January PULP Faith column

I’m not the kind of guy who experiences God in any mysterious way on a regular basis. I tend to play my faith a little closer to the vest. But once in a while something happens that’s simply hard to explain.


I have a close friend, who I’ll call Randall, who I’ve known since college. Randall is smart, funny, much more outgoing than I, and he was well-connected enough back then to get me into the local bars when I was nineteen.


Those were some of the best times of my young life: playing packed-to-the-walls house parties in Randall’s house with my band; traveling up and down Interstate 35 on the weekend, stopping at the Czech bakery along the way; talking in the wee hours of the night about the nature of God, love, fate and how to hook up with girls.


It’s hard sometimes to notice when someone is doing more than just having fun: when they’re really dealing with a beast they cannot tame, and with pain they cannot drink away.


I’ve worried for years since about Randall’s drinking. He’s built his whole life around it. He had dreams of owning his own business, moving to the country, and raising a family, but none of that has happened. Instead, I got a desperate email from his sister a few weeks ago, begging for help.


Randall was about to lose his job because of his drinking, and it was affecting everything from his health to his relationships. He had stopped eating, and his skin had turned sallow and waxy.


A couple of years ago, I sent him a letter telling him, in as loving a way as I could, that he either had to stop drinking, or he would die. He acknowledged that he did drink too much. But he was felt he had things under control, and that he could quit any time.


What I didn’t know was that he had shared my letter with his younger sister. His dad died when we were in college, and his mom and other sister are generally unavailable, but his younger sister has struggled with addiction too, and thankfully has come out on the other side.


It was time for an intervention and she needed help. My father-in-law has been in recovery for more than two decades, and he has performed more interventions than I can count. So the next thing I know, he and I are on a flight to Texas try and help get Randall into treatment.


It’s an emotional thing, being a part of just a life-or-death decision like that for someone you care about, but for me, it was about more than Randall. I was mourning the relationship with my dad, particularly given that the break several years ago between us revolved around alcohol. And the conspicuous absence of Randall’s older sister and mom, who opted not to participate in the intervention, touched a nerve in me too.


How do families that were bound by blood drift – or break – apart? How can love turn so bitter? All of this came welling up for me during the intervention.


I joked with Amy’s dad that we were on a mission from God. But the deeper we got, the more we actually started to believe it.


On the plane to Dallas, there was a spirited African-American flight attendant who actually smacked me in the back of the head, mid-flight. She mouthed off back and forth with us the whole trip, and finally offered us a couple of free drinks. I passed.


Mark explained that he didn’t drink, which sparked a conversation about where we were going. By the time we touched down, she offered us her blessing.


Then we got to the car rental office, and another black woman behind the counter greeted us with some bottled water and a beautiful smile, and started asking about our trip. So we told her.


“Praise God!” she shouted. “I’ve been in ministry for five years. You’re doing God’s work here today.” On our way out, she also offered a blessing, and said she would be praying for us.


The next morning, while we were having breakfast, our waitress – also African-American – leaned over to my father-in-law out of the blue and, under her breath, said that he reminded her of her first sponsor.


In twelve-step-speak, a sponsor is the person who has been in the program a while and now helps new folks navigate sobriety. So, of all the things she could have said, she mentions her sponsor, less than an hour before we head into an intervention.


When we told her what we were going to do, her eyes widened. “My goodness, I got goosebumps,” she said. “This is God’s work happening today. I’ll pray for you.”


One black woman blessing you is nice. Two is uncanny. Three begins to seem beyond all coincidence.


Amy had just finished reading a book called The Shack the day before I left town, and God is portrayed in the novel as – you guessed it – a black woman.


A life with God is no guarantee of picket fences, healthy families and two-point-five kids with perfect teeth. The lives we inherit are messy, sometimes painful and maddeningly inscrutable. The good news is our lives also are woven together like a tightly-knit tapestry. Thank God.


Our parents may screw us up six ways from Sunday, or we may do plenty of screwing up on our own. But God can still use us. Randall, broken and suffering as he is, bears God’s light. Sometimes we are like a beacon on a hill, and other times, it’s all we can do to keep the lamp lit at all. But Randall’s barely glowing ember was enough to bring us together.


And somewhere, in the middle it all, God showed her face, not once, but three times. Then Randall let light into the middle of all of that darkness with two simple words: “I’m ready.”


God’s call is not always to safety, comfort or convenience, but it is to joy, hope and healing. What is required of us is to respond with the words: “I’m ready.”

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