There Are No Coincidences

There is a real tendency, in some modern religious circles, to discount the existence of miracles. They don’t happen every day, we are told, therefore they can never happen.

Some people say this ignores the logic behind a belief in miracles. That if they happened every day, they would be meaningless. It is precisely the fact that such things don’t happen every day, they say, that makes them miraculous.

Although they may not happen every day, I believe they happen much more often than we are aware. That is to say, I believe that God works in our lives in ways that truly would astound us – if we ever really stopped to think about them.

Of course this concept can be abused. I know religious people – more than a few gays and lesbians among them – who believe that every event, and every idea that pops into their heads, was put there especially by God. “God led me to put my money in the Ajax Bank,” they tell us, or “God knew I was feeling down today, so ‘He’ made the sun shine to cheer me up.” Well, aren’t they special, that the very sun itself shines just for them! Some of these folks, though not quite that egotistical, are nonetheless so easily excited that every good hair day seems, to them, to be an act of the Almighty.

Let’s not yuk it up too much, however. Again, I tell you, miracles are real. Whether we recognize them as miraculous, or merely let them go by ignored and unappreciated, may depend on a consideration as simple as whether we believe that God is an active part of our lives, or that “He” merely sits outside of them as an impartial observer. It may even be that our definition of “miracles” is too narrow. Perhaps we’re expecting them to be more spectacular than they usually are.

Not too many of us have seen the sea part to let us through on dry land. Nor has anyone, in our everyday, personal acquaintance, ever died and risen again. Few of us can imagine the sun “standing still in the sky” until our side wins the battle in a war. There have been days, here in my hometown of Phoenix, Arizona, when it’s certainly felt as if the sun has stayed at the same point in the sky for twenty-four hours or more, but when it’s a hundred and fifteen in the shade, I think it is an understandable illusion.

When I awoke on the morning of September 1, 1999, I felt like crap. As usual. I drank until I fell asleep almost every night, and in the morning I just chased the cobwebs away with a bedside vodka martini and then was merrily on my way. I was proud of the fact that I never got hangovers anymore. I bragged about it all the time. This particular morning, however, I felt so crappy that I couldn’t bring myself to greet the day with another drink. I hadn’t had any more alcohol the night before than I usually did; the previous night, as far as I could recall, had been totally routine. But this particular day, I had no reason to brag. I had the sick hangover to end all sick hangovers.

It was so bad, I just knew something different was going on. I dragged myself to work, but had to excuse myself for the bathroom every half hour or so. Sitting in that stall, sometime after a lunch I was too nauseated to touch, I felt God speak to me. It wasn’t in any huge, booming, Drano-commercial voice; it came, very simply, in the form of a thought – an idea that just occurred to me. It presented itself so clearly, so forcefully and so apparently out-of-nowhere that I knew it had come from somewhere beyond myself.

“Stop drinking,” it said. “You are someone who simply cannot handle liquor. And if you don’t stop drinking, you will die.”

Only if you understand how deeply in denial I was about this before that moment in the ladies’ room could you not fail to recognize how dramatic a moment it was. I didn’t need any Drano-commercial voice from the sky. Up ’til not only that day, but until that very moment, the massive onslaught of my self-talk had been that I could not live without liquor. That if I did not drink, I would die. Oh, of course many other people along the way had warned me that I drank too much, but even the most tactful hint that I might – pretty-please with sugar on top – consider not drinking anymore had always been enough to send me into a blind rage.

From that day forward, I was sober for nearly four years. Then one Saturday evening, at a Dignity mass, I was too preoccupied to notice that the priest who usually said mass for us (himself a recovering alcoholic, who uses non-alcoholic wine in the communion cup) had a temporary stand-in. Who, of course, used real wine. Deep in prayer and meditation, I hadn’t even thought about it until I’d gotten a mouthful of what I instantly recognized as real wine. Spitting it out was unthinkable – it was also the Blood of Christ! – so, no other option open, I quickly gulped it down.

Had I bothered to stop and ask somebody at A.A. (whose meetings I had, by then, stopped attending), they would have eased my mind by assuring me that my sobriety could come to an end only if I willfully chose to end it. If you accidentally get a mouthful of real communion wine, or if somebody spikes your punch at a party, that does not constitute an end to your sobriety, as it was something you did not willingly choose to do. I think, however, that there must be some sort of a little switch inside the mind: at one position “on” to drinking alcohol, and at another, “off.” Somehow, I think, somewhere along the way, my little switch had clicked back on. And I believe it happened, if I’m to be honest, considerably before the communion mishap that provided the excuse for me to resume drinking.

