The summer of my 19th year was one of the darkest seasons of my life. Meteorologically, I’m sure it was beautiful – I was living back home in Southern California following a year away at Bible school – but I was suffering from depression, anxiety, and disordered eating and had been since my dad’s death nine years prior. In my family of origin we were never allowed to be or feel anything other than “fine,” so I suffered in silence without help and without hope.
My family went to Disneyland that summer to celebrate my sister’s birthday. Disneyland is the happiest place on earth, you know. It was on this family trip that two things happened to change the course of my runaway-train life; one, I finally had a breakdown, and two, God sent me a minister of mercy.
It happened like this; halfway through a day of pretending everything was fine when it very clearly wasn’t, my sister and I got in a wrong line. We got yelled at by a Disney employee. Normally this is something one can brush off, but I couldn’t; it was finally too much. I started crying for the first time in nine years, and I could not stop. It’s pretty ironic to be so sad at the happiest place on earth that you cannot stop the ugly cry. But we are humans, and humans have feelings, and we live in a broken world where things hurt. Sin hurts.
When the cumulative effects of brokenness finally caused me to break, I hid in a quiet spot on Main Street at an empty table and chairs by a cafe. I sat there and cried behind my sunglasses, deep painful sobs that shook my whole body, experiencing grief and pain and stress I had never processed. It’s really embarrassing to meltdown in a public place. I believed in Jesus, but I had no power to pray; all I could do was sit there, alone, and cry.
But God knew, and He sent me a minister of mercy. An older lady rolled up in a wheelchair. She was wearing a straw sun hat and those boxy sunglasses that cover grandma glasses. She rolled right up to me, grabbed my hands, and said “You need to not be alone right now.” And then she said, “Wait here.” And so I did. She was gone for a few minutes, and then she came back with a cup of hot, black coffee and a big stack of napkins. She said, “Drink this.” And so I did. And this grandma whom I had never met before stayed with me. She shared my grief with me. I was not alone. Eventually, when I was cried out enough to talk again, she asked me if I had people with me somewhere, and I said I did. I used that big stack of napkins to blow my nose and dry my face and she took them, all snotted up, and rolled over to a trash can and threw them away for me. I needed what she offered in that moment of utterly bewildered brokenness and she somehow knew what to give.
This event was a pivotal moment in my life. It could have been a burdensome memory of a horrible day of misery and shame, but instead someone’s generosity of God’s grace towards me changed the experience into one of blessing, one of hope. I had not experienced that kind of kindness before. I had not experienced grace that covered sin, mercy that covered shame, and love that was unconditional. I am sure my benevolent stranger was a Christian because she was the aroma of Christ to God. And to me, a broken young woman on the knife’s edge of despair, that fragrance was life to life.
It was a cup of coffee and companionship in a moment of crisis. What did that cost – three bucks and some time? And here I sit, telling you about her light shining bright in my darkness some twenty years later. When our church says we want to be the kind of church that would be missed in our community were we not here, this is the kind of impact we hope to have. We hope to be the kind of church that gives grace away in ways that are still talked about for years to come.
The Elders gave us a charge to pursue this kind of fruitfulness, and they even gave us resources to do it. $50 will actually buy a lot of cups of coffee. 😉 Who needs that cup of coffee from you? It could be a literal cup of coffee and companionship in a moment of crisis, as it was for me, or it could be an oil change for a co-worker who has too much to do and not enough time. It could be a fresh-picked, fresh-baked Michigan strawberry pie for the family who just moved here from out of state. It could be lunch for your boss. It could be ice cream with your kids’ school friends after a park playdate. It could be a tank of gas or a bag of groceries or a rack of ribs on someone’s grill. It could be a bonfire and a s’mores party for the neighborhood. It could be a whole bunch of lawns mown. It could be the offer to fix something broken, to buy something needed, to restore something gone. There really aren’t any ‘rules’ for reaching the lost, except maybe this one; look for the lost. Ask God to show you who needs His grace, His mercy, His hope through you and your $50. He’ll show you. You’ll come across a proverbial girl bawling her eyes out in the happiest place on earth and you’ll know; this person needs grace. This person needs mercy. This person needs hope. And God will show you what to do to bring the gospel to bear in that life and situation.
What can you expect? You can expect to feel uncomfortable. You can even expect to feel afraid. When God calls you out onto the water of missional living, there are all kinds of what-ifs that rear their ugly doubts. And this is where we must remind our hearts that we are ambassadors not of our own kingdoms, but of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. If it is His mission we are sent on – and it is – then it is His victory on the line, not ours. We are not called to orchestrate God’s whole symphony. We are called simply to play our own instrument, following His lead.
“For God so loved the world he gave…” John 3:16.