The fourth of August was a Tuesday. A crazy, God-awesome Tuesday.
We were in the middle of rehearsals for the Youth Drama Camp production of Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, in which I was not a cast member but more of a freelance assistant and "morale commandant" (my credit in the program). I was in the kitchen of the church we were using, alone and waiting for some people to get to the adjacent dining room for a rehearsal. A man walked in who I didn't know, and after we greeted each other he started to look for something in the fridge. I found it for him when he mentioned he couldn't find it... after that interaction, he looked at me for a second, and then said he was getting some things from the Holy Spirit about me. I wish I could remember the following conversation a little better; I remember most of it and wrote it down later.
He asked me if I had a voice; I understood that he meant singing, and I said yes. He asked me my name, and I told him. He told me that there is Jewish blood in my background, specifically Jews who were forced to convert to Catholicism at some point (note: I looked this up today. In 1497 many Jews were forced to convert to Catholicism in Portugal, and I'm a quarter Portuguese. Portugal's not a very big country, and 500 years is a long time; so I'm confident that in my Portuguese heritage there are some of these Jews). He said he saw me as a cantor; in Jewish services the cantor is a singer who leads them in worship and prayer. What the gentlemen didn't know is that I had done just that (singing on the worship team) two days ago in the Sunday service when the college group led worship, and (completely impromptu) I was the one who called the congregation to worship and blessed them when they left (the true leadership of the worship that day was done by my friend Josh). Then the man who couldn't find his food in the fridge gave me a verse from 1st John, something about trusting God... unfortunately I don't remember what verse it was.
That experience alone was mind-blowing by itself. I was at Borders later, journaling about what had happened. I was digging through 1st John trying to remember the verse the gentleman had given me, when a lady saw my Bible. Her name was Martha and she was with a friend named Linny, and both of them were believers as well. Martha showed me her right hand, which was missing the outside three fingers. She had been in an airplane crash about thirty years ago and had been badly burned in addition to losing those fingers. Jesus brought her through it, she said. He was her strength and her provider through the whole thing. She asked me where I went to school; it turns out that she, the friend she was with (named Linny) and their two husbands had been down there yesterday! She told me that her husband is a pastor of 150 other pastors out in California. Pretty awesome!
After I wrote about the ladies in my journal, I wrote this: "God's definitely working something... we'll see. If not now, then later."
As I closed my journal and started to exit Borders, I stopped by where Mrs. Martha was to say goodbye and how glad I was that God crossed our paths that day. When I did so, she got a look in her eye and told me that I should go over to Panera where her husband, Linny's husband, and a friend of theirs (all great men of God, she said) were talking and that I should ask them for their blessing. I was dumbstruck, as I lady I hardly knew had just told me to walk up to three complete strangers in the middle of a busy public place and ask them to pray for me and bless me because their wives said so. Martha kept saying "If you're bold," and "be bold!"
After getting over the initial shock (and Mrs. Martha saying she'd ask her husband later if I actually went), I decided to go. Well, at least start walking towards Panera in a trance-like state of nervousness. Excited, apprehensive nervousness.
A quote from the movie Transformers came to mind:
"Fifty years from now when you're looking back at this moment, don't you want to be able to say you got in the car?"
I entered Panera with an induced sense of tunnel vision as I immediately found three slightly older looking men on the couches matching Mrs. Martha's description of them. If anyone I knew was in there, or even Robert Duvall (he lives in our county and isn't terribly uncommon to spot) I had no idea the entire time I was in there. I walked up to them and asked them if they were Rick, Roger and Steve; they laughed and said they were and asked how I knew. If I had been nearer to my comfort zone I would have made a joke, but all I could do was shakily tell them that their wives had divulged their names and recommended that I come over and ask for their blessing. They all got big smiles on their faces and you could tell the Holy Spirit inside them was resonating with what was happening. They had me sit down on the couch and asked me what my story was.
I told them about my years of high school; there was something resembling a witness there, and sometimes fire in the heart, but not the true, deep, appreciative love I have today. I told them about the first year and a half of college, how I wandered and got to the point where I had to leave either God or the world behind... and the choice I made then. I told them about how God had been growing me in amazing
ways since then.
Roger said that since I entered into that new relationship, I had probably encountered some roadblocks. I chuckled at how spot-on he was, and told them about my family's situation.
When the first gentleman prayed for me, he held my hand and made eye contact with me through the prayer (he likes to pray for people that way; he said the Bible doesn't say we have to close our eyes during prayer). He prayed a list of encouraging things for me, including a breaking of my fear. He prayed that I would remember that God redeems even our mistakes; especially the ones we make that turn out wrong later when we get more information. I'll be on the lookout for information that will do that to me.
After the prayer, he talked to me for a while. He said that where I am right now, time-wise and place-wise, is the place where I can most effectively further the kingdom of Heaven; fifty years earlier or later would have missed the mark. It's right now that I can use my uniqueness and glorify God to the greatest extent. So why not take advantage of that! He then gave me Deuteronomy 28:1-15. It's a list of what God will bestow upon those who obey his commandments and love him... he told me to go through it and replace all the pronouns with my name. He told me that I still need to learn that I am not just a friend of God, but closer; I am a son to God, and how much closer is a son than a friend!
Then the second guy spoke to me. He gave me Jeremiah 29:11... "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.'" Then he talked about Noah and Noah's family; the Bible just says that Noah was righteous, not that anyone else in his family was. Salvation was brought "through him." I should focus on worshiping Him and building my relationship with God, and being the light in that way; not taking on the responsibility for anyone. He asked me if the I was the firstborn, which I am. He chuckled and said "Ah, the wide shoulders of the firstborn." This, quite obviously, was figurative. Then he gave me a big, caring, strong hug.
What a blessing and honor that day was. The second time in my life that God has moved in threes in my life with people; the first time was when I was leaving my hometown church over winter break and three different pairs of people prayed for me (independently of one another), ending with the Pastor and a Elder who's a second father to me. A total of six, split into two's. That Tuesday's pattern was one man of God, two women of God, three men of God. Six people total. I think God wanted to make it as blatant as possible that He's the one in control of my life.
God sent me a a good closing thought through my friend Brad that night after a small group meeting. He said that it's very good to remember these things, which is in fact a command repeated over and over again through the Old Testament. He said, however, to remember that this "altar" is just that: an altar, not an object of worship. It was good to hear that from him. He also said that he believes this kind of thing will be increasing in frequency, given the progression of the times. This stood out to me because I heard another man of God, Pastor Isabel, say the same thing a few months ago. With the confirmation of two witnesses, I'm confident in that as well.
God is good- I hope that you, reader, are encouraged by God's story here. It's Him whose glory I want to always testify to with this blog. I'm honored to be able to tell these stories... and trust me, I didn't earn my partaking of them and I hope I never think I did. I've left Him behind just as much as the next one... the funny thing is that He keeps going after us each time we do. I'd be lost and far gone if he didn't.