After my summer evangelism class finished the leader of the group sent an e-mail asking if I wanted some tracts to give to people. I surprised myself by saying yes, please send them. They were red, white and blue and actually fairly nicely designed, not quite as dry and drab as you might think. There were five of them. I gave a few of them to my MIL, who has done actual witnessing before and I thought might like to have a few. That left me with three. I put them in my purse. I can’t remember what happened to the other two, but I know very well what I did with the last one.
While driving around looking for a parking spot at Target I noticed a woman on the sidewalk in front of the store headed around the corner to the side of the building. She was carrying a dorm-room caliber full-length mirror under her arm. She was wearing a dress and combat boots unlaced and seemed to be talking loudly, intently, but no one was with her. Her expression was intense, upset. She rounded the corner of the store which seemed odd, a breach of the norm. This isn’t the city. No one walks to Target or takes a bus. People take their bags and beeline to their cars here in Portage. On my way into the store I noticed a police officer in a car in the parking lot. Was he watching her, monitoring her? Did someone call the cops on her? He didn’t appear to be actively doing much, just sitting there.
I shopped and paid and exited the double doors. The young lady who caught my attention earlier was sitting cross legged against the outside of the store. My maternal instinct kicked in and I couldn’t walk past her. “Are you ok, Hon?” tumbled out of my mouth. “I just wanna be left alone,” she said, obviously bothered. That she was seated 50 feet from the entrance of a big-box store told me otherwise. “You’re a stranger,” she said with angsty sarcasm, “and I’m not supposed to talk to strangers.” I reached into my purse tried to hand her the tract, but when she saw it she didn’t extend her hand. I placed it on her folded knee and walked away.
I have some regrets about how this played out. I shouldn’t have stood in front of her, looking down at her when I spoke. This posture probably projected belittling and superiority. I should have sat down next to her instead. Subconsciously, this was laziness and and probably self-preservation. When you literally talk down to a person you have full view of their hands. You have a stance of power, of projection rather than reception. To be eye-level with a person is to make yourself equal and vulnerable. There isn’t a lot of room for fear or reservation when you get vulnerable. You’re all in or all out. I didn’t choose to be all-in in that moment so I walked away with mixed results.
Then the fall came and I was out of tracts. I began thinking more of how to share the gospel with a couple of friends, James and Simone, whose marriage is not going well. I dreamed and prayed that if they could forgive one another in Jesus name that they could be whole again, that the space around them could be fixed, that their family could be a loving and safe place for each adult and child.
In all my conversations with Simone there has always been agnosticism, sighing through admission of lapsed catholicism, jokes about being pagan, posts about being essential pawns of “the Universe” and its whims. She once told me about the church James grew up in and from what I gather it was pentecostal and rural. Since he had church background I thought maybe that was the place to start. In my head it would go something like this:
“Did you grow up praying as a child, James?”
“. . .” **
“You grew up going to church, right? Do you ever pray now? Do you wonder if maybe prayer might make things with you and Simone better? I just know our marriage wouldn’t stand a chance without forgiving each other the way God forgives us. Maybe it’s worth a try. Couldn’t hurt, right?”
This would have been awkward at best and maybe even inappropriate. I mean if I need to be alone with a guy to witness I probably have no business doing it. It probably means I’m going about it the wrong way. But I didn’t see another way. I didn’t think talking to both of them at the same time would set me up for success. Actually I think it came down to this: I was afraid of Simone’s reaction, of her potential rejection of me as a friend which being deeply flawed and insecure means more to me than it should. I can’t afford to lose this friend who is so fun and funny and always invites me over even though I’ve been horrible with hospitality for years now. I doused the whole thing in a bucket full of prayer and since then the opportunity for that conversation with James hasn’t come up and is getting increasingly more unlikely with time.
So just as I was getting very discouraged at myself, at my ability to witness and my failure to do what means most in this life, I went into James and Simone’s kitchen while babysitting their kids one October Saturday night. There on a bulletin board was an invitation from a neighbor to a cider and donuts gathering at their house. Now, I’m not from this state, I’ve only lived here ten years. But oddly enough I knew these people–not well, but I knew them. I met Amos in 1998. He is from this area and was the staff director at a Bible conference–essentially a Christian family camp–on a small lake nearby. I lived and worked at that as a life guard that summer. Amos had been my boss*. I reintroduced myself to Amos after church a handful of years ago when, wonder of wonders, he preached at our little neighborhood church while our pastor was away. Since 1998 Amos became a pastor but now runs a ministry for pastor support. In other words, this is a pastor of pastors and he lived just down the road from Simone and James. Better yet, they were even getting invited over. I got very excited about the imagination of God, at his plans so much more intricate, creative, pure, well-crafted, and delicious (cider an doughnuts?! Didn’t see that one coming) than my own. Now Amos could take over and I was off the hook . . . right?
I’d made it all about me. But here God seemed to be saying why are you doing this on your own? These are my people and I will call them to myself as I see fit. Come and be part of what I am already doing. I was so excited that I left them a note on that invitation about how I knew them and they were great and they should totally go and meet them. I think they did go despite the neighborhood gossip that they were “religious nuts.” For months that invite stayed on the bulletin board with my note scribbled on there about how I knew them (of course throwing in the dated-his-younger-brother tidbit). It probably just stayed there as an oversight. They simply forgot to take it down. But for me it was a reminder of how quickly I end up leaning on my own strength, how feeble and frail my best ideas are, how broad the spectrum and blessed the detail of his kingdom work and his infinite and intimate love for those who seem far from the fold.
So after the holidays passed and things were less busy I was still praying, still thinking of Simone and James. I wondered about the next step. Via social media I asked Amos and Anna, a mutual friend of Simone and James to join me in praying for them. They both agreed to do this.
In January James was one of the many who lost his job due to corporate budget cuts. With things still not great at home this was a classic insult to injury situation. I kept praying for Jesus to fix the mess and reveal himself in the process. I hoped while James was around the house more it might mean better chances for him and Amos to get to know each other. But I don’t think that happened.
James now has a job an hour and a half away from here. He has his own place and comes home only on weekends. And while Simone is glad for some independence, some space most of the week, she also said she’s been going to church which almost made me spit my spaetzle across the restaurant when she said it. Apparently our transgendered server where we were dining was a fellow congregant (which might make me just a little jealous. I want to go to a church where transgendered people feel welcome, but I also want my kids to learn more than just Harry Potter themes in Sunday school). Now its a universalist church indeed but the fact that she’s seeking anything remotely God-ish is a huge step. She’s looking and could find Jesus there. This is a round-about answer to the prayer I should have had enough hope and faith and assurance to pray.
I don’t know what’s next. Their oldest is nearly twelve and our babysitting swap arrangement may soon be obsolete. James of course isn’t around much and I expect their weekends will look different soon. But I’m expecting that with or without me, with or without donuts, he who began a good work will be faithful to complete it for his very own and perfect glory.
*I also had a bit of a fling with his younger brother that summer but we’ll save that story for another day.
**I’m not very good at guessing what other people would say. This is one of my biggest roadblocks to fiction.