When you're feeling "too old".

*I received a message on Instagram the other day that asked about singleness and waiting. I get these sometimes from the sweetest women who are just wondering how to wait and how to wait well. The following is my response to that message.*

In the summer of 2010, I signed a lease on a one bedroom apartment after moving out of the one I shared with my newly engaged sister. I use the word signed rather loosely because I felt like Ariel in “The Little Mermaid” when she signs her voice away to Ursula without looking at the paper.

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Like, “Ughhh I don’t want to do this but I don’t see any other options.” I was 25 and most of my friends were married and buying houses and having babies. That September my best friend got married one weekend and the very next weekend I was a bridesmaid at my sister’s wedding – my younger sister, I might add, because if you’ve been in that position, you know that matters. (Isn’t the law of the universe that these kind of life events happen in birth order? Thank you.) So they were both putting together new homes with brand new wedding gifts, meanwhile my apartment was mostly empty and had mismatched furniture and hand-me-down dishes that weren’t even a complete set anymore. Devastated at my circumstances doesn’t really begin to cover it. Didn’t God know I wanted a husband? Didn’t he see me crying about this?

I grew up believing that I would be married at a young age because my mom was and my aunts were and my grandparents were and my sisters had no problem finding spouses so, duh, this was supposed to be a slam dunk. Except I turned 26 and 27 and 28 and 29 and still never had a steady boyfriend. I stood in the mirror on my 28th birthday and cried about my life, which is ridiculous now that I think about it, but at the time I felt alone. I think the holidays are especially difficult for single people or for people whose lives haven’t gone exactly as they dreamed. Christmas is a season of expectation and hope, but when your hopes have been dashed and you feel no reason to be expectant, it’s just another season to feel like God forgot about you because he’s busy blessing everyone else. Ouch.  

I know of a woman and have known her for a very long time. We’ll call her Karen. And from my very limited knowledge about her, Karen was never dating anyone and she was never married (that I know of). Well, turning into Karen was my worst nightmare. God forbid I turned 30 or 40 or 50 and was still single. I mean, that would just kill me, I was certain. I had no idea about Karen’s circumstances or if she chose to be single or anything like that. I just knew she wasn’t married and reaching the upper stages of her 40s and the color drained from my face at the thought of my story following that pattern. But at 29 and single, that’s the outcome I was starting to imagine.

One of the biggest lies I told myself in that season was that I was getting “too old.” I had a timetable I was on. If I didn’t get married in the next year, I wouldn’t be able to have all my kids by the time I was 30 and then I would be an old mom and my kid’s friends would probably confuse me for being his/her grandparent! And would my kids know their great grandparents like I knew mine? Not on this schedule, God! Come on!

We live in a culture that loves everything new and fresh – people, gadgets, relationships, etc. It’s like your engagement and wedding pictures getting 1,000 likes on Facebook but then the picture you post a few months after the wedding and everyone is over you like, “How many pictures do they need of each other? Ugh, we get it.” It’s like when you announce your first baby and everyone is so excited for you but by the time you announce the fourth people are like “Are they going for a Duggar situation or what?” It’s like 17 year olds modeling for a high-end line that absolutely no real life 17 year old children could afford to buy but then the 40 year olds who actually can afford it feel like they need to look like that 17 year old. If our culture loves anything it’s youthfulness. Magazines and movies and famous people (who apparently never age) tell us this, when in actuality they’re pumped full of Botox, and meanwhile make you feel like the three lines near your eyes are screaming that you’re 1,000 years old. Oh no! I’m aging! How dare I do that!

You know who loves to step into these lies about being “too old” and drop brilliant promises? God. He always uses the old and the weak and the outcast to accomplish his mission. He walks up to the ones thinking they’re “too old” and says, “You. Let’s do this.” To how many barren wombs did he give children? How many people did he raise from the dead? How many sick did he heal? How many outcasts did he pull from the dark fringes of society? How many situations did he enter where people were believing they were too old, too sick, too dead to be redeemed? The Bible is the story of redemption from lowly, unlikely places and with each new season we enter there is new mercy to endure and flourish and grow and learn. Culture would have us look back at our younger years but God asks us to keep our eyes fixed straight ahead to see the NEW thing he is going to do. That doesn’t mean I don’t use an eyecream here and there, but I’m not making an idol out of youthfulness either. God will step into the lies and speak promise, restoration, new life. He makes NEW where we think we’re old. He brings LIFE where we think there’s only death. There is absolutely no such thing as “too” anything for God to work together all the good he has for us.

