What if your friends told you about a purple elephant?

This isn’t a mission trip story. but a story about a purple elephant that grew in the Dominican Republic.

Two years ago, I sat in a foreign country with many people who didn’t speak my language. But my most memorable conversation was with a white American man who had traveled with us.

My cousin, Samantha, and I had traveled to the Dominican Republic together. We joined a group from Texas whose pastor had been on a major reality TV show with our pastor. That was our original tie to them- a reality TV show.

After sweaty days spilt between playing with the local children and building a school for them, we took our cement covered shirts back to our hotel. In the evening hours of free time, the group of 20 of us would sit on an outside patio with cement floors and plastic lawn chairs.

One evening in 100-degree heat, Samantha and I sat on the cooler cement in front of an American man on the trip with us. Samantha may be one of the most patient women I have the privilege of being related to. She has a way to engage people in from the first conversation. I sat next to her and we shared our stories coincidently with the man.

Our stories have to be shared coincidently because they’re the same story but different. A story about God telling us to stand for something. Something crazy, something that doesn’t quite make sense, something that already seems dead. But we stand for different situations but the same reason- God said it would happen, so we stand for it.

She shares, and then I share. Side-by-side. And we know to wait for a response. We’ve measured plenty responses together in the years.

His response was a look of pity we have been given dozens of time. It’s the same look I give children when they’re holding an already dead bug wanting to take it outside to save it and free it. I don’t want to tell the child it’s not moving, so I let them just go on taking it outside. He gives us that same look and starts to brace us for “what if that doesn’t happen?” and so, I tell him of a purple elephant.

“It’s not our job to tell someone if they’re right or wrong. If someone tells me that God told them they were going to receive a purple elephant, and they want to stand by that, it is my job to stand with them.”

I’m not sure he understood what I said, what we stood for. We didn’t really need him to understand, but we wanted to share it with him. Samantha made some funny remark and we moved on with our conversation. The air between all of us was not stale or bitter, because we didn’t need everyone to believe us. We just needed someone, each other actually, to stand with us.

For so many years, I carefully balanced the difference between people believing me and not believing me. To me, it was a black and white. Those that didn’t trust that what I was saying to be true put them on my Axed List.

That’s what we want to do- put people in boxes and coordinate with labels and whether things make sense. People do that to me with my story- tell me if it’s right or wrong. And in return I do that with them- Good Friend or Bad Friend. But maybe it’s less about whether they actually believe you. What if it’s just about standing with you despite what they think?

A friend’s dad is being pulled off life-support as I write this. Facebook statuses from my Michigan family whom knows the dad well flood my entire feed. I can’t read them, mostly because it’s hard to understand what she is going through. I give her a Facebook Like because that is all I have the bravery for, I’m not sure what else to do.

Skimming past it on my feed to look at pictures of puppies, I see a small comment on her Facebook status about her dad’s medical expenses.
“Standing with you.” 
The comment a stranger left on my friend’s Facebook status stays with me though as I rush about the house. I’ve used that phrasing a million times before, in my own life, on my own Facebook comments. And honestly, it’s the best thing someone could tell me.

“Standing with you” doesn’t mean they understand every step I take. It doesn’t mean that you believe everything in my situation is touched by Jesus’ hands and amazing beard. “Standing with you” means you are standing next to me while we wait for my purple elephant.

With you. They are standing on the cliff with you. They are in a hole with you. They don’t have answers, because you don’t need answers. You have your answer. They don’t have hugs and casseroles all the time. They just have a heart emoji to send when they know you’re having one of those bad days.

I’ve picked up a few things in the last few years, and I’m not sure some of them are right. I’m not sure I can put someone in a box for not believing me anymore than I can hope someone puts me in a box for believing something crazy. But I can surround myself closely with those that will stand with me, on cement floors in the Dominican or coffee shop tables or emails. They can stand with me despite what they believe and if they think I am crazy or weird or going to start speaking in tongues over their cat.

Not everyone is going to trust what you say to be true, or trust that you heard from God, especially if it hovers outside the norms. On the other side, it’s unrealistic to only surround yourself with those who do believe you. But it’s really, really important to just stand with someone, and let someone stand with you waiting for your purple elephant. 

If you want to look down at the waves, it's okay.

There is a handwritten note I wrote for myself taped to the back of my bedroom door. I face it every day. I wrote it on a torn-out text-heavy magazine page, probably to be artsy, but now looks phony because I am not artsy in a crafty way. But that facade is another problem. For now, I focus on the words.

"There will be more winding turns, but like I said, this is a long road. I got you this far. Follow me." 

In pink permanent marker, begging me to continue this one more day. Sometimes one more hour.

I want to tell Peter in Heaven one day that I understood him. Eager, so eager all the time but so constantly on edge. I understood why he looked at the waves, why he stepped out of the boat towards Jesus in a storm, and when he took his eyes off Jesus for a moment. The waves are dark and hard. 

As a child, the deep water scared me and waves towering over my head, salt suffocating me. It still scares me, honestly. 

But Jesus extends his hand to Peter in this storm, past the waves. And Jesus extends his hand through my bold handwriting on the back of my bedroom door here in Nashville.

A few years into this, and I seem to drown less often but I still do. I wonder if I always will every so often. But every time the waves cover my head and cause me to thrash, Jesus comes through. He always comes through. 

So, if you're reading this among dark, heavy waves, it's okay if you want to look down at the waves. It's okay if you have days where you want to surf on them, too. It's okay if you get angry and want to take a BB gun at them, but I am telling you that doesn't work very well. Just free yourself from thinking you have to tread water by yourself. Maybe you're scared to extend an arm to Jesus, maybe you can first just try a hand. Or maybe just a finger. Because if you extend Jesus even a pinky finger, he will do more than throw you some floaties. Jesus wants to give you an entire lifeboat the size of a yacht for every time you continue to step out into the water.