I find this question incredibly hard because I love stories and to choose one would be like picking a favorite child. If you were sitting across from me and we didn't have much time, I'd tell you one. Just this one.
One summer, fifteen other people and I crawled through a large field on our hands and knees looking for a rock. The rock was supposed to have a number 1 on it. This was our only task for the day- and it was important. We couldn't leave until we found this rock. At the time, I didn't understand this exercise but as I remember it now, it still moves me to tears.
I grew up in a Christian church. The people there were kind, sweet, and friendly. My church was a nice brick building where I learned that God loved me and Jesus had a beard and I got stickers and ate a lot of free pretzels. I liked growing up there; everything I'd been taught seemed wonderful and I was carefree.
Then I got older and overnight, I turned into a teenager with sharp edges and big questions. There's another story there, but that's deeper and too big to not tell you face to face. Just know that all of the things I'd been taught seemed harder to grasp or remember or believe in. I had all of the "right" answers from my childhood, but none of them lined up with my heart. I felt wandering and lost, disconnected from being loved.
There's a story about that in the Bible. It's clear and beautiful and reached down to where I was and scooped me up. Jesus talks about how one of a shepherd's sheep wanders away, and that shepherd does everything to find it. He leaves his 99 other sheep to seek out this one that decided to wander away. I always figured that if you lose one of something and you have 99 others, it seems like a no brainer: you just let that one go. After all, you have so many more, right?
No. Not according to Jesus. Not in the case of the shepherd. And not in mine.
Grass and dirt smudged on my skin as we crawled against the grass, flipping over every stone, looking for the one. At the beginning of the exercise, I figured that it was another church camp object lesson- finding the stupid rock didn't matter that much. As we combed the field and time passed, I began to realize that it did matter. The truth was that I felt like the sheep- like I had wandered away. I became desperate to find this rock, and kept crawling, clutching at the dirt.
A half hour passed. Then an hour. And all at once, a girl from our team leapt up, clutching this rock with a mark on it. In an instant we gathered around her with this crazy, palpable joy, cheering, laughing, and jumping up and down. We had found the one.
In the moment of finding that rock- I realized that it was just a rock. How much must God love people- his precious, beautiful, wild creations? How much more must He want to know us, then to seek us out when we wander away on our own paths, stuck in rocks and jagged places. How much joy must He feel when we're reunited with Him.
This is the story that I keep coming back to: God loves lost people. He seeks them out. He goes out intentionally to look for them. He's desperate to find us, there in our jagged places. He doesn't turn away the brokenhearted or the worn out or the outcasts. Read the book of Luke. Read I John. Read Isaiah 52. In all its beauty, the stories are true. God wants to know us. And Christ came to save us. And we don't have to do work harder or be more or earn grace- we just have to say yes.
I don't understand a love like that- how someone could set out looking for me. How someone could think I am precious. How someone could leave the 99 and say, I'm going to find this lost sheep. I'm going to give her direction. I'm going to rewrite her dreams. I'm going to love her and I'm going to give her a story better than any she could ever dream up.
I leave for Nicaragua on Monday. I'm ready and not ready all at once. But this story- it's written on my heart. I am made to tell it.
I'm excited and ready and needy, so needy for the Jesus of the gospels. So inside-out, upside-down, ready to lose my life to find it. Because my life isn't here. It's not in Michigan. It's not in my education or my job or anything you can wrap your hands around. My life isn't even in my words, here in this writing.
My life is in this Jesus, who set out to find me and hasn't let me go since.
And that's the story I never want to stop telling.
Just this one.