Last week, I turned on my computer, opened a blank page, and stared at it. I had re-read the third chapter of Interrupted (“Spring 2007”), looking for a fresh topic of discussion, but I had nothing – at least nothing I haven’t already shared. Actually, I had thoughts, but these thoughts were dark and depressing and hopeless. The chaos in our world, the arrogance of our society, the history being written had escorted me to a place of despondency. Sharing those dark thoughts was too risky, too discouraging.
So I walked away from my computer, heart heavy, not sure what to do with the words in my head. God, I know there is more. I know you want us to bring light. But the darkness is so dense, so frightening. I can’t see through it.
I believe that’s when He decided to show off.
The conductor steps onto his podium, scanning the eyes of his musicians. He raises his baton and waits…
You already know that God has given Michael and me a firm, loving nudge along the path of justice and mercy, brokenness and pouring out. You know that my nutcase partner-in-crime has been turned inside out and upside down, and that she is charging ahead with the determination of a pack mule. Or something like that.
Last Sunday night, Michael and I talked with our cell group about what God has been doing.
(Small interjection: our church used to call our small groups “teams.” We liked teams. Not only does it conjure images of sports for our manly men, it also has an all-in-this-together feel. But then somebody decided to change the name to “cells.” Like basic, life-giving organisms, designed to multiply. Okay. I get it. But I only think jail cell, so I refuse to call our group by its new name. I’m sticking with “team.”)
So our team met last week, and we had a fantastic discussion about living missionally and what that means for us as a group. Every person is 100% on board and totally pumped about moving in this direction. I love these guys. We brainstormed ideas about how we could serve together, and we committed to pray for God to give us vision and unity. One of our ladies told us she had recently been thinking and praying about how to serve all the single dads in our church, because apparently there are many.
Later that night, Caroline came over and threw up all over me as we sat in the rockers on my front porch. Not literal vomit. Word vomit. That’s what we call it when one of us needs to vent and verbally process. We throw up on each other. Endearing, no? We do it a lot. She calls me her Bucket.
God had continued to pester her and get all up in her business about serving the least, and oh-by-the-way, resign as a Bible study leader and learn Spanish. Some of her friends think she’s lost it – which is hurtful and frustrating, but not unexpected. Thankfully we also have friends who have chosen to walk with us, so we keep walking. I mentioned to her the idea about serving single dads. Cool.
Later that week, Caroline emailed the other Bible study leaders and explained to them why she was not returning. Except she accidentally sent the email to the PTA kindergarten room moms instead of the Bible study ladies, an embarrassing mistake – but Caroline has done much worse, so she laughed it off without another thought.
One of the PTA moms, whom she has never met, clicked on the signature line link to Caroline’s blog, read her story, and drank the Kool-Aid. God had been working on her, she said in her reply email, and Caroline’s words were exactly what she needed to hear.
On Friday, Caroline went to 7-11 and struck up a conversation with the guy delivering the Pepsi – which, if you know Caroline, is not at all surprising. She can (and will) talk to bankers, grocery store checkers, janitors, restaurant managers, and tree stumps. Talking to the Pepsi guy was not a stretch. She has no fear and no boundaries. I really need to be more like her.
She found out that Pepsi Guy (whose name is Tony), is a single dad with three preteen/teenaged kids. Their mom is out of the picture, and the four of them moved to our area from Memphis last year. They needed to start over, to begin fresh. He and Caroline chatted about the frustrations of raising kids, each invoking (and quoting) the wisdom of Bill Cosby.
Caroline asked him, “How can we bless you?”
He looked at her skeptically and replied, “Are you serious?”
Of course she was serious. “I mean, what do your kids need? School supplies? Clothes?”
Tony stared at her. He hesitated, then blurted, “Actually, we really need beds.” His three kids – two boys and a girl – share one room, but they have no beds. They take turns sleeping in Tony’s bed. The other two sleep on the floor or the couch.
Caroline got his number and promised to call him within a few days.
She called me. She sent out emails. She went to Goodwill and searched for bunk beds. She called my friend with a heart for single dads, and as she stood outside the elementary school, finishing her conversation, she heard someone say, “It’s you!”
Enter new friend from the mistaken email, whom she had never met. Caroline got off the phone and explained to her what had happened that morning and what she was trying to pull together.
Email Friend’s eyes immediately filled with tears. “We’re getting new beds for our kids this weekend,” she whispered.
Bam. Three mattresses. Three box springs. Done.
Caroline called Tony, who – like all of us – could not believe what was happening. “You don’t understand,” he kept saying, “I prayed about this two days ago. Pepsi just cut my hours, and I’m doing the best that I can for my kids…”
By 11:00 that night, we not only had mattresses, but also a bunk bed frame, mattress covers, sheets, pillows, pillowcases, comforters, throw pillows, a headboard, and two significant gift cards. (True confession: we had A BLAST finding bedding and decor in all shades of pink and purple for Tony’s youngest princess.) Caroline and Email Friend delivered it all to Tony and his babies the next morning.
Ask, and you will receive. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:7)
Tony asked – a desperate cry from the heart of a daddy – and he received. But, holy canole, we had also been praying. God, we’re ready. Show us who, where, how. We want to be broken and poured out for your glory. We want to serve. Please let us serve.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5)
Love wins. Light wins. Darkness and chaos and arrogance have no chance.
Tony’s babies slept in their own beds last weekend for the first time in months. As I lay me down to sleep last night, I prayed they would know God sees them, that He loves them, that they are not forgotten, that they matter. That’s what Tony wants so desperately for his kids, what he works so hard to teach them. God has allowed us to come alongside Tony and join him in this steep journey.
And we’re not done yet. We have no plans to leave Tony and his babies on this path alone. We will continue this hike alongside him for as long as he needs us. For as long as they need us.
The conductor stands ready, musicians in place, eyes fixed upon His face, waiting for His cue. He pauses. They are ready. With a flick of His wrist, music fills the silence, each instrument joining together to create a breathtaking symphony.