My mom and I took my daughters to San Antonio this past weekend. My recent New York trip happened to fall during one of my daughters’ birthdays, so to make it up to her I arranged for a special out-of-town trip to the San Antonio zoo with her three sisters.
Since we hadn’t been able to do a big celebrating on her actual birthday, it was important to me that everything go well. A few weeks before the trip, I spent hours planning the Perfect Birthday Weekend Experience to make sure that this trip would be exactly the experience our family needed.
The zoo trip was great. But when we arrived at the hotel, our room wasn’t ready.
When you have just walked four children ages 3, 6, 7, and 8 around a zoo for five hours, this is not what you want to hear.
Not only were the girls overtired and my mom and I in desperate need of a rest, but I had spent a long time picking our room. I had looked at all the hotel’s options and splurged on the only one that would meet our Perfect Birthday Weekend Experience needs.
When they told me the room wouldn’t be ready any time soon, it didn’t occur to me that this could be anything but a disaster. When they offered me another room and listed its benefits, I hardly heard them. Traveling with kids and planning special occasions is overwhelming to me, and the only way I can ever see my way through is to try to control everything to ensure that everyone has the perfect experience. To my mind, the loss of my plans for the hotel room meant the loss of any potential for a good evening.
As I stared at the hotel manager in silent despair, I remembered that I am trying to trust God more this Lent. I have not followed through with a lot of my grand plans for this season, but I have been trying to see the hand of God in each situation, to remember that I am in a living relationship with Someone who is truly with me in each moment.
Given my background of lifelong atheism, it’s easy for me to fall into lukewarm theism, where I see God as a concept rather than a person. When I get lax in my spiritual life, that’s the direction in which my mentality drifts: I believe all the ideas of my religion, but I perceive that the day-to-day business of life is entirely up to me.
There in the checkin line at the hotel I remembered my Lenten commitment, and I forced myself to at least pretend like I believe that Jesus is a real person whom I can lean on, even though I was fatigued and very fixated on the loss of my perfect plans.
“That’s fine. We’ll take the other room, ” I said to the hotel manager.
And then I forced myself to put the situation in God’s hands. Maybe he had a better plan. Maybe it was all a mistake but he could bring good out of it. Maybe — just maybe — something about my vision for the hotel room wasn’t perfect after all.
We stepped into the new room, and the girls screamed with glee as they skipped down the hallway. It was an expansive one-bedroom corner suite, complete with a jacuzzi and a cozy living room.
I stepped out on the balcony, which itself was about half the size of a normal hotel room, and I gasped. This room was 10 floors higher and in a different part of the building than our first room, and the view was magnificent. And right outside our window, across the street 15 floors below, was a cathedral. The positioning of the balcony was so perfect, it was as if this hotel room were designed to offer the perfect view of this church.
We left for dinner, and while we were out I asked around and discovered that the church is the San Fernando Cathedral. Opened in 1750, it’s the oldest continually operated parish in Texas, and one of the oldest cathedrals in the United States. I had desperately wanted to see this famous church while we were in town, but I didn’t think I’d have time.
When we arrived back at the hotel, I stepped out onto the balcony to behold this masterpiece of the Church. By now it was dark, and I was caught off guard when I saw a jumble of colored lights where the cathedral should be.
Once my eyes adjusted, I saw that there was an elaborate light show playing out across the cathedral facade. I called to the girls and my mom, and they each stopped in their tracks once they saw it. Vivid colors leapt across the face of the cathedral, sliding together to line up perfectly with the curves of the architecture, then melting away to display the faces of a priest or a saint.
“It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, ” one of my daughters said.
“It’s like they’re putting on the show just for us, ” the birthday girl whispered.
We huddled together to stay warm against the Spring breeze, and as I watched our personal viewing of the cathedral light show play out below, I thought of what we would have missed if I had insisted that everything go according to my plans.
And then I thanked God for giving us exactly the experience we needed.
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