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.