It took a long time for me to understand all of this but God got a stranglehold on my heart one day when I was sitting on the floor in my very own kitchen. I wrote about the conversation one time. God came to me and asked why I was striving - why I wanted more than him. He offered me himself, pure, unconditional love and I was essentially saying no. I was saying it wasn’t enough. You’re not enough, God. I don’t want only you. I believed that having a husband meant my life would really start. I believed that having that prayer answered meant I would never long for anything again. The deepest longing in my soul was marriage, but in all that space of singleness God was teaching me that my desire should be for him above all else.

I realized after that conversation with God that even if I ended up to be Karen, if Karen loved Jesus with her whole heart and poured out her life to him alone, then I should be grateful for that opportunity. Even if I was 50 and alone, God would sustain me. He would be enough. He was writing my story. I finally believed that. A husband would not satisfy that longing in my soul. A house or a baby or any of my dreams fulfilled would not satisfy that place in my heart. I think it’s Jim Carrey who said one time, “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it's not the answer.” There’s only one who can fill that space.

I know that being single is hard when you have dreams of being married and starting a family. I know that it is. I’ve been there. I’m not going to give you a list of things to do or say or feel. Your singleness is entirely your own and feeling grateful will come in waves and lulls like it does for all of us, no matter what we’re waiting on. So I can’t tell you how to spend this season of singleness except that you might hold fast to God. Be as near to him as you possibly can, even when you don’t feel like it, even when you don’t feel it in your heart and you don’t feel him speaking or moving. Put him first. We always say, “Put those you love first,” well make him first! Spend time with him, get close to his heart, abide in him. That’s the best thing any of us can really do no matter our season of life. It’s the only place to find true rest, comfort, healing, hope. Stick close to the heart of Jesus and he will fill you, hold you, sustain you and continue to shape you into the woman he wants you to be. 

In the meantime, you will feel every single range of emotions - thankful for your singleness and anger about it, maybe even in the same day! You will probably feel sadness and you will feel a sense of freedom. You will feel hope and you will feel deep doubt. And you’re allowed to feel every single one of those things. But remember to dwell in the truth, not the doubt. Drink from the well of life, not the one of striving and hopelessness. Rest in his promises. He is faithful.

I signed the lease on my single-life apartment seven more times before God moved me on to a new season. And you know what I did when I had to turn in my notice? I CRIED. I cried about leaving that apartment. I was so sad to end the season that, when it started, I cried about starting! How fickle is my heart! We don’t even really know what it is we want because when we get it, we move on to the next thing we want! And we can always, at any point in our lives, get sucked into the lie that we are “too old” or “too” something. I fight against it even now as I think about wanting to be a mom. At this point, at my age, a pregnancy is nearly considered geriatric - and that’s not my word, that’s medical terminology. Translation: I’m going to be an “old mom”. Ah! My worst fear! But you know what? I know my Jesus well enough now to know that he has this all worked out. I’m not behind. I am not late to the party. I am perfectly where he has placed me in this moment. And I can rest! I can rest.

I want you to rest, too. You are not behind. You are not late. God did not forget about you. He has not missed that all your friends are now married and you feel like you’re the only single one left. Each time I felt like I was in that position, he swooped in and gave me sweet friends in my same season. And I mean every single time. Be grateful for those people. Be grateful for what he has given you rather than upset about the one thing he has not. God’s will for all of us, regardless of where we’re at in life, is just one thing, “REJOICE always, PRAY without ceasing, GIVE thanks in ALL circumstances, for THIS is the will of God in Christ Jesus for YOU.”

I know that right now he is positioning you and placing you and preparing you for exactly what he has for you. You are his. Stick close to him. He’ll lead you to a spacious place and grant you far more than you could ever ask or imagine. I believe it for you. I believe it for all of us.

Finding Favor.

I’m sure you know this by now (maybe you already have yours chosen!), but we’ve reached the season where we all pick our word for the new year - the word we want to focus on, the intention we want to set, our keyword for the next 365 days. I’m not sure where the idea originated or how long ago. I feel like it’s kind of a new thing, or at least new to me. But I think we all tend to want something new each time we close out December – new focus, new intentions, fresh start. Here we go again with a new chapter in our lives, the one labeled ‘2019’, so why not set the aim of our heart at the start? I’m into it.

I didn’t write about my word this past January because I felt like every other post I saw was someone writing about their word for the year. I’m not knocking it - I’ve done it, here and here. And I loved reading about what others were going to focus on when 2018 was just a brand new baby adjusting to the light in her eyes. I just find myself now wondering how it went and what you all learned! I wish those posts were as plentiful as the ones about our intentions. Anyway, January came and I tucked my word away in my journal and in my heart, thinking I’d wait to share.

