“Go into all the world, Mariachi”
I wake up early Saturday morning and it feels like God is saying, Take your guitar, go to the hospital and play ‘Because He Lives.’
I pick up my hymnal and flip open to page 213. ‘Because He Lives’? God, I don’t even like this song. Growing up, we always sang this song like a funeral march. Way too slow. Like Jesus was still dead. Are You serious?
The feeling won’t go away.
So I go to the hospital, guitar in hand, hymnal in a bag on my back. I walk through the main entrance, up to the elevator, push the button and get in. The door shuts.
Wait a minute! God, I don’t even know where I’m going!
I check the circular buttons. Well, 5 is my favorite number… So I head up to the fifth floor.
The doors open and I find that I’m in an awkward hall: two sets of big, thick doors, and a couple couches by a window. Now what?
An elderly couple comes up in the elevator behind me. “Oh, are you here to play a song?” the lady asks.
“I guess. A hymn, actually. Just don’t know where I’m going.”
The gentleman raises his eyes toward the ceiling and chuckles, “Sounds like you need some direction from the Man upstairs.”
They walk away, and I head back down to the first floor to talk to the person at the information desk. “Good morning,” I say with confidence. “Could you please tell me what’s on each floor? Baby Delivery, that kind of thing.”
“Are you seeing someone in particular?” she looks over the rims of her glasses at me. “Because you can’t just walk around, inviting yourself into rooms, violating patients’ rights to privacy.”
“…right,” I nod back. Okay, God. Now what?
I turn around and bump into this dude from church. Thirty-something. Big, red beard. Soft-spoken. Wearing a hospital uniform. “Dude, you work here?”
He explains that if I want to play, I should talk to the head of the volunteer department and become a volunteer.
She’ll be here on Monday.
Great… So then what am I doing here today?
Still feeling like I need to play this song that I don’t even like, I get back into the elevator and decide to sit on one of the couches and play the song over and over until someone invites me into a room. It’s now around ten o’clock. I crack open my hymnal and chord out the song, writing notations above the staff and thanking God for my old music theory teacher, Mr. Palmeri. I then begin to play and sing, quietly. It is a hospital.
Around the seventh time through, I begin to feel a moderate fondness for the song. I’ve even added a walking bass line. It’s not so bad if you don’t drag it to death. But… I still don’t like your second verse. So I sing the first verse and the chorus as background music for every hospital employee who comes walking by, waiting for the elevator.
Wondering what I’m doing here, I call my in-laws and explain my situation. Any advice? Prayer? My father-in-law says, “Call Norm. Maybe he’s still in the hospital.” He gives me Norm’s number.
“Hello, Norm? You don’t happen to be in the hospital right now, do you?”
“No, I checked out yesterday.”
Yesterday! You gotta be kidding me! Am I a day late??!!
Norm asks why. I explain. Norm says, “Let’s pray and listen.”
“Okay.” I take one last look out the window at the trees below, ready to go home.
Norm starts busting out this super prayer about someone getting the whole gospel message, and I’m thinking, I’m just here to play a song, but, sure, yeah, that’s fine.
Norm trails off. I guess he’s listening.
“Are you getting anything, Dave?”
“Is there a room 536?” Norm asks me. “I’m seeing the number 536.”
I glance up at the wall. The highest room number posted is 537. Huh. “Just barely.”
“Why don’t you go see what’s going on in room 536?” Norm pushes me along through the phone. “Call me back when you’re done. We’ll be praying.”
I step up to the double doors. Okay, God. I needed an invitation. I’m calling that Your invitation…
The doors swing open easily. To my right I can see room 537. Down at the end of the hall, 534 and 535. Where is 536?
Leaning against a door frame in the hall stands a security guard. Big. Burly. Punjabi turban on his head, black beard on his face. I’m still looking at him, thinking, so I don’t hear the nurse the first time when she says, “Can I help you?”
I make eye contact with her and then realize she has already spoken and I need to find the question in my short-term memory. Can she help you? What can you honestly say to that? “…I’m looking for room 536.”
“Oh!” she brightens and turns snappily around. “Mikey, you’ve got a visitor!” she calls out, disappearing into the room right next to the security guard.
I follow the nurse quickly into what I now know as Mikey’s room. Sure enough, 536. The nurse pulls aside Mikey’s curtain, letting in the sunlight from the window. “Hey, Mikey,” I say casually. “How you doing?”
