I saw a story recently on Facebook about a young woman from Arkansas, age 23, whose dad died four years ago. Every day since his passing, Chastity Patterson has texted his number to share about her day. She said it made her feel closer to him and she hoped somehow he was receiving her messages. She related the ups and downs of her life, including overcoming cancer, finishing college, and her heartbreak when a significant relationship ended.
She never expected a reply, of course. She knew the texts were for her, yet she sent them anyway, day after day, year after year. Then on October 25, the day before the four-year anniversary of her father’s death, she got a huge surprise: a response to her text.
A man who identified himself as Brad answered, “Hi sweetheart, I am not your father, but I have been getting all your messages for the past 4 years.” Brad said that his own daughter had died in a car accident in 2014, and Chastity’s daily messages had “kept me alive.”
I’d love to know the rest of it—whether this daughter who lost her dad and this dad who lost his daughter have connected further now that they’ve acknowledged their incredible correspondence.
I understand Chastity’s practice of texting her deceased father. I’ve never typed a message and hit Send to a person who isn’t living, but I regularly “text” numerous people who are important to me, but with whom I’m not in contact for various reasons. Yes, some are deceased, like my mother, my dad, my Mama Bess, my nephew Jim, and, more recently, my dear friend Mark.
Others are still living, but we don’t communicate regularly. Some are former friends who have moved on in their lives, a few because our relationship became difficult or painful, and others because we just drifted apart as our life situations changed. Healthy boundaries prescribe very limited contact with certain people, though they are still significant to me and I text them often in my mind. Others are involved in my life and dear, but texting everyday how much they mean to me and how grateful I am for their presence seems excessive, even creepy.
When I teach about trusting God, I often joke that it would be easier if God would just text me. I chat with God, Jesus, or both frequently throughout the day, sharing observations, asking questions, or begging for clarity or presence. Often, believe it or not, I’m certain I get a response. No, my phone doesn’t chime and I don’t see words on the screen, but I receive an answer nonetheless.
Regularly it’s something in nature—the exquisite moon in the night sky or a special feeling of presence in the woods as I hike. Sometimes it’s more tangible, like an email from a former Bethesda Workshops participant who writes to say how much a workshop meant to his or her journey. Maybe it’s a phone call from a desperate person looking for help, and I get to remember what that felt like and offer experience, strength, and hope. It might be a staff member who’s sharing something funny or meaningful. Occasionally, it’s a donation in the mail or online, and I know the sacrifice or gratitude that prompted it.
Maybe it’s a special friend or family member who communicates some minutiae about his or her day that delights me, or an unplanned time with one of my grandchildren. It’s often a song or something I read that encourages my heart. It might be a beautiful sunset as I’m saying goodnight to the garden at Bethesda before heading home, or my husband who hears my car pulling into the garage and comes out to greet me.
Texting a deceased person? Makes perfect sense to me! And responding to a stranger who had texted his number daily for four years? Sounds right. I just wonder why it took Brad so long to text back. I suspect he was reluctant to jinx the supply of sacred texts by confirming their receipt.
The exchange of these two very connected strangers prompts me to be more attuned to the messages I send and to those I receive. God’s voice just might be present in both if I’m paying attention. Is there someone you want to text today?
Marnie C. Ferree