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519 || A Tale of Two Families, One God

In  2011, I was working as a barista at a coffee shop in the foothills of Southern California. It was a four-day road trip from home and family, and my husband had just come off a grueling, seven-month deployment. My faith in Jesus was waning as the post-deployment realities sunk in. On my best days, I was tense, frantic and unsure.

Most days I was worse.

My daily 5 to 11 a.m. shift — as any barista knows — is the shift for the regulars. I knew the clock by which customers were in front of me. Like the one computer guy from England, who was writing his book while waiting for citizenship, or the group of men who always acted like they owned the place. By 10 a.m. the morning rush would slow, and more familiar faces would waltz in to sit alone or chat with us while we languidly steamed their milk or toasted their bagels.  

Getting to Know You

I got to know our clients well and they, in turn, learned my story. Sometimes those interactions ended painfully for me as bitter people stabbed insecurities deeper into my tattered confidence. Once, a man asked, “So, what will you do when — not if — your husband cheats on you?”  I insisted he wouldn’t, but the man vowed it would come. Questions like that sting to this day.

Other similar conversations also took their hold. I didn’t then recognize the devil’s voice working itself into the crevices of my depleted soul. Thankfully, God wasn’t going to let him have the only say.

There was the couple in their forties who came often to enjoy breakfast together. From behind the counter, I carefully observed their marriage. I watched as they laughed easily together or respectfully sorted out conflicts. They kindly took interest in me over the weeks I spent making their breakfast — wheat bagel with a cream cheese, which they split; her side held the salmon she brought, but I don’t remember exactly what else topped his, something like sprouts and turkey.

Over time, they gradually learned more about me. They were so excited to discover I was a Christian that she walked around the counter and hugged me at the news. Then she invited my husband and me to their church.

When you are a young, military spouse, you are often called away from everything and everyone you have ever known. A major part of the sacrifice is the loss of community, mentors, encouragers, people who believe in you. Role models are at a distance. No longer did I have long-lived, healthy marriages to observe. Instead, I was always and only surrounded by people roughly my age in what were often thrown-together marriages with no true base. Christians were rare. We tried hard to encourage each other in our marriages, but being roughly twenty-one and married a collective number of less than two years, our advice was novice at best — bless our hearts.

So, seeing this Christian couple really enjoy being together and sharing such a clear camaraderie encouraged me deeply. Unbeknownst to them, they inspired me daily in my faith.

Furthermore

My husband and I did end up attending the couple’s church. On that first Sunday, I cried while the worship music played. Finally, I was back in the presence of God — although I knew He had never left me. It was terrible, at first, to listen to the people sing praises and to hear the pastor speak of God’s faithfulness. It didn’t feel to me like God was very faithful. If He was faithful, then why had the last deployment been so hard? If He was faithful, then why did this post-deployment time feel so totally depressing?

Yet it was wonderful to be among His people after many long months spent thirsting for Him and a community that knew Him.

Over the weeks and months of attending that church, my confidence in Jesus began to be restored and with it, my confidence in myself and my future.

The couple never knew how intensely God used them to pull my heart full circle to His goodness. They were water in a desert. And because of their faithfulness to Him, living their usual life, loving each other, going to a coffee shop, and being willing to talk to the girl behind the counter — a stranger — my hope returned.

An Unexpected Epilogue

Many miles away, there was a young couple who had left my town in California to follow their musical dreams in Nashville. On a random day, they decided to spend a day in my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. Broke, but young and free, they took up an open mic competition.

The pair won enough money to get them back to Nashville, but by the time the tiny venue was closing up, it was late. Unable to afford a hotel, they planned to camp out in their car until morning. But just as they were leaving, the parents of another musician in the contest struck up a conversation. Upon discovering their plans, the parents insisted the couple not attempt a night in their car. They invited the young couple, two strangers, to their home, saying there was plenty of space and food to share.

The young couple gratefully took the older set up on their offer. They called their parents in California with their updated plans and spent a comfortable night in Birmingham.

The next day my regulars walked in as usual, ecstatically asking me again about my hometown. They recounted the story of their son and his fiancé who had been taken in the night before by a family in Birmingham. Familiar locations rang bells in my head and made me homesick. The more the husband talked about the goodness of southern people and how God used these particular Southerners, the more familiar the story became. Finally I had to stop him and ask the names of the Good Samaritans.

“Something like Gladys and…”

But I was quick to finish his sentence: “Dale! You are talking about my parents!”

He asked me their last name, and I confirmed it. We all stood an extra moment, totally dumbstruck at God’s faithfulness and how small His world is.

All that time, God had been loving me through these parental figures. And at the same time, He prepared my parents to love their children who were so far away.

Truly He is faithful.

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