Living with a terminally-ill father – never an easy person to get along with, even when he was in the very best of health – provided me with a convenient excuse to plunge the rest of the way off of the wagon and into the bottle. There was still a sizeable amount of post-teenage rebellion left in me, too. Himself a recovering alcoholic, nearly fifty years sober, he hated the very idea that I was drinking again. And I loved the fact that I was of-age, so there wasn’t a darned thing he could do to stop me. The fact that I could also blame my escalating booze intake on how difficult he was to live with made it all the sweeter.

Then one day, I learned something that stopped me in my tracks. I happened to overhear a conversation in which Dad told somebody – I don’t remember who – that his A.A. “birthday” was September 1. Three hundred and sixty-four other days of the year for my own little voice to have told me, back in ’99, that it was time to go sober, yet it happened on that one! A skeptic might explain it all away by saying that I remembered this, at some subconscious level, from having heard my dad mention his A.A. birthday before. But given the sort of relationship Dad and I had at that time (and for many years prior), all this would have done would have been to rule out the first of September as an A.A. birthday for me.

It took a while for it to sink in, to me, that God had used that date to communicate something special to me. Not ’til over six months after Dad’s death did I go sober again. There was no booze in the house on one particular day, I heard that voice again (just unfamiliar enough to be familiar), and I decided to go cold- turkey from that day on. March 18, 2006. I guess I got my own A.A. birthday after all.

Sunday the 19th, I was hoping to catch a friend of mine after church. He has been in A.A. for many years, and regularly attends meetings at a gay and lesbian center in downtown Phoenix. Now, several of us have a regular “coffee klatch” in the social hall before worship, and this particular gentlemen never shows up for it. This particular morning, there he was for morning coffee! And, what’s more peculiar, he stayed and stayed and stayed – even after the last other person (besides me) had headed off to the sanctuary for worship.

The talk we had just enough time to have before we joined the congregation was exactly what I needed. Do I believe that somehow, God managed to nudge my friend not only to show up in the social hall at a time he ordinarily would not have, but to stick around even after everybody else besides he and I had gone? You bet I do. Is this a miracle on par with the parting of the Red Sea? Well, I don’t think Cecil B. Demille would have found it very filmworthy, but just because bazillons of people wouldn’t stand in line to buy tickets to see it doesn’t make it any less of a miracle to me.

That’s the way God usually works in our everyday lives: quietly, subtly, behind-the-scenes, in ways we too often take for granted. By that evening, I had already practically set it aside as a coincidence, myself.

A day or so later, I settled in front of the TV prepared to suffer through yet another endless PBS pledge-drive. Dr. Wayne Dyer was on yet again. I was sitting there numbly, feeling sorry for myself because not only did I have to settle for decaffeinated coffee in place of my usual martini, but my usual evening TV lineup was being interrupted for fundraising once more. As I stared at the screen, my thoughts turned, morosely, to the strange events of my addicted past. “I wonder,” I thought gloomily to myself, “if it’s all just been a coincidence.”

At that very moment, Dr. Dyer looked at the screen. His eyes seemed to probe right into mine. And he said, “There are no coincidences.”

Now, this was the first time I had ever seen this latest special of his. I had no idea he was going to say that. I had had nothing stronger than decaf for days, but I nearly fell out of my chair. Okay, God – I get it now.

Whenever I so much as see a bottle of liquor now, I get a queasy feeling. God is helping me to stay sober because God wants me sober; I no longer have any doubts about that. Is “He” working a miracle of healing in my life? I believe that “He” is, and I have all the “proof” I need.

Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Christians often tend to find welcome in churches that take a skeptical view of miracles, and of the supernatural in general. It frequently gets dismissed, by those most likely to support us, as a lot of abracadabra and hocus-pocus. But God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are God’s ways our ways.

It is a miracle that so many hearts and minds have already been opened up to accept us. It is a miracle the way so many of our straight friends put their comfort, their safety and sometimes even their very lives on the line to stand up for us. It will take a miracle for us ever to overcome the bigotry, selfishness and ignorant fear arrayed against us and gain full equality. But as we never would have gotten even half as far as we have already come without miracles, we have no reason to doubt that God will bring to completion the good work “He” has begun in us.

The next time one of our hetero Christian allies expresses doubt that miracles happen, look deep into his or her eyes and say, “You are a miracle.” God is working miracles within the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community. Indeed, there really are no coincidences. If ever anybody doubts that God is working in our lives, all we have to do is get them to open up their eyes and look.