How the white ceiling fan formed my spiritual life


I was young. About ten years old, I think, when my grandmother was talking about her ceiling fan.

“I just didn’t know what to do,” She said in her earnest Southern drawl. “I was standing in the store, and I couldn’t figure out whether to get the white one or the brown one. I prayed about it, and the Lord told me to buy the white one. And you know, I’ve never regretted it.”

I just sat there, with my mouth wide open, thinking, “You’ve got a direct line of advice on ceiling fans? From God??”

This moment, this strange sentence, which was actually quite common in Granny Frances’ house, has had a profound effect on me. I’ve looked at it in different ways throughout my life. Sometimes, I reflect on “The Lord told me to buy the white one” with awe. I mean, if God was directing anyone in their interior decorating choices, it was probably Frances. She was that spiritual.

Other times it’s with skepticism, I mean, wasn’t it quaint how God was always on her side? Can you imagine living with Frances? She comes home with the fan, you say you wanted the brown one, and she says, “But God told me to buy this one.”

Then, I have looked at this moment with anger. At God. I’m running after God, like an irritated personal assistant, barking at him, “Why are you spending all this time with a recent widow in South Carolina, picking out a ceiling fan? Don’t you know that there’s great turmoil in the Middle East? Why aren’t you doing something about that? You’re the Creator of the universe. Don’t you think you should be thinking about the famine in Ethiopia? This is terrible time management.”

I have used this moment, in my mind, to question God’s immanence and omnipotence. I have used it to question my Grandmother’s motives, and the nature of “spiritual” people in general.

Now, I look at it with sweetness.

I mean, my grandmother had just lost her husband. She was buried in all of those forms and papers that she had to fill out. And then there was the ceiling fan…it wasn’t a small purchase. Now that I can more easily put myself in that young, young widow’s shoes, I realize that it was huge.

She had just built her dream home in the middle of the country. I doubt my grandfather ever made over thirty thousand dollars in a year, and they had almost completed this two-story home, with their own hands, when my grandfather contracted liver cancer. He died, and left her in that big house, picking out her own fan.

And somehow, in that quick moment of need, God stopped by the hardware store, and told Granny Frances that the white one would be best.

In this season of Epiphany, this season where we are journeying to find God in small things, I’m bubbling up with gratitude that God did just that.

photo’s by stchuck


7 thoughts on “How the white ceiling fan formed my spiritual life

  1. Isn’t it something that our loving heavenly Father cares so much for his children that he meets them at the most unexpected times and places? It would be easy to trivialize your grandmother’s experience, unless it had come out of a life of faith.


  2. I have felt mt theology really shifting of late. It’s hard for me to swallow the idea of an anthropomorphic God. It just rings hollow to me. Not sure what’s going on and why that is, but there it is.

    I think I’m a closet Quaker, because I really resonate with the idea of God as the Light within. Applying that to this case, your grandmother was seeking guidance from the Light within her, which doesn’t diminish or steal attention away from the Light of God that works in people in the Middle East.

    It’s working from me, anyway!

  3. Your grandfather never made more than $10,000 a year but they managed their limited funds wisely and amazingly well. Growing up, Granny’s three children were never without lunch money which didn’t seem remarkable to me until I had to come up with lunch money for three children each morning at 7am.

    Thanks for the lovely memories of Granny.

  4. I’m preaching this Sunday on Psalm 27 and confidence (or not) in God. I plan to use this story unless you’d rather me not.

    In the preached version I’ll refer to you as “An American friend of mine.” In the online version, I’ll link to the post.


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