December 3, 2011

Panera Bread Date with Jesus

The first time I went to Panera Bread by myself was back in March, about one month after I moved to Florida. Bible and journal in hand I sat down, nibbled on a Fuji Apple salad, sipped a hot chocolate, and poured my heart out into words for two hours. My mom texted me during that time and asked what I was doing, I told her that I was having a date with God. It was true.
I'm on a date with God again today. The scenery is a little different. I'm watching NW Expressway speed by outside instead of the traffic from the Millennia Mall. I'm waiting for an old friend of mine to show up and work on homework with me. I'm minutes away from from the homes that I grew up in instead of the Vista Way, the place that I'll always be able to call my first apartment. But when it comes down to it, the situations are the same...I needed to talk to God today, I needed to talk to God back in March, and Panera Bread seems to be our favorite date spot.
This week has been so hard. I've had to watch two close friends of mine from Florida struggle with battles that seem larger than life. So large that they have been on the verge of giving up completely. And I'm not there to hug them. I'm not there to say, "Hey, you know that there is always hope, right? You know that this darkness, this pain, it's not the end?" But I'm not there.
When I lived in Florida I was constantly aware of the darkness that I was living in. The community that I was surrounded by lived lives that were very self gratifying for the moment, but in the long run, there was so much pain. So much brokenness. I remember feeling a pressure to be the salt and light into the world. The thought would cross my mind all the time, "You have to show them what it's like to have hope in Jesus, Mandy. Because no one else is here right now to do it. This is your calling right now. Be the light." I lived a sin saturated community and I loved people like I've never loved people before in my life. I had my heart stolen and broken by a broken generation. And it was so worth it. I learned more about my faith through the 6 months that I lived in Florida than I ever even knew was possible to learn. I fell in love with a hundred friends who in any other situation, I would never have fallen in love with. I learned what it means to look past social stigma's, to look past sexual orientations, to look past the fast judgements that Christians are known for making, and just...love people. It didn't mean that I agreed with their choices or lifestyles, but I loved them nonetheless. And it was so hard, but so, so, good. 
The problem with that comes when I'm gone and my heart still loves the people, but they are still living in the darkness. Still refusing to see hope. And I, I'm not there to do anything. I'm not there to be a friend. I'm loving people from a distance that is tearing me up inside. Their choices are tearing me up inside.
I went to Panera in March because my heart was hurting then too. The night before had been one of the worst nights that I had experienced since I'd moved to Florida. I was so worn thin. Emotionally played. Hurt. I drove to a Panera Bread thirty minutes away instead of the one across from my apartment because I wanted to go to a place where I knew that the chances of me running into somebody I knew where slim. I needed to escape. That's why I'm here today. I'm worn thin. I've been emotionally played. I need an escape. Even if it's just down the street to a Panera Bread where nobody knows my name. Knows my story. Nobody knows that sometimes, I fake being okay when I'm not. Sometimes all I need is a chance to be by myself and think problems through. Sometimes I just need to go on Panera Bread dates with God and remember that in the long run, it will work out.



"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." 2 Corinthians 12:9-10