we sat down as strangers, but left as friends

Mid-sentence, the words Dear, God erupted. Oh! We’re praying now.

As quickly as he started, though, he stopped.

With my eyes shut, although admittedly flitting, I waited…and waited some more.

Wait. Are we praying? Did I hear that correctly? The music is pretty loud in he—

His voice starts again, this time breaking, as he quietly concludes the prayer:

“Thank you (pause) for our new friends. (final pause) We love you. Amen."

I look up at him, no more than a stranger two hours prior, and am somewhat dumbfounded at this mark of authenticity. It is seeping from his seat across the table and pooling at my feet, making me unable to resist its absorption even if I tried.

His wife proclaims her amen, and without missing a beat, names the moment for what it was, almost to make light of it without taking away its significance: “You got a little weepy!"

Immediately, I like them.

They are in their mid-60’s (maybe?) and comfortable in conversation. Before our food arrived and the prayer was uttered, they had already asked about Mack and myself, wondering what our interests were and if we are pursuing them. There was no lull in topics as words were exchanged, and not because someone was hogging the floor or just filling conversational space, but because the ease with which they shared, and asked, was so natural.

The husband is relatable and also incredibly compelling, which is probably why he has a knack for story-telling. He told stories of the homeless people he’s befriended on his daily walks, and how he and his wife have made their home available in different ways, at different times, for different reasons. It might be a shower for someone, or a back patio to sleep on for another. It might be help filling out paper work, with the hope of receiving available resources.

He talked about hospital trips with one man in particular, and the hours of waiting, and the looks they got as they did. He was open with the struggles he and his wife sometimes endure, like struggles of boundaries or comprehension, and I was struck by their unwavering compassion in the face of others’ hardships, while still maintaining a sound sense of reality and practicality.

His wife introduced herself to me seconds after church had ended, and by my first impression, I thought she would be the talker of the two.

“Do you go along with that guy up there?”
“I sure do!” I said, looking towards Mack.
“Great! Well, I go along with that guy back there, and we would like to take you both to lunch today, okay?"

Our pastor had just challenged the congregation to break bread with someone new in the following week, and she literally wasted no time. I was a little taken aback at first, but just as instantly, incredibly humbled by this woman who approached someone new with no other agenda than to eat together and learn about each other.

Once at lunch, it became clear that she held a quiet confidence and enjoyed hearing her husband share about their lives. She ate her Cobb salad in small bites, interjecting commentary where applicable. If asked a question directly, she answered clearly but succinctly, and held a modesty towards any accomplishments mentioned or attributes attained.

They were both that way, actually. Both ready and willing to share who they were and where they came from. Ready to welcome us, their guests, as one of their own. Ready to highlight why they did what they did, but with no air of superiority or pride.

It came up that I was a writer, and after hearing how colorful their lives had been, I half-jokingly, half-seriously remarked how I should write about them.

They unanimously denounced that idea, not wanting to garner attention towards themselves, and I get it.

But I couldn’t not, ya know?

I can withhold specific details (and believe me, I am, A LOT), but experiencing their intentionality and hospitality meant that on a Sunday after church, my knowledge of Jesus was extended past the services I had just attended, and into the realm of tangible, everyday life. With four spoons we scraped down the sides of a pan holding monkey bread and ice cream, everyone encouraging the other to savor the final bite, until the faces that had been unfamiliar were unfamiliar no more. We may have sat down as strangers, but we left as friends.

Time and time again, I have learned that I know Jesus best through people. The potential that lies simmering at the surface of any interaction is both intimidating and enthralling. When poked, though, and stirred, there is usually a depth there, and in that depth is where ordinary moments become sacred.

I don’t always pursue these moments, and more often than not, I actively push them away. But when I am compelled to say yes, it is honestly a wonder that I ever considered saying no. So today, as I reflect on that meal and those couple hours spent together, I echo that beautifully simple prayer: thank you, God, for new friends.