The old timers in my childhood often used a word I never understood. The word was “Providence.” My people could not articulate the meaning of this particular word because it had more than two syllables.

Also, it really is a difficult word to define. Even now, when researching this column I couldn’t find a concrete definition of Providence. One dictionary said one thing, another website called the word “archaic.” Today the term is so outdated that if you’re a younger person reading this I’ve probably already lost you.

So I’ll explain it’s meaning by telling you how the word was invoked by the rural people of my youth.

Okay. Let’s say there was no rain, the world was crackling and dry, and no farmers were making money from crops. It wasn’t “bad luck.” It was all part of heavenly Providence.

And when the rain finally began to fall; also Providence.

When two people fell in love? Providence.

If someone got cancer and died, people prayed for the family to receive solace in Providence.

Job promotion? Providence.

Finding $20 in your coat pocket? Major Providence.

My people, you see, did not believe in good luck, coincidences, or even flashy miracles. It was all Providence.

To them life was like a trapeze act. Mankind was always swinging recklessly from trapezes, back and forth. Sometimes man fell, sometimes he didn’t. Either way, there was a divine reason for everything, good and bad. You weren’t supposed to know the reason. That’s Providence.

Thus we did not believe in accidents, happenstances, mistakes, flub-ups, or oversights. Neither did you merely “bump into a neighbor” at the supermarket. It was all meant to be. Mapped out ahead of time. Heaven was not an indifferent observer, but an active participant in your life. Providence.

The reason I bring this up is because I received a letter from a young woman who I will call Rebecca. She is undergoing surgery while I write this.

I won’t give details because she doesn’t want me to. Rebecca might not survive this surgery. Rebecca is 19 years old.

All week she has had chaplains in and out of her hospital room, and she’s had nurses prepping her body. Her smile has reportedly never left her glowing face. Rebecca is a brave young woman.

“I am not scared,” Rebecca writes. “I refuse to be afraid even though I want to be afraid, I am only asking that Providence be my comfort.”

Nineteen-year-old kids don’t talk this way. Nobody talks that way anymore. This is an exceptional child.

She is a child whose mother is frightened, whose father is beside himself, whose older sister spends each night lying in Rebecca’s hospital bed, telling her how much she loves her.

But Rebecca says she is not scared.

This morning, I stand outside my Birmingham hotel, looking at a big sky, drinking coffee. I see white clouds. Morning traffic whirls on a highway before me. There is a hotel maintenance guy spraying for weeds in the parking lot. A maid leans against a wall with her COVID mask atop her head like a sun bonnet, smoking a cigarette. I see a man walking a dog. But I’m thinking about Rebecca.

I have tried to write this column fifty times already, but can’t get more than a few words out. I’ve tried to answer emails. But I can’t do that either. I’m too preoccupied, wondering about this 19-year-old child. Her heart is still beating, her brain is still flickering, and her body is laid open beneath powerful surgical lights on a steel operating table.

Nothing makes sense in this life. Not a single thing. I’ve been trying to figure this world out since I was a kid but I’ve never been able.

I went through a period of sad living, when I believed this universe was against me. I lost faith in everything: in people, in goodness, in miracles. For a while I quit believing in God. I told him this often.

But the big merciful sky was patient with me. Heaven gave me time to grow up. And over time something happened. Something changed. I can’t pinpoint when this took place. I don’t remember how it happened.

I started noticing little sacred occurrences in daily life. They came in the form of coincidences. Big ones. Little ones. Medium-sized ones. These events happened every day. Every few seconds. Every moment, a microscopic miracle which could not be explained would occur in plain vision. Nano-wonders of the natural world. Small glimmers of something “other.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been spared when I should have died. I can’t tell you how many times something beautiful happened when I didn’t deserve it. I can’t tell you how often destiny stepped in and changed the route of my future.

Slowly, year by year, I came to believe that I was wrong about this natural world, and my humble ancestors were right.

Life really is like swinging between trapezes, making sudden, dangerous movements midair. But there is more to it than that. Because there is also a wide and gracious net beneath us which not even hell itself could destroy. And indeed, no matter how scary this world is, I believe this net is infinitely more real than the trapeze.

Before I finish this column, my phone vibrates. An email pops up on my screen. It is Rebecca’s mom:

“Just wanted you to know my baby made it through surgery and is doing great. We are taking turns holding her right now.”



  1. Charaleen Wright - February 11, 2021 6:45 am


  2. Jan Fincher - February 11, 2021 7:55 am

    I believe in Providence. Big Providences and Little Providences, like taking your next breath. My husband has been out of work since last March. He has used this time serving his family and others. It’s been a beautiful Providence. Thank you for writing.