The other reason I didn’t share immediately is because I didn’t really know what my word meant! I know that’s kind of weird to say, but I really didn’t understand why God had put this word on my heart. I don’t like to choose my word. I try to just pray through it in the month of December and see where God might lead and what he might want to teach me - it’s what I’m doing right now as I prepare for 2019. But I started an Advent study last December and over and over again the word favor kept being pressed deeper into my heart and I thought, “Favor? What are you talking about favor, God? What do I know of favor?” I looked around in the Bible for examples.

Genesis 6:8 “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.”
Luke 1:30 “The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God.” 
1 Samuel 2:26 “Now the boy Samuel was growing in stature and in favor both with the Lord and with men.”

I journaled,

“[Mary] found favor with God. What kind of life was she leading to have found favor? One of trust? Belief? Faith? Certainly not perfection. I don’t want to live a life of striving, but favor with God - who speaks to the wind and waves, the power who raises the dead and brings sight to blindness, light to darkness, certainly that is something worth living for. Did Mary question her favor when she snapped at Joseph? When she was rude or short or disappointed with her husband? Did she wonder her whole pregnancy if she was still carrying the One who created the world? Did she wrestle with doubt? Was she so secure in her faith so as to be untouchable to us all? Can we find that same kind of favor?”

So these giants of the Bible found favor with God and yet there I was thinking it was supposed to be my word for the year. Hilarious. Specifically because the four months leading up to December had been difficult. I haven’t been shy about how moving to Hawaii was like getting the rug pulled out from under me. I struggled through feelings of homesickness, panic, loneliness, embarrassment, and despair. I was reading a book last fall, which was a compilation of letters from Henri Nouwen, and a quote I hung on to was,

“Well, no wishes, but much hope, no big plans, but trust, no great desires, but much love, no knowledge of the future, but a lot of empty space for God to walk in! There is a deep sense of uselessness, but maybe that is the kind of soil God needs to sow His seed!”

If I felt anything at the end of 2017, it was certainly useless. God had a lot of empty space to walk around in my life and I was trying to let him have it all, but favor didn’t seem like the kind of thing I should be seeking in 2018. ‘What about peace or mercy or sanity, God?’ Regardless, I listened to his leading and leaned in to it. I looked around online and chose this background for my phone for the year as a reminder of my word.

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Favor means showing kind regard, support, approval, preference. My prayer became, “Find favor with me God, as you did with Noah and the Israelites, with Ruth and Mary and Samuel. Find favor with me, God.” And when January came, I tried to look for ways it was true - that I was surrounded with favor - because if the Bible says it, we know it can be trusted. But favor still felt like too high of a promise – reserved for the mother of Jesus, the survivor of floods, ancestors in the lineage of a Savior.

The thing about having a word for the year is that I don’t always remember it. It’s not something I think of constantly. It’s not always at the forefront of my mind. Sure, I saw that verse on my phone every day, but there were still times in the last year when I felt like it wasn’t the word for me. Sometimes it felt like I must have misheard what he wanted to show me and that maybe having a word for the year was dumb anyway, so who cares, right?

But on my birthday this year, I looked back through my journals to read what I wrote last year on the same day. Last year on my birthday I was a wreck (and that’s putting it lightly). I didn’t want to be a substitute teacher – everything about the very idea was stressing me out and at that point I hadn’t even done it one day! I didn’t know the schools here or the kids or even where to park my car. I hadn’t been in a classroom in seven years! But more than that, I hated living in Hawaii. I wrote that so many times in my journal I could laugh at my own self right now! The bottomline is, I was not myself and the stress I brought into my home was felt by me and my husband.  

But now! Oh, you guys, now! How great is His faithfulness to pull us through to where we are now! I can look back on the year and say that God has lavished his favor on me, my heart, and my family. I can pinpoint all the places where I felt truly surrounded by his favor. It was in coming back to Hawaii in January and finally feeling like I had my feet under me again. It was in a biopsy result I had been fearing that came back benign. It was visitors coming to see us and joy being shared with them. It was a surprise trip home to see my mom run her first full marathon. It was the excitement we felt when we found out I was pregnant and the comfort of being surrounded by family as we mourned our loss. It was warm days and safe flights and good friends and laughing again after the fog of grief. It was making our house a home and celebrating one year of marriage. It was felt in the changing of my heart. God grew me up, strengthened my bones, and set me on fire in new ways. I was drowning last year, feeling completely useless, and this year at my birthday I am approaching what’s next with great joy. And it’s not because circumstances have changed. I still live in Hawaii and I’m still subbing (in all the middle schools in my district!). God just spent the year polishing my heart. He picked me up, held me close, told me, “DO NOT BE AFRAID!” He walked into all that empty space and led me through fear, grief, joy, and all the emotions in between. That’s kind regard. That’s favor. That’s deep love.

