Ma had insisted she was only going to the conference to people-watch. During the conference, Ma was moved to tears and promises. Afterward? Totally confused.

She called me the next day and inquired in her gruff tone, “So, you all believe that God does impossible things?”

“And you do, too, remember? You can’t say ‘you all’ anymore. And yes, God can do anything if it is His will.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean, Liz? If He wants me to believe He can do all things possible, then I expect to see impossible, like never-ending cake and a cure for arth-er-itis. Amen? Isn’t that what you all say?”

“That’s not how it works, Ma,” I said. “Listen. We’ll start going to church and reading Scripture and talk about it. It’ll take some time.”

Days later, Ma came over to get some work done. At the vast dining room table, we sorted fabrics for our teddy bear craft business. Sewing was one of the only activities she and I could enjoy without arguing, usually. My son Denny hopped off the school bus, dumped his Batman backpack on the floor, and rummaged through the pieces of fabric. Eight-year-old Denny learned to sew teddy bears, too, and he had made one for his teacher and one for a classmate with a broken leg.

“Denny?” Ma squinted. “You had a spelling test yesterday, right?”

Denny frowned at his backpack. “It’s in there.”

“How’d you do, Bud?” I asked.

“I’ll show you,” he mumbled.

From the cavernous, chaotic depths of a second-grade backpack, he pulled out his crinkled test. On the top corner of the paper in blue marker was his predictable “C.”

“We’ll keep working on it,” I promised.

Ma glared. “I prayed that he would get an ‘a’ this time.”

I shook my head. “It doesn’t work like that.”

“I prayed we would get these bears done by next week and that ain’t happenin’ neither.”

When Ma rants, her English deteriorates—a trait my father had found endearing.

“Ma, it doesn’t work like that. You can pray for strength to keep up with the work. Or that you will have patience while we get ready for the next fair.”

“That’s all me then. That’s all possible. I’m still waiting to see impossible.”

After attending church with us on Sunday, Ma was quiet, contemplative. I expected the sermon about the loaves and fishes would rouse confusion, but she waved off my attempt to explain. Rick and I invited her out to lunch at Bob Evans. Denny ordered his favorite Belgium waffle with strawberries, and Mom ordered a strawberry chicken salad.

The ponytailed waitress returned and addressed Ma. “Ma’am? I’m sorry; we are out of the strawberry salad. Is there something else you’d like?”

Ma scowled. “But you have the Belgium waffles with strawberries?”

“Yes, ma’am, that is available.”

“So, Jesus can feed five thousand people with two fish and a handful of bread, but He can’t git me a little strawberry salad when I know ya got chick’n and I know ya got berries?”

The waitress’ mouth fell open.

My cheeks burned. “Ma! It doesn’t work like that!”

A blustery wind hit Monday night, so I drove to her house on Tuesday to check on her. The tall tree in her front yard had collapsed and yanked down the phone line. The trunk had landed awkwardly, creating an unstable arch. And on that damn tree trunk, five feet off the ground, stood Ma.

“What are you doing?” I yelled from the car.

She wobbled and grabbed at flimsy branches. “God won’t let me fall!” she announced before she fell.

In the hospital room after her hip surgery, I sat cross-armed beside her bed. We argued nonstop until Rick and Denny arrived. Denny bounded into the room holding a purple teddy bear he made. Its nose was slightly off-center and the stitching a bit crooked, but Denny made the bear’s smile adorably huge. He handed the bear to Ma. “Here you go, Grandma! I made this for you! It’ll make you feel better!”

Ma clutched the bear tightly, and her eyes filled with tears. She hugged Denny.

“That’s how He works,” I whispered.


This story was based on a writing prompt from a WD Your Story Competition.