We’ve all experienced it. You were randomly thinking about someone you haven’t seen in ages and within hours you run into them in an airport in a city in which neither of you lives. You announce your birthday and someone says you were born on the same day as their sister/aunt/best friend.
Here are two from my life:
1. My first name is Merideth, but my family calls me Meri. It wasn’t until I was engaged to my husband that I learned that his grandmother in Guatemala, Maria, also goes by Meri.
2. My parents met in a bar in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. My mom was there on vacation with some friends (She was born and raised in Ohio), and my dad (who grew up just a few hours away) was living there for the summer with his grandmother. My dad asked my mom to dance, and as they were chatting they discovered that my mother had family in Abbeville, SC... the same small town my dad was from...a town of only approx. 5,000 people.
Coincidences, synchronicity, serendipities.... I’ve often heard people say that “the universe” was sending them a message, or (for the more religious) that God was sending them a sign.
At the heart of this thinking is a search for meaning. Deep down, we want to believe that somebody somewhere out there is paying attention to our lives, and we want these coincidences to be the communication about where we should go...what we should do...who we should marry...how we should feel.
But here’s the thing: it turns out these instances of “rare” happenstance are actually quite common, according to statistics. (I was kind of sad to find out that fact while I was reading and researching this topic this week.)
I think instead of asking “What are the chances?” It’s more interesting to ask, “Why do I find this meaningful?”
We care so much about the narrative and purpose and meaning of our lives that we’ll create it ourselves, in the stories we spin.
But what if someone is paying attention to our lives?
I leave you with one last coincidence, one to which I ascribe meaning.
My parents live part time in the mountains of North Carolina, in a beautiful little cottage with an incredible view.
The view from my parents deck of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Todd, NC
Edwin and I visited them there a few summers ago, the summer we first read through the book of Psalms as a devotional, actually. We had been reading the Psalms for so long that I had just about had enough. I was ready to move on to another book of the Bible already! (I’m not so good at doing devotionals, can you tell?)
But that morning, we sat down on the porch to read that day’s Psalm and when we opened the book to read which one was next, we both gasped. It was Psalm 121... the first verse of which we happened to be staring at. My parents had just put up a beautifully engraved wooden inscription right at the bottom of the fence on the deck overlooking the breathtaking mountains.
I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.
I choose to see this synchronity as a God-wink. Not a Sign—with a capital S—per se (although I suppose God could do that if God wanted), but more like a loving and subtle little wink. Not because I deny that statistically the occurrence of something like that happening is quite common, but because I believe what the Psalm says, that there is someone who is paying attention... there is someone watching over us, who neither slumbers nor sleeps.
And it isn’t just anyone. It’s the maker of those mountains. Those mountains that some say are 1.1 billion years old, some of the oldest in this world.
I imagine God watching over our lives, and the maker of the universe just can’t resist a little wink of love, to see if we notice.