The fully loaded car was running and music was playing. Sunbeams reflected off of the windshield while the light danced around patches of grime left behind by grasshoppers and pesky birds.
"Let it go...let it GOOOOOO!!!!!!!!"
I think Gretchen purposefully put a Disney soundtrack in before I picked up the kids. She knows how much I detest that stuff.
Greg waived at his sister in the rearview mirror and tried to tell himself that she wasn't smirking at him.
"What'd you say, Uncle Greg?"
"Oh, nothing. I was just remembering a prank your momma played on me back when we were little kids."
"What did Momma do?"
"I'll have to tell you that story later, 'Tilda. Right now I need to focus on driving."
"...Our mental syn-chro-ni-za-tion can have but one ex-plan-a-tion..."
Good grief. This music will turn me looney before we get there.
Greg tried to focus on his driving while reading over his mental to-do list.
...Drop the nieces and nephews off at Mama's...Pick Thomas up...Run to the bank...Drop Thomas off at the mechanics shop to pick up my jeep...And then Walmart. Gulp. I'm glad Kelli is at Rachel's place getting ready for that Easter party Rachel is putting on for her Kindergarten students this weekend. I can't believe I actually got out of helping with that this year. That's a first.
Greg chuckled to himself. He loved playing with the little kids, but dressing up as a giant pink rabbit and acting like the Easter Bunny was not his idea of a fun way to spend the weekend.
Greg snapped his attention to the backseat of the minivan.
"What is it, Tippy?"
"Jordan is spitting up!!"
"Okay. I'm gonna pull over and take care of her. Just hold on a second."
Greg pulled into the parking lot of a gas station situated just outside of the small town and got out of the minivan. He appreciated the cool breeze blowing through the oak trees in the hill country. Early spring smelled so good to him.
He crawled through the back door of the minivan and gently took the now-screaming five-month-old out of her car seat. He deftly took her dirty clothes off and got her into a clean set of footies. He sat in the floor of the car and softly patted her back until she fell asleep. He managed to get her into the car seat without waking her up again.
"Now y'all try and hold it down so she can sleep. I'm gonna turn the music down a bit, too."
Greg got back into the drivers seat and turned the engine back on, not forgetting to turn the Frozen soundtrack down.
The kids miraculously managed to keep quiet for the remaining twenty minutes of the drive to their Nana's.
The car stopped, the engine turned off, the back doors slid open and once again confusion reigned. Shouting children were catapulted out of the minivan before Greg could get his door open.
His words sounded like he was annoyed, but the grin on his face told a different story. Just forty-five minutes before that the kids had treated him to a similar welcome at his sister's house. Now it was his mom and younger sister's turn.
Between Greg, Gracie (Greg's younger sister), and Mrs. Smythe the four kids and one infant were safely unloaded and hustled into the house to make cookies.
Mrs. Smythe turned to Greg while he walked back out to the car.
"Thanks, Greg! I know you have a lot on your plate this afternoon."
"No worries, Mama. You know how much I love the kids. I just wish I could spend more time with them this afternoon. But I've put this errand off for too long..."
Greg trailed off with a sheepish grin and cleared his throat.
"But why Walmart?!
"Because they have the best price on the ring she likes. I'm just thankful that she'll be at Rachel's all day."
"Me too. Anyways. Have fun! We'll save some cookies and milk for you. Love you."
"Thanks, Mama. Love you too."
And Greg was off to pick Thomas up.
After making a quick stop at the bank to make a deposit and then another to drop Timothy off at the mechanics shop he headed to the opposite side of town.
It was a good thirty-minute drive to get to the Walmart in Georgetown. Greg barely even noticed the bluebonnets that were gracefully sprinkled through the strips of grass that ran along the side of the highway.
He parked on the "Market" side and walked in the "Exit" door before wending his way to the "Home and Living" side of the store. He looked around him carefully before he stepped up to the jewelry selection in the center of the store.
Oh no...the salesperson is a young lady. This is gonna be so awkward.
