We had been chatting about God for about thirty minutes – this stranger and I – when he realized the time and had to leave. As he packed his laptop and books away in his worn leather shoulder bag, he paused.
Looking at me, he said, “You know something? I knew there was something different about you when I saw you before. I knew because you smiled at me, and nobody smiles like that any more.”
I tried to appear casual as I thanked him – genuinely appreciative of his compliment but not emotionally so – even though my heart felt in that moment as though someone had reached into my chest and squeezed it. Because this stranger – this man I had known less than an hour – was telling me he had seen God in me. That would normally have been good news, but on that particular day his kind words struck me as ironic and sad.
You see, just the night before I had been anything but “different” as I fell into the trap of anger. The reason for my anger was trivial but, caught in a weak and tired moment, it was more than enough. My rage came with the fury of a thousand wildfires and would not be tamed by a few deep breaths and positive thoughts. It burned through my body as I flounced through my neighborhood in the gray twilight. My feet pounded the pavement and my chest heaved as my racing mind and stomping feet tried to keep pace with one another.
I was angry and I didn’t really care who knew it. The thought occurred to me as I walked, my silver cross necklace glinting in the fading sunlight as it bounced on my chest, that if anyone saw me walking like that – storming my way down the street by myself – Christ would not be what they saw. In my anger, though, I didn’t care. I was possessed by my own fury that was all that mattered. I wanted someone to know how angry I was.
I returned home and had one of those embarrassing, repentant conversations with my husband and daughter – I like a child after a temper tantrum, they the bewildered bystanders wondering what had just happened. Thankfully, I was forgiven.
But the humiliation of my behavior was almost as bad as the anger that had driven it. A grown woman shouldn’t act that way, right? Adults should be able to control themselves better. CHRISTIANS should be able to control themselves better. What had I taught my daughter through my actions? What had I conveyed to her in my rage? How had I failed her? And how could I ever begin to fix it? And my husband…my poor husband. Why did he have to see such ugliness in his wife?
I fell asleep with those thoughts weighing on my mind and they lingered there throughout the next morning.
But early the next afternoon, in that corner of the coffee shop, a stranger had somehow seen Jesus when by all accounts, I was the last person qualified to represent Christ. He had seen the light of God even though my behavior should have covered it with a bushel.
I felt terrible as I realized that once again, the most important people in my life had fallen victim to the worst parts of me. I felt awful that I show light and life to the rest of the world when my husband and daughter catch the brunt of all that is dark inside me. I chastised myself, beating myself up over and over in my thoughts for being such a horrible help mate to my spouse and terrible example to my daughter.
But at some point, I realized something more powerful at work than my own regret. I realized that what God was trying to tell me that day was that His grace is enough for the big, ugly sins of my past, but is equally sufficient for the day-to-day struggles of my heart. He chose me – yes, a person like me – for the position He has given me in His plan. Me – despite my past failings and present inadequacies. Me – regardless of my daily failures and constant wandering.
God’s grace chose me – even me – and will not un-choose me based on anything I do. Even when I mess up – even when my thoughts and my words and my actions are toxic to myself and everyone around me – even when I allow the light to be hidden – even when I do all the things I vow never to do – God is not through with me. He can still use me. He is still within me, and I am still His.