Something's happening in Williams Park. A shift has occurred. I can't explain it but I can feel it. People are experiencing love. Not just any love. The love of the Father. Not only that, but they're demonstrating love!
Yesterday, I went to the park alone, my car and trunk packed full of lunches for 150. Before I had swung my door completely open, a gentleman was crossing the street to help. As we began pulling boxes from the car, more arrived to help. I was pleasantly surprised when Doc asked to help. Doc is a regular at the park. He's an older man, tall, dark, handsome, clean cut and well-dressed, and...well... (how do I say this?)... he comes across as rather arrogant and maybe stand-offish sometimes when interacting with me. He doesn't often have anything to say to me. For a long time he was downright cold to me. It was months before he would crack a smile. So yesterday I was carrying a light-weight box of PB&Js into the park and as I passed him standing with his bike, he asked if he could carry the box for me, wearing a big grin. I was a little bit shocked. It wasn't heavy, but I wasn't about to miss out on this opportunity so I handed him the box and I walked his bike up into the park. When we got to the bench where we serve food, Doc took charge. He organized the food, appointed servers, and managed the line. He made sure that the line didn't begin until after I had spoken to the crowd and prayed. He ensured that no one took more than one bag. My three gentlemen servers were so gentle and kind to each person they served. It may have been the best behaved crowd we've ever had. And I just stood back and watched. It really blessed my heart! The people receiving food are always so appreciative. While I took the wagon around the wall for the trespassers, my servers remained at the bench until the food was gone, and then neatly packed up the supplies to go back in the car. When it was time to go, another crew, my drunken misfit friends, helped carry the supplies to the car.
As you know, the main reason that we take food to the park is so that we can spend time building relationships with the people there. My friend Cassie calls it dripping, well, drip marketing. Each week we drip the love of God on those who we meet. For some people, a few drips from us is all they need. They've probably had other people dripping on them, too. For others, like Doc, it may take a year or more of consistency and reliability before a trust is formed and he can finally crack a smile. But now the park is so saturated by these drips of love that you're guaranteed to get your feet wet when you walk through! I know how sappy that sounds, but man, if I could count the expressions of love... the belly laughs, the warm hugs, the big smiles, the numerous "we love you's"... So, I want to share just a couple of stories of individuals who made my heart leap with joy yesterday.
One of the most beautiful girls in the park is just a mess. She's in her twenties, a severe alcoholic and I suspect drug addict, she comes from a family of alcoholics, she sells her body, and now she's expecting a baby. She has a reputation in the park for being out-of-her-mind crazy. I see her as being painfully broken. For months now she's either avoided me, mocked me, or rolled her eyes at my attempts to love on her. So a few days ago I was (again) pleasantly surprised when she came up from behind me and said, "Hey! It's you!" and greeted me with a smile as I turned around. I don't know what caused such a sudden change in her opinion of me, but we spent about 30 minutes chatting and laughing. Yesterday when I passed her in the park she was on a mission, but she stopped and gave me a big hug. I looked her in the eye and said, "You are beautiful." She looked at me and replied, "You know, people tell me that all the time, but it's different coming from you." I told her that her Father God thinks she's beautiful, too. Please pray for her and your precious child.
A couple of months ago, Timmy lost his partner of 9 years, his name was Happy. Yesterday Timmy stopped me to show me a tiny picture that someone just gave him, less than 2" square and the only picture that he has of Happy. I just stood there and listened as he talked about how much he misses his friend. About how he wouldn't wish that pain on his worst enemy. About his plans to honor Happy on his upcoming birthday. His heart is still so very tender. Timmy recently told me that he'd like to visit our church one day. Not yet. He's not quite ready, but soon, he says. (I hadn't even invited him but I can't wait for him to come!)
The last person I want to tell you about is a man who I see now and then at the park but haven't gotten to know. He's strikingly handsome and just flamboyant and well-dressed enough to erase any doubt of his dating preferences. He gives off the vibes of someone with a hardened heart, and to be honest with you, while he's never really said anything to me, his presence is very intimidating to me. Yesterday evening I dropped by the park for 5 minutes to drop something off for someone. I quickly walked past him and a few others, and then I heard him call out, "Hey, aren't you the Christian lady that was here earlier today?" With some trepidation, I stopped, turned around, and returned to him, preparing to be chided and mocked. "Yes", I answered. With a stern face, he asked what church I attend. I short-answered him. "Tell me about it.", he said. His voice was hard and slightly demanding. I asked him what he wanted to know, having no idea where he was going with this. If he was wanting to argue theology I was prepared to make a quick exit. "Well, where it is to begin with." That caught me off guard. "You want to know where it is?"
"Yeah." (Looking at me as if I'm a dork.)
He pulled out his planner (from his "European bag") and wrote down the address, asking for specific directions, a phone number, and the service time. Now, so that you understand, this man knows NOTHING about my church. He didn't ask about the denomination or the theology or whether or not we welcome homosexuals...
I told him that I'd love for him to visit and to give me a call if he needed transportation.
"I like what you said earlier when you were talking to the people in line for sandwiches. And I've been watching you. I like the way you treat people. I'd like to visit your church."
Bam!! That certainly wasn't what I had been expecting! Before serving the sandwiches I had asked the crowd how many of them had a fear of God. I then shared Jeremiah 29:11 with them (for the umpteenth time) and reminded them that our Daddy God is not a God of wrath, but a good father who loves and is pursuing a relationship with them. How Christ came to introduce us to the love of his Daddy.
Because we hadn't formerly met, I asked his name and gave him mine.
"Emily?? You're Emily?? Oh, well I've heard all about you from my friend Eric!"
Haha! Eric, the one who used to avoid the "Christian Lady" until he realized I wasn't going away, so then he tried using vulgarity to offend me, thinking he could disgust me or intimidate me into keeping my distance. He couldn't offend me but he disgusted me into truly and deeply disliking him. The one who had a change of heart when the Christian Lady visited him (against my will) in the ICU. The one who looked me in the eyes yesterday after I gave his new girlfriend a pair of gently used socks (more than a year after that hospital visit) and said, "Emily, I don't know why you love us the way you do." It's pretty cool the way that God bring things full circle. I am confident that it won't be long now before Eric surrenders to the extravagant love and grace of his Savior.
This sounds like a lot of talk about me. The thing is that while I only know how to give a good and accurate account of my own testimonies, we have a whole team of people with similar stories of people with different names and faces, stories of people that God has given them to love. And when our team is not in the park, I am confident that the Lord sends others. And in others parts of our city and our country and throughout our world, He has called others to share His love. Just as He's called YOU to extravagant love!
"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." - John 13:34