Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The New Year's Sign

There are two things you needs to know about my mama. First of all, she made great fried chicken. It was my favorite thing that she cooked. The other thing you need to know is that my mama always said that what you do on New Year's Day is what you are going to be doing all year long, so what happens on New Year's Day is a sign of what's to come in the next year. 

Today, I drove Ryan back to Atlanta and Georgia Tech. We had a leisurely drive with too many stops and were running late. The plan was to unload Ryan's things at his apartment, stop by the hotel and let me check in, stop somewhere for dinner, then see The Hobbit in IMAX 3D. Unfortunately, it took longer to unload Ryan than we expected and our schedule was suddenly extremely tight. Somehow, we managed it with 45 minutes to eat and get in the movie. 

Chick a Biddy is the new restaurant across from the theater. "Hey Ryan, let's see if we can get something quick here," I said. He wasn't hungry but I wasn't sure I could hold out for three more hours, so we stopped in. Since they had fried chicken, and I can't eat wheat, I figured I'd just get a salad. We picked up menus, and I started trying to find something gluten-free to eat.  Suddenly, Ryan said, "Hey Mom, look. They have gluten-free!"  There was a GF icon by the chicken tenders. The FRIED chicken tenders. There was also a GF icon by the sides section. ALL the sides. 

The waitress came to take our order. I wasn't positive about what I'd just read, so I asked to be sure. "Does this mean the tenders are gluten-free?" She smiled a huge, beautiful smile and said, "Oh, yes! Our fried tenders and all our sides are gluten-free." Somehow, it was such an unexpected gift that I started crying. I had to blink back tears and swallow back sobs to regain my composure enough to order my meal. I looked like a total nut, but Ryan just watched and smiled. He was rejoicing with me. Well, he was laughing a little bit, too.

When my meal came, it was astounding! It had been a long time since I last had fried chicken, but this was so crispy, juicy, and tender that it was just about better than my mama's. The Mac and cheese was so smooth and creamy that it was unbelievable. Yum! My tears had dried, but when the waitress came by to see how we were doing and asked how I liked the chicken, I started crying again. It was outrageous and embarrassing, but Ryan wasn't embarrassed. He was thrilled for me, still smiling and laughing. Then, the manager came by to see how I liked the GF Mac and cheese.  Apparently, they'd been talking about the weepy lady at the front table. I started leaking again. She was radiant at my response to their food. 

It wasn't so much that the food was wonderful, nor that it was gluten-free, although it was. Because of her celiac disease, my mama was gluten-free long before it was trendy, and she would've loved the meal. That was part of what was overwhelming. Really, though, my tears were mostly because my mama would've said it was a sign of something good to come in the new year. 

Such a sweet, totally unexpected surprise was not just a coincidence. I took it as a gift from God and, regardless of whether or not it was a "sign", it was an unexpected blessing in the least likely place. Because of travel today, we missed all those traditional New Year's foods like cabbage and black-eyed peas that are supposed to bring luck and prosperity. I've never put much stock in that anyway. I know that every good and perfect gift comes from above. The likelihood of blessings has nothing to do with peas or cabbage, or with chicken tenders and macaroni and cheese for that matter. Tonight, I was reminded all over again that blessings come straight from the hand of God, and the one I received at dinner was mighty precious, indeed.  

I've had some blessings that didn't look as much like a gift from God as the fried chicken did, though. In fact, they looked terrible and more like a curse than a blessing.  Now that I'm on the other side of them, however, I can see they made me more Christ-like, and that made enduring the blessing worth it. Perhaps you've had a few of those blessings yourself. There's no way to know what form our blessings will take this year, but there is one thing we can count on. Every blessing we receive will come, not from our own hard work or as a gift from a loved one, but straight from the hand of God, and that is something to which we can look forward all year long.