“I might as well f*cking do it. I’ve been thinking about it every day, and I think today is the day I’m finally going to.”
I could tell she was serious, and part of me was scared.
The tension was thick that day in Taco Bell.
Yes, you read that right. I said Taco Bell.
Let me back up a bit…
I’ve been MIA because I have a rule about writing here. Only post when you know what you are posting is revolutionary, and will bring people closer to Truth. Honestly, since you last heard from me, I haven’t been too sure if anything I’ve had to say is revolutionary or truth. So I’ve been silent.
Taken by the frustration of not having my prayer answered, I finally gave up on asking. I figured “If God wants me, he knows where to find me.” Then I left. Not “left the faith” exactly, but close enough I suppose. I stopped running my house church, I stopped praying, and I ignored that feeling of God’s presence that I had grown so accustomed to. I guess I just got tired of waiting for God to satisfy me, and decided I would get my needs met somewhere else. There’s only so long you can hope for something before that hope turns to bitterness. My hope was deferred; my heart was sick.
I was trying to figure out how to listen to my own heart, how to do what I want instead of just following what some cosmic rule-maker or 3000 year old book said to do. It was incredibly liberating. I discovered that I love dancing, and that my sexuality isn’t something to be ashamed of. I also discovered amongst the Blues/Fusion dance community a love and acceptance that I almost never find in the church. Sometimes you find Jesus in the funniest places.
Yet, I didn’t feel personally connected to him anymore. I made it clear to him that I was done with “parlor tricks.” I was done with miracles and worship music and exorcisms and all the other religimania of Evangelical Christianity. We Christians can be a real pain in the ass. (And It’s ok to say “ass” as a Christian sometimes. Even Jesus rode one once. Just please be nice to the Christians that do not use that language. They aren’t always dogmatic, and if you think you need that kind of language to somehow prove your freedom in Christ, your ass may be in more hot water than theirs.) I wanted to experience God face to face or not at all. So I had “not at all,” and it was making me feel like a hollow tree– withering–dying from the inside out. I’m pretty sure I even began to fall into depression. I wanted to go back, to settle for the lack I lived in for years once again, because it would be better than the death I was feeling now, but my heart wouldn’t let me. If God was good, I shouldn’t have to give up on my desire to know him tangibly, right?
So I kept ignoring that need in my soul, knowing full well that I had shut God out but convincing myself that he was the one ignoring me. In this state of bitterness, I found myself at the DMV. (Makes sense, right?) Of course they took longer than I expected, and I missed a meeting for work because of it. Now here I am, 15 minutes from where I work with two hours before I have to show up for my next meeting at 2pm. What am I supposed to do for two hours with almost no money? The answer was Taco Bell.
It was on the way to work, and I was hungry, so I figured “whatever, I’ll just sit there a bit longer, eat, mess around on my phone. Not the end of the world.” I almost went to a coffee shop, but I decided I wanted real food…well, sort of real food… Anyway, there I was at Taco Bell.
I’m eating my Doritos Taco alone, facing the drink machines, and this group of 12 or so old men that were having some kind of get together. At Taco Bell. Do old people do that? Does anyone do that?
I’m sitting there contemplating why elderly men would choose taco bell to swap old war stories, when out of the corner of my eye I notice an overweight Hispanic woman ordering. She was wearing a red shirt that was a bit too tight against her skin, and she was hunched over in a position that only comes from years of over-eating and feeling alone. I couldn’t help but hear her sobs that she was only half able to stifle. I kept thinking it was none of my business, and that I should ignore her. After all, it could be anything; and if I were her I would be even more embarrassed if someone confronted me on it. I would ignore her, and finish my taco.
Then I did finish my taco, and It was only 1:15. While I kept trying to think of somewhere I needed to be, or something that had to be done in those next 45 minutes, she kept crying. I had spent enough years being co-dependent that I had become an expert on analyzing cries. This was not a “work was hard today” cry, or even a “I hate my cruel husband” cry. It was the cry of a woman who had tried to hold the pain in for years, and it finally could not be held in anymore. You could tell she felt guilty about crying, but she couldn’t have stopped for a million dollars. However, “her emotions are her problem,” I told myself. I would ignore her.
I kept going back and forth, deliberating about what to do. I wanted to go up to her and tell her it would be okay, but I knew that might be a total lie. It wasn’t okay for me, so how could I promise that to her? Then I asked myself the most obnoxiously stereotypical question in the history of Evangelical Christianity: “What would Jesus do?” I have stuck the foot of irony square in my mouth, but that really is exactly what I asked. Then I pictured him in my place. What would he do?