2018 is rolling to a close but God is still showing me new ways he lavishes favor. Like perhaps the fresh reminder just last week that the definition of grace is “unmerited favor.” Of course it is! So then it is his favor, his preference, his support, his high regard for each of us that was lavished on the whole of the earth in the coming of a baby at Christmas. In the giving of his son on the cross. In salvation for all of us. “For by [unmerited favor] you have been saved through faith…” It’s his favor that draws us to him and bids us to stay near. So even if the sum of the year was heartache and pain, even then we would still be soaked in his favor because we have Jesus. And it’s not about getting stuff from him and being #blessed, it’s about having him and it being enough no matter what.

I didn’t spend the year striving to earn favor because I know it’s impossible. It can’t be earned. We can’t do enough stuff to earn his favor. He gives it freely and I finally opened my eyes to where it was all around me. He delights to show favor and does in so many ways. I think we can easily overlook it because if we don’t get that big thing we’re hoping for – a promotion, a house, a baby, a first date, a car, that dream job - or if everything falls apart right in front of us - we think we’re forgotten or he must not care. If we lose someone we love or feel pain or grief or sadness of any kind, we cold shoulder God and scoff at the idea of his favor. Years ago I used to tell myself, “Well _____ happened because God hates me.” But He doesn’t and He didn’t then, I was just too blind to see that maybe it was his sweet favor to withhold something from me. Maybe you know this feeling. Maybe you’re deep in it now. But just remember, you are not forgotten. You are not unseen. You are not left behind or left out. Draw near to him and he will show favor to you, surround you with it, soak you to the bone in it, in ways you least expect and probably without even changing your circumstances. He’ll walk around in all your empty spaces too and fill you up with unmerited, unending favor.

Ask first.

I’m turning 34 tomorrow and I’m really glad about it. The kids at school the last couple of weeks have guessed me to be 20 and that’s so nice because who doesn’t want to look younger, but at 20, I was a striving, self-loathing perfectionist who just wanted to find a husband, so I’m not at all interested in going back there. They also guessed that I had not yet graduated college (bless them!) and that’s nice too, except that in college I was aimless - wandering into a major I had no idea what to do with while dating and messing up and trying to date again and messing up more and complaining that no one liked me while not giving the good ones a chance and chasing after the bad ones who were not emotionally available. So, no, thank you. That was exhausting. When I told the kids I was actually going to be 34 they said, “You can’t be 34! My MOM is 34!” It’s true, little 7th grader. I’m old enough to be your mother.

But I’m glad to be turning 34. I feel like I’ve fought for 34. I’ve earned 34. When I turned 30 I rounded a corner in my life that really changed a lot for me. Like Iris says in my favorite holiday movie, “I think what I’ve [found] is something slightly resembling gumption.” Indeed. When I turned 31, I started dating Aaron and when I turned 32, we got engaged. I turned 33 with a new last name, in a new city, practically on a new planet (mentally and emotionally). I worked and worked and worked on the house we’ve made into a home. I carried a baby until God said it was time and then grieved for months over the loss. When I was 33 I came home with a kitten that honestly pulled me out of sadness.

So I’m turning 34 now and I feel good about where I’m at in the world and in my body and my heart. I hope that’s something you can say at every birthday. There were many birthdays I couldn’t say it. There was one that I woke up in the morning and stood in the mirror and cried - I think I was 28. But that was before I found my gumption to say yes to some things and no to others. So I hope you can say you’re glad with where you’re at in your body and in your heart and if that’s not true, that you are working on becoming that person you’d be happy to be. Even if everything else is out of your control in your life, you are always in control of the kind of person you want to be - if you want to walk in integrity, honesty, whole-heartedness, love. A question posed in my Bible study recently was, “Who are you becoming before God?” and that stuck out to me because I realized I never considered it before – not when I was 20, not in college, not until about five years ago. I felt like an entity that the world acted on and around with no power of my own to create or form it – only to react as it came at me. This is all very untrue and the minute I realized I had some agency in it all is the moment I started working on the person I wanted to be and inviting God into the process. He was already there anyway, but at least I started to acknowledge him.

