"Praise in the parking lot" by Laura Mary Phelps (CatholicMom.com) Copyright 2017 Laura Mary Phelps. All rights reserved.

I really hate everything about the grocery store. From the parking lot to the cashier line to the putting of bags in the car to the unloading. But I needed bottled waters. And so, although inconvenient, I made a quick stop on my way home.

Pushing her cart back to where it belonged, which so few people in this world take the time to do, was my sweet friend and "used to be neighbor." She is a woman who is always a delight to run into, and who, when I lived close by, I would pass in my minivan while she was walking the dog, and we would end up on the side of the road, deep in faith sharing, often consoling, always uplifting. She is one who always wears a smile, who always leaves an encounter, no matter who it is with nor what they believe, with a heartfelt, "Have a blessed day!"  To meet her is to always walk away better than you were.

But I didn't feel like seeing her that day. Not in that moment.

I was sorrowful to the point of despairing.

I was consumed by grief.

And seeing her meant pulling out of that darkness.

Seeing her meant seeing God.

But even in such a state, I could not quiet the voice in my heart, that this encounter was not by chance, and that God sent her to tell me something I was refusing to hear.

[tweet "In the midst of suffering, God sent @LauraMaryPhelps a friend to say what she didn't want to hear."]

After small talk, I shared with her a piece of my heart, a bit of my suffering. And she understands suffering all too well, as she eagerly awaits the day she is reunited with her precious six-year-old daughter in heaven. And right there, in that awful parking lot I dread so much, in front of the grocery store I hated to be at, she preached truth. She did not compare our crosses; she did not judge my own. She simply reminded me of God's plan, God's  Word, and that it is ok to feel like you just can't handle one more thing . . . but that it is in that very moment we must be careful . . . we must be aware of the enemy, and we must not give him an inch. Right there in that parking lot, she denounced Satan, she praised Jesus, and she fought the battles in my mind, because she knew I was too weak to.

A Sister in Christ will do this, you know.

And what a gift from God she is.

Because you know, we may know God's Word is truth, but sometimes we need to hear it come from a voice other than our own.

I had spent an hour at Mass that same morning, in a church I love, and missed Jesus although He couldn't have been any more present. But you know what is so awesome about our God? Our God never gives up on us. And so He chose to send me to my least favorite place in the world, so He could show up. This is an awesome God. A God who never tires of pursuing, opening eyes, waking up.

And I went to bed that night thinking about Mary Magdalene; peering into the tomb, so consumed by her sorrow and grief, that she not only couldn't see Jesus there, but she was lead to the worst case scenario: that her Lord  had been taken. And despite the sadness I still took into bed with me that night, there was also this seed of immense gratitude and hope; gratitude for sending me my own messenger, and gratitude for the ability to recognize this was not a coincidence, but orchestrated by God. Gratitude for sending me an angel to the place I did not want to be, gratitude for bringing me Jesus in disguise, when I was refusing to draw near. Gratitude for the hope I knew was there, but was too self-consumed to see.

As these Easter days unfold, I pray that we all keep an eye out for Jesus in disguise; that we all make that inconvenient stop on our way home to encounter the One in whom our hope is found. And I pray that we all have the courage and faith to stand in the middle of a parking lot, like my sweet friend, praising Him.

Have a blessed day!

Copyright 2017 Laura Mary Phelps