I woke up one morning to small hands poking me.
"Uncle Nate," said a light voice.
I opened my eyes and saw my niece, Hannah, in pajamas with a devilish smile.
"It's time to wake up," she laughed.
I looked at my phone: 6:15 AM.
"Uncle Nate is on vacation, sweetie," I reached out and lightly pinched her cheek. "He needs his beauty sleep."
She let out a grin, "Come on!"
We both ended up downstairs after she pulled my hand and kept laughing loudly.
I got my Monster energy drink and sat at the table after helping Hannah get a bowl of cereal.
We didn't say a word to each other, except for those moments when I would pick up my phone to check something and she would quickly ask me to put it down.
On a spiritual level, silence was something I loved and was familiar with - but I don't think I ever shared it with a six year old.
It was an inherently sacred moment.
I go to a small unprogrammed Friends meeting a few times a month. They have two services during the week, and it's about twenty people altogether. My favorite part of it is going in and just sitting down without any kind of expectation. It gives me time to pause and reflect on where my spiritual life is headed.
Those are the moments Jesus tends to show up the most for me.
At my last worship meeting, a woman named Pam stood up to share.
"We've been through a lot this year," she said. "And... I think I've realized, more than anything, that we need each other. We need that of God in one other. We've lost a lot of people in our communities, but we haven't lost God. May we continue to remember that into the new year, and remember that each of us is made in His image."
It's a personal spiritual exercise to see God's image is in children just as much as it is in adults, and it's a gift to see that image in my nieces. Learning to see that image is vital for our own spiritual walk. We weren't made to be in isolation.
In my own imagination now, I imagine the Kingdom of God looks like Hannah that morning and Jesus as Someone who eagerly wakes me up to start the day. Someone who asks me to put away my distractions and pay attention to what's happening. Someone who asks me to sit and listen to what He has to say.
"Did you see that sunrise?" He seems to ask when I close my eyes. "What a beautiful day this will be."
I have worked with hundreds of kids, but none of them had the same high forehead or brown hair or sassiness or intense drive. But she is also incredibly extroverted and outgoing, which is probably where our likeness ends. My sister likes to joke that she'll either be a CEO or mafia boss some day. Nothing wrong with that.
But that particular morning, she was quiet and she asked me to be quiet too. She didn't want me to say a word.
I now look back at that memory as a moment where God showed up in an unexpected place. I don't know how my year will unfold, but I know if I wake up to that same kind of grace I did that morning it'll all be okay.
If that of God can be very present in a six year old, imagine how much more so He can be present in us. Let us be reminded of that as we head into the new year, and see His hand at work in both the ordinary and extraordinary.