The mustard seed
“You probably don’t know me but my Daddy started this church.”
I looked up at the young woman standing in the door of my office and against the darkness outside. I might not have known who she was, but with that clue I knew immediately. Underneath her distress, the beauty I’d seen in old pictures was clearly visible.
“And you dedicated my daughter when she was one, remember?”
Distress poured from her voice, her demeanour and her dress. And the story behind it poured into my office.
“I need to start over and this church is where I grew up. When I saw it across the street, I knew I needed to come in.”
She began like many people: university degrees, good jobs, a relationship and a child.
But like all towns, ours has a bitter underbelly behind the facade of malls and subdivisions. For those drawn into its vortex, abuse, drugs, alcohol and raw sadness do their destructive work very efficiently. That vortex caught her.
She talked about estrangement from her parents, an ex and a daughter she loved.
“I have to go home to my mom. I don’t know if that will work.”
And so we talked and cried together and tried to cobble together a plan that sounded realistic.
But I’ve heard sad stories far too often, and I know that plans made in safe places – even with the deepest sincerity, and the best of intentions – are fragile little things.
“You know where to find me. I know your mom. I think I can help. At least I’m willing to try,” I said as she stepped back into the dark night. My words sounded puny even as I spoke them into the darkness.
I wasn’t surprised when no call came. That’s how it is. I’ve gone looking for lost sheep, but usually there is nowhere to look.
And life goes. Sometimes it’s just too little.
“You probably don’t recognize me…”
The church service was about to begin and I was touching base as people came in. I knew immediately who she was. It was five years since she’d appeared in the door of my office.
This time, an aneurism had taken its visible toll on her. She had a cane to prop up half a body that was less cooperative than half bodies are supposed to be.
Her natural beauty was, however, undiminished and this time it radiated from her, without restraint.
“I’m sorry I didn’t come back and see you, but it’s a long story. I needed to come back and here I am!”
And it was a long story: a story of moving home with her mother, of fighting off addictions, of being able to see her daughter again, of reconciling with her father, of discovering and then fighting cancer and then the bizarre devastation of the aneurism.
“Why, after all that, would that have to happen?” she asked.
All I could do was share her bewilderment. It wasn’t fair. I have questions too.
And I would see her again, and again, and again.
Each week, when her health allows, she and her mother sit in the very centre of the congregation and the glow of her victories lights up the room like a the sun.
“There’s one more thing,” she said one day. “I need to be baptized. Do you think we can manage that with my cane?”
No doubt we can!
And on that day she stood up and told her story to us all, as only she can: a powerful story with wonderful fruit and deep roots. A story that is only just beginning.
Then Jesus asked, “What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches” (Luke 13:18–19).
I feel like one of those birds – and it feels so good.
—James Toews is pastor at Neighbourhood Church, Nanaimo, B.C.