"When I grow up, I'm going to change the world."

photo Her cardboard sign read something like: How would you feel if you were hungry and had a baby boy?

She may have been all of 18 years old.

My red-headed niece, all of eight years old, leaned forward in the back seat, exclaiming: "Oh, no! We have to help her!"

It all happened so quickly. Approaching the corner the woman stood on while driving my red Ford Escape, I glanced down at the cooler next to me. Two ripe bananas stared back. In a flash, I handed them to my niece, opened her back window, and she held them out to the woman as we paused before turning. 

The woman looked so grateful, thanking us. "God bless you!" I cried, as we turned on to a busy road, reeling from the quick interaction.

"How do you feel?" I nodded to the back seat.

"I feel GREAT!" she said. "But why don't people help her? Why are people so selfish? What will happen to her baby boy?"

I wasn't sure what to say to my niece, so I asked her to pray. I asked her to pray that God would take care of the mom and her little boy, that he would give them everything they need.

So, right then and there, she had it out with God, her voice strong, her heart sure, her childlike faith crying out:

Dear God! Help them not to die. I know this is something I don't usually ask, but there's a baby boy. Could you call some Christians and ask them to help?

I don't remember how the prayer ended, but the burden on my niece's heart hadn't lifted. A few blocks away, over a sandwich, she began to tell me that she wanted to build the woman a house. We talked about ways to help the woman, many ways: like giving her a job so she could earn a living, providing help for her to get into her own home, things like that. We talked about why people are reluctant to give away money just because someone is asking for it, and how we can be the hands and feet of Jesus in creative, sustainable and helpful ways.

And then my niece leaned in and said: "Aunt Suzie, when I grow up, I'm going to change the world."

"Yes, you are!" I said. "But it will start with the small things. It will start with how you treat people around you, how you love them. There are opportunities to bless everywhere. We just have to see them."

The words were as much for my ears as for hers. I found echoes of them in my Bible-reading this morning: "Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom" (James 3:13 NIV).

I want to do some great things for you, Lord! my heart cries. And he softly whispers back, I don't need you to do those great things. I need you to do a multitude of seemingly-small things with great love, with gratitude, in sincerity and peace, without partiality (James 3:17-18). These are my Kingdom ways. Don't miss them. 

So I take up my cross—some staggering circumstances, some dashed dreams, some lonely moments. Each of us must, for the companionship of Christ is usually found in the wilderness. Yet I also know that those Kingdom-acts Jesus calls me to are never heavy or ill-fitting. The bread and jelly I bought yesterday at the grocery store for someone in need. The furniture we have the pleasure of giving away today, bringing joy to someone else's home while simplifying our own. A response of kindness when I have been wronged. In these small acts, there is life flowing from the Life-giver, our Savior and friend. And in some mysterious way, this really does change the world, just as my niece hoped it would.


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The stewarding of an unexpected story

Eight am dawned, clear, bright and cool. At approximately 8:03 my garage door went up, and my first garage sale was underway. Amish folk were the first to enter; there were so many of them, and they were so good at what I like to call "honest haggling." I'm telling you, these ladies should give lessons. Items were flying off the tables, eventually a coffeepot in my garage began to brew Jamaican Mountain coffee, strong and stiff.

My friend Michelle stopped by and we sat and talked to each other and the visitors in my garage. Such a strange thing to do: let perfect strangers into your world so they can inspect the dust bunnies in your corners, the things you will (and won't sell) in your garage, to watch them be caught up in and excited to buy your cast-offs. (In case you're wondering, some people will actually pay cash dollars for a Star Trek series on VHS.) 

IMG_0388So now I've set the stage: all was pleasant in my garage-sale world. It was the kind of morning where you needed a sweatshirt, and so I sat back, comfortable, caffeinated, happy to be engaged in such a neighborly venture. The day wore on.

Somewhere around 2 pm in the afternoon, I noticed a man in his 60s approaching the garage on bike. I couldn't help but notice him, because he drove his bike all the way into my garage, stopping suddenly in front of the table I sat behind. "Well, hello," I must have said. And just like that, he was off his bike.

"I was on my way to the YMCA for a swim, but I thought I'd stop by and see what you've got here," he commented. I welcomed him with what some call my pastoral demeanor, and before I knew it, he was off his bike, asking if he could sit in the chair next to mine. I couldn't refuse. A few minutes later I offered him a chocolate chip cookie, and this is where the story begins.

