Today, on this Very Big Day, I awoke with a sense of almost overwhelming peace. Do you know why? The answer is always “Jesus”, yes. But do you know why else? Because of you. You dear friends who have prayed, stood, contended, cried, loved, called and stormed the gates for us whether we know you or not. We are so grateful, I cannot begin to frame the thank you’s into words. All I can really do today is re-post something I wrote in the beginning of this big adventure, back in October.
Please know, I mean it more today than I did then. I understand it more. I own it more. I live it more. And I love you more.
Here’s Banquets & Bullets:
Three weeks ago, I received an invitation. It was engraved in gold on beautiful parchment and wrapped in ribbons the colors of fall, and I felt beautiful as I opened it. Just imagining that the kind of person who could create such a lovely invitation would also want to include me in the event gave me goosebumps and I couldn’t wait to see what it would say.
Well, I recognized the handwriting right away and my pulse quickened when I realized that I had been invited to a special dinner party. Now, if you know me, you know how I love a good dinner party and this friend’s cooking skills astound me every time. My eyes scanned the details as I raced to my calendar to mark the event, knowing I would happily drop all other plans to make this one happen. Event description, time, place…uh oh. My stomach dropped a little.
What a strange location for a dinner party.
I’ve been to parties at his house before, and we have him over all the time, but I have never gone to a party in exactly this neighborhood. Let me just be candid here: it’s not safe. It’s filled with crime and grime and all sorts of unsavory characters. Nearly every story of danger and intrigue seems to have some connection to this part of town. In fact, I’ve made it a rule not to hang out near this address and I would definitely never let my kids go.
I will have to send my regrets. It’s just not wise and frankly, it doesn’t seem fair that he would make his friends choose between time with him and their own personal safety.
He’s a good friend. He’s been really loyal to our family through the years. Surely he considered this and he wouldn’t risk our lives just to throw a party, right? He must have a secure building or maybe a second home there.
The day of the event arrived and I got ready in anticipation of all the delights I would feast on and the conversation we would enjoy. It was going to be a grand evening, in spite of the awkward location. I would just drive there, park my car and run into the safety of the house.
It was late afternoon as I arrived at the outskirts of the neighborhood and what began as an uneasy feeling quickly became full fledged fear as I turned onto the street where my party would live. If it’s possible for one neighborhood to dim the light of the sun itself, this one had done it. Big guys in black seemed to lurk behind trees, waiting to pounce on innocent passers-by. But were there any innocents here? The place seemed to be crawling with dark and violent intentions. I wanted to turn my car around in the worst way…wanted to do anything other than go deeper into the heart of this danger, but something kept me moving toward the address on my invitation. Something kept my heart seeking safety in the middle of this madness.
My final turn, the address in sight, my mouth dropped open in utter disbelief. There would be no safe, warm house to run to.
My friend had set up a table in the middle of the street.
I kid you not, there was an actual banquet table, decked in fine china and crystal and linens and silver. Platters filled with every sort of delicacy circled a centerpiece dripping with flowers of every kind and color. It was a stunning display. Just stunning.
The sound of gunshots rang out in the distance pierced through my amazement at the beauty of the table and honestly made me begin to question the mental stability of my host. Why here? This stuff is all going to get ruined out here. People will steal it. People may even kill me to get to the crystal! I could feel my heart beating in my throat and the words that had been whispering in the back of my mind became a loud – nearly deafening – chant: I can’t stay, I can’t stay, I can’t stay. I almost turned my car around and raced for safety…but then I saw him.
He emerged from I-don’t-know-where and he was smiling the warmest smile and seemed so happy that I had come. I didn’t want to offend him, so I decided I would just stay long enough to ask him what kind of person throws a dinner party outside a crack house. Really, what kind of person does that?
He met me at my car which was a relief because I was afraid to get out. I thanked him for coming to get me and he smiled and said, “I wouldn’t want you to walk alone through this neighborhood.”
Well, good. At least he understands my safety concerns. I seized on this and said, “Um, yeah. This is an odd place to meet, don’t you think?”
