“What people call serendipity sometimes is just having your eyes open.” ~Jose Manuel Barroso
She tapped me on the shoulder in the post office line. I’d been too busy scrolling through email and social media on my phone to notice her, or that she was reading the back of my shirt. In all honesty, I didn’t even remember there were words on the back of my shirt until she started talking.
“That came at the perfect time. I needed to hear that today.”
As I looked at her quizzically, she pointed to my shirt.
“I needed to hear those exact words today,” she said again, more emphatically.
I had to think for a moment to remember the words to which she was referring.
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV).
For the past decade, I’ve spent Tuesday afternoons at a local day shelter for homeless and poor individuals called The Lamb Center. When we moved into our a building last year, we handed out aqua t-shirts with our theme verse, Jeremiah 29:11, prominently displayed on the back. When the first anniversary rolled around this year, I voted for purple for this year’s updated version, happy to have a new alternative for my Tuesday uniform. Because I wear one or the other weekly, I am repeatedly delighted by the conversations my Lamb Center shirts incite in the grocery store, Target, or post office.
Almost every single person says some version of, “I needed to hear those words today.”
I’ve always loved the word serendipity. Serendipity is defined as “the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for.” Serendipity is when we stumble on something delightful when we are not looking for it, a passing moment of unexpected meaning or importance. For my friends who serendipitously come upon the words on my shirt while running a mundane errand, it apparently feels like a gift of grace.
As a person of faith, I don’t believe these encounters are coincidence or happy accidents. I think God can and does speak through something as simple as the words on the back of a t-shirt, but only if the person reading the words chooses to perceive the words as a gift. The lady in the post office line told me it was her birthday. When I told her I wore the shirt just so she would see it, she decided the verse was a present straight from God. With their eyes and hearts open, the people who have approached me to talk about my shirt want to find encouragement in unexpected places. So they find it. I’m sure plenty of people see the simple words and go on about their day.
Or perhaps, like me, they are looking at their phones instead of noticing the miracles all around them.
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