Sitting in a local coffee shop – quaintest and coziest I ever did see, my favorite. The walls are adorned with calming colors and the neatest art. Antique phones and aged books line the wooden shelves. Handmade signs and trinkets capture the hearts of each customer – a colloquial atmosphere that encourages folks to turn from strangers to friends. It’s just me tonight with my bible, journal, and some good eats. Accompanied by the love of Jesus and other smiling visitors, seeking a recharge. I hear conversations around me that I want to join in on, but can’t seem to find the courage today. Two times before, at this very place, I have met new friends. Overheard them talking about life and Jesus and other random things and interjected. But on this night, I am feeling less than outgoing.
Then, a man walks by who I recognize as the owner- dressed in a simple grey t-shirt and jean shorts. His eyes are kind and his glasses are distinguished. I have seen him and his wife before, their warm smiles on the website. I watch them make rounds and smile genuinely at the people, each time I am here. Warm smiles that would make any soul want to reciprocate, even on the most dismal day. He starts towards me, tidying up the tables and saying his hellos- and I muster up the courage to speak. “You’re the owner, right?“
A delightful conversation is sparked by those four words- the four “scary” words that I have harbored countless times as I’ve sat in this very place. He proceeds to tell me about how they got their business started- he and his wife- a true testament of the Lord’s faithfulness. They have a daughter who is becoming a woman – her first date ever tonight, the night of junior prom. I watch the reflection in his eyes- a father realizing that his princess is becoming a queen – letting go, reluctantly. He seems confident in the way he raised her to be – a young lady with a strong faith, not into the skimpy dresses or superficial attention. A lady raised in the admonition of the Lord. We continue. He wants to know all about what life as a counselor and educator is like so I share some stories of taking care of hundreds of kids, the richest to the poorest, from broken situations. I admit to him that each day is rewarding, but things can become overwhelming. He reassures me that I am making a difference and being a light. After a long week of work crises- I needed that.
As our conversation subsides, the girl to my left initiates a new one. While I spoke with the owner, she had been listening. Her ears perked up at the conversations we were having, relevant to the paper she happens to be writing. We talk and talk and talk, sharing stories, finding connections.
The final interaction of the night is the most memorable. A lady enters with worry in her eyes. She has dark hair and tattoos decorate her legs from the knees down- a gallery of body art. She meets her friend who is sitting to my left and begins to chat. She holds back tears as she shakes her leg restlessly. I look over and give a warm smile. “I’m sorry- my daughter got hurt at school today and is in the hospital,” she says. Her friend interjects – “And on top of that she has leukemia. She has been in and out of the hospital for chemo all year anyway, so sadly, she’s no stranger there. She is 8 years old. It sucks but she is so strong.” With a heavy heart, I express empathy. I am at a loss for what else to do. I watch the mother go back and forth between drinking wine and caffeine, seeking some unknown solace or energy. My eyes close and I say a silent prayer for her.
As I pack my stuff to leave, I am discontent. I want so desperately to let her know that I am praying for her and her baby girl. Just as I am about to get out of my seat, the owner appears near our tables. He greets the friend of the weary mother and calls her by name. Turns out she’s an employee here- dropping by on her night off. She introduces the owner to her friend, and shares the story of the ailing, little 8 year old fighter. I can tell the owner’s heart is breaking for her, too – I see it in his eyes. Thinking of his own daughter who is at prom tonight. Knowing that this mother who he is meeting may never get to share that special moment with her baby girl. He stops and sighs, “Can I pray for your daughter? Do you mind us praying together for her, right here and now?” The woman is surprised and responds with a hesitant, “Sure, yeah that’s fine.” I immediately jump in and ask to join- my heart in alignment with the owner’s but him saying the thing I hesitated to. And we bow our heads together. A group of two Jesus lovin’ people and two who doubt that God is real. We pray for the health of the baby girl, the revelation of God’s plan, the serenity and comfort of the parents who are giving their all to care for the child they created. As we open our eyes, there is not a dry one. “Thank you…thank you,” the mother whispers in gratitude. We part with a hug and I let her know that my prayers will continue. And as I walk out of that café, I suddenly understand what the sign means. Love is here.