Jesus at the Bar

After another long hot day on the bike, temps around 98 with no cloud coverage, when we hit the hotel I just wanted a shower. The road dirt and sunscreen mixed with miles and miles of sweat might have earned me real biker status but I was ready to shed the chaps and begin our evening of exploration. I am finding that such long periods of forced solitude bring a richness to each stop, conversations are a bit deeper, more meaningful. We share our observations from the last 100 miles, we tell stories. Cell phones mostly stay idle except to check in with those following us at home. I was ready for our evening talks, wondering where those would take us as, knowing my mind would be challenged, my soul inspired. It was sharing time.

Because I cleaned up first, I left the room in search of the hotel bar, a refreshing glass of wine. There I met a young man willing to share his story, open to hearing some Jesus. He poured my wine, the bar was empty, I stepped out of my comfort zone, I needed to hear voices. I asked him about himself. What ensured was God, in the timing, in the nudges, in the light flowing into that little bar. His name is Bryce, he wants to be an actor. He feels a calling but hears all the reasons why it won’t work. He pours drinks for wealthy business people who tell him to finish his education, to find stable employment. But something inside is screaming to follow his art. I said ,”Do it.”  He was surprised. I found myself quoting Steve Wiens from his book “Beginnings.” Bryce looked at me, stopped cleaning glasses, said he needed to hear that. We dug deeper. I worried about telling him my friend Steve is a pastor, I am not one for evangelizing. Maybe it was the elevation, maybe the dehydration, I took the leap. Sharing how this book, this man’s writing had opened up a world of choices for many friends, for me, I told him about Steve’s church. He didn’t walk away. Tony Compolo and Red Letter Christianity worked into my story, opening up a place of grace for this young man who walked a way from church several years ago, couldn’t find his way back. Church that excludes, that judges, that seems to hate instead of love. He was seeking Jesus, we found Him at the bar.

Other patrons made their way to our bar, Bryce got back to work. While he was pouring and listening to more stories, I asked for his address. He didn’t hesitate, found a scrap of paper to share his life with a stranger. I rejoined my friends, we laughed amidst an hour of camaraderie on the hotel porch. As we made our exit for dinner, Bryce put down his towel, stopped washing dishes and came to our side of the dividing bar. He gave me a hug, again thanked me. After dinner, back in our room, I  ordered Steve’s book from Amazon.  It is on the way, full of new beginnings and wise words for this young man. Whether he ever shows up on the big screen in our theaters, he is already a star to God. I am excited for his new beginning, a new relationship with a God who is pursuing him. This God who washed me of my road dirt and sent me to the bar, eager to talk and listen. A beginning for me as well.

Whispers and Light

I spent a year hiding, mourning. I stopped cooking, barely showered, couldn’t find my joy. It was inconceivable to me that my daughter was no longer in my everyday life.  Chef and I traveled to South Korea to see her when she taught for a year, I went back to bring her home. I bought serious backpacks so that she and I could travel South East Asia before we came back, the most exquisite mother-daughter time imaginable.  Within 2 months of returning home, she fell in love, 4 months saw her packed up yet again and moving to Nebraska.  Soon she was pregnant and a wedding was being planned.  A whirlwind for my   frustratingly slow-decider. Family stories abound of her inability to choose food at the drive-through, pick clothes to wear.  As a child who has always hated change, needed much transition, this was beyond out of character.  This whirlwind swept her out of our lives.  I spent a year so deep in my head, trying to figure it out, trying to reach her, I stopped reaching for God and any of his angels.

My friend Janet sent me a text, saying she had a crazy idea that we were meant to have  more intentional time together, I could say no, it was okay.  What she didn’t tell me was Pastor Chris had preached, she listened, she was acting.  She heard him say something about not just praying for people but taking the step to reach out.  Or something.  I wasn’t there in the church to hear him.  I was still avoiding God, like I was sure he had left me.  I have since gone back to listen to old sermons, trying to hear what she did.  I can’t find it.  The Spirit whispered to Janet.  Her faithfulness has changed my life.  I didn’t say she was crazy, I told my husband she had offered to meet with me.  I wanted to go.  A lifeline was extended, I grasped it but didn’t shower or change out of pajamas.  I was still barely breathing.

We met in her living room, she didn’t judge my appearance.  She acted like I was whole, but applied balm to my broken parts.  She nudged me, challenged me, was honest in a way I could hear.  Her living room became my sanctuary, a place to meet God on my terms, or so I thought.  I eased back into a relationship with Him, hers was so undeniable it made me yearn for my own. But could I really go back, back to trusting a God that would allow my daughter to go away?  Hadn’t I suffered enough without that too?  Janet allowed me to talk for a bit each meeting about my woes but we moved on to other parts of life.  Other parts I had forgotten existed.  I forgot about reading.  I forgot about other people’s struggles.  I forgot about gifts from God.

She introduced me to an author, only the introduction and first chapter were out, someone she followed via blog and podcasts.  I read and God spoke directly to me.  We had to do a study at church, we needed to share this.  Church where I wasn’t even going.  She smiled, agreed, her thoughts exactly.  We began to plan, meals were added, a children’s component.  It became a thing, so big, so beautiful, I didn’t have time to stay in bed, I showered.  The author, Steve Wiens, was approachable, so we approached.  Emails were exchanged, he offered to make a video invitation to join the study for our church.  We started meeting at Panera. I began planning meals.

Our study of the book Beginnings was life changing for the participants and has brought a new model of studies into our church.  The success of this group has reverberated throughout, new leaders have emerged, lives have changed.  We are planning the next study in late winter, the church is planning many groups around our model. I keep getting called to attend meetings there, as if I am a valued person.  I sometimes wonder if they don’t know I was just in bed this time last year, I wasn’t at church.  But then I remember they do know, that is the point.  God took such a broken person and brought new life. I cannot express how much Steve’s book changed me. The book is so beautiful, so rich, sometimes it hurts.  It sits on my desk, I don’t know how many times I have read it, passages marked, words arousing a need to act that cannot be ignored.  Steve listened to God’s whispers, creating a revolution of beginners.

Janet is an artist, so deeply gifted in many mediums.  One of her projects was broken pots, clay she had shaped, molded, created, fired, glazed.  Beautiful pots she then broke and reassembled, cracks visible, light shining through.  She donated all of these pots to our church, I took one home. I look at it everyday, remembering a God who lovingly created me and still wants light to shine through my broken places.  I am still broken, still mourning the space where my daughter should be.  I am also holding my brokenness up for the world to see,  no longer hiding. God has glued me together in His wisdom, with His grace. He sent His angels, an artist and author.  It is up to me to find the light. I am listening for my own whispers.