64: A Precious Mess

64: A Precious Mess

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Hope & Miracles

A Precious Mess

Every happening, great and small, is a parable whereby God speaks to us, and the art of life is to get the message.

~Malcolm Muggeridge

When I saw Oliver, my teenage daughter’s energetic thirty-something youth group pastor, bound up the seven steps leading to the stage to deliver the Sunday morning message, I did something I’d never done before. Turning to my husband, who sat beside my son and younger daughter, I tersely said, “I’m going. Don’t follow me.”

Oblivious to the eight hundred people who filled the dimly lit sanctuary, I strode down City Church’s outer aisle. Oliver’s opening words echoed behind me as I flung open the door that led to the oversized lobby, but I wasn’t listening. The glass door that led to the outside banged open after I pounded too hard on its metal bar. I didn’t care. I was free.

Heading left, I started walking past row after row of cars until I reached the long concrete drive that led to the main road. I had no idea where I was going. Or why I had left.

Maybe it was because a new wave of grief had crashed over me the night before. Or maybe it was because, during greeting time, the unsuspecting woman in front of me turned around and asked, “How are you?” I should have responded with the customary “Fine, how are you?” Instead, I replied honestly. I had to tell the story I didn’t want to share one more time — that six months ago bullying had driven my fourteen-year-old, Jenna, to end her life. Normally I found joy and freedom while worshiping God as I remembered Jenna praising Him beside me and pictured her adoring him now in heaven. Today, however, the tears cascaded down my cheeks.

Whatever the reason, I did know one thing. I wanted to be alone.

Minivans were swerving by me on the busy road as I walked on the narrow shoulder. So, I veered left into the first neighborhood I saw—a subdivision I’d never been in before. On either side of the entrance I noticed a black-and-white oval sign that adorned the towering twenty-foot-high wrought-iron gate anchored by thick brick towers. I was entering Holland Place.

As I walked down the sidewalk of Netherland Lane, my hands stuffed into the back pockets of my thrift-store Abercrombie jeans, I passed landscaped lawns and lofty brick homes. But my mind was engaged in a raw and real conversation with my King.

“I don’t understand any of this. I’ve done every healthy thing I can think of to walk through this grief, and nothing seems to be helping. I don’t know what else to do. If I can’t see or hear you, you’ve got to at least show me that you’re here. I need to know you care.”

I wasn’t expecting an answer. Half a mile into the Holland Place subdivision, however, I heard a voice.

“Mrs. Saadati?”

As I rounded the cul-de-sac, a woman dressed in a University of South Carolina Gamecocks navy t-shirt and denim shorts emerged from a grand house.

“Yes?” I answered, wondering who she was and how she knew my name. No one I was acquainted with lived in this neighborhood. “I’m Mrs. Saadati.”

“We’ve never met,” she said, “but my son is a seventh grader at the middle school your daughter attended last year. Jenna hasn’t been forgotten. The teachers, especially her band director and English teacher, and students still talk about her. Jenna’s photos and awards are still displayed. She was so talented and beautiful. Her impact is felt all over the school.”

The conversation under the crape myrtle at the end of the driveway was short. I had no words. Shocked, I simply listened.

“I think of you often and I pray for you,” she said. “I haven’t forgotten.”

“Thank you,” is all I could manage to mumble. Before continuing on, however, I asked one question.

“How did you know who I was?”

“I was passing my front door when I saw you walk by,” she said. “I don’t know how I knew who you were. I just did.”

Replaying the conversation in my mind, I retraced my steps. After walking for ten minutes, pondering what had just happened, I reached the entrance with the tall iron gate. That’s when I spotted it.

Squashed up against the curb beside the storm drain sprawled something fuzzy and flattened. Road kill, I thought. During my half marathon training runs, I switch to the other side of the street to avoid seeing the smashed critters. But that day, for a reason I’ll never know, I did something different. I stopped and crouched down to examine it.

What I saw surprised me. Rather than road kill, it was a run-over, rain-soaked teddy bear. It lay on its back, arms flung open as if waiting and wanting to be rescued.

That bear is a mess, I thought, but I’ll bet it’s precious to someone.

Then, though it wasn’t an audible voice, somewhere in my spirit God seemed to whisper, “You’re a mess, too, but you’re still really precious. To me.”

With tears flowing, I picked up the bear, almost afraid to touch it but not wanting to let it go. I didn’t have a purse to put it in and didn’t want to carry the filthy mat of fur into the service and explain. So, I cut through the parking lot to place it on my car before returning to the sanctuary.

Along the way I looked up twice. Still teary-eyed, I wasn’t focused on anything. But my eye caught a decal on a van that read, “Run . . . like a girl. 13.1.” The distance of the half marathon. The second time I raised my head, my eyes saw a different car’s magnet. The picture silhouetted four people — a dad, a mom, a boy, and a girl. My family’s new normal. Above it were written the words “Blessed Family.”

The crowd was filtering out of the sanctuary just as I returned. I found my husband, who looked at me with an expression that said, “You missed all of it.”

Little did he know that God had crashed into my world and filled me with hope.

As I shook my head, my lips formed a delicate smile.

“Wait until I tell you,” I said. “God showed up. Even when I was AWOL from church.”

~Beth Saadati

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