By Annie Lengacher Browning, Acting Conference Minister

This morning was one of those mornings.  What was supposed to be a simple grocery run was complicated by a fussy, hungry baby and a toddler who was crying loudly because the cashier didn’t give him a lollipop. I was that parent in the grocery store with unruly children. I felt the other patrons stare at our epic meltdown and so I paid as quickly as possible and headed to my car, my head down, avoiding eye contact.

As I was buckling them into their car seats, I heard a soft voice behind me say, “Excuse me.” I turned to see a woman standing behind my car holding a bouquet of flowers. She looked me in the eye and said clearly, “I bought these earlier this morning because I knew I needed to give them away today. I saw you walk across the parking lot and I just knew you were the one. You were the one that was supposed to receive them. I don’t know why you are supposed to have these but I hope they give you what you need.” Dumbfounded, I took the bouquet from her and immediately began crying. Her words struck something deep inside me, and all I could say to her was “thank you.” We didn’t say much else. There wasn’t any chit chat or getting to know one another. We just looked at one another in the eyes before she walked away.

The news is often full of stories of paying it forward. Someone anonymously pays for the next person’s meal at the drive-thru. Parking meters are refilled when expired. A large tip is given on a cup of coffee at a diner. I have never experienced this sort of generosity or “paying it forward” from a stranger until this morning. Until this morning, I thought that “paying it forward” was about the surprise of an unexpected gift. Now I would say that the gift of “paying it forward” is mostly about anticipating a need and responding. It was the fact that this woman anticipated my need and responded to it that brought me to tears, not the gift.

Even now as I sit and type and look at my flowers, I can see her warm, caring eyes that met my own. What brought me to tears this morning was not the abundant gift of flowers. Rather, she noticed me, looked me directly in the eyes and took time to engage with me as a stranger. As I sit and reflect further, I am ashamed to say that I really saw no one in the grocery store this morning. So occupied with a quick exit and checking off my list, I couldn’t tell you very well who else was in the store with me or what my cashier looked like. I couldn’t tell you whether there was a retired couple looking at bananas or whether there was another mother with errant children in the cheese aisle. It is moments like this morning that call me to consider what blinders I often wear and how easy it is to look past one another without noticing who is behind me or before me.

This woman acted prophetically in the way that she followed God’s leading to offer kindness to a stranger. She acted prophetically in buying flowers for someone whom she had yet to meet. She acted prophetically in living forward. This requires courage, passion and deep conviction that we live not only by what we know but also by anticipation.

This year, Linford, Mary Etta and I have chosen to focus on Luke 1:76-79 as a guiding text for 2016:
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
78 By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.

As I continue to pray this text and reflect on my experience this morning, verse 76 continues to speak to me. What does it mean for me, a child of God, to be called the prophet of the Most High? To go before the Lord to prepare his ways? For me, I renew my commitment to notice others more and notice God’s Spirit that speaks to me. For me, it means I follow the Spirit’s nudging with anticipation and with a commitment to act on these prompts. It is the sort of living that walks across a parking lot and offers flowers as an act of love.

This morning’s events have awakened my consciousness to be called the prophet of the Most High in both word and deed. My prayer is that we may also go before the Lord and prepare his ways as Mountain States Mennonite Conference.

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