I don’t typically get involved in other people’s chaos. Unless I’m directly associated, I tend to live by the credo, “Not my circus; not my monkeys.” While not inserting myself into other people’s drama has certainly served me well, it’s not always the right call to make as a Believer in Christ. Sometimes stepping into someone else’s mess to bring a Good Word or a helpful hand is a God-ordained mission.
Years ago, I had the rare opportunity to accompany my husband on a business trip to Chicago. I was excited to go for several reasons. First, we had three kids ages six, four and two, and time alone with my husband sounded dreamy. Second, although you can’t tell by talking to me, I was born in Chicago, so I was excited to visit again (I was raised in Texas, thus the twang). And lastly, did I mention we had three kids ages six and under?
I brought a book with me on the trip – Beautiful Outlaw by John Eldredge – and was thrilled to have uninterrupted reading time. I started reading this personality profile of Jesus on the plane and hardly put it down the whole trip. I was intrigued by its every word that made me fall more in love with Jesus and understand just how loved I am by Him. However, I never expected the pages of the book and the events of the trip to become inextricably intertwined.
On our first full day in Chicago the weather was absolutely gorgeous. My husband had meetings until early afternoon, so I decided to head down to Navy Pier, just blocks from our hotel. I set out by myself for a relaxing day taking in the sites and, of course, reading Beautiful Outlaw. I found an open-air café along the Pier that was just begging me to sit a spell. I wasn’t the only one with this idea, it seemed like everyone in Chicago wanted to dine al fresco.
The tables around me were full of people reveling in the glory of a non-grey day in the Windy City. Next to me was a party of young men, laughing it up and lapping up pitchers of beer. My nose was buried in my book, but I could feel the excited energy of my surroundings.
Suddenly, that energy completely changed. Everything around me changed. Waitstaff was scurrying about with roving eyes and clenched jaws. My fellow diners traded their smiles for looks of utter disgust. Hands were over mouths. Eyes were wide and heads were shaking right and left in disapproval.
A few minutes before, the scene was almost too perfect to be true. Now, the tension was palpable. Everyone seemed appalled. What happened to totally change the mood of everyone around me? I had been so engrossed in my book that I missed the gross misconduct that sucked the air right out of the al fresco café.
I started piecing together details as people began to trade their gasps for actual words. I found out where all the disgust was directed. To my surprise, it was all directed at a six-year-old girl and, by extension, her family. Just moments before, a hostess was leading the family of five to their table when a small bird landed near the little girl’s foot. She saw the bird and immediately stomped on it. And that’s what changed the entire mood of the outdoor restaurant.
I was wondering how this family would handle the next few minutes as they settled into their table with all eyes on them. What I saw next is forever etched in my memory. The family consisted of two parents and three young children. The mother was at one end of the table trying to get everyone’s sippy cups, bibs, crackers, and whatever anybody else needed. The two younger kids were in booster seats at the other end of the table. The oldest child, who stomped things in motion, had her back to me, however, I could see her shoulders slumped under the weight of guilt and shame. Facing me was her father.
He only broke his tirade against his six-year-old daughter to silently glare at her, seemingly repulsed by her very presence. He railed at her and then became unnervingly silent. He looked directly at her as if to sear a hole right through her.
And my heart broke.
My eyes started to well up at the thought of this little girl not knowing how loved she was. I knew this moment would be critical in her life. I had been reading page after page about the different aspects of Jesus’ personality and how each aspect is rooted in love. The more I watched the more my heart broke and I began to pray for this family. As I prayed, I felt a sure prompting to go over to their table.
To be clear, that’s not something I would normally do.
But, I did. I got up and walked right over to their mess. Fear should have gripped me. I’m a whisper under 5’2”, and the father was a large, burly man who was already angry. But I had total peace about entering their chaos. All I could think about was that little girl never being able to understand how her Heavenly Father could love her when her earthly father could barely look at her. I also figured, since we were in public, the most the father could do is yell at me and tell me to leave. That seemed like a small price to pay for the opportunity to speak love to a hurting girl (and her family).
As I approached their table, the mom noticed me coming toward them and braced for the worst. I smiled and said, “Hello. I wanted to come over after all that just happened.”
The mom continued to move things around the table nervously. The little girl looked at me ready to be scolded. Hoping to ease their fear, I looked at the little girl and said, “I want you to know you are so loved. God loves you dearly.”
The mom looked relieved and confused at the same time. She said, “Did you see what happened?”
I told her I knew what happened, but I didn’t think a child her daughter’s age realized the consequences of what she did in the moment. The mom’s demeanor changed, and she said, “You don’t think she meant to kill that bird?”
I assured her that I didn’t think the girl realized what was going to happen, she just reacted without thinking about consequences. I recounted a story from my own childhood in which I caused damage without truly realizing the consequences of my actions until it was too late. We chatted a bit more, I asked the ages of each of their kids and told them I had three kids exactly their kids ages back home in Dallas. The mood at the table lightened, but the father only looked at me. It was then that I decided to engage him.
I said, “I know how days like this go. You probably had big expectations of taking your family out for a beautiful day along Navy Pier. You imagined providing the kind of day that just brings smiles and laughs… and then something like this happens. It’s frustrating, I know.”
He gave me a simple nod.
I looked again at the girl and said, “I’ll leave you to your lunch, I just want you to know that God loves you dearly. I was over there reading about how much we are loved by Jesus and I thought you needed to know, too.”
What happened to that family? I will likely never know until Heaven, but my prayer is that we will rendezvous one glorious day. As I think back on my encounter with them, I still find it hard to believe that I entered their mess. It’s not that I’m marveling at my own courage, but I marvel at what I’m willing to do when I’m steeped in the truth of Jesus’s love.
Dear Jesus, thank You for equipping me not with theology or points of debate, but with Your love as I encountered that family in Chicago. Let that be my first response to the people You put in my path. May fear bow at Your feet and make way for Your greater plans. Amen.