Table 9 3/4

I’m amazed sometimes at the lessons that come up and hit me right from behind.

I came across this piece that I wrote a year ago. I messaged them to get their permission to share the following story.

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1.31.19

I was asked to speak at at the CRU Key Leaders Summit Conference last weekend. My neighbor Debbie asked if I would give a talk on “Faith not Failure”.

I was so excited. Instead of asking Ben’s opinion, I said “yes” immediately. I treated it like a business opportunity and my job. I told Ben what day I would be leaving and didn’t even ask him if he cared.

I prepared my PowerPoint the week before and was pleased as I heard God speak to me as I wrote it. I became overly confident that God would lead me, so I didn’t even practice.

I arrived at the conference to find I would be leading discussions at a table of five college students for the weekend.

I searched for the table assigned to me. I found the small white card with the number 9 on it. I sat my stuff down and picked up a paper that listed the names of the students I would be working with. Alongside their names were their majors. I was excited to see the name Daniel and that he was an architectural student. God put him at my table for a reason. My son Josh wants to be an architect as well. He was the first to arrive and I told him just that.

Three of the others came shortly after. I can’t remember what order but I liked them all instantly. These were not your average college kids. They each had an obvious gift from God. Personally, when I feel the Holy Spirit’s presence, I get chills. I got chills more than I can ever remember as I listened to each of them speak that weekend.

There was only one female at my table. Her name was Kaylin. She smiled and talked a mile a minute. She quoted scripture and told us that she never talked but now that she has been saved, she found her voice. She spoke words my from my very own book that she had never even read. I couldn’t wait to give her one to let her know she wasn’t alone.

Chris sat beside me. He spoke with a love of life. He told us that he wanted to be a pastor someday. He gave credit to his Mother as his greatest role model. I told him to make sure he told her the same. The greatest gift any man could give his mother are the words “you are my greatest mentor”. I hoped that I was a blessing to Josh the way his Mother was to him.

Ethan sat a few seats away from me. He smiled a lot. He took time to think before he spoke. When he did speak it moved me to my core every time. He told us just a few years ago…he was an atheist. He told us that he has a mind for science and before, he needed facts. As he told us his story…he paused and said firmly with a smile…”the evidence points to Christ”! Wow! I have chills just typing those words.

Joseph was the last to arrive. He came late and even ran into the back of my chair as he tried to sneak by. He didn’t look as prepared as the other students and used a small piece of paper to take notes. I briefly judged him and thought to myself…”did he really want to be here?” If my memory serves me correctly, he told us he had been saved on a trip to Hampton Beach. I had not doubt that he had been by the look in his eyes. Something deep in my soul connected to Joseph but I wasn’t sure why….

Saturday morning as we all sat down to listen to the first speaker, I saw two empty chairs. I pictured Jesus at one of them. Surely he needed to sit with us.

The other empty chair is the one that haunted me. All I could think of was that I should have asked Ben to come to the conference. I didn’t even think to ask. I was selfish. Probably, in the back of my mind, fearing that he would make fun of me wanting to attending a “Christian Conference”, so I just didn’t ask. He would have been so good with all of them. They would have learned so many leadership skills from him, just as I have over the years.

So, the empty chair weighed on me all day. Here I was, sitting at the table of teens, supposedly to guide them in leadership. Most of my skills were learned from things Ben has taught me. I was a phony. They had way more courage than I did. They were bravely reaching out to others on their campuses and I couldn’t even ask someone living in my own house. God was definitely opening my eyes this weekend.

I wasn’t there to teach them, they were there to teach me.

I got up to give my talk and couldn’t find my notes. I didn’t deliver my usual speech. I didn’t feel the energy I normally have. The words didn’t flow like they typically do. All I could think of the entire time was that Ben should be here with me. I’m such a jerk.

At the end of the day we were asked to write on a card one thing we wanted to accomplish through prayer in the next year.

I immediately wrote a prayer for Ben on my card. I prayed I wasn’t afraid to shine my light…not in his eyes, but out in front of him.

We hung our prayers on a string that was strung across the hall. All of the bright colors symbolized hope, hope for a fallen world. We can’t change the people or the world but what we can do is pray about it.

One of the others speakers told us of a “cheater” way to bring people to Christ. In my opinion…it’s the only way. We need to pray. Don’t just go through the motions. Don’t stress yourself out about not being successful or tell yourself you should be doing more. Just pray…pray hard. Pray with CONFIDENCE! God is listening!

At the end of the conference, my new friend Joseph asked to give me a hug. He grabbed on so tightly and wouldn’t let go. I cried as he told me that he feels alone because he lives in a house of nonbelievers. I cried as I realized I had judged him when he first arrived. I cried because he made me feel so special that day. I cried because it felt as if God was hugging me and forgiving me for excluding Ben. I would not be afraid to ask him next time…because of these BRAVE kids.

So God, I have a prayer today. I’m praying it with CONFIDENCE…

1. For me…may I have the courage to tell Ben all the cool things that God is doing in my life and he finds the longing to know Him as I do.

2. Daniel – I pray know that you have extraordinary leadership skills. I pray your peers are longing for you to teach them. I pray your are brave in the “lion’s den” of life. People will challenge you. People will tell you your not doing enough. Ignore those voices. You are a brave leader Daniel!

3. Chris – I pray you follow your heart. I pray you spend time with your pastor learning the gospel from him. I pray you take the love you have learned from your mother and shine your own light in front of others!

4. Kaylin – I pray you use your beautiful voice to inspire others. I pray that as you dive into the scripture, your hear God telling you what a gift you have. I pray you reach others all around the world.

5. Ethan – I pray for you to take care of yourself and don’t forget to eat. lol. I pray that you know that you have a gift that a majority of people don’t have. You have a perspective from a completely different angle. You will know what the other person is thinking before they even say it. You were there. You were a nonbeliever. You were lost but now you are found! You can relate to people on a higher level because of it. The spirit inside of you is shining brightly! I pray that you never doubt it.

6. Joseph – I pray you know how special you are. I know it feels lonely. I know you feel like you want to burst because you can’t share your joy with those closest to you. You are not alone. Many others feel the same way you do. I felt God when you hugged me. Hug your family…they will feel it too. I pray that you never give up. Keep praying. Pray confidently!

I wished I would have gotten a picture of all of us. All I have is a picture of our prayers after they were hung. You know what I loved most about our table? We all looked very different but we’re all very much the same. We serve the same God.

There is a reason none of us took a picture that weekend. It doesn’t matter what we look like, we are precious in his sight.

It was an absolute blessing to meet each of you. 💜

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It turned out that someone did take our picture that weekend. We are all in it, all of us but Joe. He still feels bad he was late. I told him not to worry … God planned it that way.

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