“If you don’t like it we can leave,” he says as we pull into the dirt parking lot.
It’s date night and instead of running out of town, we’ve chosen to stay.
I notice the new street lamps and the bricked patches of sidewalk and I can’t help but notice the locals pedaling down the street on their bicycles. They’re slick with sweat and I wonder how they keep pedaling with the sweat running down their faces.
He puts the car in park and he looks at me from across the console. “What do you think? You wanna stay?” he asks. I’m already half way out of the car and so I feel no need to respond.
There is a man sitting in the car next to ours and he’s all sprawled out, his legs hanging out of the door, black apron around his neck, and he’s smoking a cigarette. He works in the kitchen and it’s his smoke break. His apron gives him away. I smile at him because I’m already committed to this place and I smile at him because only I know I live just 1 mile away.
The Man joins me on the broken pavement and I smile at him, too, because he’s chosen this place and he’s uneasy. We both are, but we’re here and we’ll stay.
We round the street corner and I forget that we’re still at home. I forget that this is Thomas street and that this street is dangerous and poor and broken.
It’s 15 minutes past 5 o’clock and we’re early. Forty-five minutes early. The dining room is empty except for a table of 4 and the 2 at the bar, and so we wait at a table in the window. Our reservations are for 6.
We make small talk and we watch the small wait staff step up tables and rip foam covering from new chairs. I notice the fresh flowers in the small vase in the center of our table and one of the zinnias is wilted, bent from the weight of its orange burst of glory and I remember that God loves the bent.
And I remember that God loves our city.
We find a table, along with the 6 other guests, and we wait for someone to notice us. There are no neatly rolled napkins of silverware, no wilted zinnias on our table. My eyes nervously dart around the room, pleading with someone to take our drink orders, to speak to us.
I’m overwhelmed by the smell of the place, the cleanliness of the tables, the promise of hope on a street where people don’t use the word hope. I’m consumed with the art clad walls, the jazz posters, the stage with sound equipment and full-scale bar, the African-American owners with a family history of good chefs.
I search my brain and I don’t know of another place in our town quite like this one.
And I’m silently cheering.
We order drinks and an appetizer from 1 of the 2 waiters in the restaurant and I slide to the front edge of my chair and I cheer. I bubble over with excitement and I cheer every time another member of the wait staff walks through the front door.
The place fills every seat in the house and the Man and I eat shrimp and we watch the door and we’re giddy with excitement.
We want this place to win.
Hours pass and our meal is served and we savor every bite. We giggle as our forks cut through plates of meat and cornbread and we forget this place is our home.
I think of Friday night, even now, and something inside of me has shifted. It has happened 3 times last week, this feeling that God was up to something here, that God was about redeeming what the locusts have eaten…
That He is about redeeming what the locusts are still eating.
I have this small fire in my belly and I’ve spent my day driving round our town, seeking beauty in the broken, in the bent, and I can barely contain the flames that burn.
How could I have missed it?
How could I have missed God moving here, in the small, in the mundane, and among the unsaved?
How could I have missed God’s love poured out over the unrighteous, the unlovely, the undeserved?
How could I missed God calling me to seek the welfare of our entire city, and not just for those few who seek the Lord?
How could I have missed that God loves our city?
And how could I have missed His call home to simply join Him in whatever He is about here?
It’s late here, now, and I need to wrangle these kids into bed. I watch them, in their mismatched pajamas, their hair a mess, and I see them through the lens of home…
No longer the lens of just for a while.
And I smile at the thought of it.