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.