After exchanging pleasantries, and learning that Mike was a retired father and grandfather, I relaxed a bit. He asked some questions and discovered I had graduated from seminary a few weeks prior. And next thing you knew he was saying he wanted to tell me his story. Would I be willing to hear it?

"Well, sure," I replied. "I'd love to."

What happened next came in fits and starts; my friend Michelle stopped by again with her dog and said hello; people bought something from the garage sale while Mike continued to finger his cookie, crumbs dropping to the floor. But amidst it all, with emotion splayed across his face, Mike began to share his spiritual journey. "Are you sure you want to hear it to the end?" I assured him I did.

In the interest of stewarding Mike's story, I don't want to give you the particulars, but I will say this: there were babies born, there were church changes for a million different reasons, and underneath every twist in the plot I felt that Mike was searching for authentic faith, that in fact, he was searching for Jesus. "Are you sure you want me to continue?" he would say after being interrupted.

But at some point, I knew he had to finish the story. I needed the resolution, and for some reason only God knows completely, he needed someone to hear his spiritual story.

My rear-end started aching from sitting in a collapsible chair, but still I leaned in. As the story was coming to a conclusion, I witnessed tears in Mike's eyes, I heard the tension in his voice, and finally, resolution. Where Mike ended up, after exploring a variety of Christian Traditions, was in the church where he found the deepest humility you could hope for. Where someone's actions so mimicked the actions of Jesus himself that Mike joined this new family though it cost him personally. He experienced Jesus there, after so many questions and quandaries, and that experience changed things. It changed him.

Mike's tears were drying up and I noticed the cookie I had given him, now crumbled on the ground unknowingly as he spun his story.

"Thank you for listening to my story," he said.

"It was my pleasure."

And in a flash, he was back on his bike, pedaling away from our garage, burden lifted, heading home.


And all I can say is that something powerful happened in my garage between 2-3 pm on garage sale day.

Mike showed me something about the power of listening as a spiritual discipline, of storytelling as a means to spiritual growth and freedom, and about stewarding the stories God is spinning in his image-bearers.

What if the kindest thing you can do for someone is to keep your mouth shut? (I just happen to believe the Holy Spirit can show us when to open it.) What if you cleared your calendar and invited someone to share his or her story for an hour or two? What if the act of hearing another's story, of bearing witness to it,  is one of the most profound ways to love your neighbor as yourself?

And what if in the sharing and the listening the Holy Spirit moves in ways so powerful it takes your breath away? What if?

What if there is an unexpected story waiting for you today, whether 5 minutes or 50 minutes long, and all you have to do is open yourself up to it. Open, inviting eyes, an open smile, open minutes to honor another. And in so doing, someone somewhere finds some healing in the name of Jesus.

What if today God is calling you to steward an unexpected story?

Share your experience of healing through sharing your story or unexpectedly listening to the story of someone else.

The day God had a very good weekend

There are some who believe God winds up the world like a toy and then lets it run wild. I am not one of these people. I could easily be accused of seeing the Sovereign behind every wildflower and the Divine radiating, palpable, from the least, the least likely, and the left-behind. These are the places I look for Jesus—and inevitably, he shows up.

Last summer, my husband and I sat around a Sunday School class, all circle-like, a crew made up of our newly-believing Bible class combined with a class designed for those whom the world so often calls "special." They are special indeed.  Some of these times were so sweet that you wanted to eat them up with a spoon. This particular Sunday, it felt like we were given extra chocolate sprinkles, that there was even a cherry on top. 

One of the guys with deep brown beautiful skin offered to pray for all the class's requests—to take it all before the throne. Word on the street—or in the church—was that Ricky was an expert pray-er, though I had never personally observed this myself. Up to this point, I only knew that I called Ricky by the name Mark for months before someone corrected my mistake, though he never seemed to mind. I also knew he was partial to powdered doughnut holes, because I would occasionally glimpse telltale signs around his mouth. That is all. And then, he prayed.

It was the most beautiful of conversations. He was respectful and earnest and experienced and engaged. I don't believe he forgot a one of the requests that had been mentioned. The moment felt so holy, so stripped bare of pretense and pretending with God that it felt like it would be appropriate to take off our shoes.

But the thing that made the prayer so memorable, all these months later, was that as he prayed, Ricky would occasionally pause to say, "And I hope you have a good weekend, God.”

As if God and he were out for coffee or they were about to hang up the phone after a really great conversation, he would say, "I hope you have a good weekend."

Which in my feeble translation may mean, “It’s so nice to be talking with you, God. I hope you like this prayer, that all is well with you. And I want you to know I like talking with you.”

