A moving story of how God pursued a university student using flowers, members of our team, and acts of kindness from strangers.
Bailey used to be a Christian, but as a philosophy student, she began questioning whether God could be real and gave up on her faith. On Monday morning of the RZIM Mission week, Bailey was walking through a part of campus that she typically never visits and thinking that God probably didn’t exist. She passed by Alexander, an OCCA alumnus and team member, who offered her a flyer and invited her to come and hear a talk on the question “Does God Exist?”
Bailey walked on because she really didn’t want to talk to Alexander, and yet at the same time, she immediately felt like she needed to. A few yards farther away, another student group handed her a different flyer asking if she wanted to join a student-led Bible study. She retorted, “No, I am not interested.”
After walking in the opposite direction for an extended time without being able to brush it off, she did a U-turn and came back for the flyer saying, “Wait! No! I am interested!” Not long after, although Bailey didn’t really think there was anyone to pray to, she said, “Okay, God. If you are trying to speak to me, I’m listening.”
On Wednesday, Bailey attended Cameron McAllister’s lunchtime talk, “Are Christians Scared of Science?” After a discussion with Cameron, he connected Bailey with Os Guinness, who arranged to meet her for coffee the following morning. In the meantime, Bailey filled out a response card leaving her contact details.
On Thursday morning, Madeline Jackson picked up that response card at the morning prayer meeting and messaged Bailey asking if she wanted to meet, and Bailey agreed. Bailey then spent two hours talking with Os in what was a hugely helpful conversation for her. In particular, she mentioned to Os how much she loves flowers, and that sometimes she wonders if God speaks to her through them. Os affirmed her by sharing a story with her about a man he knew who came to faith through being awed by a dandelion!
After her conversation with Os, Bailey showed up at the lunch event hoping to connect with Madeline, who had not yet arrived. Bailey felt a strong conviction that she was supposed to remain at the lunch event, but she left anyway to go and work.
Meanwhile, on her way to the event, Madeline stopped by a tree where she saw a beautiful flower and felt convicted by God that she was supposed to take it and give it to someone. However when she reached the event, she didn’t find anyone there to give it to. Instead, it sat on the podium as Madeline spoke, and she carried the flower with her all day before finally putting it down because she never met the person that she believed that she was supposed to give it to.
On Friday afternoon, Madeline and Bailey finally got together. From the moment they started talking, they couldn’t believe how much their journeys overlapped. From philosophy, to a love of Oxford, to flowers, to past experiences and deepest passions, God revealed bridges that allowed Madeline to speak directly into the questions Bailey raised. They spent over four hours together talking through Bailey’s questions, and it became more and more clear that God had been pursuing her. They covered specific topics such as mechanisms, the nature and possibility of love, Bailey’s love of paradoxes and contrasts in photography and the presence of them in the Christian narrative (dark/light, love/judgment, life/death), and the fact that daisies are Bailey’s favorite flower. By the time the evening talk came around, both of them were energized by what felt to them both like a divine appointment.
That night, Bailey and Madeline came to the final talk of the week, “Is True Love Possible?” In the course of the talk, Jo Vitale spoke about the mechanistic vision of love that science offers versus the paradox of Christianity offering love in judgment, and life from death. Most significantly for Bailey, Jo shared the story of two friends’ courtship; how the man had the woman’s favorite flowers, Gerbera daisies, delivered to her by strangers in coffee shops across Florence, Italy, and even Los Angeles, as a means of pursuing her. Jo used this as an example of Jesus’s parable of the lost sheep, and a God who pursues each one of us. As someone whose favorite flowers are also daisies, and who had said just earlier that she thought God might be speaking to her through flowers, Bailey was stunned.
Madeline and Bailey spoke afterwards for another hour as she was still wrestling with what this all meant, at which point Bailey said she had the feeling that Jo was supposed to pray with her, so she joined them too. As they all spoke, several things fell into place.
Firstly, Madeline realized—unquestionably—that the flower from the day before had been meant for Bailey.
Secondly, a year earlier, another OCCA alumnus had been praying for Jo on the Arizona State University mission, when she’d had a vivid image in her mind that she believed to be specifically for Jo. This image was of a wedding garland of flowers, like the kind that a bride wears in her hair. On that previous mission nothing had come of it, but over the last year that image kept coming back to Jo’s mind as she asked God to reveal whether it meant anything in particular.
