God works in mysterious ways. That’s what I was taught from the time I was little, but until it happened to me, they were really only words. I was blessed to find this out for myself from a simple shopping trip.
My neighbor Betsy and I were having our weekly morning coffee during the Christmas shopping season of 1999. We began discussing a shopping trip we were planning to our local outlet mall. During the course of our conversation, and the topics always varied from how we grew up, to our children, to what books we were reading and our personal problems; we started talking about my ex-mother-in-law, Pauline.
I’ve been very fortunate that even though my ex-husband and I have been divorced for twenty years, we have maintained a working relationship. After my mother died in 1987, Pauline became my surrogate mother and even volunteered to be a grandmother to my two children from another marriage because they had no grandparents. Pauline and I would spend hours talking on the phone about my older kids (her grandchildren) and anything else that might come up. She was there for me when my daughter was in Bosnia and when my son was in the Army. She was the only person who was still in my life whom I could say, “remember when Tom was three….” and she would said “”Yes! I remember that too!” I also got to keep up with her other grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Pauline became a mother at 17, a grandmother at 35 and a great-grandmother at 53. I also got to keep up with the most current shenanigans of my ex-husband which always made me grateful that he was not my problem any longer.
When my son graduated from boot camp, Ray and Pauline, my husband and I, my ex-husband and his wife and two children all went to Fort Knox, Kentucky for graduation weekend. It wasn’t the best situation, but it worked out because we were all there for the same reason.
But for all the years we’d known each other and all the time we’d spent on the phone, we’d never gone anywhere together, just Pauline and I. When Betsy and I began discussing our shopping trip, on the spur of the moment, Betsy suggested that we ask Pauline to go with us. I don’t know why I had never thought of asking her to go anywhere with me, but I never did. That day, I picked up the phone and called her and she said she’d love to come.
The shopping trip was a lot of fun. I was recovering from elbow surgery but it didn’t hamper the day. It wasn’t too cold for December and the day was bright and sunny. We spent hours in Pottery Barn filling our shopping cards with picture frames, flowers and dishes; shopping and unshopping when we would find something we like more than what we had already picked out. Afterward, we went to lunch. While we were sitting at the table, Pauline casually mentioned that she was going to have to go back to the doctor as she was experiencing some stomach issues. Two years before, she’d been treated for cancer but she’d come through the surgery and chemotherapy with flying colors and had been fine.
Three months later, Pauline died from colon cancer. She died with more dignity than anyone else I have ever known. She knew she was going to die and go to heaven and she saw to it that everyone around her received a personal memento from her. She chose a small, wooden curio cabinet for me that still sits on my dresser twenty years later. I think of her every time I look at it.
I will always be thankful for that one day I spent with her. One day out of almost thirty years that I had known Pauline. I wish I’d asked her to do something with me before that day. I wish I’d had many more. Something (or Someone) lead Betsy to suggest the shopping trip that day and something (or Someone) lead me to pick up the phone and call Pauline and something (or Someone) lead Pauline to say yes.
God works in mysterious ways.
This was originally written about twenty years ago.