  3. Barbara McDonald - February 11, 2021 8:05 am


  4. Christina - February 11, 2021 8:23 am

    Somehow in all of life’s mysteries we are here. Held. Yes this wide and gracious net is stronger than the crazy trapeze of this world. So happy and relieved to hear about Rebecca. Sending love to you beautiful girl 💜

    • Christine - February 11, 2021 12:24 pm

      Blessings Rebecca for a full recovery and health.
      Prayers for Bella to recover from the car accident and for the parents and loved ones of these precious young girls.

  5. Ron Mahn - February 11, 2021 9:59 am

    Truth …

  6. Cindy D. - February 11, 2021 10:14 am

    That “Something” can be known through Jesus. With Him as Savior & Boss, we can be assured all works for our good. Without Him our end is Hell and the pain of this life will be cherry pie compared with our eternity. So, ask HIM for forgiveness and help to do as He wishes. God bless everyone!

  7. Phil Jennings - February 11, 2021 10:48 am

    And the people of the Lord said, “AMEN!”

  8. Michele - February 11, 2021 11:02 am

    I think this has to be one of my favorite columns, Sean. I’m so glad we learned of Rebeccas outcome too. Thank you and blessings.

  9. joan moore - February 11, 2021 11:47 am

    Jeremiah heard God right when he told us God said that nothing is too hard for Him! Thank you for sharing Rebecca faith with us!♥️

  10. Alison - February 11, 2021 11:52 am

    This is powerful. Thank you!

  11. Sue - February 11, 2021 11:52 am

    It’s God. He is in charge of everything and I don’t understand why things work out like they do but He does. I once heard a pastor say that it’s like looking at a tapestry. The right side is beautiful but when you look at the wrong side, you see all the threads all twisted and ugly. God has a way of working things out that we don’t understand but He has a plan. Just trust His plan.

  12. Jean - February 11, 2021 11:52 am

    God had bigger plans for you….and Rebecca too!

  13. Nell Thomas - February 11, 2021 12:00 pm

    Thanks for the story. Happy to hear the young lady’s surgery went well. Prayers for her and her family.

  14. Larry Evans - February 11, 2021 12:03 pm

    “In the beginning God…. Providence.

  15. Dawn - February 11, 2021 12:08 pm


  16. Braxton - February 11, 2021 12:39 pm

    Thanks for the last lines before the last word, Providence indeed.

  17. Lucretia - February 11, 2021 12:47 pm

    Thank you, Sean for this beautiful truth, “Providence”, defined to a “T” and lived by Rebecca. It is the greatest “safety net!” Designed by Our Heavenly Father established thru “The Atoning Sacrifice” of His only Begotten Son, Jesus the Christ, our loving brother, friend, and “Savior.”

  18. Leigh Amiot - February 11, 2021 1:02 pm

    “For a while I quit believing in God. I told him this often.”—I know this column was about Rebecca, but this jumped out at me, made me thankful for His loving patience while we wrestle things out in our existence. And back to Rebecca, so good to hear she survived this, inspiring to hear of her fearlessness when literally facing down death. This pandemic has brought the entire world to that point and I pray for all of us to come to the correct conclusion, the source of providence.

  19. Susan Forte - February 11, 2021 1:08 pm

    Thank you for this beautiful column—I will keep this young lady in my prayers. Your words are so calming in these uncertain times. 🙏♥️

  20. Cheryl McWilliams - February 11, 2021 1:24 pm

    Absolutely beautiful. I remember a young lady, about this age, who was suffering in the hospital where my mother was her nurse. That young lady didn’t make it and many hearts were broken. Maybe, Providence saved her from years of suffering? Thank you, Sean.

  21. Barbara - February 11, 2021 1:32 pm

    Thank God for the net … saved Rebecca … saved me many times.

  22. Thomas A Bole - February 11, 2021 1:52 pm


  23. Jan - February 11, 2021 2:08 pm

    Words and their definitions can be tricky but I believe you nailed it with Providence. Thanks be to God for His far reaching arms to enfold us all if we only will allow. Praying for Rebecca and family.

  24. Beryl - February 11, 2021 2:18 pm

    The “NET” is always there. Paradoxically, “there” is right “here”. Let’s stop speaking second-person plural pronouns y’all. GOD IS EVERYWHERE AND IN EVERYONE. There is no separation from me to you, spiritually speaking. The God in me is the same God in you. When we are courageous enough to step from behind our self-proclaimed dogma curtain (think of the wizard in the WOO), we can discover that our God is the same God. We are all human beings trying to figure out how to live together in harmony. How about you? Are you willing to have a courageous conversation with someone who views the world differently? Don’t let fear stymie you. The greatest distance in the Universe lies between the head and the heart. Let go – your “Net” is waiting for you.

