I was the school treasurer of my elementary school in sixth grade. Translation, I managed the “school store” where out of a converted mop closet we sold cap erasers, pencil and pens, loose-leaf paper, glue, granola bars, and little snack cakes that were filled with blueberry or strawberry gel.
The granola bars and snack cakes were kept in big silver stainless steel trash cans with the kind of lids we used as cymbals when we were kids.
If I’m being honest, I owe that little school store a few back payments for all of the snack cakes I ate while no one was looking. The first one was the hardest to eat and I felt terrible about the stealing. But the rest went down with very little shame, especially the ones filled with blueberry.
At the end of the year when Mrs. Perry pulled those silver trash cans away from the wall, the empty wrappers hidden behind them ratted me out. I waited for my tongue-lashing, but to my surprise, she picked up the wrappers and put them into a large trash bag without saying a word. At first, I didn’t think she realized I was the thief. But today I know better; it was a show of compassion for the embezzlement and misappropriation of foods.
Everyone of us has a story. Some are stories filled with childhood indiscretions; harmless mistakes we made and barely remember. But there are others – stories we’re afraid of – stories we hope never rise to the surface. And it’s these stories, the ones we’ve tucked away never to be heard from again, that we must overcome. Because these are the stories still affecting us, and quite possibly, calling the shots for so many of our decisions in life.
This morning I met a new friend and listened to his story. Before he began, I assumed his story would be neat; neat as in tidy, tidy as in cleaned up, a little school store thievery at best. He had probably stolen something in his youth too, but I was sure his life was nothing so awful as mine had been.
As I pulled into a rainy parking lot, I whispered a prayer for our time together, because I know that sometimes a meeting can change everything.
When I stepped out of my car, the air was filled with the sweet and earthy smell of worms. Their shimmering iridescent tube-like bodies soaked up the drizzle on the asphalt, which was still warm from the unusually temperate evening the night before.
I’ve always wondered how worms end up so far away from the grass after a rainstorm. You would think they’d remain close to where the blacktop and flowerbeds meet up, nearer their home so as not to be trampled. But there they were, in the middle of the parking lot, bathing in the rain the way so many of us bathe in the sun, as if God himself had thrown out handfuls of them just before daybreak.
I made my way into the coffee shop and after chatting with the barista for a moment, my new friend walked through the door with a smile on his face.
I’m not great at small talk, so instead of talking about the rain, we argued over who would pay for whose coffee. After explaining that I’d recently been shown some coffee-generosity and it was my turn to pay it forward, my card was swiped and we headed for the coffee bar.
I poured creamer into my paper cup while he added sugar to his, after which we headed to a quiet area where we sat on the longest orange couch you’ve ever seen in your life.
As I said, I expected his story to be normal – a stolen snack cake, a burned relationship or two. Nothing too dangerous.
But we all have a story, whether or not we know our story; whether or not we’ll TELL our story.
Our story begins in our mother’s womb, and then develops within our family of origin, hiding away until it’s ready to come into the world. Before the age of reckoning, when our eyes are opened to the truth, we struggle to understand our story because we can’t read and write at the same time. So we are in a holding pattern until the time comes for us to look over those pages – to see what happened, to know how our story affected us.
Turns out, my friend already knew his story. And was willing to tell it.
When I was his age, I had no idea how deeply I had been affected by my own brokenness. So to see my new friend already dealing with his demons, pushing down the age of reckoning, inspired me. I sat on the longest orange couch you’ve ever seen in your life and thanked God that the world was becoming a safer place – our stories and struggles dragged into the broad of daylight.
As our time drew to a close, I mentioned that I was proud of him. I found his vulnerability moving and brave. I hoped I didn’t sound condescending when I said it, but after hearing his story I had few words to offer other than…
I am sincerely proud of you.
My sense of hope in the ability we all have to recover from the broken things within us was strengthened that day. I was reminded that life can be hard, that we are all doing the best we can, and that we must be gentle with ourselves, because life so often isn’t.
We said our goodbyes and I headed for my car. The worms were still glimmering in the parking lot, but this time I saw something beautiful about them I hadn’t noticed before. They were laid out in a gorgeous design, covering the warm asphalt like sculpted carpet formed from the raw elements of the earth, of life.
Their pattern on the pavement was stunning.
Each one was so far from home, isolated from one another in the cold and unkind rain. Yet somehow they still managed to create beauty for anyone who might notice them – for anyone who might SEE them.
Once the rain settled and the sun came out, I knew the worms would be gone – tunneling back into the ground, safe and sound. Together.
I don’t know if God scatters the worms out in the rain while we’re all sleeping, or if they crawl out there by themselves…but there they are, just the same.
And so are we. A stunning pattern on the pavement, even in the midst of our pain.
Sometimes we find ourselves in the cold and unkind rain and wonder how we got there – was it our doing or God’s?
But maybe it isn’t in knowing how we got there that’s so important, but in knowing that eventually, when it stops raining, we will find our way home.
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