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Beauty from Ashes {His immense love from one stranger to another}

Today I got to catch up with my dear friend Kristin. We met through a ministry mutual friend–and oh my…this girl has challenged my faith, spurred me on closer to the cross and reminded me of many things–like “God’s got this”…only she shares it in a different phrase—hilarious–much better–and a God story to go with it. I love the vulnerability of this sweet friend of mine–and today she had a story–that just had to be shared. A reminder, a challenge and a miracle of how He guides among daily difficulty. Be encouraged. And you might want a Kleenex as you read her story…

Today, a simple trip to the “financial vortex” we like to call Target, ended up being an experience that God would use in my and my son’s life for quite some time. It is NOT a story about me. It is a story about the God that I serve and His infinite ability to make beauty from ashes.

As Luke and I turned off of North Point Parkway and into the strip mall that boasts the big red ball of happy, I noticed that there was a terribly obnoxious amount of traffic. I felt rather sorry for the cars that were trying to exit, (they had a yield sign to us) and so I (not noticing the “keep moving” sign) stopped to let a car squeak by. It was at this point I heard the BLAST of a horn – and when I say blast, I mean it sounded as if the driver had climbed out of his seat and was sitting on his steering wheel. And he didn’t let up. He followed me into the Target parking lot, and followed my minivan until I turned into a parking space. It was at that point that I realized we were going to have to exchange words… because he had intentionally stopped his car right behind mine so that I could not get out. Gulp.

I took a deep breath, I knew I was not dealing with a rational, good spirited person. Nope, this was an angry middle aged horn happy man who was severely enraged by my choice to let a car through traffic. Dear Lord.

My feet had not even hit the pavement before a barrage of arrows came flying from his mouth. This man, I did not know, was screaming at me in the Target parking lot. I watched his mouth moving, his forehead squinched, his cheeks bright red with anger. I heard the words. “Idiot” “You should learn how to drive” “can’t you read?” “It’s people like you who cause accidents.” I stood in disbelief. Was this happening? All I could think was “Why is he so angry?” So, that’s what I asked him In the gentlest tone I possess. “Sir, why are you so angry?” He was so taken aback by my response that he stumbled over the next few words, scoffed a little, and then carried on with more arrows. Ugly arrows. Flaming arrows. Hurtful, sharp and wicked arrows… and then… he was gone.

Luke and I stood in the parking lot hand in hand with our mouths gapping, our hearts pounding, and our spirits completely stomped on. We had just been harassed by a perfect stranger, for being kind to another stranger. (And I admit that technically I had made a traffic mistake, but I am fairly certain that my abuser has made at least one of those in his life time? Just a guess.)

After I collected myself, (and sucked any tears that threatened to fall out – back into my eyeballs) I leaned down and looked into my son’s eyes. “Son, I am really sorry that that happened. You know that we NEVER – no matter how mad we are – we NEVER treat another person like he just treated Mommy, right?” “Yes ma’am” “And son, the Bible says to love our enemies and so I think we really need to pray for that man.” “I do too mommy.” “Alright, I love you so much” “I love you too momma.” “You ok?” “Yup”

And although I had resolved it with my son, I could not quite resolve it with myself. As we got our items from inside the store, a trail of “poor me” thoughts like “How could a person who does not know me or who I am, attack me like that? I’m like the nicest person ever, that wasn’t fair, my saturday is ruined, that was so mean, I’m so sad, tears… uh oh, tears… here they come..” And I burst into pitiful self pitying tears, right there in the happiest store on earth. I was letting that man crush my spirit. I was swimming in the ugliness that he had thrown on me and I was so close to MISSING the beauty that God was, in that very moment, effortlessly replacing it with.

As we walked to the car, I believe God spoke to me. “That man put something ugly into the world, now GO and put something beautiful in its place. I am God – and I turn ashes to beauty, evil to good, hurt to healing… Go and be my light. Go and bless someone.”