  25. Phil (Brown Marlin) - February 11, 2021 2:18 pm

    Yes, Sean, God’s providence is also abundant in my life. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried my darndest to mess things up, and He has reached down, grabbed me by my shirt collar or belt and pulled me out of whatever muck I had gotten myself into. Too many times to be luck or coincidence. As the old saying goes, “I may not be very smart, but, boy, am I dumb!” I’m smart enough, however, to realize where my blessings come from.
    I was praying for Rebecca before reaching the happy end of your column. Praying now that she has a complete recovery. Providence.

  26. Joanna - February 11, 2021 2:26 pm

    Beautiful words that the world so desperately needs. Lift Him up!

  27. Dianne - February 11, 2021 2:28 pm

    God is good all of the time, and He is always faithful.

  28. Amanda - February 11, 2021 2:31 pm

    Thanks for the column and thanks to all who comment. I try to read them all every day. Very helpful!

  29. Kate - February 11, 2021 2:39 pm

    I love your articles but I think today’s is perhaps your most powerful. You explain so beautifully how we often transition into believing in more than we can see or understand and never really understand when or why. Faith is powerful and it is awfully hard to have it something. Providence. I need to remember that word. The older folks in my life used God’s Will to explain what no one could understand. I think I like Providence better. Thank you Sean for these insights and words of wisdom. I needed to read this so much. Am so happy for Rebecca and her family. There are no words to describe the pain and heartache of losing a child. There is a song my father had played at my mother’s funeral when she died much too early of cancer. It is an old hymn called “Further Along”

  30. Lisa Weir - February 11, 2021 2:44 pm


  31. Wendy - February 11, 2021 2:49 pm

    It seems to me that Providence is what people attribute things to when they don’t want to acknowledge or give credit to God. Kinda like they believe in Him but don’t know they do, or don’t want to admit it.

  32. Linda - February 11, 2021 2:57 pm

    Your column is one more blessing that has come into my life today! Thank you for sharing your encouraging words.

  33. Mim - February 11, 2021 2:58 pm

    ☂️If God is for us, who can be against us? (Rom. 8:31)

  34. LEWIS DWIGHT TAYLOR - February 11, 2021 2:59 pm

    Wow – amazing story. Thank you for the insight. Indeed we need Providence and His grace. Rebecca received that. Praise God!

  35. H.M.Reeves - February 11, 2021 3:28 pm

    Providence is God inspired. I don’t have a problem when good Providence occurs, but what about bad results. God only wants good for us.

  36. Debbie g - February 11, 2021 3:42 pm

    So thankful your net has always been there for you and for us and our young friend! Much love

  37. Ann - February 11, 2021 3:50 pm

    Thanks be to God!

  38. Sidney - February 11, 2021 3:51 pm

    God bless you, honey child. Your words today just reverberated through me like I was a ringing bell.

  39. MaryJane Breaux - February 11, 2021 4:10 pm

    Have not given much thought to the word Providence. This gray icy morning has brought DFW to a crawl. In my office sniffling and smiling. I was born in a hospital named Providence. Praise Him for abundant miracles!

  40. Eddy - February 11, 2021 4:24 pm


  41. Bedouin Dennison - February 11, 2021 4:44 pm

    Beautiful! I needed this today. Thank you!

  42. Linda Chapman - February 11, 2021 4:52 pm

    My husband and I love reading your heart and thoughts every morning as part of our quiet time.
    God is using you to bless so many. We are adding our prayers to countless others for Rebecca and her family. God bless you, Sean.

  43. TJ - February 11, 2021 4:56 pm

    Sean, great article and most of all, very happy for Rebecca. May she live a long and happy life.

  44. Linda Moon - February 11, 2021 6:23 pm

    …..So sad that a younger person is lost from the word “Providence”. We who are no longer young know Providence when we see it. Good for you, Sean, in telling and questioning God about your losses. Don’t ever stop asking, then noticing the Other. The best learners are the “born” questioners. Many of my students learned that way. I did, and still do. Part of Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer about this world we live in is, “Trusting that You will make all things right.” Thanks Be To God for Rebecca’s successful surgery.

  45. Timothy Bell - February 11, 2021 6:45 pm

    I’ve always referred to it as fate, but here after I will use ‘Providence’ … there’s something more substantial about the word. This was a particularly good one to read Sean, thank you.

  46. Susan from Wausau - February 11, 2021 6:47 pm

    I’m so thankful you were able to tell us she’s okay. I picked up a book years ago ‘by mistake’, thinking the author was someone else. She is Carol Lynn Pearson, and she called this special providence “Divine Synchronicity”. I’ve always remembered that expression, and seen it in evidence many times. You have given me words that soothed and helped over the years. You have put into words what I felt but couldn’t express. I quote you often, and always give you credit!

  47. Cathie Gary - February 11, 2021 6:50 pm

    This is a beautiful story. I have believed in Providence for a great many years. Christ is the great physician, Comforter. So freeing to know we are not in control but the King of kings and the Lord of lords is. Praise God
    for all He has given us and pray we will always be good stewards. His GRACE is sufficient for me.

