I shared this story a few years ago, but it is one of my favorites. It is a story that changed my view of how the Church should work. It involves a baby, a man named Merlin & most importantly…a murderer.
It was 2005. We had just moved to Seattle to plant a church and our apartment was on top of a Safeway and a Starbucks. I got in the elevator, went down one floor and the smell of brewing coffee met me. Have I mentioned how much I love Seattle?
I spent lots of time in that Starbucks and became friends with a barista named Autumn. She had dyed black hair, plugs in her ears, piercings in her face and tattoos on most of her skin. We hit it off from the beginning. I would invite her to church up in my living room on Sundays and she would return the warm gesture by inviting me to her burlesque parties. Neither of us ever took the other up on the invites.
Slowly my friendship with Autumn began to grow. We couldn’t be more different and yet oddly we found the other refreshing. After about a month she was my closest Seattle friend. I would meet her when she got off work & ride the bus with her. She lived near the campus I went to regularly to meet college students. We would talk about God and she would ask me questions I didn’t have answers to. “I can’t answer that. You just have to meet Him for yourself”, I would say.
Autumn had a one year old little girl named Opal & a boyfriend named Merlin. Like the wizard. He changed his name to Merlin because he hated God and felt that naming himself after a wizard would reinforce that point (this is Seattle remember). Meeting Merlin was nothing compared to what came next.
The big news came in a parking garage when I was about to give her a ride home. She was talking about slam poetry and mentioned that she started performing in prison. Uh…prison? That’s when it came out. She had killed someone. Mind you we are alone in a dark parking garage when I make this discovery. Freaking out inside, faking a causal smile on the outside. The crime wasn’t intentional, but it happened all the same. Involuntary manslaughter.
Two weeks later I found myself driving to Autumn’s house at 6:30am. Opal needed a babysitter while Autumn went and got her drug treatment at a nearby rehab clinic. I sat with a sleepy Opal for an hour in Autumns room. Very much a reflection of Autumn’s life, her room was a wreck. It was decorated with black ravens and pornographic pictures of herself. It was the darkest place.
I would sit and rock little Opal while singing worship songs to try and keep my sanity. I would bring my Bible and read scripture , pray & declare promises over Opal’s life. Autumn would come back and we would walk Opal to her daycare. Then we would drive back to my apartment. She would start her shift at Starbucks and I would go home and make breakfast.
I did that for about two weeks until Autumn was able to get Opal into daycare earlier. You may read this and think me some sort of Christian hero, but I am not. If I had visited her house before offering to babysit, I would never have volunteered. If I am totally honest, had I known her whole story I wouldn’t have been her friend in the first place. Because deep down I am really judgemental.
I learned a few things during my time with Autumn & Opal.
First, I learned that in really dark places God’s presence glows the brightest. Autumn’s creepy bedroom changed completely when I worshiped and prayed with little Opal. The ravens were overshadowed by the goodness and lightness of God. All else melted away. It didn’t matter how dark and oppressive the environment was, it mattered that I met God there.
Second, I realized that the Church isn’t going to change the world by promoting a certain agenda. It is going to change the world by sitting in creepy living rooms. Holding babies that aren’t ours. Listening to stories that make us uncomfortable. The Church is going to change the world by loving and serving the broken & knowing that without the grace of God their mistakes could have been our mistakes.
Third I realized that the goal of loving people isn’t for a happy ending. This story didn’t have a happy ending at all. They disappeared without telling me where they moved. No one gave their life to Jesus or came to church. I told Autumn once that even though she doesn’t want Jesus now, some day she might. And if she ever does, she can call upon Him and He will come without delay. I’m hoping she remembers that & in heaven I can find out it was a happy ending after all.
We don’t love people in order to have great stories of happy endings. We love people because God loves them, and that is reason enough.