It was a dark and dreary December night. It was that weekend mid December when Christmas parties hadn’t quite got going yet, but Christmas concerts and productions were in full swing. A few fiestas were already on the schedule.
I was headed to the church from one party. I’d turned down an invite to a Christmas concert with friends because it was the last small group of the semester with my ninth grade girls. A couple hours before, I’d started getting text messages from my students, bailing for one reason or another: school, homework, school. More than likely they didn’t want to go out. It was cold. It was rainy. I got it.
But it was still a little frustrating to have them cancel with only a few hours to spare. I could have made plans. I could have gone to that concert. I could be home in my bed watching Netflix.
The sixth girl canceled on my way to the church. That only left one girl whom I hadn’t heard from. But Aubrey was sure to show up. She always showed up. She was always early and she was always the last to leave. She didn’t attend the church but came to youth group and small group, tagging along with her best friend.
Aubrey was incredibly quiet and barely said two sentences during any given small group. Usually her words consisted of asking prayer for her dog, Mitchens, who always seemed to have one ailment or another.
I pulled over on the side of the road and texted Aubrey the state of things. I asked her if she wanted to cancel, or, if she wanted, I could swing by and pick her up for coffee. Please cancel. Please cancel, I muttered to myself as I waited for her to reply. I might still have time to make it to that concert.
The reply came back instantly. “I want to get coffee,” she said.
“Be there in 10 minutes,” I replied. Okay, we’re doing this, I thought.
I arrived at Aubrey’s. I’d never been to her house. I went inside and waited for her to find her coat. I chatted with her parents, who I usually waved to through the car window as they were driving away after fetching Aubrey from youth events. I pet Mitchens, the dog I’d heard so much about. He seemed in good health on this December evening.
Aubrey and I grabbed coffee. Actually, we both got hot chocolate because Aubrey didn’t like coffee and I didn’t want the caffeine that late in the evening. I seriously had no idea what we were going to talk about when I first picked her up, but Aubrey seemed to find her voice box the moment we were in the car. She talked about books and weird science fiction but also informed me she had dyslexia. I thought this was strange: I have two siblings with dyslexia and neither one of them like to read very much.
Then she showed me how to download this app from the library where you could reserve audio books. Aha. That’s how she reads so much.
We finished up and I took her home. I stopped in to say Merry Christmas to Mitchens, then drove home through the rain. I marveled how one 45-minute hot chocolate one-on-one had revealed a layer to Aubrey’s life that small group had never opened. She’d come alive as we nerdily swapped favorite book stories and found a common love in Harry Potter.
Over a year later, this moment came back to me. I’m living in a different city, working with a different group of teens and preteens. Our tiny middle school ministry is a vibrant and lively oasis in a big city full of young, ambitious professionals. Sometimes I wonder, is it worth it? There are only a few kids. Maybe, that time would be better spent somewhere else...
Then I think of Aubrey. It was a small moment with just 2 people. But it was pivotal. I felt like I’d discovered Aubrey. It had taken a while, but we’d finally met. I had the privilege of finding beauty beneath all the silence.
The next time our small group met, Aubrey was as quiet as ever. Her sweet spot was never more than 2 or 3 people. That was okay. But I knew if I ever used a Harry Potter illustration, I could count on Aubrey to back me up. I knew I could look at her across the room and she’d know exactly what I was talking about.
Sometimes the small moments are actually pretty epic.
(Names used are not the real names)