When I walk into a roomful of strangers, I engage in what is, at best, a self-imposed test in discernment; at worst a superficial gamble. I scan the women to whom I will be speaking and instinctually begin an imprecise version of memory, flipping cards in a lame attempt to match the earnestness of their smiles with the state of their souls. I do it with pretense, albeit pretense with an asterisk. Pretense: I want to know their stories. Asterisk: I want to know their stories to know if I'll hit my mark. I toss God a prayer: Okay, You sent me here, now show me why.
Then I wait.
But at a recent event, he didn't answer. Or so I thought.
Several of us were chatting easily over dinner, typical mom small talk - number of kids, gender, ages - when a card was flipped and the match was breathtakingly unexpected.
"And how old are your children?" a soon-to-be grandmother asked.
The question was directed at a young red-haired woman across the table.
"I have two boys," the red-haired woman said. "Twins."
I had heard her mention a daughter earlier, so I asked, "And a third, right?"
Her eyes dropped and her voice became a choked whisper. "I had seven-year-old daughter. She passed away."
Her tears were instant.
"I'm so sorry," I said.
Heavy, awkward silence.
Lying in bed that night, her pain hovered over me, threatening to swallow the distance between my heart and my brain. The thought of my own seven-year-old daughter being anywhere but tucked snugly in her pink flannel sheets was too daunting to imagine. Pretending it couldn't happen to me was the only solace that finally brought sleep.
The next morning, the ache of her loss pounded in my chest as the sun rose over Lake Michigan. Then - a flash of hope.
This is why you brought me here, I prayed. You have something you want me to say. A word of truth, a touch of healing, a drop of grace. I'll do anything you ask.
After my morning session, I approached the woman with a smile she graciously returned.
"I couldn't stop praying for you last night," I said. "I want you to know you have freedom here. If you need space, take it, but I'm here. Whatever you need."
The sentiment was enough to bring a mix of tears and nervous laughter. No more information was given, but I'd let her know I cared and that was enough for now. We had more time and I trusted that God's healing touch was divinely embedded in a remaining session.