It happened to be one of “those” days. I could’ve sworn I had the whole grief thing under control. After all, it had been four years since Mom and Dad passed away.
Like a seasoned meteorologist, I can detect a storm of grief a hundred miles away, predicting the exact time, duration, and intensity of each storm with my handy dandy emotional forecasts. Anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, and family milestones are permanently set aside for a bittersweet mesh of joy and pain. My faith acts as my umbrella.
This particular day, however, was NOT on my radar. I wasn’t prepared for the pop up shower of grief interrupting my morning. Out of the blue, sad thoughts of my parents came pouring in. Memories of cancer journeys, funerals, and all of the aftermath attacked my brain with intense pain and sorrow. My clouded mind only had room for three, simple yet heartfelt words: Jesus, help me.
As always, God heard my prayers and delivered his peace. A second wind set in, and I managed to get back to my original morning agenda of errands. For the time being, my emotional funk was behind me.
Heading to the car, I couldn’t help but notice the dark clouds rolling in. That’s weird, I thought. There was no mention of rain on the news. With no umbrella in sight and my gas tank running on empty, I hurriedly drove to fill up before the rain hit.
I quickly parked my card near gas pump 10, swiped my credit card, set the nozzle to automatic and scrambled back into my Suburban, all for the sake of avoiding a few small droplets of rain beginning to fall. I slammed the door. A quiet stillness filled the car, and the residual effects of my morning funk instantly overcame me. I closed my eyes focusing on the soft and steady clicking of the gas nozzle in sync with the rhythm of light drizzle falling on my windshield. I took a deep breath. I miss you, Mom.
Just as I began to exhale, Elvis Presley’s voice suddenly blared through my car window, “I can’t help falling in love with you.” I couldn’t believe my ears. It sounded so crisp and clear.
Mom. She loved the King of Rock and Roll – so much so she was president of his local fan club as a teenager. I still smile thinking back on her stories and how she used to ooh and ahh over her teen idol. “Look Mom! There’s your hunka hunka burnin love!” I’d tease. Mom had to hush everyone in our family (mostly me) anytime Elvis was on the radio or T.V. That was HER time.
Moved by the divine timing of that song, I simply had to investigate where my Heavenly Hello was coming from. A few lanes over at pump 8 stood a Hispanic man in his late fifties. This guy looked like he should be jamming out to heavy metal, not Elvis Presley. A rough-around-the-edges biker dude, he was decked out in a fitted white tee shirt, black leather vest, black skull-cap, and black steel-toed boots. I couldn’t help but watch as he pumped gas into his big ol’ motorcycle.
Before I knew it, he caught me staring. He stared right back. Oh crap! I thought to myself. I don’t want Biker Dude to get the wrong impression and think I was flirting! I looked away and tried to brush it off.
Okay – who was I fooling? To me, this was a big deal.
In spite of the rain, my lack of umbrella, and my quick sense of stranger danger, I couldn’t stop myself. I boldly approached Biker Dude. I didn’t care – – I just did it. I had to tell him.
I had to yell over Elvis’ crooning. “Excuse me, sir?”
“Yes, Ma’am?” he shouted back. His voice was polite, and I could see sincerity in his eyes.
“I have to tell you–” I started, still yelling. Just then, he quickly turned down the volume on what I then observed was essentially the Cadillac of motorcycles. The dashboard looked to be straight out of the Star Trek Enterprise.
I shrugged off my ADD. “I have to tell you,” I repeated, “that you playing this Elvis song so loud, right here, right now – truly touched my heart.”
Holding back my tears, I continued, “You see, my mom died a few years ago, and today has been a rough day of missing her. Just as I was thinking of her, I heard Elvis playing from your motorcycle. She loved Elvis!”
He smiled ever so kindly. “I know how you feel,” he replied. “My mom passed away many years ago. I still have my sad days, but God blesses me with sweet memories to keep me going. Do you mind if I pray for you now?”
I was floored by his response and accepted his genuine offer. Ignoring the light drizzle, we both bowed our heads. His rough calloused hands gently held mine as he prayed. “Heavenly Father, bless this young lady who misses her mother. Help her to feel your guidance through her pain. We thank you for being Our Lord and Savior and will trust you until we meet our moms again. In Jesus’s name, Amen.”
As I opened my tear-filled eyes, I was treated to another round of love and amazement. Right away, my eyes were drawn to sweet Biker Dude’s left forearm, which was covered in rose tattoos. (Roses are another one of mom’s signs from Heaven.) Even the other motorists in their lanes were staring at us. One man nodded his head and smiled, validating our blessed moment.
“Thank you so much. That was so nice of you.” I leaned in to give him a hug.
“You are welcome, ma’am.” His tone was humble yet vaguely rushed, indicating it was time to go. The rain started to pick up.
“Real quick,” I said, “what is your name?”
“My name is Luis.” He pointed towards my neighborhood. “I live off Acacia Road, right over there.”
“Oh okay. Well, nice to meet you. I’m Marla. Maybe we’ll see each other around then.” We shook hands and made a mad dash towards our vehicles to avoid getting soaked.
I sat in my car and watched Luis ride away down Highway 281 in the pouring rain. I kept thinking, “Did this just happen?” It felt like a scene out of a movie.
Right away, my inner Google girl emerged. I had to look up his name, thinking it must bear some significance. After a few moments of searching, I learned that Luis means “famous in battle” or “famous warrior.” How fitting: my very own spirit-filled warrior, my angel in disguise, helping me conquer my morning battle with grief.
The rain, the empty gas tank, the thoughts of mom, the Elvis song, the Sweet Biker Dude and his rose-tattooed arm, the comforting prayer and the spot-on name… all came together in perfect harmony. No coincidences. All God!