The nurse leaves.
Mikey looks at me, his face saying, Who are you?
But I stay calm and ask if I can sit down for a minute.
“Yes,” he says simply.
All my training to be a chaplain back in Connecticut suddenly kicks in. I get it that Mikey has had some kind of head trauma, and the security guard posted outside his door is there because Mikey gets violent.
Mikey’s staring at my guitar.
“I’m here to play a song. Can I play you a song?”
And so I play. And sing. “God sent His Son, they called Him Jesus, He came to love, heal, and forgive; He lived and died to buy my pardon, An empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives.” I breathe. Made it. Now the chorus. “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow, Because He lives all fear is gone; Because I know He holds the future. And life is worth the living just because He lives.”
Now it feels like I’ve done what I’ve come to do. But it also feels like the door has been kicked open in front of me. “Mikey, have you ever heard that song before?”
“Have you ever heard that story before? Have you heard of Jesus?”
I don’t doubt it. He’s young enough for the story to not have been part of his culture. “Can I tell you the story of Jesus?”
As soon as I’ve asked, I realize I have a Gideon’s Bible in my backpack. “Say, would you like a Bible?”
“The story of Jesus is in the Bible.” I begin to explain. “The Bible tells us how God made the world, and everything was good, but we chose to disobey God and things went wrong. Then God starts talking about how He’s going to make it right again. God has a plan to stop evil and save us. He takes a long time, giving people visions and dreams years in advance, telling them that Jesus is coming. And then Jesus comes…”
Mikey’s listening, but once I get to talking about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, Mikey is in pain. He’s rubbing his feet together, saying, “Ow! My feet! My feet hurt!” He’s not screaming, and he’s not pushing his call button, so I pause.
New feeling. I’m supposed to pray for this guy? Are you kidding?
I wrap up Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and then say, “You know what, Mikey? Jesus healed people all the time. And He still does today. Would you like to pray for Jesus to heal your feet?”
Wow. Okay, Jesus…
“Sometimes Jesus touched people. Can I touch your feet?”
I reach out my hand. By now, I’m expecting electric shock-type tingling to come racing into my hand on contact. I close my eyes and say a blink of a prayer. “Amen.”
Mikey looks at his feet, then at me. Then back to his feet, curious. “It’s as easy as that?”
…I guess so. Yes. “God loves you, Mikey. Jesus loves you.”
A different nurse comes in, busy as a Canadian beaver.
I take my cue to leave.
“Will you come back?” Mikey wants to know. He holds the mini Gideon Bible in his hands.
Ah, an invitation. I wink at Mikey. “I will try.”
“And bring your guitar…?”
Making Jesus Proud at Age 6
My middle daughter and I share a dream. (Technically, it’s a family dream, but this daughter talks about it the most, prays with me the most about it.)
We call it: The Breakfast House.
What is the Breakfast House? The BH is a place where missionaries who have no home, or for whatever reason can’t go home, can crash when things go wrong in their country and they have to leave immediately. Need counseling? Go to the Breakfast House. Need clothes? Need shelter? Need somebody to cry with? Need to be a kid again, or maybe play with your kids again since you’ve been stressed out for so long they can’t remember when you last laughed? Come to the Breakfast House. Just like Jesus showed up for Peter in John 21 and gave him breakfast on the beach, Jesus can minister to you here too.
(I know, Jesus can minister to people anywhere. But sometimes it’s nice to have a special meeting place.)
Last week, during class, the teacher asks the kids to think some great thoughts and then share them. And right there, in that public school classroom, my daughter raises her hand and starts talking about this idea called The Breakfast House.
And the kids laugh at her.
But the teacher doesn’t. The teacher encourages her, telling her it sounds like a great idea.
The teacher then gives the class the assignment to draw something important to them. My daughter loves to draw. She starts drawing heaven, but doesn’t finish. So she folds the paper up, puts it in her bag and brings it home.
On the way home, she tells her older sister that she mentioned the Breakfast House in class and that everybody laughed at her. Her older sister starts yelling at her about keeping the Breakfast House a secret. I calm that situation down. We get home and I hug my middle girl and tell her it’s okay. She doesn’t have to keep it a secret. Don’t worry.
The next day she takes her finished drawing of heaven to school, volunteers, stands up and shows her class her drawing.
The kids laugh at her.
