A hyphen acts as a symbol that brings two separate words together to create one unified word, with new meaning. This symbol connects us, symbolically, with those souls whose paths miraculously cross our own in this moment on earth. If by chance a hyphen is formed between the two, regardless of time or circumstance, these souls now have new meaning due to one another. We are simply people made up of other people. The hyphen connects. The hyphen creates. The hyphen paints the big picture. Writers for this blog series have chosen people in their lives whom they feel they'd be someone different, or less, without. Together they create new meaning.
When Harry Potter was informed that he was a wizard, I'm sure he didn't realize that he was also the chosen one who would one day face off against the evil dark lord Voldemort, and prevent his reign of terror, thereby saving the entire world. While most 11 year old's dream of that sort of thing, I don't think any could bear the weight of that reality. Plus, who likes dialogue filled with heavy exposition, anyway? Thanks to J.K. Rowling, we get much more than that. We get to go on a journey, watching this young boy become the chosen one through the decisions he makes, as he struggles his way through the obstacle-filled quest of high school. But as we all (obviously) know, Harry didn't have to be the chosen one; that title could have easily gone to Neville (who, to his credit, would have done a fine job, but that's a different conversation we should totally have). So my question is: would Harry have taken the same path if things were different? What if he didn't have the same people guiding him along, most importantly, Dumbledore? Would he have made the same choices? After all, it was Dumbledore who told him "We must all make the choice between what is right and what is easy." I would make the argument that without Dumbledore in Harry's life, we would have all grown up reading a very different story.
Admittedly, my life is not very comparable to Harry's: I've never battled a troll, my skin has never made a bad guy disintegrate into dust, and no matter how many times I hold my hand out and say "Up!" my broom will not come to me. I do, however, have a Dumbledore, and he goes by the name of Allen Greenberg.
The first time I had a conversation with Allen was close to 2 years ago. He had been coming to my church for a couple weeks, and I simply knew him as the old guy with the cool dreadlocks. I was walking home from work when I spotted those dreadlocks outside Caffe Vita, and thought I might as well stop for a 5 minute chat, so I could get to know him a little, or at least learn his name (which I would promptly forget after going on my way). We probably got through about a minute of small talk before he asked "So what's your biggest struggle?". Now, I don't know how you do small talk, but I was mentally preparing myself to answer questions along the lines of: "Where do you work?" or maybe even "What kind of music do you like?" if we were really going to get into it. But, my biggest struggle? Where did that even come from? No warning. No chance to put on a mask so I could pretend I had my life together. Just direct, soul-piercing honesty (what we've come to refer to as real talk). Despite all my defensive training in emotional combat, I found myself pouring my heart out to this guy, admitting that I had been in a long season of depression and loneliness, which resulted not only in doubting God's goodness, but also his existence, and how sometimes I just wanted to leave the church altogether. Throw in the fact that I was the worship leader at my church, and you have the perfect cocktail of disqualification and self-condemnation. Then the strangest thing happened. I didn't hear a lecture, or worse, have a bible verse quoted at me. Rather, I had a human being open up to me. I had a person relate to what I was going through, and share how they had seen Jesus come through in their own life. I saw a person who wanted to love and encourage me, because they were loved and encouraged by Jesus. And this was still our first conversation.
A couple weeks had gone by when Allen suggested that we meet once a week, just to talk and share our lives together. At this point, I wasn't even going to try and argue; I knew that I needed people in my life, and had an inkling that God might have been providing a solution to that problem. Over the next few months, we got together every week for coffee and real talk: sharing our struggles, our victories, and everything in between, and of course, asking soul-piercing questions that required soul searching answers. It was during these conversations that I began to understand that christian buzz word "community," and my desire for it grew deeper and deeper. Now, I don't know if I was perfectly delighting myself in the Lord or not (let's be real, definitely not), but that didn't stop him from filling that desire, because that was about the time we met Tony.
Tony came up to us one night while we were sitting outside Caffe Vita (which, you could say had become our turf. No big deal.) and asked if we had any spare change. I was quick to give my short yet sympathetic answer of "Sorry, man." You know, the kind where you shrug your shoulders and look like you wish more than anything that you had a quarter, but of all the days, today was the day you had to do laundry? That answer. I'm not sure why I was surprised when Allen didn't follow my brilliant lead, but instead, pulled up a chair and invited him to join us. Once again, I found myself asking: who is this guy? I was convinced he had super powers; he could deny it all he wanted, but I was onto him. He spent the next hour or so talking to Tony, and listening as he shared his story with us. I spent that hour as a spectator, watching as Allen showed this guy the same love he had shown me when we first met, and wishing I had the compassion and boldness to do the same. Oh, and did I mention that Allen can read minds? That's one of his super powers. That's the only explanation I can think of, because our weekly meetings suddenly became less about us, and more about the people we would see on the streets. Allen would get a conversation going, and then all of a sudden "have to go to the bathroom," leaving me to awkwardly pick up the pieces. He thought he was so clever. When I brought it up, he just smirked and said "You're getting bolder." Sometimes God has a funny way of giving us the desires of our hearts.
Today, we're still meeting once a week, only now we bring bagels to give away, and sometimes after we run out, we'll take someone out to dinner. And to be honest, I'm still terrified every time, but I keep showing up, because in spite of my fear (doubt, selfishness, etc), I've seen God do incredible things. I've seen boundaries get broken down as relationships are built. I've seen people I had always passed by ask for prayer in the pouring down rain. I've seen the Kingdom of God in my city. And it's with all the proof I've been shown that God gives us the desires of our hearts, that I say I desire to see more.