Over chips and salsa, Blaise asked Harper how she had been doing since their Christmas Eve snow dance. He smiled large and passed her a napkin.
She smiled, too. “Snow dance. Yes, so that’s what that was? I’m just glad no one saw us.”
“Oh, did I not tell you about the videographer I hired? Must have skipped my mind. It’s gotten a few thousand hits already on Youtube.” He laughed out loud as she threw a tortilla chip at him.
“That night was really special, I thought, and a lot of fun, too. I wish I could’ve followed up more with you, but my time up north was a bit hectic. So really . . . how are you doing?”
In any other situation with any other person, Harper would have felt put on the spot and uncomfortable. But with Blaise, there was an unusual level of comfort—and trust. And the moments they had shared only built on the increasing friendship. “Well, God and I are on speaking terms again.” She wiped her mouth with the napkin and continued. “And actually, it’s really good. I’ve felt like I was in a dark pit for years, and I’m truly seeing daylight with maybe a few handholds on the side of my prison. Dramatic, I know. But really, I have started to feel like God is near again. And I know you will say He has always been near, but . . .”
“You took the words right out of my mouth. But you did know that, right?”
“Yes and no. There was one part of my brain that knew that if I believed at all, I had to believe He was everywhere, and that everywhere would have to be near me. And my theology would have said even in me. My beliefs also said He should be with me in a way that makes a difference—a personal and tangible difference—but I felt alone so much of the time I began to doubt that He even remembered me.”
“Do you have any insight as to why you felt such separation? I mean, obviously grief put you there, but any deeper insight?”
“I guess.” She hesitated and munched on a chip as she thought of how to form the words. “I think it’s like when you are dating a nice guy, and you think everything’s going great. There is warmth and conversation and trust, and you start seeing the relationship as a long-term commitment; then, you find out he has also been dating your best friend on the sly, and he leaves you for her . . . and they move to the Himalayas! Can you tell I made up that analogy on the spot?” She smiled weakly.
“Well . . . it’s not exactly made up. I can imagine it because it did happen to a cousin of mine—except the Himalayan part. That was thrown in for dramatic effect. The jerk even got the other gal pregnant while making wedding plans with my cousin. I walked her through that turmoil and witnessed her profound sense of betrayal and abandonment. And not to minimize her pain, of course, but those were the kinds of feelings I was immersed in after Graham died. All the losses of life piled on day after day so that what I thought I knew about life and faith in God started to feel like a lie. And I did not know how to reclaim any of it again. I had lots of experience and memories in my faith-walk; but all of a sudden, I felt like I had to catalogue them all under different headings. None of it seemed real anymore. I couldn’t get past feeling betrayed; and the longer it went on, the deeper the pit. That’s probably a stupid analogy, but it kind of gets at the heart of the alienation that built in me.”
“I think I can understand that.”
“There were moments when I felt the old feelings—moments of clarity and certitude. But just as quickly as those moments would come, darkness would rush back in.”
“Darkness? What would the darkness be?”
“Hmm . . . like, sorrow, but deeper than sorrow. Bitterness, I guess. Depression. And when my friends tried to get me to see God in all the loss and suffering, I just stopped buying it and pulled away. In some ways, that was a healthy thing to do because their constant barrage of positive-speak was hurting not helping. I let them go—okay, I pushed them away. And any friendship with God along with them. And without good companions to replace the old, I grew more isolated.”
“Until when? What changed?
“So, are you fishing for a compliment here, or what?” She smiled. The waiter interrupted them to set down their entrées. “Wow, look at these plates. That’s a lot of rice and beans. We should have split one order!”
“It certainly is a big portion. Maybe this will be lunch and dinner combined.”
They ate without speaking for a time, and then Harper began again. “You walked into my shop. I don’t want to exaggerate, but really, I think as much as you have felt called to Shiloh to start something, the something began with me. I didn’t see it at the time, but what I see now is that in you . . .” She stopped briefly to collect herself. “What I see is that God sent you to, in a way, rescue me.”
“Wow, I feel such pressure.” He smiled and took her hand.
“No, really. You’re not like Superman or anything, but . . .”
“Oh, way to deflate my swelling ego! I was starting to feel good about myself.” He smiled.
“See, that’s what I like about our friendship. You are real, and you are serious about life and faith without taking your own human foibles—and mine, too, of course—more seriously than they ought to be taken. But you shouldn’t let it go to your head.” She winked. “I do believe God sent you, though, if not for your cult followers, at least for me.” She then became very serious. “I was lost, Blaise. Really lost. And for the first time in a very long time, I’m beginning to feel found.” The tears once again misted her eyes.
“Harper, you and I have walked some rough paths, and I’m pleased that for this part of our journey, we are walking it together. God has taken me through much healing, but I am still broken, too. Each day for me is a recommitment to my Lord to look to Him and not to my past or my present circumstances. If I can help you find your strength again in God, I will be overjoyed; and that in turn will strengthen me. You once told me that you would not be anyone’s project.” He flashed her a smile. “But I hope you see that we are both God’s project. And how our lives intersect hopefully will be a testimony to His work in both of us. When I am strong, I will try to help you; and when you are strong, you can help me.”
“Thank you, Blaise. Thank you for being my friend.”
“And indeed I am. With this new community, there will be lots of different folks to relate to, and I’m not committing you to this venture just because its your building. How you want to ‘be’ with the people that come is up to you. Really. There is no pressure there. But know this: I care about you not just because you have a room I want to rent and not because I have secret hopes that you will be parishioner #1. Our growing friendship, I value for what it is alone, apart from any project or calling of mine. I hope you can trust that.”
“I do. I have not trusted anyone in a long time, but I trust you are who you say you are.”
“That said, I will let you down. I’m sure of it because I am broken and often short-sighted, and well . . . I’m a man.” He smiled and looked straight into her eyes. “But let us walk with the Lord together and see what He will make of both of us, working with each other, forgiving one another, and growing in faith.” Blaise grabbed her other hand, too, and bowed his head. “Lord, first of all, thanks for the great food that we devoured without asking You to bless it. But mostly, Lord, thank you for my friend Harper. Thank you for her willingness to continue on in the grand adventure of following You, and may we hear Your voice and see Your guidance in all things as we press on in Your service. Let it be, Lord.”
Harper kept her eyes closed, and time seemed to stop still for a brief moment. A warm glow rested on her chest. She felt the presence of Christ at this small table in this small Mexican restaurant, but there was something else, too. She had known it before; but in this quiet moment, she hesitated to even name it to herself.