“This all feels so surreal,” my friend Patti Armstrong said after we’d placed our orders with the barista at Caffe Aroma in downtown Bismarck, North Dakota.
And I agreed, even though I was experiencing the whole thing more as an observer. “Let’s take a quick selfie to remember this day,” I said, and we, both a bit bleary-eyed, did our best to look chipper, despite the whirlwind we’d both just traversed.
Mine was of much less significant proportions. But after learning “the morning coffee session that almost wasn’t” would happen after all, I’d literally sprung out of bed and into clothes, tied my hair quickly into a haphazard ponytail, and splashed on some makeup before zipping out the door in record time from Grandma’s place, where I’d been staying with the younger three kiddos while in town for an author presentation.
Between the two of us, Patti and I have 15 children, so as you might imagine, getting together for coffee during the rare times I am in her city with enough white space to make it happen can feel impossible. But just prior to this visit, we were committed to trying to make it work. Our plan was to meet for early Mass on Friday, then for coffee briefly afterward before returning to our families. One of Patti’s grown sons would be in town with his family, and our lives were swirling as usual. A coffee date in the midst of all this would be luxurious indeed.
But the night before our planned get-together, Patti emailed, saying something had come up. Unbelievably, she was going to be summoned at 2:30 a.m. by a limo, whisked away in the wee hours to Fargo, my city of residence, to a Fox TV affiliate studio there, then interviewed on “Fox and Friends” around 7 a.m. for a segment on bearing children as an “older” woman. Patti had given birth to two of her eight “tummy babies” after age 40, so Fox had found her to be a qualified expert on the matter.
We thought about still trying to make an evening coffee work, but Patti now had additional tasks to complete before her early-morning limo ride, so we decided to surrender and hope for another time.
As much as I was looking forward to seeing Patti, how could I not be elated for her? We mused about the irony of her heading to my city as I was in hers, and how we might just catch each other on the way back crossing on the highway. Life is so interesting sometimes.
Around 8 a.m., I heard from Patti by text. She was on the road, wondering if I was, too. No, I wasn’t yet, I texted back, and how did it go? I wanted to know, since Grandma’s place, now vacant most of the time, has no TV options. After sharing about her 15 minutes of fame, Patti typed that she wasn’t feeling too tired, and, responding to my question, that the limo was a Lincoln Cadillac, “a nice ride.”
“Well enjoy,” I wrote back. “You deserve a ride in a limo after mothering 10 children.”
And then, at 10 a.m., another text. “Back in Bismarck now. Almost like it never happened.” Keep in mind, the Fargo to Bismarck road trip spans nearly 200 miles and three hours on a normal day.
“If you have anything left in you I could still meet you for coffee,” I said, with few expectations. “But no worries if not.”
The reply came, “Yes!!!! How about now?”
And with that, I was upright and running, knowing our window would be short, but thrilled at the last-minute chance to hear about her crazy adventure over the past 12 hours.
Our visit that morning in the sun-filled corridor of the coffee shop went by in lightning speed as usual. Texting family in the midst of it — her husband wanted to meet her for a late-morning Mass still, and my daughter was having issues at home trying to order groceries online — we sat across from one another, two souls entwined in a world of happy commiseration and divinely-prompted gratitude.
We chuckled how God had everything at hand all along, even as we tried to work out the details of a plan that wasn’t going to happen. For we’d been trying to organize this little visit for weeks, and felt a bit defeated initially as we watched our best-laid plans crumble before our eyes. And yet there we both stood, in awe and with mouths agape, as God pulled Patti away for a Plan-B commission neither of us could have anticipated as a “stumbling block” to our Plan A, and then, like a final little gift from God to assure us of His love, discovered we’d have just enough time to sneak in our hoped-for visit after all.
Though on the outside of this fun drama, as a fellow Catholic writer, I felt gifted by God, too, by just being a small part of it, watching it unfold as Patti learned details, and then, finally, after our coffee meeting, having a chance to watch her interview through Internet post-show link. (It’s super short so I’ll hope you’ll take a moment to watch. And make sure to note the website to which she’s attributed on the segment!)
She did well, don’t you think? And I can’t help but notice what she’s wearing — the same dress, the same lovely crucifix given by her dear father that she’d shared about during our visit, and each of these visuals happening in different cities on the same day.
It seemed downright impossible that any of this could happen, but God knew all along, and as we sorted through the earthly details of it all and tried to keep up, I have a feeling God smiled, knowing how it would turn out, and that we’d turn up, eventually, at the coffee shop, together extolling His graces and our friendship.
Q4U: What holy surprises have come your way recently?
Copyright 2015 Roxane Salonen.
Photo courtesy of Roxane Salonen. All rights reserved.