Sitting in seats full of cheering soccer fans, my eyes were on my daughter. Her coach paced the field with his hands behind his back, and some teenage boys shouted a chant that made us laugh.
With my attention on the game, I didn’t notice the young man looking up at me. “Hey,” he yelled. I looked around to see who was yelling. “Hey, Erin!” he yelled again.
This time I recognized the voice and saw him. With bright red hair and a huge smile, he was waving. It was Scotty. He loves being the ball boy. When a soccer ball rolls out of bounds, he sprints after it, moving his arms and legs as fast as they’ll go. That’s how he does everything in life—with his whole heart.
Most of us have our limits. We might think to say something nice but not actually say it because of the people watching. What keeps most people from reaching out doesn’t bother him in the slightest. After he said, “Hey!” to get my attention, every face turned toward him. He was the only one standing in front of that crowd, and with everyone staring back at him, he pounded his chest twice, pointed at me and shouted above the noise, “I like you, Erin!” Then he was off to snag another soccer ball.
Scotty lives free, but not me. When something goes wrong in my life, it’s often hard to let go. Like a dirty pair of jeans in a broken washing machine, my mind tends to play out the scenario over and over, but it never gets resolved. Those jeans never get clean. Call it OCD issues, perfectionism or just plain brokenness. Whatever it is, when that broken washing machine starts its cycle, it’s hard to turn off.
The motor of that broken washing machine was humming one Sunday after church when a class I taught didn’t go so well. My family and I piled in the minivan, and I could still picture the bored faces of the people in my class. Condemning thoughts cycled through my head. “That was terrible!” “They trusted you, and you blew it!” People left early, they were confused, discussion questions fell flat, and there wasn’t time for the wrap-up activity. As we drove to a church potluck, I knew I needed to let go, so I tried shaking it off. “Erin, don’t obsess over this,” I told myself.
We got to the potluck, and it helped to eat some chicken and talk. People shared stories about recent trips and new babies. I listened, and the washing machine quieted down, but when we found our seats for a meeting, Sheryl started talking, and the cycle started spinning again. It wasn’t Sheryl’s fault. There was a huge window behind her, lit up by a mountain view, and I just stared. People were laughing and offering ideas in the meeting, and I was somewhere else, trapped behind the glass door of that stupid washing machine. The cycle of thoughts and questions kept spinning through my mind. What did I do wrong? Why couldn’t I have timed the class a little better? I couldn’t turn it off.
That window with the mountain view framed all I was seeing, like the frame of one of those wooden, ornate puppet-show theatres with the curtains drawn back. As a kid, I used to stare at that little square opening waiting, with wonder in my heart, for the puppets to come to life, but this time, there was no wonder. I was lost. My heart wasn’t anticipating some magical show. Fixated on that little square opening, I went deeper and deeper into myself, away from the laughter and sharing of the meeting, away from community.
Then, off from stage left, someone’s face, like one of those puppets, started moving into center stage. “What in the world?” With bright red hair and a giant Cheshire Cat grin, Scotty was looking right at me as he glided into view. All eyes were on Cheryl, leading the meeting, all eyes except Scotty’s. He caught me staring out the window and decided to wave. I forced a smile and waved back, and in that moment, the spinning cycle was silenced. No more hum of poisonous thoughts tumbling around in my head. No more self-absorption or condemnation.
One look at that smiling face, so full of love, and I was okay.
Monday morning, I wrote about Scotty in my journal. As I wrote, I noticed the verse inscribed at the bottom of the page: “God be merciful unto us, and bless us; and cause His face to shine upon us” (Psalm 67:1). The timing of that verse on the very page I was writing about Scotty was perfect, and my heart did a little dance. In the midst of all the chaos, God wants us to see the pleasure in His eyes and bask in the brightness of his smile. He wants us to hear Him shouting “I like you” above the noise of the crowd and know He’s here with us.
That’s what happens when I look at Scotty—I see a Father who loves me and everything else feels lighter.
It’s so easy to get consumed with the mess. We can smell its stench in our brokenness; we see its ugliness in the viruses and suicides of the world. That washing machine clicks on, and with each spin cycle, we’re paralyzed by anxiety and despair. Then, like a father with his child, God gently puts his hand under our chins and lifts up our heads to see Him (Psalm 3:3).
Whether it’s someone like Scotty, a phone call from a friend, a sunset or a sparrow perched on the windowsill, He’s using the beauty of the physical world to help us connect with the spiritual, to help us connect with Him.
There’s a “Lifter of our heads” who wants us to see Him, because when we look at Him, the mess of this world won’t be so consuming and the old broken washing machine will finally be turned off.