I believe in God. And furthermore, I believe that God is alive and active in our lives — not just in major life-changing events and decisions, but in our everyday, mundane lives. And, believe it or not, that applies to garage sale shopping.
There have been so many times that we have been in exactly the right place at exactly the right time to find exactly the right item that I cannot possibly chalk it up to chance, or to coincidence.
Once, years ago, I was making plans to teach a pre-school class at the Vacation Bible School (VBS) at my church. Now, at my church, VBS is a big deal… always has been. The reputation of our VBS draws families from all over the city, tons of volunteers, and lots and lots of excitement. One of the things that is done up big is decorating. Every year, there is a theme, and every part of the church is decorated to reflect that theme, whether it be jungle, or western, or ocean, or whatever. On this particular year, the theme was Antarctica. Now, as themes go, Antarctica was a bit of a challenge. I mean, what does Antarctica have besides ice and snow? So I was feeling a little stumped about how to decorate my classroom. I knew I could put white fabric down as snow, make a mural of snowy hills and blue sky, and then what? I decided that a penguin would be cool. But it had to be an impressive penguin… not just a picture of a penguin on the wall, or little stuffed-animal penguins. I needed a 4-ft penguin!
Now, as I said, this was a number of years ago… before e-bay or any internet shopping at all. So when one wanted a 4-ft penguin, one had no recourse but to shop at the local party store and toy store. No luck.
And VBS was quickly approaching, so there wasn’t time to do a lot of searching or shopping around. I needed a 4-ft penguin now!
So the very next Thursday after deciding I was in need of a penguin, we went garage-sale shopping as usual. Early in the morning, we veered off our planned course, lured by an unexpected “Garage Sale” sign at the entrance to a suburban neighborhood. Finding the sale at the end of a cul-de-sac, we parked the car and had started up the driveway when I saw it. A 4-ft inflatable penguin!! No kidding! It was already blown up, standing there regally — an Emperor penguin, of course. And for $1 it was mine!
Since that day, I refer to the occurrence of finding the impossible as the “Penguin Phenomenon”.
A recent example of this is when Kim had a request from her daughter-in-law for a very specific kind of wagon for her daughter. The chances of finding such a wagon during a typical garage-sale season were miniscule. Seriously, in all our years of garage-sale shopping, we don’t remember ever seeing one. Yet, on the very first trip out after receiving the request, Kim found that exact wagon.
For my parents’ 25th anniversary way back in 1975, they received a set of glassware as a gift that that had been specially ordered for them and had their monogram, a “G”, on the glasses. For many years, these were the glasses used for special occasions and at special meals. But over the many, many years since their anniversary, some of the glasses had broken and the set had become quite small — too small for the family gatherings when my mother really wanted to use them. Then one day, while out garage-sale shopping, I stumbled upon a set of 12 of those same silver trimmed glasses…. and they had a monogram on them… a “G”!! Thank you God!
In most situations in our everyday lives, even those of us who believe in the presence and activity of God and in the power of prayer find the temptation to do things “our way” overwhelming and go through life striving to be in control. That leaves very little room for the Holy Spirit to work on our behalf. It’s only when we “let go and let God” that we can really see His fingerprints on the events of our lives.
Garage sales are inherently out of our control. We go out shopping, but we really have no idea what we’re going to find, or even where we’re specifically going to go, or who we’re going to meet. God can more easily lead us where he wants, because we have no specific “to do” list or agenda. So when we go out garage-sale shopping, we have open minds, no expectations, and just look forward to finding whatever God has for us that day.
And God has some great stuff for us! We just have to go out and find it.