Last year I wrote a list of things I learned over the last 33 years. I still think all of them are true – I’ll stand by all of them this year too. But when I think about the last year and when I think about the year ahead, the lesson I want to remember the most was taught by a five year old on an airplane.

Aaron and I flew to Arizona in September. I’ve told you this before but I’m a nervous flyer. Some people can fall asleep on a plane in an instant but I’m pretty much wired to 220 from the moment I step on the plane to the moment I walk off, taking in all my surroundings, observing people, their demeanor, the flight attendants, the pilots - whether they seem competent (as if I could ever judge that. Ha!). So Aaron and I take our seats on this flight to Phoenix and as we’re settling in, I notice that behind me is an older couple and across from me is a man with a child on either side of him. The boy across the aisle from me was probably only four or five, but he sat back in his seat with his seatbelt on, visibly excited, and trying to look across Aaron and I to see out the window. His little flip-flopped feet shot straight out from the end of the seat and occasionally kicked back and forth, but he never made a sound, just content to be with his dad and wait for takeoff.

Shortly after our departure, I noticed that the older gentleman behind me was reaching forward to offer the little boy some candy. A wrinkled hand held out three wrapped candies – among them the little butterscotch ones that are like a rite of passage into the world of being a grandpa or something – but he held them out to the little boy, nudging him on the arm so that he would notice. The little boy turned to look at the man, and then looked down at the candy, his ears perking up a bit like an excited pup. He turned to his dad to ask if he could have it, but his dad wasn’t paying attention. “Dad,” he said, and then turned back to see if the candy was still being offered. The boy didn’t reach for it. He didn’t take it. He just looked at it again. When he saw that it was still there, he turned back to his dad with urgency, in case the man was about to withdraw his offer. “Dad,” he whispered again, this time tapping his dad on the arm. His dad finally turned to look at him and the boy pointed to the offered candy. Looking back at the man holding out the candy, the father smiled and nodded his head with approval. It was only then that the boy reached out and chose a piece of candy and gave another to his sister, unwrapping it with delight.

I turned to Aaron to try to tell him the story, but I started tearing up. Is there something about your thirties that makes you cry at everything? No? Just me? Cool. So I’m trying to relay what just happened because I thought it was so sweet. Doesn’t everyone just want their dad’s approval? Dad, can I have this? Dad, is this okay with you? Dad, will this make you proud of me? I think it’s early in our lives that we learn to want this kind of approval – partly because it’s disciplined into us for our safety, but also because it’s wired in us. We’re relational, we want connection, we desire affirmation and approval.

What does this have to do with turning 34? This year I want to approach my decisions the way this little boy approached the offered candy. He asked his dad first. What if we approached our life decisions by asking God first? Before we make a move, before we take a step, before we make a decision, I want to run it by God. “Hey, dad, can I have this? Should I do this? Would this make you proud of me?” I think that’s what it means to have a relationship with him. I think that’s what it means to come to him - to ask what he thinks and then seek out the answer in his Word. So often in my 20s I was asking, asking, asking, but not waiting for an answer – not listening for an answer by searching it out in the Bible. I just asked in vain, listening to my own voice, and then going my own way. “Can I have this? No? Too bad, doing it anyway because I don’t see any other options.

More than anything I’ve learned lately, it’s that I don’t want to take a single step, take anything offered, move toward anything in my path unless I have first tapped God on the arm and asked if it was okay. “Is it okay if I do this? Is it okay if I say this? Is this from you?” I don’t want to move unless he gives his approval. We should want to please the heart of the father with our words, with our actions, with our lives and not move toward it, whatever it is, until he says it’s okay.

And if he doesn’t say okay, I want to learn to accept it and move on. If I don’t get the nod to go ahead, I don’t want to reach out. So often I think I know better, planned better, have better ideas. I think my feelings are more important than what he thinks. But if he doesn’t approve, I don’t want it. I’ve done enough my own way in life to know it leads nowhere good. As Lauren Daigle sings on her new album, “I’ve searched the world to find my heart is Yours.” I really have. I feel that lyric in my soul. So even when it doesn’t feel good, even when I don’t agree, if it’s not what he has for me, I don’t want it anymore.

Thirty-three was a big learning and growing and changing year for me. It was high highs and really low lows. But one thing that remained steady was the faithfulness of God to walk with me in it all. He is faithful and trustworthy and his plans for us are good. If he promises goodness, then why would I not want what he wants for me? Why would I not seek that out first?  