He cleared his throat.
"Hello, how can I help you?"
"Hey. I, uh, I am interested in this ring. Right here."
Oh my word, I'm gonna die. That's Kelli's voice!"
"I'm glad you had a half day off today so that we could get ready for the Easter egg hunt. I can't believe we were short three baskets! I'm so glad you counted them again. That would have been super ba-.....oh my word. Is that Greg? Is he finally going to...?"
Greg thanked God that she was a little bit hard of hearing. His mind raced for a way to get out of the sticky situation. It didn't help any that he could feel Kelli's eyes boring into the back of his neck from a few isles away. Then a lightbulb went off.
"It was soooo good to catch up with you, Jodi!"
I sure hope I read her name tag right...
"You'll have to give Aunt Sue a hug for me."
The saleswoman didn't even blink an eyelash.
"It was definitely nice catching up with you, Coz. You'll have to come over and meet my fiancé this weekend."
Greg smiled a genuinely happy smile.
"Here, let me write down my phone number and address for you. I seriously am so glad that we're back in touch!"
He pulled a notebook and pen out of his shoulder pack and scribbled on one of the pages before tearing it out and handing it to the girl behind the counter.
"There ya go! Talk soon."
He threw her a grin before turning and walking in the opposite direction from Kelli and Rachel.
Jodi looked down at the paper in her hand and giggled at what she saw written on it.
...My girl is walking up behind me. I'll be back in 1 hour. Thanks a million for playing along...I'll tip you later...-Greg
She laughed. Then she pulled out her phone and started muttering while typing, as if she were entering a new contact.
Meanwhile, Kelli was feeling a bit disappointed. She turned to Rachel.
"Ugh, I thought he was finally getting ready to propose."
Rachel laughed at Kelli's comical grimace.
"Patience, Kelli. Did he ever tell you that he had an aunt that he was no longer in touch with?"
"Yes. He has an aunt and two cousins that joined the mission field in Europe years ago."
The two girls checked out their purchases and left.
Greg tracked Kelli on his phone while eating his Subway sandwich in the back of the store. He sighed with relief when he saw that she was back at Rachel's house.
I should have tracked her earlier...
When it had been exactly an hour he went back to the ring display. Jodi grinned when he walked up.
"Hey, sorry about that."
"Ha, no worries. I should actually thank you for that 'cause life's been pretty dark at home lately and you just gave me a reason to laugh and smile again. So thank you."
"I'm sorry to hear things aren't going well. I'll be praying for you."
"You would pray for me?"
She confused Greg by breaking down in tears.
"I'm sorry, I never cry in front of people. It's just that lately nobody has said anything kind to me...I'm a Christian. But life took a really hard turn when Mum was diagnosed with Alzheimer's last year...and Dad left. Mum doesn't know me and seems to hate me. Some of my neighbors take turns watching her for me on the weekdays, but I can't get anyone to watch her for a few hours on Sunday. So it's been ages since I've stepped inside a church. My faith has been crumbling lately."
Greg patted her gently on the shoulder.
"I'm so sorry. My mom went through almost the same thing with her mom. I know it must be tough. I don't know if you would be willing...but I'm sure that we could help you out a bit on Sundays so that you can go back to church."
Her eyes lit up with gold sparks in the deep green.
"Oh, I couldn't ask you to do that for me!"
"No need. I offered. Can you give me your number? I'll bring it home to Mama and have her call you."
"Thanks so much. You've no idea how wonderful this is. I'm feeling overwhelmed and so blessed right now."
Greg grinned and pocketed the note.
"Now...about that ring."
After Greg wrote out the check for the ring and put the small leather case in his backpack he turned back to Jodi.
"I'm so glad we talked. I'll give Mama your number as soon as I get home and have her call when you get home from work."
"Thank you. Oh hey, wait a second. I want to write a note for you to give your girl after you give her that gorgeous ring."
Greg looked confused.
After writing the note and folding it up, Jodi playfully shook a finger at Greg.
