People started arriving with their food about 6:30, and Harper worked hard at getting proper places for every item, displaying them in as pleasing a manner as she could. Several came in crock pots and needed to have electrical outlets, so that took a bit of maneuvering; but eventually, every dish had its proper place. The potluck was a last-minute thing, so given that people didn’t sign up for particular categories, it was kind of amazing the variety of dishes that ended up on offer. There were soups and chilis, casseroles—all meat, egg rolls, a dish with some kind of tator tot topping with lots of cheese added, some cut raw vegies and dip, and lots of desserts, including a black bean vegan brownie that Harper hoped to try. Blaise said grace, and then people started moving through the line. By the time she found time to grab a bowl, Harper realized her chili and cornbread were gone. So much for guaranteeing a vegan choice. Oh, well. There was still quite a bit of salad left in a big metal bowl, so she went for that. She hated boring salad, but this one was anything but. Whoever made this was on the same page as she was. There were several kinds of greens and cabbages cut in bite-size pieces—none of those huge chunks that required cutting with a knife. She saw pieces of artichoke, olives, carrot, zucchini, sprouts, raspberries, sweet corn, and peas. It looked like a gourmet feast, and she was surprised there was so much left in the bowl. She grabbed one of her no-oil dressings from her mini fridge and found a place to sit and eat.
She had just started when Max brought his plate over and sat down beside her. “Hi, Harper. Thanks for all your work; everything looks great!”
“Oh, no problem. Amazing that we didn’t have too many duplicates, and I’m sure there will be enough leftovers to feed the masses.” She finished chewing while covering her mouth with her hand.
“I see you’re enjoying my salad. I hate boring salads.”
“Are you kidding? You made this? It’s perfect. I love this everything-but-the-kitchen-sink kind of salad. It’s amazing. Thank you for bringing it. I’m vegan, and there aren’t always many choices for me at events like this. By the way, I was hoping to hear more of your story. Is this a good time?”
“Sure, I’d love to tell you. I’ll try not to talk too much with my mouth full, though.” He smiled at that and took a big bite.
“So, Blaise said you used to be an engineer. Do you ever think you will return to that line of work? . . . Okay, your turn.” Harper smiled and took a bite to let Max have time to respond.
“I’ve thought about it, but technology changes so much so quickly I’d probably need to take classes or get recertifications, if you know what I mean. Plus, I’m not sure my heart is in it anymore.”
Max went on to cover the story of his past—some of which Harper knew from Blaise. But Max filled in all the holes. He had come through a lot of heartache with the loss of his livelihood, and more importantly, his family. The sweetness and humility of one forgiven much shone through, and Harper couldn’t help but be impressed at the sacrifices he was now making to help those on the streets who were struggling with addiction, as he once did, and others with mental illness, who needed help and were not getting it from the system. He had become not only a minister to them, but also an advocate, navigating the courts and welfare system for many.
“I can’t imagine how hard it must be living on the streets—or maybe I’m just spoiled. How do you get money to buy all the sundries and food that you give to your friends? And let me know if I am being too nosy.”
“No, not at all. But I may hit you up for a donation later.” He smiled at that. “A friend got me a part time job tutoring math and science at the junior college. It doesn’t pay much, but I have few needs. I make enough to get a membership at the YMCA. That’s where I have a locker, and I can work out and shower there when they’re open. The rest of the money feeds me and my friends on the street. I also get donations from food banks and local businesses that know me and what I’m trying to do. So, it works out okay. But a dream has been forming in my heart and mind for some time, and I think that it will be the next step in my mission.”
“And what is that, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“With the storm coming in tonight, Blaise has promised to drive me to the homeless shelter for the night. Which is cool . . . but there are far more people in need of beds than the beds in that one small shelter.” Almost on cue, a peel of thunder sounded, and Harper could hear the wind picking up outside. Max continued, “I almost feel guilty taking a bed tonight. My dream is to raise funding for at least one more, maybe two shelters—a place to shower and sleep, eat, be trained for work, and a place to help those who need meds to not only get them, but have loving folks to hold them accountable to stay on them. A big dream, I know. But I feel like God is pushing me in that direction.”
Harper was chewing the last bite of her salad. She was amazed at the passion of this man. “I can’t pretend to understand a mission like that, but I would be open to learning. And feel free to hit me up for a donation anytime. Oh, by the way, I think I saw your JR friend in front of the coffee shop across town.” Harper described the man, and Max assured her that it sounded like him.
“That’s kind of far afield for JR, but he has a cousin who owns a coffee shop in that area, I think, so maybe he decided to go there to try and get some extra cash. He hasn’t been doing well lately.”
“The owner seemed to know him by name, but ran him off, so he may not have gotten what he went for.”
“I’ll try and talk to him about it. He isn’t very open about . . . anything, really, but I’ll see. I’ll try and check to see that he has enough money for his meds this week. Thanks for the heads up.”
Blaise walked to the front and encouraged people to set aside their food temporarily for a couple of worship songs. Harper took that as her signal and excused herself from Max. She grabbed her guitar and walked to the front. It felt good to lead the group in song; and everyone joined in, singing enthusiastically, even on her new song. After worship and a prayer, Blaise invited people to ask their questions. He told them they could still keep munching as long as they asked their question between bites. At that, everyone laughed.
