Even though my family did not have a particular religious affiliation when I was a child, and even though we did not attend church most Sundays, I've always believed in God.
I grew up curious about religion and even studied theology in college, but no church ever felt like the right fit. As soon as the minister began admonishing me to believe this way, or else, I left, because the God I believed in left no one out. Ever.
Still, my connection with God felt pretty haphazard and not very personal. Like many people, I would pray on an as-needed basis— usually when all other options had been exhausted.
Such was the case, now over 30 years ago, when my car broke down in Detroit on a Sunday morning while I was traveling alone, a single woman in a yellow Pinto station wagon.
I was just leaving the city from a writers' conference I had attended over the weekend, zooming along at 70 mph on Interstate 75, feeling good about my new career as a writer — when my car lost power and began to roll to a stop.
At that moment, only a concrete wall was along the right side of the road, so my first plea to God was for a shoulder. When a shoulder appeared, my next prayer was for an exit, which also appeared. When my car finally stopped, I prayed, "Please God, let my car start again." The car didn't start.
And so I sat there. The only thing I knew was that I was somewhere in Detroit. I had no idea what I would find at the end of the exit ramp. And I was terrified.
I turned on my emergency flashers, raised the hood of the car and began the long walk down the exit ramp. This time, my prayer became more specific. I will not accept a ride from a man, I bargained, but I will accept help from a woman. No sooner did I pray that, than an old, rusted, Chevy pickup truck careened past me and pulled over.
I walked up to the passenger side window and looked in. I expected to see a guy, of course, but what appeared before me was a stocky-looking woman with short cropped hair. She wore a T-shirt with a picture of a rainbow emblazoned across her chest with the words: "Free to be you and me."
"Need some help?" she yelled over the Chevy's chugging motor. "My name's Diane."
Well, Diane was not only a woman (thank you, God) but a woman who knew cars. She took a look under the hood and within a few minutes, made her diagnosis. "Timing belt," she grunted. "This car's not going anywhere."
Now, it just so happened that Diane had a friend who owned a gas station just down the road from the exit ramp. Diane's friend was also a woman, and this woman just happened to be at the station on a Sunday morning, as did the man who did her towing. Soon, my not-so-trusty yellow Pinto station wagon was in their safe keeping.
My prayers were answered.
By now, I was in the center of my conversion experience. I felt like I had landed in Emerald City, not Detroit. The synchronicity of that entire morning — the answers to my prayers and the completely unexpected forms in which those answers came — sent me into a kind of reverie, as in reverence, as in "This is a holy moment."
And I knew without a doubt that God was expressing everywhere in my life — as Diane, as her friend, as the tow truck guy, heck, even as my yellow Pinto station wagon.
When I returned from a friend's house the next day to pick up my car, they were just putting the finishing touches on it. I sat on a plastic chair next to the cash register, chatting with a skinny, pimply-faced gas station attendant who must have been all of 19 years old.
When he found out I was a writer, he declared, "I'm an artist!" like he had just found a long-lost sister. "Would you like to see some of my drawings?" Apparently, he studied at a local community college and had his sketch pad with him that day.
"Sure," I said, preparing to be polite. When he threw back the cover of his sketch pad, there displayed in front of me were the most incredible drawings of angels, reminiscent of Michelangelo, drawn with bold, sweeping lines in sepia brown pastels.
The conversion was now complete. God was talking to me in unmistakable signs that I couldn't help but see. And angels were everywhere.
When people speak of conversion, they usually refer to a specific religion, but this was not the case for me. If I had to call it anything, I'd say my conversion was more like an awakening to something I already was: someone who sees God in everything.
It would be 10 more years before I found a spiritual community that embraced this idea of God — that God is everywhere, present in all things, expressing as each one of us, regardless of appearance or affiliation — a community that leaves no one out. At the time, that community was called Unity. Here in Lexington, it's called Ahava Center for Spiritual Living.
When my husband and I moved here from the Seattle area two years ago, we discovered that Ahava had just formed, two months before our arrival. Another coincidence? For us, no. For us, it was yet another sign of God's ever-present love.