The little placard was a fixture at my Aunt Bessie’s house when I was young. She was really my great aunt, so she seemed old for my entire life. She wasn’t an educated woman, so she couldn’t have explained the theology behind it, but she had a powerful faith in God. On top of her huge old wooden console television, the words were always there in her living room.
“Expect a miracle.”
I didn’t really understand that in real-world terms. I knew about miracles from stories in the Bible, but I didn’t expect Moses to come along and part the Red Sea. I didn’t expect God to keep three young men from burning to death in a fiery furnace. I didn’t expect Jesus to come heal the sick.
But my Aunt Bessie did expect miracles. It took me awhile to understand, but Aunt Bessie’s influence finally rubbed off on me — because I expect miracles today, whether they make sense or not.
When I was younger, I was very realistic. I knew the stories of miracles from the Bible, but I accepted them on faith as something from a very different time. What I didn’t understand was that I would feel an increasing need for miracles as my life went along — but those miracles would be very different from the dramatic examples of my Bible story books.
I was accustomed to being disappointed when I was a child. Although I knew how to act like a happy child, I was bitterly cynical about what to expect from life. I didn’t have faith in much of anything, because life had taught me that I wasn’t going to get good things.
When I was about 14 or 15 years old, my parents announced they were going to get married again. They had been divorced for about five years and Mother had been largely absent from our lives. But there was some sort of toxic dance between them that would bring them back together every now and then. This was one of those times.
They gathered the children in the living room of the house where we lived on Sixth Avenue in Jasper, Ala., at the time. Mother is the one who broke the news to us that they were going to re-marry.
My sisters were ecstatic and reacted vocally, going to hug Mother in celebration. I remember sitting there with absolutely no reaction. I felt no emotion.
“David, aren’t you happy?” Mother asked.
“I would be happy if it happened,” I said cautiously, “but I know it’s not going to work. I don’t believe it.”
“Oh, you’ll see,” Mother responded. My father said nothing.
A few minutes later, my father had to go over to his office for something and he took me along. My sisters stayed at the house with Mother. As we rode toward his office, my father asked me what I thought.
I told him it would make me happy if the family were back together, but I said I didn’t believe there was any chance it would really happen. It was rare when I was as blunt with him as I was being.
“You’re probably right,” he said.
By the next day, their plans were off. I don’t remember what he did, but he blew up again in some way that showed his true colors. It was the last time they ever attempted to reconcile.
I was right that day to be cynical of them getting back together, but I’ve learned that being right isn’t necessarily the best outcome. It’s better for my mental health if I can truly believe in healthier outcomes — and the weirdest thing is that believing miracles will happen seems to make them more likely.
I don’t need miracles of the sort the Bible tells about. I don’t need God to save me in a lion’s den. I don’t need manna to fall from the skies to feed me. I don’t need a donkey to speak prophecy.
I need far more mundane miracles.
I need for love to find me and then come to stay. I need to find the right creative projects and start making the art I love. I need for opportunities to come to me in ways I can’t even imagine. I need the miracle of a happy and loving family surrounding me.
It might not make any sense, but I believe in these miracles and more.
There are specific things I expect — things I’ll keep to myself — that I have no right to expect. The 14-year-old me would have said those things won’t happen. He would have told me that things would only get worse.
It took me long enough, but I eventually learned from my Aunt Bessie that miracles really do happen. I think that would have made her happy.
I need a few miracles right now — and I expect a miracle. I really do.