My alarm went off while it was pitch dark outside. I rolled over and couldn’t remember why it was time to wake up. I don’t teach until tonight…I’m not Facetiming anybody this morning… And then it hit me. I wasn’t waking up before the birds out of obligation—this was a personal choice. I was voluntarily going to a 7:30am meeting with a three-hour round-trip commute. Why did I decide to do this again?
The meeting would be held at a place I’d been to several times on the weekends, but never on a weekday, and even though I didn’t know the format or content of what was to come, I was really expectant. The place I was going to—the room with the fake flowers covering the wall behind the stage, with the low ceiling and dim lighting—it wasn’t magical, but it was a place where I felt God’s presence often. It was one of those places where even though the room was filled to the brim, it seemed like the speaker was speaking directly to me; where the cadence of the songs of the local language permeated the air and gave me the chills; where my only friends on that side of the globe gathered and poured out their hearts to each other. So even though I didn’t know what might happen that day, I knew what had happened in that place before, and that was enough to make a night-owl like me wake up at five in the morning.
I didn’t recognize anyone upon arriving, but that didn’t matter; I knew good things were to come. I sat down and made myself at home, excited for what I’d hear that day. Once the speaker got started, though, I was surprised to hear a whole lot of the local language and none of my own. On the weekends, there’s always a translator. But as I learned that Tuesday, on the weekdays, there’s not. Oh great. I woke up before the crack of dawn, traveled an hour and a half, and now I don’t even know what’s going on.
A few minutes into the message, a petite woman with the sweetest smile and brightest eyes walked across the aisle and sat down next to me. She asked if I could understand the speaker and subsequently offered to translate for me. I was having a hard time comprehending my own first language at that point of the day, and here she was, eager to go through all the trouble of translating everything into her second language for me. She whispered the entire message in my ear sentence by sentence and disappeared once the speaker finished.
It wasn’t long, though, before she returned. She told me she’d been praying for me a few moments prior; I thanked her and assumed she’d disappear again. But she replied that God wanted her to tell me something. That’s when I got wary—I had literally just met this woman thirty minutes ago. Why would God tell her something about someone she didn’t even really know? With this in mind, I prepared myself for her message to be a sweet sentiment but not anything meaningful or personal.
She went on to say that she had just had a vision of me—which really freaked me out, if I’m being totally honest. She began vividly describing me in the snow: I was wearing a white coat, white gloves, and a white hat, spinning around as the snow fell around me on my coat and eyelashes. I started to discount what she was saying, but she was so enthusiastic and animated that I couldn’t stop listening. She continued that in her vision, I made a snow angel and that I was bursting with joy. She finally paused, and I wondered if this was really “me” she saw. She described everything with such detail and confidence, though, that, again, I kept listening. I was willing to entertain the possibility that it was me. But what did it matter? And what did it mean? After all, it was ninety degrees that day.
I didn’t have to wonder long, because an interpretation was right around the corner. She said that she felt led to tell me that all the white symbolized that God sees me as white as snow, that I’m blameless before Him, and that He sees me as being pure. I couldn’t believe my ears. I mean, I could, because these are truths that anyone who has put their faith in Jesus knows, but at the same time, they aren’t things you always know-know. These are things you hear from a stage or pulpit or read on somebody’s Instagram—not things anybody ever sits you down, looks you in the eye, and says directly to you.
After hearing her message, I started going through my mind to be sure each part of it was scriptural. After all, everybody doesn’t hear from God correctly 100% of the time—we’re human, and we make mistakes. But when I thought about it, everything sat well with me, and it was all Biblically sound: Through Jesus, our sins are made as white as snow (Isaiah 1:18), and we’re considered blameless (1 Thessalonians 5:23, Ephesians 1:4) and pure (1 John 3:2-3).
I felt like crying at the gravity of her words, as what she told me began to sink in. I knew that this was exactly what I needed to hear because for months, I had lived under a lie that I was to blame for something that had happened to me, and that I was deserving of consequences for it. But here was some tiny Asian woman whose last name I didn’t know, telling me that God wanted me to know that I was blameless, essentially, reminding me of the concept of grace. I was truly dumbfounded.
As happy as I was to feel this weight lifting, though, I started to get equally as mad. And then I was mad that I was mad. This was great news I had just heard, and God had gone to great lengths to reveal this to me, so what right did I have to be upset?
This may seem like a leap, but has anyone ever thrown you a surprise birthday party? The person goes through so much trouble to do something nice and special for you, and you appreciate the effort, but you feel bad that they did all that, and then you feel bad that you feel bad? That’s how I felt. I didn’t understand why God would tell some lady something so utterly personal about me instead of saying it directly to me; it seemed unnecessary to involve someone else in this. But after thinking more, I came to realize that this over-the-top gesture was actually His relentless pursuit.
Looking back, I have no doubt that God HAD been whispering these truths to me during those months. I must’ve have heard and read thousands of times that God wasn’t mad at me and that Jesus had made me blameless at church in the Bible those past few months, but for whatever reason, those truths weren’t penetrating my heart. Thankfully, God wasn’t willing for me to keep walking around under those lies I was believing. Instead of giving up on getting through to me, He woke me up at 5am, led me to a meeting where I had to rely on a stranger to understand anything being said, and then used that stranger to speak straight to my heart. If that’s not love and kindness, I don’t know what is.
In the summer of 2010, I worked at a summer camp where I met my best friends. We loved the kids we worked with, enjoyed being together in the outdoors, and absolutely adored our boss. He was quiet but confident, gentle and kind, and he had a way of making you feel at ease, like you could tell him anything. We hung on his every word, and we still do. That particular summer, some of his wise words were, “You can’t be a Christian by yourself.” At the time, I hated to question him because I admired him so much, but I couldn’t quite agree. “You could believe in Jesus by yourself and still be saved,” I thought. The more I’ve mulled it over these past ten years, though, the more I see that he was right. We need each other. When we can’t believe something God is telling us, we desperately someone to remind us what’s true. When we wander off course, we need someone to set us straight. And before we accept the Gospel, someone has to explain it to us (Romans 10:13-14).
I’ve never had the chance to tell my stranger-friend how meaningfully God used her that morning and how much the words she spoke impacted me, and I may not get to, this side of Heaven. But I hope I can follow her example of being led by the Spirit in meeting someone where they are in speaking truth to them too. May we not forget that God has ordained good works for us to carry out (Ephesians 2:10), that we’ve been anointed to preach good tidings, that we’re to proclaim freedom to the captives, to comfort those who mourn, and to offer beauty instead of ashes — all so that God will be glorified (Isaiah 61:1-3).