“And no choking,” someone yelled out.
“Yes, please. Okay, so who’s first?” Blaise scanned the room.
A young woman named Rosie in the middle of the room raised her hand tentatively. “I’m not sure how to explain this: If someone prays for you because you’re sick with, say, the flu, and you feel warm all over—like Holy Spirit warm—and you know God has touched you, and your flu symptoms go away, but . . .” She hesitated for a moment, then started again. “Well, I mean, if you get healed of that one thing, but a bigger thing, like MS, is not healed . . . well, how does that work? I would think if a prayer works and a person is touched by God, everything wrong would disappear if anything is going to disappear.”
Blaise very kindly asked, “I have had something like that happen. Have you?”
And at that, Rosie quietly said, “Yes, with my mom. I mean, I was so excited that God healed her of her flu symptoms; I’m really new to any of this prayer stuff. But I don’t understand why everything doesn’t go—the bad stuff, I mean. Does that make sense?”
“I don’t understand either. As I’ve mentioned before, if there was a formula, I would use it to empty out all the hospitals. You were faithful to pray for your mom, and that’s awesome that God used you. Though it’s hard, you must leave the results with him. And I would continue, as the Lord leads you, to pray for all the things that affect your mom, including the multiple sclerosis. But our responsibility is not to guarantee the outcome we would like to see. We leave that in God’s hands.” Blaise shifted his position on his stool and spoke softly. “And that’s not to let God off the hook, so to speak; but we just don’t know everything that He knows—everything that’s going on in a person’s life or in the spiritual universe that is battling unseen around us. We can talk about our faith, the other person’s faith, the spiritual battle, God’s timing, God’s will—lots of different components. That’s why we keep ever pressing in toward God, desiring to be led at any moment, listening for His voice and becoming more discerning. As hard as it is, we have a part to play, but we don’t get to be prescriptive about the outcome. That probably doesn’t help your disappointment, though, does it, Rosie?”
“Yes, actually, it does. I guess when you want someone you love so badly to be free of their pain, you feel like there’s got be a perfect key to unlock the solution. But it doesn’t seem to be a key we need as much as it is a puzzle piece of a very complex puzzle. And we get to fit only one piece at a time. It does help to see how some of the pieces kind of fit. Thank you.”
“That’s a great analogy. I may steal that one from you.” Blaise smiled and motioned to another person who had raised his hand.
“I have a question.” An older gentleman near the front had raised his hand. “You referenced that verse in Thessalonians a few weeks ago about praying without ceasing. I’ve tried to pray a lot since I became a believer many years ago, but I have no idea how to be in continual prayer. Is that just hyperbole, or is it really what we must do? Even if we mumble prayers all day long, it seems that would still be falling short. And besides, people would think we were crazy.”
“You guys have great questions! Really. When I lived at the monastery, we had eight designated prayer times throughout the day—every day—as initiated by Saint Benedict of old: vigils, lauds, prime, terce, sext, none, vespers, and compline. Those calls to prayer were an attempt to help us brothers pray without ceasing, and they were beneficial in keeping us on track in our devotion to God. We had other prayers, too, like before meals or before certain tasks; and it was assumed that even our sleep would be a prayer to God. Now this is not a trick question: But was that enough to qualify as praying without ceasing?”
Everyone pretty much in unison said No.
Blaise smiled and nodded. “And I agree. It would never be enough because if you miss one second somewhere, you have failed. And the abbot and other leaders knew that, of course, too. Don’t get me wrong; the disciplines were good for me, and they helped to heal my heart and orient my life around seeking God. But constant babbling in prayer is not what is required. What is required, and what we aim for, is to have our life so focused on pursuit of God that prayer is an active discipline but also a positioning of the heart. So, if I am trimming roses,” and with that he winked at Harper, “or if I am changing a tire or leading a Bible study, the passion of my life is God-oriented, ready at any time to do as He asks—listening, speaking, and groaning, if need be. These kinds of beliefs are the roots of the tree of our faith. We don’t bear fruit and become more holy by grunting and groaning and straining to produce a spiritual peach on our spiritual branch. The peach grows as a natural result of being in Christ, rooted and grounded. If we don’t get the foundation of roots right, then the tree will not be healthy enough to maintain communion and bear proper fruit. And that fruit . . . what it looks like, smells like, and tastes like? That is up to God. Our job is to stay rooted in Him.”
“That’s it!” Ava jumped to her feet. She surprised herself at how loudly she had interjected, but she obviously was excited.
“What is ‘it’, Ava?” Blaise was surprised but still pleased by her obvious enthusiastic outburst.
“Roots! That’s the name of our fellowship. Roots! We’re learning—and relearning and unlearning—truths that are foundational to our growth and health as a Christian body . . . and I think . . .” Inspiration had hit like a thunderbolt, but now Ava was feeling a bit exposed and embarrassed.
Harper came to her rescue. “I agree. I think that’s a great name.”
Max joined in, “Me, too!”
“Well, everyone, what do you think? Let’s take it to a vote.” There was no need to count hands. Everyone voiced their agreement, and so it was decided.