As I sit down to write this letter, I can still hear your voice, I can still see your smile. I think of you so far away in Denmark, and I imagine the marks you’re making there.
My husband and I lived in Indiana two short years while I was attending full-time graduate school. I kept a part-time job as cashier and service desk employee at Target on evenings and weekends, and you worked at Target too. That’s where we met.
I remember your smile, your confidence, your kookiness, your always-readiness to tell a good story. I vaguely recall that your parents were missionaries, and you were fairly far away from family, just as I was.
But there’s one thing I remember most about you…you were the first person I’d ever met that seamlessly integrated “God” into your every day conversation. I didn’t have to guess you were a Christian, you actively spoke of God’s daily working in your life, so I knew without a doubt He was at the core of who you were.
You didn’t stop there, though. In all your speaking of God during random conversation with me, you also were the first one I’d ever heard refer to God’s “voice.” You talked about how you had “heard His voice,” how you wanted to “hear His voice” about a particular matter.
I’ll be honest, I grew up with a Christian upbringing in a Lutheran home. And I was a deacon at a Lutheran church on campus throughout my undergraduate studies. But Lutherans? Well, at least the variety of Lutheran faith I grew up in? We never spoke of God so freely in our random daily conversations, and we certainly never referred to “hearing God’s voice,” wanting to “hear His voice,” or having “heard His voice.” I didn’t understand what that meant, and I didn’t understand how I could hear His voice for myself. I just didn’t understand.
While I didn’t understand all that “hearing God’s voice” talk at the time, I want to thank you, because I understand now. I think you were the start of something, Jenny.
I know now that hearing God’s voice requires ongoing relationship, it requires active cultivation of faith, and it develops through years of praying, waiting, having a willing and open heart, and listening for answers that make NO sense to the world, but perfect sense in your heart. When all of those tiny puzzle pieces that seemed so random throughout the course of YEARS come together, His voice is there. When you’re seeking clarity and direction, and you’re suddenly bombarded with messages on that topic for days, weeks on end, His voice is there. And that’s just the start.
Having experienced this “hearing” of God’s voice for myself, I’d wish it for anyone. I’d freely give it to anyone, everyone. I truly would. But this speaking of God as if you know Him, as if He’s the center of your life, and this “hearing” of God’s voice is not a gift any human being can give you. It’s the work of the Spirit in you, cultivated through time and relationship. And to get to this place, you must follow, become vulnerable, open, willing to change. Not just once, but over and over again, every single day.
While I know you didn’t give me the gift of discernment, you made me aware it was possible, you made me aware it was real. You lived it like it was real.
And one more thing…there were no Covenant or Lutheran churches in Indiana, so Seth and I were forced to look outside of our familiar denominations when searching for a temporary church home those two years of graduate school. You were the one that led us to a non-demoninational Christian church in the heart of that college town. It was there that I experienced, also for the first time, faith expressed differently than I’d ever seen before. There were no hard-covered hymnals, no liturgy was recited. Hands were risen, lives were surrendered, relationships were cultivated intimately within small groups. From then on, we sought out similar Christian communities, and my faith grew more freely than it ever had.
For the way you spoke of your faith so openly, for the way you demonstrated that God’s voice really can be heard, for the way you inspired me to find community where my faith can grow freely, then and now, thank you.
With respect and admiration,
*If you’d like to read more from my #31Days Letters to the Unthanked series, click here for the landing page where all the letters are listed and linked!