The coffee shop bustles with activity. Moms in work-out gear grabbing a latte for the road, business people conferring with colleagues or tapping away at their computers, and probably at least one writer, fingers poised over keyboard, awaiting caffeinated inspiration.
All the tables are taken, so we carry our coffee and scones to the counter by the window and perch on stools, a hodgepodge of humanity coming, going, talking, and laughing around us.
I’ve known her only a couple of months, but it doesn’t matter. We commune as sister to sister, soldier to soldier, our connection immediate and soul deep. She, too, has a story of beauty from brokenness, and she laughs with the freedom that comes from knowing nothing can separate her from God’s love. No stranger to pain, darkness, and hope-waiting-long, she lives in the tension of already-but-not-yet, confident in her assurance that all things must serve His purpose.
This confidence lights her smile with peace.
I drink deeply the river of life flowing through her and over me — swallow it right down to my bones, because the truth is, I’m tired. Tired, and thirstier than I realized.
Our conversation ranges wide, all its paths winding back to Truth, and I sense that these moments matter — that they won’t be lost but are etched in eternity. She shares her journey (she already knows mine), and as story begets story, I tell her about a time I glimpsed true greatness.
We’re both amazed by the higher ways of God’s upside-down kingdom, and then, without warning, it happens.
There may be a thousand reasons God wanted me right here, right now, celebrating His faithfulness with this friend. But what she tells me next rips a veil from my eyes, transforming this busy coffee shop into the house of God and the gate of heaven.
It’s the story of a mother and her son. And it’s so much more.
When Michael was born, the doctors told his mother, Angela, that he was missing a chromosome. They said he probably wouldn’t live more than a few months, and even if he lived longer, he would never walk. Never talk. Never live a normal life.
Michael did live. He’s going on his eighteenth birthday. And he not only walks, he dances with joyful abandon. But his condition causes complicated problems that aren’t easy to pinpoint or treat. He can’t talk, and even though he can use an iPad to communicate, Angela is often left guessing what to do for him. The past eighteen years have been spent in and out of medical facilities, and many nights she is awakened to come to his aid for one reason or another.
One night she was up yet again at 2:00 AM, massaging his feet, trying but failing to relieve his pain, and she wept for sheer exhaustion and frustration. And then God spoke.
Do you know what a privilege it is to serve Michael?
The question startled her. But that wasn’t all God said.
You have no idea who he is.
These words — this truth — it blazes with the sun’s brilliance, blinding me with reborn sight. This is it! The puzzle piece I’ve been groping for, the mystery I’ve been missing. I’m looking at my friend, but I might as well be looking straight into the eyes of Christ, because Jesus is speaking these words to me here, now, as surely as He spoke them to Angela in the dark night of her discouragement.
You have no idea who he is. Who she is. Your son with his brain injury. Your mother with her Alzheimer’s. Your heavy-laden father with his tender, generous, broken heart. You have no idea.
And yet, shouldn’t it have been obvious? How could I have missed it? Here I’ve been, purposeful parent to the one and dutiful daughter to the two, stoically taking up my cross, enduring as though Christ’s kingdom, the salvation of my loved ones, and everything good and holy depended on me.
You have no idea who they are.
Oh, yes. I’ve been obedient. And prayerful. And much of the time I’ve even remembered to cast myself on the Lord, leaning on His grace moment by moment. (Of course, I’ve also noticed myself doing and being these things — the self-righteous always do.) I’ve taken to heart that I’m called to be salt and light, but deep down I’ve wanted a bigger, more glamorous hill for my little city to shine on. I’ve imagined the beautiful things I could be doing for God if only I didn’t have these obligations, and I’ve comforted myself with the hope that He’s using these difficult days to sanctify and equip me for fancier, funner ministry — a ministry that makes better use of “my gifts.”
Ugh. Am I really that pathetic? My son. My mother. My father. They are the gift. And infinitely more.
Jesus never said, “Impress presidents, and you’ll impress Me.” He never said, “Win awards on earth, and you’ll win awards in Heaven.” But He did say, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for Me.”
You have no idea who they are. It’s time to wake up.
We’re still sitting in the coffee shop, perched on our stools amidst a rush of sights, smells, and sounds. But in the realer Real a ladder reaches from here all the way to heaven. I’ve been asleep in the middle of nowhere, beating my aching head against this stone, and now I’m stunned awake and find myself face to face with God.
I came here today to meet a friend, and Jesus showed up. Words can’t express the wonder of such a kind, undeserved, unexpected gift. But I know it doesn’t mean the challenges are over — that life from now on will be all music and roses. And that’s okay. Because He gave me exactly what I needed to enter these moments fully with gratitude and holy joy. No, I don’t have it all figured out, and I’m sure I’ll struggle and stumble again. But this one amazing, humbling thing I do have, and I pray I never forget.
I know who they are.
* * *
Giving thanks in community for (#576 – 601)
holy places everywhere
stories that help us remember
birthday flowers from George
Luke at the door with birthday surprises at 7:30 AM
a clean house
conviction of sin
the promise of wisdom
George’s voice over the phone
grace that covers even the oldest, deepest wounds
Luke’s servant heart
a serendipitous meeting on the way to church
Naomi in my lap on the shuttle bus
worship with beloveds
a long chat with Grace (who wears her name so well)