I watched as he got up and walked directly to her, compassion in his eyes. He set his hand on her shoulder and asked what was wrong. As she began to cry on him, he comforted her. Luckily, I had the presence of mind to know that I probably shouldn’t just walk up and give a bear hug to a crying middle aged woman, but I got the message just the same. Then the Taco Bell guy walked by, sweeping.
He said to her “I hope your day gets better ma’am,” and that little phrase was enough to push me over the edge. Mostly because I thought “What an idiot! Her day? This is WAY worse than her day. Well now I HAVE to go over, because how else will she know what real compassion looks like?!” Leave it to foolish pride to motivate a person to ‘love like Jesus.’ So, I walked over to her.
“You don’t have to talk about it, and I totally understand if you don’t want to, but I want you to know that I’m here to listen if you want to talk.” She declined, said everything was fine, so I did the only other thing I could think of: “Well, can I at least pray for you?” Sure, praying in my state? This was going to go well.
“I guess I could use some prayer…” She said, looking down at nothing in particular.
There was a bit of a pause, then I said “Is there anything specific you would like me to pray for, or do you want me to just pray in general?” Then, the floodgates opened.
I heard about her son, who was in jail. I heard about her drug addiction that she had broken four years ago, and how she had 500 dollars in her pocket that she was ready to go spend on more drugs to try to escape the pain. She had no family but her son, no friends, and had to keep everything she owned with her because the people where she lived regularly stole from her. She had so many terrible things that had happened in her life, but you know what it all boiled down to? She felt lonely.
I could see in myself a dim reflection of every one of her situations, because I had all the same feelings. She told me that she was going to throw herself in front of a bus today. She had been thinking about it for a long time, and she had nothing left to live for. Her son would be provided for in jail, and he’d be better off without her anyway. She was lonely, so she wanted to die.
All I had to offer her was proof that she wasn’t alone. That a total stranger came up to her with nothing to gain from it, and loved her because she was worth it. By the end of the conversation, I did end up praying for her. She let me put my hand on her shoulder, and even gave me permission to give her a hug. I can only wonder how long it had been since that wonderful woman had received a hug.
The second I got into my car I burst into tears. Crying at how overwhelming it all was, and how the DMV, my missed appointment, and my random decision to go to taco bell instead of Starbucks may have saved this woman’s life. I wondered at how I was the only one that took the time to listen to her, and how I only talked to her because of Jesus and Taco Bell Guy. How could God not exist if He was what just saved that woman’s life? He had to be real, because people like her need him to be real.
I need him to be real.
I know this isn’t even remotely scientific, and part of me is bothered that I didn’t get that tangible evidence that I was holding out for, but it changed me nonetheless. It broke my heart and inspired my soul. It gave me the courage to let go of my pride and anger too. I began to realize that those “parlor tricks” and “insufficient evidences” that God was constantly moving through in my life had made me who I am, and that I was empty without him. Something deeper than any of these single things I had experienced that told me that He is real, and I will never be able to shake it. It’s like eternity lives within my gut. I tried for six months to pretend it wasn’t there, and did everything I could to get rid of it, but all my frail human tools could not dislodge it.It’s as if within me is an eternal container, and it can only be filled by an eternal God.
In all this emotion, I realized something else that I think finally helped me let God back in to that container. I realized that God never broke his promise.
I think we do this to God a lot, honestly. We pray for something, convinced that if he is who he says he is, then he will give us what we want, then we accuse him when he doesn’t. I prayed for six years that God would show up to me face to face so that I could know him the way I wanted to, and so I could finally be convinced that he exists with 100% certainty, and He never did. At one point, during an internship, I even thought I heard God tell me that he was going to answer this prayer, but it never happened.
I felt that God had betrayed me. I kept my end of the bargain but he didn’t keep his. I was suffering purely because God wanted me to. In actuality, all he had done was not give me what he hasn’t given 95% of the modern world, yet I’m down here acting like I’m a modern Job! I can be a bit dramatic sometimes.
Then I thought about my relationship with my dog.
Strange place for revelation, but it worked! I realized that my 8 year old Labradoodle and I have a relationship. She doesn’t talk (although, this one time she made this noise that sounded exactly like “hello,” and it was pretty cool), she can’t think at my level, she only loves me because she thinks I’m the “pack leader” or something, and yet we have a relationship. I don’t know her like a person because she isn’t one. I realized that what I had been all hung up about is that I don’t know God like I know people, but then I realized that the only people I know in that human sort of way are…well…people! I had boxed God into my definition of a relationship, then ignored the fact that we already had one!
Frankly, I still have no idea why God hasn’t given me what I asked for, but I know He is good. I know that what God and I have, while unorthodox in my mind, is a real relationship. More distant than I would like, but maybe if we keep spending time together we can work on that. After all, a friend like God never gives up on his relationships.