by Molly Jo Realy (@MollyJoRealy)
My dad died when I was 13. It was a Michigan-hot Tuesday evening in August. It was unexpected. And, like any death would, left a gaping hole in my existence. I don’t know why that has any bearing on the rest of this story, but it does. His death was probably the second before-and-after moment I’d experienced in my young life. I’m not sure what the first one was, but I think it had something to do with the neighborhood cat adopting me as its own. That was a happy moment. Dad’s death wasn’t. Both were defining.
We were Catholic, and Mom took myself and my brother to church every Saturday night. He and I sat together and paid attention as she sang in the choir. We’d sing loud, learn from the sermon, and meet up again after the service. One evening, she took me into the tiny gift shop. It was just two counters- one with a cash register and the other, an open display case of prayer books, bibles, and such.
I’d had my eye on a red-beaded rosary for months, and this night, she told me I could have it. I don’t remember if she gave it to me then or put it away for Christmas. I do know it was dark outside, and cold, so winter was upon us. And I do know, since she gave it to me, it’s only been out of my possession twice.
The first time I’d lost my rosary was after a weekend retreat I’d attended with friends. I used to keep it with me at all times: in my purse or pocket or just holding it. Somehow that weekend it had fallen out of my pocket twice, and I found it immediately at my feet. I remember after the third dropping, I secured it in a zippered pocket of my tote bag.
I normally sleep with the rosary under my pillow or on my nightstand. I don’t know when I realized it was missing. Perhaps it was as soon as I got home, or maybe a few days later. I know I anguished over it. I prayed for its return. As time went on, and I couldn’t find it no matter how often I unzipped my tote and checked my sleeping bag and stuffed my hands into every piece of clothing I owned, a sadness overtook me.
“God, you can do anything. So if you want this for me, I know you can bring it back. And if you don’t, I know you can heal my heart.”
Now, this next part seems like a rabbit trail but I promise you it’s connected, so stay with me.
I’ve always loved words. Always loved writing. I was the kid who stayed inside at fifth-grade recess because it was easier creating friends than to play with kids who didn’t understand my shy awkwardness and would rather make fun of me. I was the teen who excelled in high school and got to play Emily in Our Town (or at least, got to read the part in English class). I don’t remember ever not writing, or wanting to write.
I was mentally preparing a story idea, and so far had only come up with a title, a very loose plot, and two Italian characters: Vincent and Nicky. It was probably a mob story, because I was (and still am) fixated on the New York mob. Talk to me about the Five Families, and we can get along just fine. My story centered around five Brooklyn teens growing up together in that culture.
By this time I must have been in my early 20s. Still living at home. So when Mom said she was going to church on a Saturday night, I opted to join her. I hurriedly dressed and grabbed a clasp purse to toss my ID and key into, and off we went.
I remember going through phases where church was more something I did for my mother than for my self. This may have been one of those times. But I also remember sitting in church that evening and being thankful. Thankful that I still had my mom, even though my dad and my rosary were gone. Thankful I was still creative, even though I wasn’t doing anything with it. Thankful for all the second-to-the-nth chances God gives us (me) to keep going.
I remember eyeing my mom from the side, and trying not to disturb her as I reached for the song book. There, peeking out from the pages, was a tattered piece of blue paper. I pulled it out and unfolded it. A child had written it, maybe. A stick figure with a distortedly larger head, buggy eyes, the number “5”, and at the bottom.. Nicky.
I gasped and showed it to Mom, who didn’t understand my excitement. That was okay. I chewed my lip in happiness and opened my purse to keep the scrap. I unzipped the tiny side pocket and nearly fainted.
My rosary, lost months ago, was in the purse I hadn’t used for over a year. Had never taken on the retreat. Had stuffed away long before the rosary went missing.
He heard me. I don’t know how, and I don’t try to explain it, but I know He heard me.
In that blinding moment, I knew. He heard every prayer, even the ones I hadn’t prayed yet. He worked a little child’s hand to give me encouragement. He brought back a symbol of love and trust I thought I’d lost.
“God. You can bring me back to what I need to be, as if I was never missing.”
But wait. There’s so much more.
Flash forward a few decades. My daughter and I were attending a different church, and made life-long friends. One was going through a very difficult struggle. Many of us prayed with and for her, her family. And one night, I had a dream. I dreamt I was in a meadow, on a rock that my soul recognized as a Prayer Seat. I sat on this rock, and let Him speak to me. I remember waking up to the words, “It’s going to be all right. I hear you, and I’m already working on it.”
