Earlier this week, Jan and I had dinner with friends at a nice restaurant. Shortly after being seated, a young family sat at the table next to us with three young kids. Our child-rearing years took place decades ago. We smiled as the parents tried to herd cats and eat at the same time.
At the end of our meal, we complimented the parents on the good job they were doing, hoping to put them at ease. We have been in their place. I shared a story with them from my early parenting days.
When our kids were really young an older couple visited our church for the first time and offered to take our family out to dinner after the service. They took us to one of the nicest restaurants in town. A dinner like this was not in our young family’s budget so it was a real treat. Our son, David, was two years old. Anna was the older sister of five. The dinner was going so well until my son shifted gears.
At the end of the meal, David worked himself free from his high chair, stood up straight, raised his arms high into the sky like a good little Pentecostal and screamed at the top of his lungs. All eating in the restaurant stopped. Every eye turned toward our table at which time David did his best imitation of a falling tree. He fell backward into the middle of the table next to us. On impact, he sent the plates on the table into the air and all the food previously arranged in beautiful order was now being worn by the diners. When David hit the table, it sounded like a bomb went off. I saw all of this take place in that pre-shock slow motion viewing ability that people have just before they die.
I sat there stunned. As a young pastor, I had a hope this new couple would attend our church. As the exploding food began to settle, I realized that was never going to happen. Everyone in the restaurant knew we were believers because we did the public prayer thing before our meal. When the bomb went off, Jan and the couple eating with us immediately got up from their seats to help the poor victims of my son’s Oscar-worthy demonstration of “Timber!”. The food-drenched people smiled and said, “We have kids – we understand!” Me, I continued to sit in catatonic-like shock, my short life as a young and insecure pastor was passing before my eyes.
One of the older women sitting at the demolished table walked over to me and said, “It’s going to be OK”. She patted me on the back a few times then left with the rest of her tablemates to visit the restroom to clean food debris from their clothing.
It did get better. I finally regained my composure. I dealt with my pride and the next Sunday the couple who took us to dinner actually returned to our beginning congregation to become one of the foundational couples in our church plant.
I realized that day what we perceive as a disaster can actually become a place where God is able to extend compassion to us from the most unlikely sources. None of this thing called life is without an occasional mess. Most of the people who are the victims of our unintended messes want to be part of our solution. If you are in the middle of a mess of life if God is in the mess with you, “It’s going to be OK”.