The $14 Foundation of My Faith

One day, when I was 11 years old, Mami and I were heading out to Manhattan. We were planning to visit Delancey Street, browse through May’s Department Store on 14th Street, and maybe visit a cuchifrito for some delicious fried treats. It was our usual Saturday routine, and she purposely skimped on some of the week’s groceries in order to save money for this trip. I was looking forward to it, as I always did, because it was our one escape from the Bronx. 

Living in the Bronx wasn’t so bad, actually. I had a good time in school, where a small group stayed together a number of years in a gifted program. I also had Papi and Mami, who together managed to provide me with some of the best food this side of Heaven. Mami’s chicken was great, and Papi always brought home a great dessert. But still, it wasn’t Manhattan. 

In Manhattan, I had played downstairs with the kids from our building. Here in the Bronx, we lived in a bad area, so Mami and Papi didn’t want me outside. In Manhattan our entire family would come to talk and play on Sundays. Our Bronx apartment was too small for that. Now, we were alone most of the time, just the three of us, but we still had our sanity-saving trips to Manhattan, and those were wonderful.

However, this day, when I checked my pockets for the money Mami had given me for our trip, it was gone. I searched repeatedly, and Mami did, too. We tore apart the few hiding places in the tiny apartment and they were gone. Then, we both fell into despair. We weren’t going to Manhattan, after all. 

It seemed like the symbol of all things lovely and peaceful in our lives had been taken from us. Together, we would sit in the apartment and glumly stare at the TV set. The picture was clear on programs we didn’t want to watch, and the ones we liked were snowy and difficult to hear. It was not a good day, and it took all our patience to await its end. 

That night, I lay in bed with a strong sense that something special would come of that day. You see, though it had been hard to face Mami’s anger at my silly blunder, I had reason to smile. That day, I had heard from God. 

It had happened as I was searching through the back pockets of my blue jeans. They were on a hanger in the hallway closet and I felt around the pocket. I began to cry, thinking that Mami was going to be angry at me, and knowing that it would be a miserable day – and my fault, at that. Yet, when I was the most desperate, the Lord spoke to me in my heart – using words. 

I heard something to the effect of, “I am saving it for when you need it most. It’s not your fault. You will find it when you need it. Go tell Mami.”

Anyone ever read the story of Joseph, where he shared his dreams with his family? Well, my tale went over even better than that! She was furious! And, well, she had reason to be. You see, until now, I had not been a very spiritual child. I was a chronic liar and I loved to get people in trouble. I had even tried to put Papi against Mami on occasion – on more than one occasion per day, actually. 

So, the idea that this child – the one who had lost everything ever given to her from birth – the one who always found ways to make Mami angry, and often on purpose – had heard from God…well, let’s just say it didn’t make sense. But I had! So, during the day, though I was sad about her anger and truly sorry that I couldn’t get her to believe me, I also had a peace about it. God had spoken to me. 

Years later, it would happen again. Once, when I was facing the trickery of a potential molester, and I didn’t know what to do, God would show me again that he had a plan for my life and that it would eventually unfold, with his protection and his care. Later, when I was afraid that the young man I loved might not be the one for me – since everything had seemed to conspire against us – God would use Mami as the instrument to confirm his will to me, in a miraculous way. At 11 years old, however, I had only this experience to believe in, and after a few days, I felt myself wavering. 

A month later, Mami needed some extra money in a big way. Papi, a child of the Great Depression, would not dream of giving her an extra cent beyond the grocery budget without a very good reason, and she knew her reason wasn’t good enough. Unsure of what to do, I prayed. I knew that Mami wanted the money for a really strange reason, but I also believed that God could use her unconventional idea. She was making 20 costumes for a small dramatic performance of the parable of the lost sheep. She had run out of tulle for the sheep’s wool, and some children were going to be very disappointed when they were excluded from the play for lack of fabric. 

In prayer, I asked God for a miracle for Mami. Yes, she could be difficult, but she wanted to do this for God. She had an uncanny gift for preparing plays, and this one promised to be one of her best. Sighing, I got up, sure that though God had spoken again, I was going to be disappointed. Surprisingly, he had told me to check the right back pocket of my blue jeans. There, when I reached inside, were the $14 I had “lost.” 

I ran through the house screaming, “I found it! I found it! I TOLD you God would help us find it when we really needed it! Here it is! The 14 DOLLARS!” She got up, eagerly tore the bills from my hand, and whisked me down to the local supermarket – to purchase toilet paper. 

There were too many costumes, and tulle was expensive. She needed an abundant amount of 4” wide fabric that would stand nicely when sewn along the white taffeta, and that would look fluffy and white. Loaded down with 1,000 sheet rolls, we went home and set to work getting the costumes ready. My job was to hold the paper, and then get out of the way, of course, and within days, we were done. 

The costumes looked wonderful, and the play was a huge success!  Mami herself sang the song of the good shepherd searching for his sheep, “Las Cien Ovejas,” and my cousin played the wayward one. I was a rather tall ruffled creature toward the back of the crowd. And as part of that play, I found myself experiencing a strong assurance that the purpose of God was being fulfilled that day. 

On the day we missed our trip to Delancey Street, God laid a foundation in my life that continues to give it structure today. The knowledge that God is actively involved in such minute details as a lost $14 built a powerful base of understanding of God’s ways. Because of that day, and so many others which followed, I am able to know without a doubt that even though I don’t always understand why, the valleys of our lives, as trivial or as earth-shaking as they may be, have a purpose, and thanks to a God who knows us well, we can trust that it’ll be alright in the end. 

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