Tony and I have been blessed to meet all kinds of interesting people. We have stories galore, and we figured it’s about time we start sharing them. So for the next couple of weeks, we’ll be doing exactly that.
I think there’s so much to be learned from a person’s story. Perhaps that’s why I love country music. Fortunately, my husband loves it too. On a typical day, you can find us cruising around Cape Town blaring George, Kenny, Tim and Garth... you know, all the real good ones. There aren’t any country radio stations in South Africa, so of course, we have to bring our own CDs to the party.
But even though I’m thankful to have those CDs with me halfway around the world, there’s just something different about listening to them while driving the backroads of my hometown. It’s as if the stories being told start come alive. Here in Tennessee, they become possible. So last night, with the windows down, we sped along Highway 11E and sang about Guinevere, Bobby, Samantha and that lovely widowed woman who was hellbent to make it on her own. And I was intrigued by each of them.
I often wonder why people are the way they are (Who are you?). I wonder what experiences have shaped and molded their beings (Where have you come from?). And I wonder what will ever come of them (Where are you going?).
Whether it’s a character in a country song, or a real-life person standing in front of me, you can be sure that I’m always turning these kinds of questions around in my head. Partly because I’m interested in people, and partly because I want to learn from them.
Last Sunday, Tony and I were privileged to speak at a local church in Knoxville. After the service, the congregation hosted a lunch for us in the fellowship hall. At one point, for no particular reason, I pivoted in my chair and looked behind me. There was a young girl of 8-9 years old going through the food line, and she waved at me. I did one of those “glance back real quick to make sure she was waving at me” maneuvers, then I returned the gesture. A few seconds later, I complimented her on her boots as she walked by my table. She politely said thank you and kept moving.
Once our lunch was finished and the majority of the crowd had cleared, Reverend Jackson and his wife introduced Raven to Tony and me. “She’s been asking about you, Julie,” said Patty. I’m often amazed at how much instant credibility I have with young girls. And equally as often, I have to remind myself that I too thought women in their 20s were beyond super cool when I was 18 and under.
Based on looks alone, Raven reminded me of myself when I was her age. I’m pretty sure we share the same eight year-old church look. Medium-length blonde hair. A few freckles. Headband. Floral dress with a square bib. That’s the one.
But as soon as Raven started talking, I realized we were quite different, indeed. I was truly impressed with her communicative ability and knack for color and textiles. I definitely wasn’t as verbally expressive as a youngster, and my passion for the creative wasn’t so obvious.
Because our school systems cater more to the analytical than they do to the artistic, my first question for Raven was, “Do you take any art classes?” Thankfully, she does, and of course, it’s her favorite.
She proceeded to tell the four of us adults about how you can express your feelings through painting. She described some of her artistic practices in such detail, I even began wondering what she was talking about. “Wow, this chick is imaginative,” I thought to myself.
Raven also showed us all of her neat findings from the church’s secondhand closet. A pair of white dress shoes. A floral dress. A red velvet purse. And a pink musical box with a ballerina on the inside. All of her things were tucked nicely away in a purple jack-o’-lantern meant for trick or treating.
She described each item in detail and talked about why she liked them—despite their defects. Despite the scuffs, the missing button and the broken winding key. “Wow, this chick appreciates things. She sees value and beauty despite the mess."
Then perhaps my favorite couple of statements Raven made to us were: 1) that you can also take P.E. (physical education/gym class) at school if you want to become a wrestler, and 2) that they have stuffed lions in class, and you can sit next to them in a chair if you want to practice becoming a lion tamer at the circus. “Wow, a wrestler? A lion tamer?”
You see, for Raven, all things are possible.
I didn’t meet her parents that day, and from what I gathered, I don’t think they go to church (at least not on a regular basis). But Raven goes every Sunday. She simply hitches a ride with the Reverend and his wife. Because why not, I guess.
I was blown away by this little girl. Fascinated by her mind, her heart and her dedication to the church. So, like God often does, he told me to give her one of my favorite things... my peace necklace. I recently lost three of my favorite necklaces—two of which I’ve been wearing for a few years now—so parting ways with another one was quite difficult for me.
But I did it, mostly because I already knew the alternative—one of my favorite things morphing into a sign of disobedience—but also because I really wanted Raven to have it.
I unhooked the chain from around my neck and told her, “I want you to have this necklace. I made it, and art is really important to me too. So when you wear it, let it be a reminder to keep practicing your art and to keep loving Jesus.” And once again, she politely said thank you... and kept on moving.