So friends, here’s where it gets GOOD. Luke and I prayed right there in the car. Where do we go? What do we do? Who do we bless? I felt the urge to drive across town to the Kroger near my house and so I took that as part of our answer. We prayed on the drive over that HE would lead us, show us who to bless and how to do it. I suspected we would be paying for someones groceries and so I immediately started to plan “Operation Bless A Stranger” Actually, it was more like “Operation bless a stranger who looks sad or down trodden with just a grocery basket, not a whole cart cause we can’t afford it if they’re not in the ten items or less lane.”

God had something else in mind.

After grabbing a very schizophrenic assortment of unnecessary items that I absolutely did not need, we neared the check outs. I started to question what I had heard. I felt nervous and embarrassed. What if this didn’t go down well. Who is it Lord? What if I…

And there she was.

A nicely dressed 50 something. Well put together, a typical southern lady, with a very substantial amount of groceries. Really Lord? She does not look like she needs me to buy her groceries…ALL millions of them. But I knew. The holy spirit was pushing my heart toward this woman, this perfect stranger.

I watched the grocery bill climb higher and higher, a bead of sweat flew off of my forehead, I felt a little nauseous. It was now or never. Her last item had crossed the finish. It was time to pay. “Ma’am?” I said. “My son and I would like to pay for your groceries.” She looked at me like I had just said “My son and I would like to eat your groceries.” Adamant, she replied. “No. You can not buy my groceries, there are way too many here. Someone did this for my mother. No, I can’t let you buy my groceries.” To which I replied “Ma’am, my son and I had a horrible experience today, and we prayed a lot about this, and you, and well, we’re going to buy your groceries.” At this point the woman realized that I was going to buy her groceries. There was no talking me out of it. She grabbed me. She literally wrapped her arms around me and began to sob. I sobbed too. Then she pulled away from me and looked me in my eyes and said this: “My husband is terminally ill, you just, you just have no idea… thank you.” And off she went, pushing her millions of groceries that God had just paid for, out the door.

At this point everyone was crying. The people in line behind us, the checkout girl, the tough guy one isle over “had something in his eye”… (he totally cried). The check out girl looked down at Luke and said “you have a great mom” to which I say this: This is not about me. This is about the God that I serve. This was FOR me from Him. He turns ashes to beauty, evil to good, hurt to healing, pain to laughter, and traffic violations to stories of His immense love – from one perfect stranger to another.

So my challenge? When someone is terribly unkind to you, GO do something for someone else. He has given us the power to replace the bad with something good.

My God is an awesome God. That is all.

Kristin Grunewald is married to South African Justin Grunewald who is on staff at Buckhead Church. They have two awesome boys Birkley and Luke. Kristen writes, home schools–and what I love about her most–is how she loves and follows Jesus. Thank you Kristin for shining His glory. Beauty from ashes. Praying how I can replace daily–the bad with something good.

Rebecca - March 3, 2014 - 9:00 am

Love this, love her heart and love God and His creativity.

jenny - March 3, 2014 - 9:21 am

Wow. Just, wow. Such a beautiful story and challenge to each of us!! Thank you for sharing!!!

leslie - March 3, 2014 - 12:42 pm

Wow. Thank you for sharing this story. It challenges me on so many levels.

Kim - March 3, 2014 - 5:59 pm

Andrea- I read this once this morning, and then went to re-read it to my kids, and couldn’t finish because I was crying so hard. My husband finished reading the story. Not a dry eye in the house. What a great way to start the morning! I then watched Lupita Nyongo’o’s speech on “beauty” at the Essence awards, ( I cried again. “You can’t eat beauty, it won’s sustain you, compassion is what sustains you”. What a great Monday! God is SO good, and people never cease to amaze me with their big hearts. Thanks for sharing!

Gretchen - March 21, 2014 - 8:33 am

Wow! This story blessed me today!

Holly Anne - April 4, 2014 - 5:27 pm

Wow, thank you for sharing. Such a beautiful example of how God just wants to LOVE people through us. Loved this story.