"I won't. It'll be dreadfully tempting, but I won't. Good practice for self-control."
Greg pondered all the happenings of the day while he headed the minivan back to his house.
What could have been a huge disaster turned into a giant blessing. Thank you, God, for working in my life. You are sovereign. You are good.
He noticed the beautiful spring flowers thickening along the sides of the highway. Bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrushes. A perfect contrast of colors with the emerald blades of grass.
The front door opened and yelling children attacked a thrilled uncle. He could barely fit through the door with all of the kids hanging on to his arms and legs. It turned him into a mass of giggling and wiggling limbs.
He told his mother about the crazy afternoon over a plate of oatmeal cookies and a frothy glass of milk. Tears came to her eyes when he finished the story.
"God works in mysterious ways. I'd like to help her out as much as I can; the poor dear."
They talked it over for a few more minutes before there was a quiet pause. And then:
"Mama: I know how I'm going to propose."
"I'm all ears."
Early Friday morning Rachel sat up in her bed and looked out the window.
What on earth is Greg doing in my oak tree?
Her phone buzzed on the night stand. It was a text from Greg.
"Don't tell Kelli. I put a special "treat" for her in an egg up in the oak tree."
Rachel's mouth quirked up at the corners while she texted back.
"See you at 2:00"
Greg got into his jeep and headed back to his house. The sun was shining brightly, and the Bluebonnets were thicker than ever before.
What a perfect day! Thank you, Lord.
2:00 couldn't have taken any longer to roll around. At least, that's what Greg thought as he walked into Rachel's yard and watched all of the tiny kids running around with pink, purple, green, and blue baskets full of confetti and plastic eggs.
"Hey there! I thought you said you weren't coming today?"
Greg threw back his head and laughed.
"I said I wasn't gonna dress up this year. Who said anything about me not being here? I wouldn't have missed it for the world."
"Good. 'Cause I know how much you love the kids."
"Yeahhhhh, the kids."
Kelli snapped to attention.
"What'd you say?"
"I didn't say anything. Come on, let's go hunt with them."
Kelli liked that. She loved fun just as much as any of the tiny squealing kids on the lawn outside.
"Rachel hid some in hard places for me to find. I wanna see if I can spot any of them. Coming?"
They made their way carefully across the color-speckled lawn.
"Look! Up in the tree!"
Kelli pointed up at Greg's egg.
"Can I step on your knee? I just need a small boost..."
Greg knelt down and let Kelli clamber on top of his knee and then shoulder.
"Got it! I'm coming back down."
Greg winked at Rachel and Rachel smirked. Kelli swung herself down without using Greg as a stepping stone.
"It feels really light. I wonder what's inside...oh my! Greg!"
Greg took Kelli's hands and looked down into her deep blue eyes.
"Kelli...will you marry me?"
Greg took the ring out of the egg and slipped it onto Kelli's finger. The happy laughter floating over from the kids made the perfect background for the joyful conversation that followed.
"But, Greg...I thought you were just visiting with that saleswoman at Walmart!"
Greg laughed again.
"Nope. I was ring shopping. You scared me so bad when I heard you walking up behind me. Thankfully the girl caught on and helped me out. Oh. I almost forgot. She told me to give you this note from her after I gave you the ring."
A tan hand dove into a denim pocket and pulled out a wrinkled piece of folded up paper. Kelli took it and started reading out loud.
"Dear Lucky Girl,
You've got an amazing guy. Thank God for him. Today God used him to restore and renew my faith. I've fought against depression and once or twice fought the urge to end my own life. But God showed me that He still cares about me, thanks to your guy.
Hold on to him.
May God bless you both.
"Wow. I had no idea."
Kelli smiled up at Greg through happy tears.
"That's just it, you're so kind and caring. You have no idea how it touches people. I'm so glad God let you see how He used you."
Greg unashamedly wiped away the tears that were coursing down his face. Even Rachel sounded a little tearful when she spoke.
"God works out these situations in such an amazing way. We are so blessed."
Greg and Kelli echoed in agreement.