Then, as she was arriving in San Francisco, Jo got a text from her father saying, “Don’t forget to wear flowers in your hair!” It immediately brought back to mind the image of the wedding flower garland, prompting Jo to begin praying about it again. Then on Tuesday morning, Jo was praying on a campus rooftop when she saw a beautiful blue flower lying on the ground that had a pin in it and looked just like a groom’s wedding boutonniere, once again bringing the bridal flower garland to her mind. As Bailey shared her story, Jo realized that the floral garland had been meant for her all along.
Several verses from Isaiah 62 came to mind, and Jo shared with Bailey about the image of God’s beloved bride described as a royal wedding garland which He holds in his hand, and that it seemed like God was asking Bailey to step into a covenantal lifelong commitment to Him and to say, “I do.”
Bailey was nervous, both because despite everything that had happened, she was still wrestling to believe that this God could truly be real, and also because she said she had always been terrified of marriage. But then she began to pray. As she prayed, she told God that she had built an intellectual wall around herself, brick by brick, until she had shut herself in with high walls surrounding her and no access to water, and now she was dying of thirst in a self-made desert. Then she said that she could see how God had come for her and was taking down the walls, and she told God that she did want to step into a lifelong commitment to Him, ending the prayer by saying, “I do.”
It was such a raw, beautiful prayer, and just like at a wedding, Jo and Madeline felt as if they were standing as the two witnesses to a lifelong vow.
Bailey looked at them in joy and awe as she said, “I can’t believe this. I can’t believe this happened. But it did, undeniably. I didn’t find God today. God found me and now I need to use my gifting in debate for Him.” Madeline highlighted how remarkable that in one day Bailey received her call to Christ and her vocation within his church!
The following morning, Jo was sitting on a bench by the ocean, when she decided to text Bailey the verse references from Isaiah 62. As Jo reread the passage, she was astonished to realize that Isaiah 62 not only describes God as a bridegroom holding his people like a wedding crown in his hands, but the text also talks about God’s beloved Zion as a walled city being restored after siege and destruction. In particular, the text says to “Build up the highway! Remove the stones” (verse 10) and that the city will “be no longer called Deserted” (verse 12).
In that moment, it dawned on Jo that the name Bailey literally means “a fortified castle wall, with a courtyard enclosed within.” Without realizing it, Bailey had not only been living up to her name by enclosing her heart within a high wall built out of intellectualism and philosophical falsehoods, but she had also unknowingly prayed a prayer straight out of Isaiah 62 the night before when she had asked God to remove the stones so that life might come in once more. Beautifully, Isaiah 62 even begins with this promise: “You will be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will bestow” and that name is “my delight is in her” and “married” (see verses 2 and 4).
Just as Jo finished writing all of these reflections out in a text to Bailey and was about to hit “send,” something unexpected happened. A complete stranger tapped her on the shoulder, handed her a gift and said, “This is for you.” The stranger then ran off, jumped into a car, and drove away! When Jo looked down, to her amazement she saw that the stranger had given her a beautiful pink rose, wrapped in tissue and ribbons. Accompanying the flower was a note saying this: “Without the dark, the light won’t show, Remember that you’re not Alone. One day an act of a stranger made my day, I hope this makes yours.”
To say that stranger made her day was an understatement! It seems Bailey had it absolutely right: God was speaking to her through flowers. Best of all? The rose carried a label from the flower shop on it. The name of the flower shop? “The Delicate Daisy.”
Another incredible detail of this story happened that very same day. In her talk on Friday night, Jo made the point that “Love takes initiative.” Hearing that, Bailey wrote that statement out on her arm. The next day, she was working as a waitress when a man came up to her and said, “Hi there. I know this might be strange, but I feel I have been prompted by God to tell you something. Your arm says, ‘Love takes initiative,’ and I need you to know for a fact that the greatest example of that truth is Jesus Christ who gave up his life for you.” She couldn’t believe it and went on to tell him how her life had changed the night before.
The week following the mission, Madeline got a message from Bailey saying this: “I haven’t been afraid to tell my friends and that is pretty big for me. My friend told me yesterday that she wants to feel like I did. I can’t believe it.” When Bailey shared the news with her believing mother, her mother began to cry with joy—she told Bailey that she had spent the weekend before interceding for her and asking that God might give her a revelation of his love. The very next day, our team arrived on campus.
“The Lord has made proclamation
to the ends of the earth:
Say to Daughter Zion,
‘See, your Savior comes!
See, his reward is with him,
and his recompense accompanies him.’
They will be called the Holy People,
the Redeemed of the Lord;
and you will be called Sought After,
the City No Longer Deserted.”