And when he was done I knew I didn’t want it to end. I wanted Ricky to pray all hour and we could forget the Sunday School lesson and all. But instead a lady stood in the center of the room holding a picture of a golden calf, and many of us danced around her like we were the Israelites, the wayward ones who forgot how to worship and to pray to the true God. It makes me think that we substitute things for real communion with our heavenly Father all the time, when really he wants us to be candid. He wants us to delight in him. He wants us to encourage him to have a good day or a good weekend; never mind that he is the master of time and timeless. That He himself created time. He wants to hear from us in our language, and when it is offered purely, I am convinced the prayers always get through.

Your turn: share a story where you felt God delighted in someone or some situation. Go!

Holy kisses and much "to-do"

Read God Stories to remember that God is alive and active, restoring, renewing, and bringing hope in the most unlikely places. You'll find them rotated with "barren Mondays" posts. The husband and I are in a church transition. Need I say more? Church transitions can be tricky, loaded actually, and walking into this big, beautiful, diverse new church made me feel a little like I was cheating on my old church. I knew God was clearly moving us on, but my heart felt frozen. Truth be told, it hurt to breathe.

Don't get me wrong. I liked what I saw at this gathering of believers, I felt like I could be accepted there, that anyone, anywhere, could actually be accepted there, but I didn't yet feel welcomed. Well, OK, I had just walked in the door, so what can you expect?

But I was not one of their people.

They didn't know my name.

And in a church of this size, how long would this take, if I passed on the Beth Moore Bible study and the Zumba class? I was feeling fragile, like a leaf that could easily blow away, unnoticed, unsure, unneeded. 

All of this happened on Palm Sunday.

A few greeter-people shook our hands at the door on the way in, but otherwise we were lost in the crowd. Until she sashayed down the aisle, waving her palm frond like a greeting, approaching us as if she were our long-lost aunt, an aunt with skin of a different color. We were sitting there, stunned; she was standing there, joyous, dressed snappily, ready to serenade us with her love. She hugged both of us on the spot, though we were still sitting down.

And then she did the totally unexpected. She told us someone over yonder had just taught her to kiss like the French. I kid you not. And then . . .

She leaned over and gave my husband the smoochie-smooch on his cheeks, back and forth, three times, acting as if he had just been christened.

She greeted my man with a holy kiss, I tell you, and I was next. I think she said "Blessings in the name of the Lord!" or something, I'm not sure, because I was thoroughly enjoying the look of shock on David's face. And then she turned and moved on down the aisle for her next greeting. After the shock wore off, I turned to my beloved and said, "She has just welcomed us when no one else did. Good for her!"

It so happens that this beautiful aunt-like woman also dances in the aisle when Jesus' name is being sung about, that she cries out "Hallelujah!" and other such exclamations of praise. This is not exactly a common occurrence in this new gathering, but she does it anyway. I am coming to love her for it, I'm determined that I will appreciate her sacrifice of praise, that I will soak up her heart bursting with gratitude like her Savior does. So this morning when she saddled up to me during the song, grabbing my hand, hugging my neck, I heard her say with deep sincerity, "We're chosen. He loves us," and other such beautiful utterances, and I returned the favor.

I planted a singular smooch on her cheek, in front of God and everyone.

She beamed. She sang, I sang, and then she moved on down the aisle, a cacophony of praise in her wake.

And I have just one more thing to say about that. I have observed the eye-rolls that sometimes follow her, the look of incredulity on the faces of some. And at one time I would have been one of the nay-sayers, I would have been in this crowd. But when sister-aunt begins to saunter down the aisle, you'll find me smiling now. I have a feeling that this type of unadulterated praise, this gesture that reminds me of King David unashamedly dancing in his underwear before God—no holds barred (2 Samuel 6:20-23), is what heaven will smack of, loud and long. I have a feeling that we will all be worshipping wholeheartedly, without a thought of holding back, even if we all do so uniquely.

I only hope that when I am in the presence of Jesus, sister-aunt and I get to hang out in the same neighborhood, that we are part of the same detail, if you will. Because frankly, I have something to learn from her. Perhaps she can teach me the art of perfecting the holy kiss—and perhaps, ever so much more.

Your Turn: How about you? What have you learned from someone who freely shares the love of Christ in unexpected ways?

(Note: Another "barren Mondays" will appear next week, where I discover the only woman in the Bible and what that might have to do with me: "Guilty by Barren Association." Stay tuned!)