You know those rare, unplanned, wonderful blessings that seem to drop spontaneously from heaven into your lap? They're the embodiment of the word "serendipity." I experienced one of those last Sunday.
Background: Three other ladies who write Christian fiction and I planned a get-together Sunday afternoon at the local mall. Some of us had only met online, others had never met at all. We thought it would be fun to become acquainted and share some great encouraging face time.
We had no idea.
There are so few people you feel an instant bond with. Even rarer is when you meet three other people at once and instantly bond. Even rarer? What happened next.
We had ordered lunches at the Subway counter, then gathered at the comfy couch area near the center of the food court and visited for about an hour when an elderly lady walked by, pausing near our location. She appeared to be searching for someone, so one of us asked if we could help her. She replied that she was trying to locate her daughter-in-law, who was supposed to meet her there. Although we proved to be of no help at all, we all introduced ourselves, and someone commented on her lovely German accent. And then Maria (NOT Maria von Trapp, although she teasingly tried to convince us that's who she was!) joined us, pulling up a shiny black vinyl chair and sharing with us her life story, sprinkled with humor, many gestures, and several freely-shared opinions on life in general.
Example: "The United States is the best country in the world. I can say this because I am an immigrant. If you do not believe me, leave the country. Visit others. Vhen you return, you vill kiss the ground. There is no country like America."
She told us of her naturalization process, of how she studied hard to pass the tests, learning to read and write in English. She hadn't known a word of it when she arrived in the country and had to take night classes to learn it. She spoke with better grammar than most natural-born citizens I know.
She was born in Serbia, but moved to Austria early in her life. She was 13yo when "the monster Hitler" moved into Salzburg, and her voice thickened as she spoke of being hauled from the family house in the middle of the night, of atrocities she witnessed, of family members murdered. "They lined us up, then counted off. Eeenie, meenie, miney, mo, although that is not vhat they said." She pointed, pointed, pointed, then stopped. "Vhen they stopped, that person was dragged out and sent to a concentration camp. Ve never saw them again. Also the grandparents and young children. If they couldn't vork, they vere hauled avay and killed."
She described the attack on the man who was first stripped naked, then tortured til he died. She told of the repeated raping of the 17yo village girl by the soldiers. But although the soldiers had an automatic 24-hour judgment-free period to cover their actions whenever they entered a village, not all soldiers were animals. The man appointed to guard Maria's family actually saved their lives, rescued Maria from the lewd attentions of his fellow soldiers, and stopped the attacks on the 17yo village girl.
We four ladies who composed her audience were already literally on the edges of our seats, elbows resting on our knees as we leaned forward to catch every word. But her next words caught us instead:
"The only thing that brought me through that terrible time vas God in heaven. I knew He vas vith me at all times. I came to America when I was 18 years old, and then I met Peter, the love of my life and the man who became my husband. Ve had a vonderful life together until he developed a brain tumor and died vhen I vas 52. I had thought that the time in Austria when the monster Hitler came through was going to be the hardest time of my life, but losing my husband vas much, much vorse. Ve had lived through such good times together.
"But do you know vhat I found? Although I have had many mountain peaks and valleys in my life, it was in the valleys that I grew closest to God. He vas vith me the entire time. He grew me in the valleys. The valleys were what shaped me, not the mountain peaks."
We sat quietly, absorbing her words. Not one of us ladies has her amazing perspective on life, not one has endured the atrocities she has known. But each of us craves the faith and joy she exuded, that certainty of God's love and goodness in the valleys of our lives.
Shortly afterward, Maria's daughter-in-law found her and drove her away. But the four of us ladies knew beyond a doubt that God had dropped an unexpected treasure in our laps, a gold mine of wisdom and humor, of faith and love, in the shape of a talkative little 5-foot-tall dynamo who blessed us with her grace.
Thank you, Maria. I hope we meet again someday.