I didn’t know what that meant. Because I didn’t know what His definition of “all right” was. But there was a peace. I wrote it down. Took it to work. Stuck it in my desk drawer. When I left that job, I took the note with me. Put it in a bamboo planter. The bamboo died long ago, but the bowl had frogs so I kept it.
I’ve always remembered that message, and the peace it continues to give me.
I’m often reminded the acronym F.R.O.G. stands for Fully Rely On God. And that’s one of the reasons I love frogs so much. Also because Uncle Roger inspired me to use a frog as my mascot and logo for New Inklings Press, but that’s another story.
Earlier this year, I was hit with a virus I thought was the flu. It was just before the coronavirus pandemic hit, and to my knowledge, it wasn’t yet something well-known or tested for. Now, when I get the flu, it’s usually over in two or three days, leaving me with just some fatigue. This was different. This whatever-it-was caused me to lose a week of work. When I tried to work, I had to leave early. I called out four out of seven days. During my home-time, I remember being in bed and fighting a high fever. By Day Five, I’d never known a flu like this. I was afraid. I live alone and hadn’t returned my spare key to my friend yet. No clinics were open in the middle of the night, and I was too sick to drive myself anyway.
The thought came to me through fevered hallucinations, that I was quite possibly going to die.
It was an irrational fear, I told myself. And I remember waking up to find my rosary in my hand. I remember telling God how happy I was that even though I couldn’t take care of myself, even though I was too weak to get water or walk downstairs to unlock the door, it gave me great joy that my spirit knew to reach for Him. In the midst of thinking unclearly, my soul was driven by God and not my self. And that gave me comfort.
I went to Urgent Care, was put on five meds, tried to go back to work, and failed miserably.
A day or two later I realized my rosary was missing. I checked the laundry. The bed. The nightstand. It was gone.
By this time I was able to get back to work. I came home every evening, checked the bed every time I made it. Checked the laundry every time I ran the machines. Checked the closet floor.
I think I may have tossed it out with the tissues.
Each night I prayed.
“God. You are outside time and space. And I know that even if I did something reckless, You can fix this. You can find my rosary from the trash bin, from the dump truck, from wherever. And You can bring it back. It’s not a talisman. It’s not my faith. But it’s a symbol of Your love for me. So God. Bring it back. And if You choose not to, remove this longing from me so I will be okay with its absence.”
Days went by. I told my mom and my friend about the loss. I’d had that rosary for over 35 years. That’s a small lifetime. We have stories together. I was reminded of the first time I lost it. And found it. I reminded God, He did it before. He can do it again! I heard Him whisper, “I’m already working on it.”
I took my bed completely apart, carefully pulling off every individual cover and sheet. Inspected every corner of every pillow and case. Removed the mattress and box spring and nearly took apart the frame. It was nowhere in the room, or my apartment.
One week after I noticed the loss, I cycled another load of clothes through the dryer. Well, to be honest, it was the same load I’d left in for a week, only to refresh the wrinkles out each day before work. But this time, I decided to actually put them away. I pulled out a sweater and my necklace hit the rim with a jingle. What a teaser, as I thought of my missing rosary.
I shook the clothes. Folded. Rolled. Hung. Took the pile into my bedroom and set the folded clothes on the clean bed, and hung the others in the closet. As I returned into the room, I noticed something under the bed. Something small. It wasn’t there a moment ago, so it must have moved quickly. I wasn’t sure whether to be afraid or not.
I looked closer. Closer.
God, that’s a really mean trick.
The optical illusion appeared like my rosary in a neat pile with the cross laying on top. I bent closer.
And grasped it with joy.
I once again held the symbol of my faith and heritage in my hand. The material love-note from God that He’s always with me, always hearing me, and always working my prayers.
You can tell me it was stuck in a sweater or sock. Or that it had always been there. I don’t believe that. Because I’d gone through every inch of the laundry room and my bedroom on a daily basis.
But isn’t that just like God? He is always with me. It was the rosary that wasn’t. I knew that from the beginning of this saga. And I was okay with it. Sure, I was a little sad. But the rosary doesn’t define me. It just reminds me. And I have hidden His word in my heart, so in the absence of the rosary, He still surrounds me.
Still. It’s nice to know He understands why I wanted it back.
And it’s even nicer to know He returned it. And gave me yet another story to tell.
What stories has God given you to share? Leave a comment!