I do believe that my noticing and taking comfort in these little happenings is the work of God. And I am confident of this—that the same Spirit that comforted the disciples after the death of Jesus is indeed present in my life and in yours in just the moments we need her.

May you also be attentive to her presence this week.


Thank you to my Church of the Village family for your grace, love, and prayers during this time of grief.