  48. Hope A Ewans - February 11, 2021 7:05 pm

    Amen Sean.

  49. Catherine King - February 11, 2021 7:16 pm

    I have those God Winks too! It makes life worth living!

  50. Cartherine Smith - February 11, 2021 7:39 pm

    Beautiful! I call those unexpected moments “God’s winks”! I Try to be aware and open to them because they are easy to miss.ccs

  51. Nora Klunk - February 11, 2021 7:45 pm

    Thank you for sharing. God is truly good all the time !!!!!!

  52. Mickey - February 11, 2021 8:30 pm

    Thanks Goodness! I wanted to just skip to the end, but I didn’t, I kept reading. Bless her and bless you, Sean.
    This will resonate with so many as it has with me having been in that situation long ago with my child.

  53. Geri - February 11, 2021 9:05 pm


  54. Bob Brenner - February 11, 2021 9:40 pm

    I think it’s Providence that so many of your faithful readers found you to make each day a little better than we thought it could be. Thanks ❤️

  55. Jane - February 11, 2021 9:53 pm

    So very true. One is not human who hasn’t experienced moments of doubt and feelings of despair. So many times I bring up the picture of my special students..their smiles, hugs and laughter….wiping away their tears of frustration with a world that looked upon them as second class citizens. Providence. That’s what it is. And I’m thankful for it.

  56. Chasity Davis Ritter. - February 11, 2021 9:59 pm

    Another beautiful tear jerker. Providence. I like this. I believe in this too. My mother’s best friend passed into eternity two days ago after a couple of hard weeks fighting covid. She wasn’t scared. She was just tired and ready to go home. Call it providence or we call it Faith. She had no fear. She left it in Gods hands. Way too young. 70. She fought as hard as she could but it was left up to…. Providence. She did her part. And well now although we are broken hearted and miss her we know without a doubt she is with her savior. We will do our best to remember and celebrate her life together on Saturday. We are all just swinging on that trapeze in life but thank you Lord above for that amazing net you put below us. So glad to know that Rebecca made it through. 19. She still has so much Providence to experience.

  57. challengedirector - February 11, 2021 10:06 pm

    Providence…a lovely word that encompasses so much. Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines it as: “the care and superintendence which God exercises over his creatures.”

    Did you know that George Washington, when referring to God, would only use the word Providence, much like the Jewish nation will not even utter the word G_d, out of respect. If you read Washington’s writings he mostly uses the word Providence to explain the unexplainable, the miraculous, the mercy and blessings of God on him, our fledging nation, and all the things that happened on the way to our 13 colonies becoming the United States of America.

  58. MAM - February 11, 2021 11:09 pm

    How do you always know, Sean, when we need pick-me-up article like this? Thanks! It makes me rethink my anger this morning. Providence was in charge!

  59. Robert Chiles - February 11, 2021 11:19 pm

    It’s all good.

  60. Rita - February 11, 2021 11:35 pm

    Continued prayers for Rebecca and her family. God is good!

  61. Sue Cronkite - February 11, 2021 11:57 pm

    Yes. Providence!

  62. Julie - February 12, 2021 12:08 am

    I believe Providence is God’s Predetermined Plan for us…His Will. Some may call it Fate, a Coincidence, Divine Intervention, or a God Wink. And sometimes it may not even seem to us to be a good thing,
    But your Faith will help you to trust in the Lord. When I pray for something specific, like Rebecca surviving surgery, I also pray that God gives me the Grace to accept “Thy Will be Done.”

  63. Drew - February 12, 2021 12:53 am

    O Jesus, I surrender myself to You, take care of everything.

  64. johnallenberry - February 12, 2021 2:23 am

    My eyes are watering… must be the onions I had for dinner. Or maybe it’s providence.


  65. Cathy S Davis - February 14, 2021 2:03 am

    So thankful Rebecca made it through surgery.

  66. Anne Riemer - February 14, 2021 12:34 pm

    Thank you Sean for reminding all of us about Providence. Your ancestors were right, I believe, and isn’t it great to know there’s someone looking over us who loves us? We’re never truly alone. So happy to hear Rebecca’s good news. What a brave young woman!

  67. Rev. Fred Butterfield - February 16, 2021 5:25 am

    Glory. 🙌

    “Trust the past to God’s mercy, the present to God’s love and the future to God’s providence.” ~Augustine of Hippo

  68. M Claunch - February 19, 2021 7:25 pm

    I attend Providence Baptist Church in Opelika, AL. I understand and love this beautiful word.

  69. Lorna Jane Helick - February 23, 2021 6:41 pm

    I call them God Breezes…God Breezes by, like He did with you and your column one day. It is a welcome, cooling breeze that I look forward to every day, Thank You!


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