I want to turn my heart in that direction – away from selfishness and self-centered decisions, away from going my own way and making choices that might feel good in the moment but don’t lead to lasting joy. I want to turn to God first and let him direct my steps – in what I say and do, where I go, how I shine his light into the world around me. Like it says in Proverbs, “She opens her mouth in wisdom and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” That’s what I want for my 34th year. Wisdom and kindness. I want to know the heart of God more. I want my awe and my wonder to be aimed up at him. I want my eyes to be bright with hope and wisdom to shine out of my face, a reflection of him who gives it out to those who ask. But there it is again, it’s in the asking. It’s tapping God on the arm and saying, “Is this okay?” And accepting his answer. The good news is, I think the heart of our father is like the heart of that father on the airplane. He wants to say yes to good gifts.

Walking into 34 tomorrow, I feel confident in the faithfulness of God to answer me when I ask. I just have to remember to ask first.

 

Learning to be interrupted.

About a month ago now, Aaron and I came home with a kitten. A friend posted on Facebook that three kittens were found and they all needed a home. I saw the picture and immediately tagged Aaron and worked out a time that I could go meet them. Ever since we moved here, Aaron and I have gone over to the Humane Society to see the kittens and play with them but none of them ever seemed like ours – like I couldn’t picture them at our house. But these! They were so sweet and had the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen on a cat. They were estimated to be about four weeks old at the time but they had been checked out by a vet and were okay to go to new homes. I grew up with a cat and have always wanted one, but Aaron didn’t and still wishes some days that our cat would behave more like a dog, but because he loves me and maybe partly because we had a very hard summer, we came home with the cutest little white fluffy nugget.

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve seen plenty of little Darla Cunningham. She’s a diva queen who refuses to eat dry food and even though we don’t let her sit on the desk, carefully climbs up there while we’re gone and is always sitting directly in the middle of the desk to spite us when we come home. Such sass. I love it.  

Since Darla Dee came to live with us when she was so little, I always felt bad leaving her at home for extended periods of time. She was on her own to navigate our house at five weeks old and I felt so sad for her every time I left the house. I didn’t want her to get too hot or feel sad or cry when I was gone so I made sure she had her food and water and litterbox and toys and I’d turn on the fan and the air conditioner and left her a blanket she liked. Aaron had to remind me that had she not been rescued, she was probably destined to live in the Costco parking lot with the rest of the stray cats on this island, so she would definitely be fine alone for a few hours. It’s true. I always remind her that she has a real rags-to-riches story! Ha! But before you give up on me, this isn’t a post about Darla. I mean, I would write one because most of my days are spent playing with her, but the point is not the cat.

I left Darla one day to go pick up a couple of things at the mall, thinking I’d be gone about an hour at most. I had my route planned out: park at Target, run over to Abercrombie to pick up my order, then swing back through Target and get home to Queen D.

But, I arrived at Abercombie and they couldn’t find my order. Turns out it was shipped to Abercrombie Kids for I-don’t-know-what reason but that was in a different part of the mall. If you’ve ever been to Ala Moana Shopping Center, you know it’s not small. In fact, it’s the largest open-air mall in the WORLD! So I scurried out of Abercrombie and hit the mall map, because I had no idea where the kid’s store was, and then headed off to where I thought it was only to get there and still be lost. This was already taking longer than I planned. Eek! So, I looked at another mall map, finally found it, picked up my order and was on to Target.

I headed back across the mall and was nearly in Target when I saw in my peripheral this very tiny, elderly Asian woman leaning on her walker and waving at me. And when I say tiny, I mean she probably came up to my shoulders. I looked over in her direction and smiled and waved back at her even though I didn’t know her. I had one of those moments where you think, “Are you waving at me? Is there someone you know behind me? Okay, hi, this is weird.” But in the same second I realized she wasn’t waving at me, she was flagging me down.

So I stopped and turned to her and said ‘Hello’ and ‘Can I help you?’ and it was instantly clear to me that English was not her first language. I took French in high school, I taught myself some Spanish in college, but Asian languages are not part of my skill set. So I’m standing there, this very white, tall, blonde woman with this very short, probably about 85 year old, Asian woman and we were trying to communicate with each other.

“Are you lost?” I asked.

“Tick tock,” is what it sounded like she said, staring up at me earnestly and a bit pleading.

“What?” I asked. ‘What did I get myself into here?’ I thought. ‘I can’t even understand her.

“Tank top,” was the next thing I could kind of decipher. I didn’t want to say “What?” again because there’s only a certain number of times you can say that before you have to try something else. ‘Tank top,’ I thought. ‘Okay, she’s looking for a store.