Same story. Older sister, “What did you expect? If they don’t know Jesus, they’re gonna laugh.”
After everyone else has gone inside, I climb into the back of the van to give my girl a hug. “You know what? I’m proud of you.”
“Because you’re letting what’s in your heart come out of your mouth. Even if people don’t understand and hurt your feelings. You’re still doing that. And that matters because that means your heart is talking. You love Jesus. And you talk about the Breakfast House because you love Him and you love missionaries. And you dream about heaven, and picture what it’s going to look like because you love Jesus. You’re saying to your classmates, ‘I love Jesus.’ …And you know what?”
“There’s a verse where Jesus says, ‘If you confess me before men, I will confess you before My Father in heaven.’ Do you know what that means? I like to imagine that’s like when someone royal steps into a room and it’s somebody’s job to announce that person. ‘This is so-and-so.'”
Her face has the look that she’s imagining the scene.
“I’m excited for you! You’re starting to confess Jesus now! Do you know what I think He’s going to do? I think you’re going to get to heaven and Jesus Himself is going to say, ‘Hey Everybody, listen up! This here is…’ and then He’s going to say your name!”
Her eyes get big. Then she thinks, “That would take a long time if He does that for everyone.”
“I know, right? But we’ll have forever. Jesus is going to announce everybody who stands for Him! Imagine it! Before angels, before God the Father, Jesus is going to proclaim you! He is proud of you–right now!”
And so am I, Sweetheart. Don’t ever quit confessing Jesus!
T-Shirt Transition Point
You know, you get ready to witness, and God won’t waste any time. I just made these shirts!
Today’s a bit rushed. Last day of school. A billion things to do. Award ceremony to attend. Bills to pay. Blah, blah, blah.
Jeans on, I pause to consider my shirt for the day. Something says, Go to the garage, grab a new shirt. I put on the green one. “Everybody, let’s go!”
My youngest is crying because I won’t let her bring two photo albums to school. Two photo albums I spent hours on, chronicling our trip to Zalaam. Two albums that are special to me for zillions of reasons. Albums I don’t want destroyed on the last day of school. So I say no, and she cries.
I drop the girls off, almost fully intending to go to the bank and deal with the bills.
But Something says, She wants to share that story. She’s ready to do that right now–even if you’re not. Why are you stopping her?
So I go home, pack the albums up in a bag, drive back to the school, hang the bag over my girl’s backpack in her cubby in the hallway, then walk over to the gym for the first assembly. I’m way early, but I’d never make it to the bank before-hand now.
Before the assembly, I tell my little girl that I dropped the books off. She wraps her arms around my neck, “Thank you, Daddy!”
The assembly’s great. My little girl is honored for, “learning to read and write,” and her desire for next year is to, “read and write even more.”
Way to go, kiddo! Proud of you! Reading and writing, like your dad.
“And when she grows up, she wants to be a teacher.”
Well… you don’t have to follow in my footsteps that way. But who knows. Maybe you’ll really enjoy it.
I’m glad I didn’t miss that.
One hour before the next assembly. I take off. Make it to the bank. Inside, the banking line is backed up to the point where it’s no longer on the little walkway path, nor inside the banking stand-in-this-line ropes.
“It’s the wrong day to come to bank,” says a thin, mid-range female voice.
I turn to face her. She’s not even shoulder height, she’s wearing old-lady pink, and I can smell the staleness of cigarette breath. “This line’s not too bad,” I say.
“You’re a young feller,” she lifts her cane for me to see. “You get to be my age and these bones start talking to you. ‘Pain,’ they say.” I wait for her to adjust her glasses on her nose, but she doesn’t. She glares around through crooked frames. “And that’s life.”
“Well, there is the alternative…”
“You mean I drop dead?”
“It’s a reality.”
She starts talking about how her grandparents lived to be 100. “I’m gonna do that,” she says defiantly and tells me her age.
I don’t have to glance her over. I know she won’t make it. Too thin. Too many veins showing. Too much damage done.
After a few minutes, a bank manager comes out to help lessen the line. Then another manager. “I’ve been banking here for six years. I’ve never seen that,” the smokey voice says.
One of the managers asks if I can be helped. No, I need to stay in line. “But maybe you could help this woman,” I offer.
The manager escorts her to an office.
I stand in line, pay my bill, say, “Happy Wednesday,” to the teller, and turn to find the old woman leaning against the wall outside an office door. Her complaint is that the cable company is billing her for months she knows she paid. She always pays her bills. Always.
