Stale Coffee and Donuts: Please Come.

Acceptance of the loss of “what should have been”.  That idea struck me right between the eyes like David’s stone.  Those weren’t even the exact words my friend had used, but it was the gist of his story.  We were sitting in the church fellowship hall before service, just like most of us did every Sunday.  Sipping coffee that had been sitting in the pot at least an hour and eating donuts risen like Lazarus from the depths of the church’s deep freezer.

My friend also has a beloved daughter who suffered a traumatic brain injury.  She, though now my age, was still dependent on her parents in some aspects of her life.  Though the source of our children’s injuries were very different, the journey is pretty similar.  A journey that seems to make most church people pretty darn awkward and nervous.  For some reason, we like to equate the brain with the soul and just get funky about things when the body’s processing organ goes a bit sideways.

My friend is probably 30 or 40 years my senior.  He’d walked in my shoes many years ago and had made it to the other side.  He’d been through all the specialists.  The orthopedics who try to put bandaids on the parts of the body the brain is struggling to control.  The neurologists who seem to think they are God themsevles…although the only thing they ever do is list the problems and say “sorry, can’t fix that”.  The sleep disturbances and struggle to try to establish a sleep system/schedule/medication only to have to their body adapt or develop a medication tolerance and undermine itself over and over and over again.  Forever.

But he was 30 years ahead of me.  He’d gotten to the other side.  He had come to the spot, at some point in his journey, where he realized that miraculous healing was not in the cards.  That sometimes the answer is “no”.  That, in this sinfilled world we find ourselves in, bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people, and sometimes the answer really is just “it wasn’t fair, but God is still good”.  He was able to look back and see all the ways that God HAD answered prayers, even if it wasn’t the transcendent healing he and his wife had hoped for.  He had acceptance of the loss of what should have been for his daughter and found JOY in what was.  Even if it was not the dreams he had had the first time he held his baby girl.

His JOY became my encouragement and joy.

But what if he hadn’t shown up?

What if he woke up most Sunday mornings and felt too tired, too busy, too discouraged by life, too whatever to consistently come and fellowship with other believers.  We’d never have had the time together to form a friendship.  To form the comfort level it takes to talk about the hard stuff.  A relationship is not built in one meeting.  It’s built over time.  I probably would not have been receptive to his story, nor he comfortable to share, if we hadn’t had many Sunday mornings of sharing coffee and donuts behind us.

God used my friend to teach me, to reach me, to encourage me.  This would not have happened if he hadn’t simply showed up.  Consistently.  Regularly.  Excited to be with fellow believers. Ready and willing to build relationships with all those around him.  Somewhere in this independent-focused American way of life, we forget that sometimes the reasons we do things are not just for ourselves, but the community.

Church always encourages me. I always learn from the teaching. I feel uplifted by the songs.  But those are not the only reasons we meet together.  We have stories to share!  Life experiences that are unique and can be used by God to encourage others.  But first we must show up!  We must be willing to build relationships.  To build community.  To share our story so that it may be an encouragement to others.

And before my words are taken out of context…this isn’t a #COVID rant.  I think there are definite times in history, or in our personal life, when we may not be able to meet together for a short time.  My friend is in one of those times now.  Those happen.  Those are absolutely okay.  It should never be “meet together at the expense of all else”.  But we should never lose sight of the need we have for one another.  The need to share our stories.

I could go on and on about the people who have encouraged me in my spiritual growth simply by being involved in the community and sharing their stories.  The couple who also had six kids in an 8 year span (and to think they didn’t warn us 😉 ha!) that are now on the other side of parenting and enjoying the blessings and fun (and challenges!) brought by adult children and grandchildren.  The woman who shows up week after week after week to pour into my children and care for them so I can have the opportunity to attend bible study.  The couple whose generosity and love has blessed us and our children in our most difficult times….again and again. All the people who attend bible study and encourage the group with their stories!  The list is endless.  But it’s connected by one important thing:

They came.  They shared. They gave their stories as an encouragement to others.

Please show up.  We are stronger together.