Sometimes you have to see it starkly in another before you can fully realize it in yourself.
I asked her, “can I tell them your story, sweet Lil’, because it’s really my story?”
“Sure,” she said, without the shame that years of fumbling in this same place can often produce in the flesh.
So there’s this bagger at our grocery store who has my kids all lit up. He switches lines and duties and scurries to drop off carts, all so that he can chat with my little Africans, while treating our groceries like they’re a game of Tetris. He likes soccer and came from a big family and smiles with his eyes when they call this twenty-something “sir.” He laughs, knowingly, when he hears a “mommmmy …she touched me!” from one of my littles. Seems we remind him of home.
Well, some months ago we decided that it probably wasn’t just happenstance that Mr. Michael had become a Hagerty staple and we started praying tiny prayers for this soccer fan. “Let him know You more,” prayed Caleb from the back seat, before asking: “Do you think Mr. Michael knows Jesus?”
We don’t know, so we pray.
“Maybe you’ll give him your book, Mommy. Do you think he’s been through hard times?” says Lily, looking for an opportunity to see Him move through her prayers. (She’s the one who picked one random Tuesday in the middle of months of waiting — that she expected might be years — to ask for her Mommy and Daddy to come, only to have us arrive on that very Tuesday.)
I didn’t need to wait for my book to come out, God gave Lily another plan.
She finished a book she was reading and caught me on the stairs: “I think I want to give this book to Mr. Michael.” Not exactly the strategy I might suggest, but my little girl isn’t superficial with her gifts or her reaching-out-of-her-world-into-another’s. She may not have been born careful, but life taught her to be.
She closed herself downstairs in the basement and wrote him a letter on the day we were headed to the grocery. It went something like this: Mr. Michael, Do you know what it’s like to go through hard things? I do. I’m not going to talk about that right now, but I want you to know I have seen Jesus make my darkness light. One page, front and back, of raw beauty that I haven’t heard her say with her mouth, but was obviously tucked away, deep, in there.
She folded the letter in the front of the book and grabbed wrapping to make this a true gift, but stopped to ask: “is he going to think this is weird?” Weirder to me was that her ten year-old self might pause, here. She planned the entire day to give it to him and spilled her heart all over this page and now had second-thoughts. I assured her, like any mom would, that what God thought was more important than what Mr. Michael might think and she was following through on that nudge she had from Him.
When we got in the car, I noticed the letter she had resting on her lap looked different than the one I’d read. Instead of a page, front and back, it was three lines — something about her siblings enjoying the grocery store with a flippant comment about this book: I thought I would give you this book because I liked it.
“I tore up the other one, Mommy,” she said, decidedly and matter-of-fact. The paper that had marks of her blood and her story was a bit of a thrill when it was a nudge from God but awkward and uncomfortable when she considered the person who would read it.This replacement letter may have been sterile, but it was surely “safe.”
We talked and I pushed, hesitantly (’cause don’t we mama’s always wonder if this push was the right time to push?). She knew before I spoke, though, that this second, safer letter wasn’t actually better — her internal compass was working this time. Just a few minutes later she was hurriedly penning another letter, this one even better than the first.
She folded and wrapped quickly, just before that last left turn into the grocery store parking lot, almost as if she now knew enough to not give herself time to overthink this one.
Mr. Michael wasn’t there and we left it for him.
Days later, when we returned to the grocery he confessed he hadn’t read the book but thanked her for her letter. Her awkwardness had transferred to him, because what do you say to a former-orphan more than half your age who tells you about a God big enough to save her and asks you to consider Him?
The Lord met me in the car on the day we delivered her letter and book as I watched Lily wear the response I’ve wrestled with for years. She tore up that one letter just like I’d wanted to tear up that manuscript and that blog post and that email to a friend — to take back the words I’d spoken boldly and confidently, once, but hovered behind just hours later. Sometimes I’m ten on the inside and wondering what Mr. Michael might think when I let the blood of my story spill out in the thrill of a nudge from God.
Though the story may have been wrapped up neatly had Mr. Michael asked to sit down with us and hear of this Jesus about whom Lily told him. He’d join us at church and we’d talk over our dinner table and send him home with a new bible and pray for his new heart. Though this would have been a gloriously fulfilling end to Lily taking a step towards action from her quiet, private prayers, God had another ending.
Because when the actions of our life are solely validated in the response of another, we miss the true gold.
I know this: Lily moved the heart of God with her letter — her first, and then, again, her third.
She stepped over caution and pressed towards the One who gave her that uncomfortable nudge and the beauty was underground. Her letter didn’t go viral and a revival didn’t unfold at the grocery that day but …
BUT. She moved the heart of God.
He led and she threw fear out the window. I picture Him to be giddy at this former orphan, reaching up nearly two decades (and several feet in size) to speak to a grown man about Him.
He nudged. She responded. And though the surface-of-earth looked untouched — Mr. Michael seemingly unmoved (at the moment) — heaven applauds.
And her mama got the message.
Let me not be known and applauded and followed by man — only to feel disconnected from the God of heaven who has His eye on my underground life.
My seventy or eighty years on this earth are for one purpose: to move the heart of God.
I will never be fully alive on the inside until I hear and respond to His Word and His whisper, that oftentimes feels awkward and uncomfortable and unconventional, and receive the delight (and glory!) it brings Him when I do so.
Sometimes the way our external life is received needs to be suppressed so our internal life can thrive.
There’s been a new spark in Lily’s eye since that letter. She heard God. She followed.
And she felt His delight.
All while the bagger has yet to respond.
[Though, because of who He is, the story is likely … to be continued.]
[In just a few months, friends of ours are putting on the second annual 447 Summit and Nate and I will be speaking at one of the sessions. If you have adopted or are in the process this may be the refreshing getaway you need. Registration is open for a few more weeks — they’re keeping it intimate and capping registration at 100 people.]
For Your Continued Pursuit: Matthew 6:1-6 | Matthew 8:5-13 | 1 John 3:1 | John 17:23