“Do you want to look on the map and show me what you’re trying to find?” and I gestured toward the mall map nearby trying to think of a store where she might buy this desired tank top.

She shook her head and started making a motion like she was getting a vaccine in her arm.  

“Are you looking for… a doctor? This… this is the mall,” I said as my face turned into what probably looked like one giant question mark.  

“Taxi, tick tock,” she said while still motioning to her arm.

My bewilderment only grew and I stood there like, Dear Jesus, help me help this woman. What do I say? I can’t just walk away now!

Several years ago, I heard a sermon at church that was actually given by Aaron’s brother, Ben. (This was before Aaron and I were even friends! I know! So weird!) He taught on the story of Jesus and Jairus found in Mark 5. Jairus asked Jesus to come heal his daughter who was dying. They were on their way there when Jesus felt someone touch his cloak. He stopped and asked, “Who touched me?” even though he already knew. Jesus is like that – always giving us the invitation to come to him. He knew who touched him, but he asked the crowd anyway. A woman came forward. She had been bleeding for years and years and was considered unclean but heard that Jesus could heal her. Jesus knelt down to her, met with her, took time to be with her, healed her. Meanwhile, it took long enough that Jairus’s daughter died. If it were not for this woman interrupting Jesus, Jairus’s daughter could have been saved and yet Jesus stopped – was interrupted – for someone else. Jesus went on with Jairus and ended up bringing his daughter back to life because he’s Jesus and can do anything. Jairus was probably very frustrated by the interruption, but what happened instead was that God’s glory was revealed all the more. Nothing will not stop his plans from going forward or from his grace being freely given to all.

What I walked away with from that sermon – what I’ve hung on to ever since – was, “Are you willing to be interrupted?” We make our plans and go about our days and get lost in planning for the future without realizing what’s happening in front of us, right now, today. Oftentimes we forget to look up and see what God has for us in the present – ways in which he invites us into the stories of others to offer them grace, love, shalom. I wanted to get home to my cat and I know that might seem trivial to you, but trying to figure out what this woman wanted was not on my list of afternoon plans. But it was right in the thick of this moment where I felt the Spirit speak to me, “Can I interrupt you here? Right now?”

BUT DARLA. Just kidding. I had a mental moment of surrender. Okay. Yes.

Standing in front of my new Asian friend in the heat of the day at our outdoor mall when it was clear she was meant to be at a doctor’s office, I thought, Golly, what do I do? Then I took out my phone.

“Can you spell what you’re looking for and I’ll type it out here?”

“Jang,” she said. So I typed it in, J-A-N-G. She shook her head no. “Jang” she said again. I’ve subbed in enough schools here and seen enough last names to know that I was probably misunderstanding the pronunciation and my spelling wasn’t even close. I made another guess. J-I-A-N-G, I typed in. She shook her head. “Dok-tor Jang,” she said it slower, probably thinking she was talking to a moron. I scrolled through Google search results trying to see if anything would ring a bell for her but instead she fumbled around in her pockets for her wallet. She pulled out a business card. (PRAISE YOU, JESUS!) It read, Dr. JUNG. Of course.

“So you have an appointment here? This is a different building,” I reasoned.

“Taxi drop me off,” she pieced together.

“Okay, do you want me to call you a taxi?” I don’t know why I even offered it. I’ve never called a taxi service in my life. Is it like hailing a cab in New York City? That I’ve done, but I don’t think they just circle the mall parking lot waiting to be waved over.

She looked around, most certainly trying to figure out what to do, then started shuffling her walker out of the sun. She was tired. She wanted to sit down. She moved at a snail’s pace, but I ushered her over to a bench.

“Are you late for your appointment? Do you want to call your doctor?” I asked.

She retrieved her flip phone and handed it to me, gesturing that I should dial the numbers from the business card. When it started ringing, I gave it back to her. A voice on the other end answered and she started speaking fluently and beautifully in an Asian language with no stumbling or errors. We just spent the last half hour clunking through some semblance of a conversation and here she was probably relieved to communicate clearly and with ease. But then she held out the phone to me.  

“Hello?” I said.

“Who am I speaking with?” he asked.

“Hi, um, this is… my name is Lyndi. I don’t even know this woman, I’m just trying to help her.”

Everything in his voice rang with relief. He was so thankful. “Where are you?”

“We’re near Target. I guess she got dropped off here. Where is your office?”

He gave me some markers I didn’t know. Genki Sushi. Bank of Hawaii. Shoe store. “Okay, we’ll find it,” I said, though I was still doubtful. We hung up.

