By Beth Jarvis
“Let’s take a selfie!”
“How about the steps? What about in front of the car? Or the wall? OK, maybe the steps. No, you can’t see a thing. What about here?” Melissa suggested each option in rapid speed.
We hadn’t seen each other in years. Now it was such a gift to find our friendship still intact despite the time, despite the distance and the differences. I was overjoyed.
“I can take that picture for y’all,” a man said as he paused by the door of the cafe, putting his coffee and work also on pause.
“Excellent. Thank you. Now, should we pose? I think we should we pose.”
I moved my hand to my hip, “OK, I’m posing.”
Melissa was one of the first students I ever met when I worked in campus ministry in Atlanta before moving to Germany. That was so long ago now, but she and I both remember all the things that brought us together and the trust it created.
“OK, y’all ready? One. Two. Three. Smile!”
It only takes a moment for the grace of a stranger to turn a selfie into a picture of us. A one-second, hand-on-hip, we-will-always-be-friends, no-matter-what picture of us.
I left Germany for America because one time I left America for Germany. And even though it hasn’t been a full year yet, I can already feel the distance. Now there are so many homes, so many pictures, so many little tokens of memories: a Thanksgiving turkey made from a paper sack, a letter from my husband before we were dating, a banjo I still haven’t learned how to play, a cat. All of these things represent moments when I’ve been able to trust, moments when I’ve let grace orient me toward the future.
Moving always requires a great reduction. We had to get rid of a lot of things leaving Germany. And it can make us feel fragile. It can make it difficult to trust.
Theo and I had this in common.
Theo was still new to Tübingen, Germany as he stopped in front of a house he had never been to before. He looked through the window of a well-lighted room and saw what he would come to know as community. “It must have been late October,” he told me later, “because I could see all of you, the light, the green walls making it all brighter, but you couldn’t see me. It must have already been dark outside.”
So he paused by the door, lit another cigarette, tried to look busy, put his decision to stay or go on pause.
“This is stupid,” he said to his friend beside him. “They’re having so much fun. I want to try. Let’s go.” And Theo opened the door to a well-lighted room, moving through his fear and anxiety, and found grace waiting for him on the inside.
Theo and I became good friends. When he wanted to find more friends, I introduced him to a small group. When he wanted a mentor, I asked my husband. When he wanted to read the Bible, we read it together. When he started to like someone, we talked about it. And when that someone was my friend and teammate, we talked about it even more. And when he knew he wanted to marry her, I helped him look at rings. When it came time to get married, they asked me to be a part of their day.
Grace Leads to Trust
We all need people to trust us. Relationships can’t exist without it. But trust really begins with grace. I can trust my community because someone stops to take a picture for me. Someone helps with my trash. Another person apologizes. A neighbor brings over a box of tomatoes just because I’m new here.
Leaving Germany, I thought a lot about the Syrian refugees we had become friends with. They came with nothing: documents in a plastic bag, a toy, a scarf, a suit jacket, all tokens of privilege they once had. And now along with new addresses and new IDs, they also need someone they can trust. Being in a new land requires a brutal level of trust. The grace of a warm meal, a short drive to the grocery, and maybe even friendship can go a long way in helping others learn to trust. I found myself hoping for this same grace in America, despite having so little to offer my new community.
We all have this in common with Abraham.
Abraham trusted God. Even when he considered the odds, the limits of his own body and that of his wife, he trusted God’s promises to be true. Despite the distance, the years, the backsliding, he still trusted that there was already a family and a home waiting. Somewhere in the future, God’s promise had already been accomplished, even though, currently, Abraham was without. Without works, without a child, Abraham was still reckoned as righteous (Romans 4:5,19). And this grace led him to trust that this promise of more was just the beginning.
Grace doesn’t need works. It doesn’t even lead to works. It leads to trust, which brings about promises.
When I think back to that warm summer day where Theo met his bride to make promises, it’s easy to see how that relationship almost didn’t happen. There was a grace present in the soft smiles and jokes made under breath. A one-second, I-will-love-you-forever kind of grace brought them together. And trust held them there. Now the whole story rested on a new promise: to have and to keep. Here was faith. It could have moved a mountain but instead it created a home, this home.
God’s grace leads me to trust too. Like Theo, I too can move through the loss, come into the light, be able to hear some new words and make some new promises.
Trust Leads to Grace
Trust is how we move forward in our relationships with others and with God. We may not know what waits behind an unopened door, we may not want to see where this road leads, but here is an unimaginable grace: no sin, no distance, no person, no exception could keep us from the love of God. Here is good news: old friends can become new friends through the God who makes us new in new places.
But it doesn’t stop there. We make promises. Some of these are small: Today I will pray, I will cook, clean, and listen to this person. I will preach this word, I will cut this grass, and I will pack up my suitcase one more time for you. Some of these are quite big: I love you. Let’s see what 80 looks like together. Because we can trust we become, as German theologian Jürgen Moltmann said, “future-oriented people.” We become the grace that helps other people trust. We become the grace that leads all kinds of people to become children of the promise (Galatians 4:28).
And in those moments, we will always find our promises matched by what God has already accomplished for us.
Beth Jarvis works with kids, college students, and refugees and sometimes she writes about it.