Have you ever had one of those moments when everything around you is familiar? The sounds? The sights? The people? The smells…even though its a completely new to you experience? How does that happen? It seems like it happens to me several times a year. Earlier this summer I was at a basketball clinic attending a meeting between my games. I sat in the back of the room, probably twenty feet away from the speakers, with one of my officiating partners directly in front of me. An odd feeling came over me and I started looking around the room because I had a feeling that I’d been in that room before listening to the same things being said with the same people being present and so forth. I shrugged it off since I’ve attended several of these kinds of clinics before and its not like I knew what the speaker was going to say next so I sat there listening. The speaker was making a point about “even if you’re a really good official you can’t always get the best games….sometimes you’ll get Clarksville.” A ripple of laughter went through the room as that particular school had struggled in basketball recently. I leaned forward and tapped my friend in front of me and whispered “hey…don’t laugh. I HAD Clarksville at Mesquaki this past season.” The speaker followed up with this “…sometimes you get a Mesquaki Clarksville game.” Holy cow…that’s the game that I had back in January six months ago. Was this just coincidence? Was it fate? How does this kind of stuff happen? Iowa doesn’t lack for small schools that struggle in sports (or large schools for that matter) and for the speaker to have used those two schools in particular was really odd for me since they’re not even close to each other (75 miles separate them), they’re not rivals and with the aforementioned feeling of familiarity with the situation left me shaking my head and thinking of how in the past this has happened to me before in other situations.
Probably one of the most concrete “familiar feelings” that I’ve had is the following. It was the fall of 1987. As a family we had gathered together and were sorting out a few of our Grandma Wagner’s items. She had passed away and these were what my Mom had for us, her three sons, to go through and pick out what they wanted from Grandma’s possessions. Since I was single at the time I let my brothers and their wives choose the china and nicer items. I was living in a single wide trailer and twenty-one years old….not exactly the stuff “The Bachelor” is made of. What I choose was an souvenir ashtray. It’s small for an ashtray and honestly….kind of gaudy….but then again…so am I. I didn’t read the inscription on the inside of the ashtray, I just took it back to my place in Mason City and put it on a shelf. End of story…right? Wrong. Three months later I started dating a young lady who, after just thirteen days, became my fiancée. Five months later she became my wife. She’s from Estherville Iowa, a small town in northwest Iowa. I’d never been there before meeting her. In the weeks that led up to our marriage she was going through my stuff and came across the ashtray that I’d gotten from my grandmothers estate. She asked me about it and I told her the story of how I came to it. She asked “have you read the inscription?” I told her that I had but had forgotten it. The inscription reads “Souvenir of Estherville Iowa”. It didn’t dawn on me until recently that maybe this wasn’t such a random thing. For instance:
- How does someone five and a half hours away from Estherville even arrive in Estherville when they live in Illinois? What were they doing in northwest Iowa…there’s no relatives up there?
- How does a small town like Estherville even have souvenirs back in the 1950-60’s? It’s not like it was a tourist destination.
- How does someone from Joy Illinois even think to buy a souvenir from Estherville? It’s not exactly the crown jewel of Iowa.
- How does a little porcelain ashtray survive all of the moves from Estherville to Joy Illinois to Aledo Illinois to Mason City Iowa, in the house of a smoker and doesn’t even have a chip or burn on it?
It just seems like I was meant to have this gift, like it was purchased for me specifically even though I wasn’t even born yet and even when I did possess it that it’s message wasn’t meant to be understood until I was old enough to, kind of, understand it. Its randomness is too specific for me to ignore. I don’t get it. Whether you believe that God’s hand is guiding us along the way and that if we slow down enough, look and listen that we’ll see Him at work, or guardian angels or loved ones that have gone on ahead of us…or a combination of things way above our own human conscientious…what is it and what does it mean?
I still have that ashtray.
I married that bride 27 years ago on August 6th 1988 in Estherville Iowa.
I still love that bride of mine.
Take care my friends. May God bless you and keep you in His way.