Puzzling is an interesting word.
On the one hand, it can mean feeling puzzled or confused.
On the other hand, we can “puzzle out” a problem to find a solution.
That “puzzling out” is the way we piece together our world, and it’s something we all do differently.
I was reminded of that a couple of weeks ago while getting my car serviced here in Springfield. There, in the office beside the drive-in area with the high ceiling, I noticed two people deep in conversation.
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The looks on their faces made it clear they were locked in with one another in a way that was creating a deep and instant bond - the kind of bond that not only makes us feel at home with one another but leaves us feeling more at home in the world.
I left regretting not having talked with them, because the feeling they had is one I treasure.
A few days later, I contacted the service manager, who helped me to reach them. He also told me that these people, both strangers to me, had been strangers to one another until the moment I saw them together.
Here is what they had to say.
“It was so random,” Laz Tolliver said.
But it also was so real to the 20-year-old Springfielder that it required a reality check.
The question “is this really happening to me now” led to the conclusion “this is supposed to be happening now.” What had seemed random instantly seemed to Tolliver to have been pre-ordained.
“This,” he wrote on Snapchat, “is mad dope.”
Before the scene unfolded, he had been going about the daily routine he had established in his two months as a service adviser. Arriving at 7:30 a.m., he grabbed a cup of coffee and did “a little bit of walking to get my blood flowing.”
As he sat down in the office to check in with his co-workers, he saw Dorothy Scott, whom he did not know, “going back and forth,” between the office and the customer waiting room.
“And out of nowhere, she just started preaching the word,” he said. “She started saying verses out of the Bible. She had her eyes closed, and she was praying over me.”
“She just stayed there,” he said, after showing me short snippets of the scene he recorded on his phone. “We were talking for like 10, 15 minutes. While customers were coming in and out, we were just talking.”
It was not the first such experience for Tolliver, whose great-grandmother has prayed over him before.
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“Funny thing,” he said, “(Scott’s) name is Dorothy, and my great-grandmother’s name is Dorothy (Higginbotham). She speaks over me all the time.”
At the South Limestone Street McDonald’s, where Scott eats breakfast most days, she said she learned the special meaning of her name while growing up in the Champaign County Children’s Home in Urbana, where her parents left her.
A man visiting the home one day told her Dorothy is Greek for “gift of God.”
“God had a plan for my life,” she told me and in the same breath quoted the book of Psalms: “When my father and mother forsake me (as they did when they put her in the children’s home), the Lord will take me up.”
Blotting grease from a sausage patty and English muffin, the member of Springfield’s Summit Pentecostal Church was quoting scripture again: “The Bible says not to get carried away with your appetites.”
The complexities of her view of the world are as complex as the list of ethnic identities she claims: “Cherokee, Navajo, Dutch, French and Madagascar - plus, I’m Christian” - with a connection to the Jews.
She said she had a clear motive in talking with Tolliver that day.
“I was trying to build him up and give him encouragement, because we’re supposed to be spiritual mothers and fathers in the church,” she said, “and it’s lacking in our country.”
Seated at the table in the living room of South Center Street home she shares with her son, Tolliver’s mother, Sanillee (pronounced sha-NELL) Sparks was grateful to Scott.
As a young man, “He needs people covering him in prayer,” she said.
And, like her son, she said, “I really don’t think it’s an accident.”
No more accident than her decision to name him Lazarus for the man Jesus brings back to life in the Biblical Story - a connection many of her friends missed at the time.
Sparks didn’t count the number of times she said, “No, he wasn’t named after the department store” or the then wildly popular Lazzie Bear.
Her sense of her coming baby’s spirituality was so strong, “I knew the name was going to be Lazarus even if it was a girl.”
As it turns out, Tolliver said the two Dorothys are the only ones who have prayed over him.
“They just keep coming,” he said, another reason he says “there has to be more to this” than a random experience.
To Tolliver, to his mother and grandmother, his meeting in a Springfield service department was not random; it was one more piece in a larger puzzle.
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