Jennifer

Tears streamed down my cheeks.  But I was unwilling to leave.

I did not sing.  I did not want to sing.  I clung to myself, stringy arms wrapped around snug.  It was a picture of my life.  I didn’t expect God to hold me; I wasn’t inviting Him to sit with me.  I wanted to find sanctuary in His church, a place of peace even if I didn’t understand His Presence.

It was also a place where I could cry and others could see my grief.  I was feeling very sorry for myself and I wanted others to feel sorry for me, too.

My church attendance had been shaky long before my father had gotten sick; now, it was downright pathetic.  I no longer had the excuse of staying home with my terminally ill father–really, watching TV or the like.  Now I felt I needed to go to church to “prove” that I really would have gone all along under different circumstances.

It was a ridiculous idea.  I wanted people to believe I was noble and brave.  I wanted to believe it myself.

And I mourned.

Heavy self-pity and light grief.  What an unappealing combination.  But that was exactly what I had.

I sat alone on a long pew, afraid to leave and lose the presence of my father.  That is how strongly I connected him to the church.  I was afraid of grieving alone.  I did not want the singing to end.  I did not want to go back to a life that did not make sense with a God who seemed to have slowly slipped out of the picture–or had it been that I had slowly slipped out of His picture, as soon as I could make a break for it?

I have a habit of imagining things that can happen–often improbable things or very impossible things.  Back then, I especially thought a lot about what could happen.  As I sat there, I thought, What if someone would come over to me?  What if someone would sit by me?

Of course, this seemed somewhere between improbable and impossible.  Service had started.  I was hunched over, and most people are a bit wary of approaching someone who is hunched over.  I had my arms wound around my chest, and most people are a bit apprehensive of approaching someone who has their arms wound around their chest.  I looked, no doubt, unapproachable.

I had tears streaming down my face and not the romanticized version.  I am sure my nasal canals were slick with snot.  This is not the kind of thing you see on movies, but it is very often the kind of thing you see in real life.  The dark times in our lives rarely beckon of beauty or wanderlust.  They look, pretty much, ugly to outsiders (and to us).

There is hardly any surprise that, when I saw a girl about my age suddenly making her way towards me, I wondered if she was not simply on her way to the bathroom.  The odds had to be in favor of that.  I could, after all, not have harmed myself much further if I’d held up a sign with the words SOCIAL PARIAH.

But she was coming towards me.  She was by my pew now.  She walked down that pew–I believe it was totally empty–and headed straight for me.  It was quite a long walk to make during a service that had already started.  I thought she looked extremely daring.  I think it was like she was crossing a dilapidated bridge that sank in the middle, with molten lava and fire sharks underneath.  (I, as I said, am good about imagining things).

As you have probably guessed, her name was Jennifer.

I had known Jennifer for about eleven years.  Although we’d never spent much time together, I’d always felt we were very close.  One time at a teen outing, I’d been sort-of self-subjugated to aloneness-in-the-trailing-behindness-and-still-trying-to-look-like-coolness placement.  Jennifer had slowed her pace and become part of a twoness-in-the-trailing-behindness-and-still-trying-to-look-like-coolness placement.  She’d even wanted to share her five dollars with me.  This is even more amazing because she is a year or two older than me.  It wasn’t like we were peers.  She was grades cooler just by birthdate alone.

And here we were, both of us in our early twenties and her certainly with better things to do.  But she came to sit by me.  She smiled, as if she were sitting by an old friend she really wanted to sit by, and not a morose disruption.

“Can I sit by you?” she whispered, smiling.

I said yes or nodded or something.  She wrapped her arms around me.

I let go of clinging to myself.

And we sat together.  Through the songs.  Through the preaching.  She did not let go of me.

God knows how unworthy I was of this.  But, to Jennifer, it did not matter how unworthy or ugly-hearted or foolish or disgusting I was.  It mattered that she had the the Love of Christ to pour out on me.  When we pour the Love of Christ on others, though we take from God to do so, He receives this taking as a gift to Him!  We are actually pouring out God’s Love as a gift to the holy, perfect, beautiful, worthy God who has all wisdom and worth!

The service ended and Jennifer said a humble encouragement and goodbye.  Without giving awkward, miserable time for me to bumble through an apology for my embarrassing presence, she quietly left.

Not long after, I stopped going to church.  For all Jennifer knew, her kindness had done me no good.  It would be another five years before I would commit my life to Christ.

For all Jennifer knew, her honoring love of a broken, grieving, selfish sinner had been wasted.  She could have spent that hour praising God with friends or family who actually worshiped God.  She could have stayed away from snotty-nosed rejects.

And conventional wisdom says that people who hate themselves are pretty much beyond the help of an ordinary friend.  They need counseling, psychology, medicine–and they have to help themselves.  And what’s more, they kind-of deserve it, don’t they, because they kind of like hating themselves?

And who has ever heard of wanting to socialize with people who are grieving a death?  Goth movies popularize conversations with dead people as awfully cool, but how many movies advertise befriending a self-hating mess of a person grieving for the dead who isn’t as good-looking as Orlando Bloom and can’t give a great gift in return?  Not many.

And who even remembers what Jennifer did?  Why do something knowing you won’t ever get a rebate back in the mail for your unwarranted kindness?  Why do something that won’t get you on the front cover of a magazine and won’t be talked about on Oprah?  Why do something nobody is even expecting you to do?  It isn’t as if Jennifer’s friends would have accused her of neglect if she’d left me sitting there.  As a matter of fact, it would made far more common sense to leave me alone.

Why do something like this?

Because Jesus is all about these kind of moments.

When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do–blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. (Matthew 6:3-4, NLT)

Rejoice with those who are rejoicing. Cry with those who are crying. (Romans 12:15, ISV)

Jesus works through the moments of kindness so exquisitely secretive that they are never popularized, moments the dust of time seems to erode away altogether.  But God remembers them.  It is a little as if He places these moments on columns in His Hall of Fame, even knowing they are only done by the grace He gives.

There is no reason to write this in honor to Jennifer.  Jennifer will have a reward in Heaven beyond anything I could ever write of or do for her.  But there is another reason for writing:

Are there people in my life who need me to be like Jennifer and, without need for popularity, payback, or prestige, pour out on them the love of Christ?

There are.

Are there people in your life, too?

But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit,and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life. In this way, you will keep yourselves safe in God’s love. And you must show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives. (Jude 1:20-23, NLT)

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Published in: on June 4, 2012 at 11:20 am  Leave a Comment  
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