#6. Write a letter to a stranger
Dear Stranger – Or Handsome Sir,
We passed each other in Barnes & Noble several years ago, and I almost didn’t make eye contact with you. My natural response upon seeing a handsome stranger is to look away quickly so they never suspect that I admire their looks.
But this time I didn’t look away. And neither did you. And in a rare moment, we exchanged smiles.
It was a moment for the movies – one that so rarely happens that I wasn’t sure if it really had.
I didn’t know your name. I knew we’d never see each other again. But we recognized each other’s existence. And for some reason, we both made the other smile. I had been in such a hurry to come in quickly to find some books, but that chance encounter made me slow down and simply remember the small beauties in life – like smiling at a handsome stranger.
Here’s the thing – we never actually know the full extent of our impact on others, even strangers. But sometimes God allows us a glimpse into it – like with Stefan.
That year that I turned 24, I wanted to do a little photo shoot on my birthday around campus with my friend group. So we started in the student union building (the PUB), and we asked a guy sitting nearby to take a picture of us together.
He agreed and asked what the occasion was. My friends replied, “Oh, it’s her birthday and we’re doing a photo shoot around campus for it.”
“No way!” he said. “It’s my birthday today, too!”
I thought he was pulling a prank on me. “No, it’s not,” I said.
“No really,” he insisted. “My birthday is December 1st.”
I was stunned. Who meets someone who shares their birthday on their actual birthday?
So we took an “amazed” picture together – I called it serendipity – and I moved on with my life, fully expecting to never see him again.
But, as it turns out, we did see each other again.
A year and a half later, I joined an outreach trip to Salt Lake City with a campus ministry. At our first group meeting, I thought that one of the guys looked vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t place him. Then one night when we were down at the house we were staying at in Salt Lake City, the team leader had us line up for dinner by our birth months.
I groaned good-naturedly and went to the back to stand next to this guy. I decided to ask him when his birthday was to see if it was close to mine – and wouldn’t you know it – he said, “December 1st.”
And then he said, “Were you in the PUB a couple years ago on your birthday taking pictures?”
I was completely floored – it was him. The same guy that I had met on my birthday! I couldn’t believe that, not only had I run into that random guy again, but we had both joined the same group to go on a trip to Salt Lake City. Talk about a crazy coincidence.
Or was it quite? Because I had more to learn about that experience of meeting Stefan in the PUB on my birthday.
On the way home from our trip, Stefan shared his testimony, and he talked about the day that we had met. How he had been feeling down and depressed on his birthday, and then how this girl (me) came in with her friends, bringing laughter and joy and light, and it turned his day around.
I had no idea. No idea of the impact of a brief conversation and a picture together. No idea that my lighthearted idea of a fun photo shoot would bring me to cross paths with an individual who needed some joy brought into his day.
And that day, I felt the freedom to fully be myself because I felt safe in the presence of my friends, my “herd.” So often around strangers, I hide my true self, unsure of what they’ll think. But that day God allowed me to be myself, and it’s what that stranger needed. And I was given the gift of finding out about it years later.
Let that be a reminder to me – to all of us – that nothing is chance or random in God’s Kingdom. The strangest coincidences, the smallest conversations, those “path-crossings” with strangers whom we’ll never see again – none of them are accidents. They are all perfectly orchestrated to bring about His plans and touch people’s lives.
Let it also be a reminder to us that someone out there, even if it’s a stranger, needs us to be our true selves – our authentic selves that have a smile to share, an encouragement to give, an idea to spark. Let’s not hide away behind facades of being socially acceptable. Let’s give away the gift of the person God made us to be.
So thank you, dear stranger, for your smile. It’s what I needed that day in the bookstore. And I hope my smile brightened your day as well.
With the fondest regards,
Just a stranger named Lydia Lee