God slapped me in the face today. It should have stung, but all I felt was grace.
We moved into our current house late last summer. Within a week Jalynn had a play date with the cutest girl on the block, four-year-old Savannah. Her mom came over and introduced herself. She's sweet and generous and can wear leggings with anything. By January our relationship had grown from driveway chats to beach trips and botanical garden excursions.
Now Savannah may be the cutest girl on the block, but she's not the only. Living three doors down from us are five-year-old twins, a boy and a girl. If I hadn't run into their mom on a walk one day and engaged in a courtesy chat, I never would have known they were twins. Nathan is small for his age, disheveled blond hair framing a cute face, something baby-like still lingering in his big brown eyes. Taller than average and significantly overweight, Jesse shadows over her brother, edging him by some six inches and 45 pounds. They're quite the pair. Hard not to notice. Easy to ignore. For six months I didn't know their names.
I'd see them on their scooters, barefoot and sweaty and crossing the street without looking both ways—misfits in our neighborhood of cookie-cutter houses and luxury cars. The girl, especially, made me uncomfortable. The eleven-year-old in me wanted to snicker as I drove past. My inner Mother Theresa wanted to send her to weight-loss camp. I settled on a compromise: pity.
About a month ago I realized that when Jalynn looks at Jesse she sees someone different than I do. She doesn't see an overweight kid; she just sees a kid. And when Jalynn sees a kid, she wants to play. So that's exactly what they've been doing a lot of the past few weeks. Drawing with sidewalk chalk and riding bikes and taking baby dolls for walks in baby doll strollers. The twins are two years older than Jalynn but include her in everything they do. They are Jalynn's kindest friends.
Jesse and Nathan ate lunch with us last week. I asked Jalynn to pray before diving into turkey sandwiches and baby carrots. "What's 'pray' mean?" Jesse asked. The siblings looked up at me, anxious for an explanation. They had never even heard the word.
This afternoon Jesse was playing with Jalynn in her room. They removed every plastic beaded necklace from Jalynn's pink jewelry box and then moved on to the books on her dresser. I stood at the door in time to hear Jesse ask, "What's this book about?" She was holding up a children's Bible. Jalynn acted uninterested as she spouted a quick "Jesus" answer and moved on to making her giggling baby doll giggle.
I stepped in: "Do you know who Jesus is?"
Jesse started to shake her head "no," but a sudden realization stopped her. Excited, she shouted out, "I've heard Jesus songs at Target."
I knew exactly what she was talking about. There's an endcap next to the greeting cards at our local Target. It's like a mini-jukebox selling lullaby CDs by Jewel and some no-name Michael Buble of Sunday School songs. "Jesus Loves Me" is on a short play list that it broadcasts to everyone within a twelve foot radius. I've heard it a hundred times but only noticed it a couple.
All Jesse knew about Jesus was a song on an end cap display. This isn't a village in India or Burma or Brazil. This is Irvine, California. 2010. This is three doors down.
Jesse was captive. She wanted to know more. Holding The Jesus Storybook Bible in hand, I read some and story told a lot. We started with Matthew 19. Jesus' friends argued over who was the most important in God's Kingdom. This saddened Jesus. All that time with Him and they still didn't get it.
But then there were these kids. They weren't on their best behavior, their hair was probably messed up, and chances are some of them weren't the cutest on their block. But they ran to Jesus. He picked them up and giggled with them and listened to their stories. He loved them. And they didn't doubt it. Not for a moment.
We moved on from there. She turned to the page with the lions and the one with a big fish. For the first time she heard about a gracious God, a God who sent an angel to protect a faithful man and a fish to save a disobedient one.
For six months I, like Jonah, ran away from God's voice. I snickered and felt pity and avoided learning names. Yet still He chose to use me.
That same God slapped me lovingly in the face today. And all I felt was grace.