Once upon a time, there was a young couple living in suburban Maryland. They were happy and kind and pretty tired, in the way young couples with three small children often are. Their afternoons and weekends revolved around changing diapers and T-ball games and Brownie meetings, and their friendships revolved around their neighborhood and church small group.
They had been missionaries in Tanzania for the first five years of their marriage. Sometimes they wondered what they were doing in their house on a cul-de-sac in the suburbs. They had had desires to live radically for Him and they weren't always sure this normal-American-life they were in was how they should be doing that!
They kept praying and kept applying and kept looking into other things; yet doors opened, and opened, and opened right in that community.
So they decided to live faithfully right where they were. They kept their radical hearts and they prayed and invested in small, mundane, normal ways with the people around them. Fellow PTA moms came over to discuss logistics and sometimes ended up pouring their hearts out about their broken marriages. Coaching the soccer team of seven-year-old boys became an unofficial way to model an involved, affectionate dad to kids who didn't have one. Refugee families who had just been resettled into the community were surprised when the white couple in the school office invited them over- in Swahili!
And every Tuesday night, while that young couple went to Bible study, a fourteen-year-old girl in their neighborhood came over to babysit.
They hadn't known anything about her the first time they called; a-friend-of-a-friend had passed on her number when they mentioned they were looking for a sitter, said she was a friend of their daughter's who had just recently started coming to church. She had babysat for them for a few Saturday date nights and the kids had taken to her right away, so they asked if she would be their weekly sitter.
The girl liked being in their house and liked seeing their family interact. She noticed how affectionate the parents were with each other, and how intentional they were with engaging with their kids on a deep level. She noticed that even when they were a little stressed about being on time, or where their books and jacket and keys and directions were, or why the kids still had not eaten their vegetables even though they'd told them to, they still smiled at her and asked how school was going and listened to the answer.
After the kids were in bed, the fourteen-year-old would curl up in their living room and do her homework and watch One Tree Hill... but sometimes she would also read her Bible or write in her journal.There was just something about the atmosphere of their house that for some reason made her want to do that.
The kind, happy, tired couple didn't think too much about the fourteen-year-old girl besides the fact that they were grateful their kids loved her and that when they came back every week everyone was alive and the house hadn't burned down.
They didn't think about the fact that from the kitchen she could hear on the baby monitor how they prayed earnestly when they put their youngest to bed- (even though she was just a baby and it wasn't like she could even understand all of these words about her growing into faith and joy and strength!).
They didn't know that she saw through the window that they held hands as they walked from the car up to the house.
When they told her she could feel free to borrow whatever books on the bookshelves looked interesting, they didn't realize she was paying attention to how dog-eared and underlined the devotionals and Bible studies were. That she read the thoughtful notes and prayers they'd written in the margins as well as the authors' words.
One day the dad came home exhausted from work, and muttered under his breath, "Work as if working for the Lord and not for men". He never knew the girl took the reference to heart, and started applying it to her own hard days.
The couple didn't know those things... but they knew there was a young girl in their house every week, which was enough for them to know. That was enough for them to ask if she wanted to eat dinner with them as a family before they left. That was enough for them to ask how they could be praying for her when they drove her home at the end of the night every week.
A year or two down the road, they found out the girl's parents were separating. And even though the girl was really convincing about how she was doing totally fine, every once and awhile they'd ask if she wanted to come by just to hang out- even if they weren't going out and didn't need her to babysit. Sometimes when the dad would take the kids in the backyard to play, the mom would encourage the girl to stay inside and drink tea with her, and they would just chat. Sometimes the girl was confused by the decisions her friends were making, or by why she was still not perfect even after being a Christian for three whole years!! Their kitchen became a place she could sort through those things. Even if they were in the midst of folding laundry or stirring spaghetti, they always had time for her questions; and even if they admitted they didn't know any solutions, they always offered to pray.
Once upon a time, a twenty-four-year-old girl speed-dialed a number that's been memorized for a decade, just like she does most Saturday mornings.
A newly-deep voice answered. When he heard who it was he immediately launched right into telling all about his soccer game and the youth group event the night before. And even though he's a head taller than both of his parents and applying for colleges, he still was the first to say "Love you" before he handed off the phone.
Then the dad got on- he put down what he was doing so he could talk the girl through an adult-life-worldview-formation question (just like he did a couple weeks ago).
The twenty-four-year-old girl has an inbox of loving, Scripture-filled replies to spiritual-freak-out emails sent to that couple across the country, because she knows they will read and pray and encourage over every doubt and failure and question.
She has a cell phone filled with text messages from a beautiful girl who once was a kindergartner with impossibly cute chubby cheeks, and now is an inspiration with her passion for God and her desire to show His love to every single person in her tenth-grade classes.
The smiling mom who once wrote her a check every week while balancing a baby on her hip is now one of the girl's very best friends in the whole world.
Because of that young, happy, kind, a little tired couple, that girl loves Jesus and others more. She had a place of stability and an example of life lived in faith and love that made more of a difference in her life than probably even she knows.
Sometimes that girl wonders if what she's doing is really very important either.
It's so easy to look at the blogs and the conferences and the passionate declarations of justice and think that that's where the real work is happening.
Walking and hugging and studying and praying and sending a text message or sharing a meal all seem so... small. So unimportant and unexciting.
So non-radical. So non-impactful.
And then she needs to talk or pray through those questions, and she realizes who she can call...
and knows she's just answered her own question.
Moral of the story?
Be really nice to your kid's baby-sitter.