An unusual look passed over the face of the girl with the pink hair and facial piercings. Then she said, "No one’s ever nice to me…”
Like most great stories, mission stories are made up of a series of individual episodes. These individual episodes eventually are strung together to tell us the whole story. But the story itself takes time to unfold. Each episode within the story leaves the story itself incomplete. There is suspense and uncertainty. There is unfinished business. There is usually a series of “cliff hangers” that keep the story pressing forward into the next episode and the next until – eventually – we come to an amazing conclusion.
That’s what makes a great story great.
Mission stories are the greatest of stories. They are real life stories, authored by God Himself. They are stories of unredeemed, ruined people discovering His love and forgiveness and experiencing the restoration of new life with Him. Eventually. As noted, these stories are made up of individual episodes which unfold over time, usually years. “Mission episodes” are moments in time when God decides to have us cross paths with a person who needs a little of what we have in abundance – His grace or kindness or joy or truth.
And there’s the rub.
The nature of an individual “mission episode” is that while it is important to the overall story God is writing, the story itself is yet unfinished. There remains suspense and uncertainty. We are left with a cliff hanger of which we may never know the conclusion until we come into Heaven. Bottom line? If you need to know the conclusion of their story at the end of your episode with them, you will usually be frustrated. Why? Because at the end of an episode all you really will know is that there is more story to come. You’ve done all you can do and now you have to be patient as the Writer of Stories moves beyond you and on to the next episode of the person’s mission story.
And, I don’t know about you, but I’m not that good at patience.
That’s why I find it helpful to think about the individual mission episodes ending not with an exclamation mark (usually reserved for the amazing conclusion of the story) but with an ellipsis mark.
An ellipsis mark. You know, the dot, dot, dot used at the end of a phrase to indicate a pause in a thought or a story… (there’s one now!)
I have found over the years that most mission episodes end with the dot, dot, dot of an ellipsis. That’s because an episode is usually somewhere in the middle of the story and there is more story yet to come. I may help move the story along with my particular episode. But the episode ends with…
I used to worry about my episodes ending with the dot, dot, dot. I didn’t want the cliff hanger of the ellipsis! I wanted closure. I wanted conclusion. I wanted redemption being accomplished! But instead there was only a pause… These days, I have learned that if I come to the end of my particular episode with a person, and redemption has not yet come, I see it concluding not with failure but with an ellipsis. Jesus isn’t finished with the story yet. There are more episodes to come for the person.
When I began to understand that, when I began to trust that Jesus is doing the bigger work of stringing smaller episodes together in the whole story of a person’s redemption I found peace. I now have peace even as I see episodes ending with the dot, dot, dot of the ellipsis. I don’t feel obligated to force more conversation, to force more than Jesus had prepared in advance for me to do. As my part ends with an ellipsis mark rather than an exclamation mark I know I can trust Him with the rest of their story.
Back to the episode of the girl with the pink hair…
My friend walked into a local Target store. It had been a bad day for him. A really bad day. Have you had one of those lately? He had come to Target to return an item. “Won’t this be fun,” he muttered to himself. That’s when he spotted the girl with the pink hair and facial piercings behind the counter. He had seen her here before working the register. There weren’t too many people who went for that kind of look in his part of the country. She stood out. And, on this particular day, for some reason (o.k., it was God’s grace), her hair gave my friend a smile. Not a smile of mockery or derision but of joy.
Her pink hair gave him joy. Go figure.
So as she processed his return, he simply said, “You know, I have had a really bad day. And I just want you to know your hair has made me smile.” A frown formed on her pierced lips. My friend quickly added, “I’m not making fun. You really have made my day better. Thank you.” That’s when the unusual look passed over her face and she finally said, “No one’s ever nice to me…” [Notice the ellipsis.]
Her pink hair stood out to him. His simple act of grace stood out to her.
It was a powerful moment as my friend realized what was happening. To a person who regularly receives love, his small act of kindness would have been a small matter. But to someone who regularly receives none…
Afterwards, my friend worried that maybe he hadn’t said enough. Maybe he should have done more. Maybe he should have somehow brought up Jesus. There was no baptism at the return counter that day or even a solid Gospel presentation. The girl with the pink hair’s mission story remains unfinished. It is a cliff hanger. I can’t tell you how her story ends because it’s still being written… but it is being written by Jesus. All I can tell you is how this particular episode ends. It ends with my friend again thanking the girl with the pink hair for her service and for making his day better. It ends with a seed of grace having been planted in a hurting heart.
And it ends with the dot, dot, dot of the mission ellipsis.