Sometime around 1991, my mother asked me to write this story.
I was working as a writer-researcher for the president of an international marketing firm in Canton, Ohio. Mom was proud of me. Especially the day my car wouldn't start, and my boss sent his personal chauffeur to our house to pick me up and take me to work. She thought I'd made the big time.
It was decided that I should write a story for her. All she had was a title: Jesus in the Thrift Shop. "Isn't that a neat title for a book?" she announced excitedly.
"But what's it about?" I asked. I had no idea where to begin. "It's about Jesus in the thrift shop," she replied, as if that should explain everything.
Mom liked to shop in thrift stores. She was always proud when she came home with a bargain. Even back in the day when it was embarrassing to be seen in a thrift store. Now it's called "vintage" shopping. Mom was ahead of her time. She thrifted when it wasn't trendy.
Mom believed that whenever she found an item she was seeking in a thrift store, Jesus was somehow behind it. "I was looking for a grey A-line skirt, and there it was!" she would say with childlike amazement and delight. "I'd been praying that I'd find a skirt just like it." After several such finds, all of them attributed to prayer, she suggested that I write a book about the presence of Christ at Value Village.
Always the cynic, I pooh-poohed the idea. "Don't be ridiculous, Mom," I chided. "God has more important things to worry about than your shopping list." But no matter how many times I tried to burst her bubble, she never capitulated. She was convinced that Jesus had a hand in her thrifting triumphs.
Over the course of several years, Mom repeatedly asked me to write her book. But I never took her idea seriously. I thought it was foolish, and that there wasn't enough material to make a good story. Besides, I was busy with my own life and didn't have time to indulge her.
Mom went to heaven on October 30, 2002. It's taken me nearly 15 years, but I think I finally understand the story she was trying to tell.
Jesus in the Thrift Shop. What a silly idea, I thought. Mom was forever trying to inject God and Jesus into every little happening in the course of a day. If she baked a loaf of bread and it came out perfect, it was God's doing. If she found a dollar bill lying on the sidewalk, it was Jesus who had left it there for her. Nothing was too trivial to have been the result of divine intervention. And now she was trying to convince me that the Lord had hung that white blouse on the sale rack for her at the Next-to-New shop. I wasn't buying it.
In my infinite wisdom of youth, I often viewed my mom as a sort of simpleton. Gullible, unsophisticated, fanatical. While I'm politically liberal and open-minded about philosophy and religion, Mom was as conservative as they come and rigid in her beliefs. We had many clashes over our disparate views. Once I subscribed by mail to a Zen journal, and discovered that she was secretly throwing it away before I had a chance to read it. Tampering with the U.S. mail is a felony, but Mom thought it was a greater crime to allow me to travel down what she thought was the wrong path.
In the three years since she's been gone, I've had time to reflect on who my mother was and what she stood for. I've been able to remove myself from the equation and look at her not in relation to me, but as an individual. And I'm continuously amazed at what I'm learning about her.
Above all, she was a woman of unshakeable faith. Many of her beliefs were unpopular, and she was often criticized for being inflexible, unrealistic, or out of touch with society. She may have been all of those things, but I've come to respect her for standing up for her convictions.
Her strict interpretation of the Bible meant that her lifestyle left no room for pleasures that most of us take for granted. She never knew the feeling of giddiness from being drunk; the thrill of sex with a new partner; the excitement of casino gambling. But she also never suffered the anxiety of wondering what life is about. She knew exactly who she was and where she was going. And she wasn't afraid to go there.
As it turns out, my mother was not a simpleton. She was smarter and braver and more together than anyone gave her credit for. She loved the Lord and saw his handiwork in everything - even in her successes at the thrift stores. That was not foolishness. That was faith.
The story that she so wanted me to tell was that God is everywhere, in everything, and we should acknowledge and be grateful for it. He's in that perfect loaf of bread, or that dollar lying on the sidewalk, or the ray of sunlight that shines through your window. He's in the biggest and the smallest of things. He's with you and in you and around you, and if you believe in Him, you'll find him.
Jesus was in those thrift shops with my mom, just as she is with him now, walking down streets of gold in heaven.
Copyright © Deborah Akel.
Deborah Akel is a freelance writer living in Washington, DC. Originally from Canton, Ohio, she has worked in broadcast news in San Francisco, Sacramento, Cleveland, and New York. She was a writer in the White House Office of Communications and advanced the Kerry-Edwards presidential campaign. She wrote this article in loving memory of her mother and father.
(The article is available to general media, publications and webmasters under condition that the author's name and the link to www.paulmurphybooks.com will be provided under the article.)