“There’s always another story. There’s more than meets the eye.”
Three stories on the same theme, one from my hilarious, candid and slightly profane friend, Shari.
After our son Isaac died, Kim and I took some time away. Our eldest daughter was two. Some folks on the church board where I was pastor had generously let us use their vacation home to have some space. Kim and I decided to go on a bike ride with Lydia in a bike trailer.
I was in bad shape at this point. Nothing made sense to me and I was just trying to keep my head above water. To give you an idea, when driving alone, I would tell people who cut me off, “You really don’t want to do that to me. I truly do not care if I ram you or not.” Yeah, I mean out loud. They couldn’t hear me, but I meant it.* Exercise helped me not to despair, and we had a daughter to take care of. We rode about an hour and came back to our car to load up the bikes.
A man approached us and started asking questions. I have a history of attracting strangers who want to talk with me, so I wasn’t surprised, but neither was I in the mood. I went for short without being completely rude.
“Is that your little girl?”
“How old is she?”
“Working on two.”
“What’s her name?”
Sigh. Ready for this to be done.
Then the man said, “I was watching you before when you were getting ready to go. You two are really good parents. I saw how you treated her. She’s a lucky girl. Are you Christians?”
The man said he wasn’t really a Christian, but he saw something in us. I have to tell you, the furthest thing from my mind was being a good example for whoever might be watching (or stalking) at that point. I was just trying to survive. But people see us, even when we’re not trying to be seen, and sometimes God works through that. Maybe he does more often than we think, and this time someone mentioned it to me.
Today on Facebook, Shari wrote:
Ok, story time. I have this one customer, annoys the HELL out of me. Said customer annoys pretty much everyone in the store. She would always come through my line with her husband when I was on a register and I would paste a smile on my face and deal with her VERY needy demands. Now she’s become a regular at the SB kiosk. I always smile and talk with her while I make her coffee and then life moves on. Today, I’m sporting a cold. Nose is stuffed up and I’m tired. She came in this morning. A regular in front of her commented on the cold and hoped I would feel better soon. She was next and I took a deep breath and steeled myself. “Oh Honey, I’m so sorry you don’t feel well! You need chicken soup. I have the best recipe. Are you working all week? I’ll bring you some soup.” “That’s very sweet of you, but you don’t have to do that,” I tell her. “Nonsense! You are always so sweet to me whenever I come in. The whole time my husband was going through his cancer treatments he and I looked forward to coming to see you for our groceries. You are such a light.” At this point, I was trying really hard not to tear up. She gushed for about 5 more minutes. Apparently, before every chemo treatment, she and her husband would go grocery shopping. He would always make a point of saying, “Well, let’s see if Sunshine’s working today,” when they would check out. He passed away a few months ago.
The moral of the story folks: You never know what someone else is going through or how much of an impact a smile can have on someone else’s day. I am humbled and honored.
Finally, someone I have worked with early in my ministry who must remain anonymous opened my eyes to this, when I thought they were already opened. I’ve been through grief and know something about discord in my upbringing. But I had no category until I heard this person’s story. Abuse, ritual abuse, neglect, abandonment, used by parent to carry out criminal activities.
I had experienced this person as funny but unpredictable. Many people are insecure and use humor to defend themselves. This person was genuinely hilarious sometimes, but other times biting and still others startlingly insecure, all under the guise of humor. “Okay, not sure what I’m going to get here, or how to read what you’re giving me, but ‘Ha, ha!’ and hope you weren’t actually mad but you’re laughing so I’m laughing…”
I had started to reach the point at which it felt a little tough to be around the person, because I was just never sure where I stood…and then, boom. I got the whole story. The person decided that I was trustworthy and I went from, “Man, you act weird,” to “You are a miracle!” And suddenly the insecurity and the bite made sense and I knew how to respond and encourage and reassure–and laugh freely.
The person had not changed–except in choosing to confide in me for this one long conversation. But my perception changed utterly.
Let’s be honest, I’m also high maintenance sometimes because of all this lovely baggage. People get confused with what they perceive as inconsistencies, but which make sense when looking out through my eyes.
There is simply more going on than any of us can grasp. All the time.
♦You don’t know who is watching.
♦You don’t know the impact you’re having on people.
♦You don’t know how your tiny acts of goodness might change someone’s life–even, maybe especially, when you overcome your attitudes or emotions in order to do what you know is right. Like treating a needy woman kindly.
God is funny. I’m convinced he cracks himself up, all the time. He’s working through us when we can’t see it, perhaps at the exact moment when we’re feeling useless or discouraged, ready to give up.
Jesus talks a lot about how what we cultivate inside of us bears fruit that becomes apparent outside of us. God’s sense of humor is that sometimes we’re the last to see it.
*If you haven’t been in that kind of grief, allow me to tell you gently: don’t judge; if you have, you know.