“I’m going to take you to your appointment,” I told her. “Is that okay?” I mean, we are strangers who just met at the mall. Do you trust me to load you up in my car and take you somewhere? I wondered.

She nodded okay. Said thank you. I explained to her that I would go get my car and come back around to where she was, but I actually believed that when I got back she would not be there or she would have found some other help - someone who could actually speak to her. When I got back around to where I had left her, she wasn’t there. I ran up the stairs and back down them. Was she a ghost? Am I hallucinating? I had been having headaches lately. But then she appeared from the elevator.

She was so fragile I was worried I might break her while I tried to give her a boost up into the front seat of our Escape. I wrapped my arm around her and helped her into my car, getting real close with a woman I didn’t know and will probably never see again. But she was in and I closed the door, folded up her walker and put it in the back. She didn’t put her seatbelt on but I figured, Hey, this is an adult woman who makes her own decisions. Wrong. I went over a speed bump at a pretty normal clip but when you’re 85 and you don’t have your seatbelt on, you about fall out of your seat. ‘Oh my word, I’m going to break this lady’s bones and I’m just trying to help her!’ I threw an arm across her chest to hold her back. ‘What am I even doing?’ I laughed to myself.

I had Google maps try to get me to this doctor’s office but if you know anything about Hawaii you know that nothing is simple, the roads don’t make sense, and there’s nowhere to park. I drove past the building a couple of times, navigated some inconvenient ‘one way’ signs and she probably thought I was kidnapping her, but we eventually found it. I parked my car in a ‘no parking’ zone and put my flashers on. She was not okay with this. As I helped her down out of my car and set up her walker and helped her into the building, she kept looking back at the car, knowing I was in error.

“The car is fine,” I reassured her. They really don’t mess around here with towing but at this point, I really didn’t care. “Does this building look familiar?”

She smiled and nodded her head. I breathed relief and we headed for the elevator. I held the door open with my arm and made sure she got inside. I remembered the room number from the business card and pushed ‘3’.

“You come?” she asked me.

“No, I’m not going to come. You know where to go now, right?”

“Yes. Sank you. Sank you,” she grabbed my arm and squeezed it and looked into my eyes with the sweetest smile in her own.

I walked back to my car. Almost an hour later I was back where I started, running into Target to get the things I needed.

I don’t understand the story. In fact I have a lot of questions. Who put her in the taxi to begin with? Where’s her family? Where does she live? Why was she dropped off at the mall? I don’t know why she flagged me down. I don’t even know her name. But there’s a verse in Hebrews that says,

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. 

I don’t know about you, but that’s exciting to me. Angels?! Hello! Aaron and I listened to the audio version of Everybody Always by Bob Goff as we drove around Arizona last week. If there’s anyone I want to be more like, it’s Bob - always giving away love and joy and speaking life to everyone he meets. He told one story about how he auditioned for the role of Peter in Peter Pan when he was in elementary school and instead of getting the main role, he was cast as “Tree Number 4”. Obviously not a notable role - not the hero or the victim - but a part to play nonetheless. He went on to say that in this story of life, we’re really just “Tree 4”. God is the hero of the story and he has it all worked out. But he’s given us a role to play too and we get to decide if we want to participate and do our part to love and serve and be there for the short time we’re needed. I feel like that’s exactly what I was doing for my Asian friend. I don’t know anything else about her story but I know I played my part in her life that day because I was willing to be interrupted.

Sometimes we get so caught up in ourselves we forget our role. We’re trying to be the point and make everything about us. But I don’t want to be so worried about my own schedule that I miss the opportunities God puts right in front of me. We’re supposed to give ourselves away for the help and care and consideration of others. Philippians says, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves;” How different our world would be if we each took care to do this every day in our own lives. It’s what I’m learning lately – to look for ways I can help others, show up for them, serve them, love them where they’re at in even the smallest ways - even just as Tree 4 in their lives as they pass by. God will use anything to remind us of what’s truly important. My reminder was my Asian friend looking for her doctor’s office and I’m thankful for the unexpected ways God shows up in our lives if only we’re looking.

One of my favorite songs right now has the lyrics, “Fix my heart to yours / Ready for the unexpected / Ready for what you will do next” Amen. Let’s be ready for the unexpected. Allow the interruptions. We have no idea what God is doing in our stories and in the stories of others when we encounter them, but I’m looking forward to talking to him about it one day.

Oh, and if you’re wondering, Darla was just fine when I got home - sitting real pretty in the middle of the desk.