I let her talk, asking God, If You sent me to her, how do I transition?
Bam! No sooner have I prayed that then she cuts herself off, stops to read my shirt and says, “So you’re religious?”
“Well… I’m more relationship oriented, but I understand how you’re asking. Sure. Yeah.”
“I went to Sunday school when I was a girl. And I did Girls Group–” and, and, and her list goes on. She’s got all these ‘good things’ she’s done, but when I was letting her vent about the cable bill she was telling me, “It’s a good thing the bank manager is on the phone with my cable company, because they’d get an earful from me! I curse worse than a trucker!”
So I let her go on and on again, waiting for the defences to drop.
“But I’ve got questions,” she suddenly says. “Like, ‘Who wrote the Bible?’ Isn’t it just some made-up story?” and, and, and.
I take her back to her first question and talk about the various authors and historical accuracy. But just a little. She doesn’t really want the answer.
“Every time the movie the Ten Commandments comes on the TV, I watch it.”
About then the bank manager comes out and calmly explains with the help of a printed-off record, the transactions and payments this woman has and has not made. I turn slightly away, but don’t leave. The truth? The woman had missed a few months.
“How’d that happen?”
The bank manager politely points to the itemizing lines. It happened. She has a debt she hasn’t paid. And it’s big.
I walk the woman to her car and hold the door for her as she struggles to get in. “Do you have a Bible?”
“No, and I don’t want one,” she’s firm about it. “There’s something that holds us all together, but if there’s a God, I want to see Him! Then I’ll believe.”
Calmly, thoughtfully, I suggest, “Ma’am, it could be that this whole event today is a picture from God. You have a debt that you don’t know about, and God is trying to show you it hasn’t been paid–”
“I’m a good person,” she interrupts.
“It’s not about what we do, Ma’am. It’s about what Jesus did for us.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard about that.”
“It’d be a good idea to meet God and settle accounts before you–”
“Die and meet Him?”
But she doesn’t want to meet God now. She’s already told me her plan for the day. Get her shopping done, go home, watch TV and get drunk on wine.
I sadly let her go.
I make it back to school in time for the next assembly. My other daughter has earned an award for throwing shot put and placing in the district-wide track meet. I was at the meet and watched her throw. I’m proud of her. I want to see her get her ribbon.
Before getting out of my car, I pray for the woman to hear God and heed this possible last chance to accept God’s payment for her debt. She doesn’t realize she doesn’t want what she’s earned.
When the Sun Goes Down in the Supermarket
I try to listen. Sometimes. Even for the simple things like, I made this shirt. When do I wear it?
Today I walk into the grocery store wearing this U Turn, U Live shirt. I have a conversation with a lady, but it has nothing to do with the shirt. She comments about all the screaming babies in the store and how she used to be critical about how parents were managing their kids.
“At least we’re not on an airplane,” I say. “That’s the worst. Been the parent for that one.”
“Then I realized,” she drops bread into her cart, “it’s not the parent’s fault. Some kids are just criers.”
I grab some bagels and move to the check out line.
The cashier is asking me the standard set of questions. “Do you need any bags? Would you like me to check your point total? Are you paying with your card today?” She’s in her sixties, I would guess. Blonde-gray hair, no ring on her finger, small eyes, no glasses.
I start to pay.
And I hear her reading my shirt out-loud to herself. “Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'” And suddenly she’s bouncing up and down. “Oh, I hope so! I really hope so!”
Now she’s chatting away a mile a minute, heedless of the customer behind me, not giving two cents for the co-worker standing right there. “Oh, I hope it’s soon! Have you heard of the total eclipse that’s going to make it’s way across the United States on August 21st?”
“You should check it out! I think God’s trying to get the States’ attention! And do you know what’s happening on the 23rd of September? Do you follow the Jewish feasts?”
“Is that Rosh Hashanah?”
“You need to look it up! Check it out!”
I leave the store, praying. God, I don’t know when You’re coming back. If it’s really soon, show us how to live out these last days. Show us how to live anyway.
And I’m pinched inside.
I do like it here on Earth. And I’m excited to see my kids growing up and to hear their plans for the future.
But I’m also not ready to go because I know there’s stuff I should be doing…
But that cashier, like a crying baby just being itself, made herself heard.
She’s excited for Jesus to return. She’s looking forward to it!