He chuckled softly as he pulled my chair out for me and replied, “You know, yes, I suppose it is. But it’s still one of my favorite places to have dinner with a friend. I don’t invite everyone to this place – only those I think might actually come.” He chuckled again at his own joke as he handed me a daisy from the fragrant display. “Nothing cements a friendship like a banquet amidst bullets, don’t you think?”
Did I think? No, I did not. My exact thought was, Nothing makes one friend question another friend’s sanity like inviting them to a dinner they have to risk their lives to find. That was my very thought and with every frightening noise, I fought the urge to run. The problem? My friend is a big guy and a good fighter, so to run for safety would also mean running from safety.
As he began filling plates with food I had yet to really see, he hummed cheerfully and asked about my day. I tried to act normal because he was acting normal but at one point a bullet literally whizzed by my left ear and I jumped in my seat. He looked up – looked me right in the eyes – and said, “You need to look at me. Only me.”
Finally, my emotional reserve was tapped out and I felt tears threatening to spill over onto my beautiful linen napkin and I said honestly, “But really, why? Why do we have to meet here? Couldn’t we meet at my house or at your house? I mean, this dinner is lovely but it’s hard to enjoy when I’m fearing for my life.”
Again with the smile. “That’s why you need to look at me, then you won’t fear for your life. I will keep you safe and so will they – it’s up to you whether or not you enjoy this dinner.”
“They?” I asked, looking around and hoping for an army of Green Berets or Navy SEALS. Nope. I saw people I hadn’t seen before – but they weren’t soldiers, they were just regular people doing pretty regular things. A guy mowing a lawn. A woman having coffee with a friend. A grandma with a Bible and a lap top.
“They’re the fighters,” he said.
As if on cue, I watched an arrow zing out of a bow and I saw my life flash before me as the fiery little missile rocketed toward my heart. Just then, the grandma reached out and snatched it in midair. With nearly imperceptible speed and skill, she notched it into her bow and shot it back at the one who had launched it at me. I heard him gasp and saw him clutch his chest as he fell dead in the bushes behind my table.
Suddenly, my eyes were open to see this incognito army, moving at ninja speed and turning back my enemy’s advances in the nick of time, every time.
“Who are they?” I asked in awe of their skill and grace.
Eyes twinkling, he said, “Look more closely.”
Now my tears fell freely as I began to recognize them. My sisters. My dad. My pastor. A friend I haven’t seen since college. I paused and tried to put a name to one of the faces. “I don’t think I know her,” I whispered.
“No. Some you know and some you don’t. But all of them are fighting so you can stay here with me.”
I started to rise from my chair, saying, “No, I need to go help them!”
His big hand rested over the top of my small, shaking one, stopping me. “No. There’s a time for fighting and a time for feasting. This is your time to feast. The fight will still be there when we’re done.”
“But how will I ever pay them back?” I murmured, feeling more humbled than I have ever felt in my life.
This time, he let out a full laugh that sounded like bells on Christmas morning, “Oh, Bo, that’s the beauty – the absolute, unimaginable beauty – woven into the very fabric of the kingdom. Some of them have asked that exact same question about you, and that’s why they’re here.”
I peered out again into the battlefield and the pages of their stories opened like a book in front of me. I remembered the heat of their battles – a child lost, a husband gone, a sickness faced – and remembered being a tiny part of the army that kept them safe and brought them home. “What about the others?” I whispered, “the ones I haven’t fought for?”
“They’re just fighters,” he said simply.
“But why would they do this for me? Why would anyone fight for someone they don’t even know?”
“Because,” he said, passing me a platter of Twinkies, “everyone was made for both fighting and feasting. Those who never fight waste away and those who never feast….waste away.”
It began to make some sense. Finally, I was understanding just a corner of his reasoning and I found myself beginning to relax and fall into the comfortable rhythm of conversation that we have enjoyed in more peaceful times. As my fear fell, I looked around at the neighborhood again and noticed beauty I had missed when I had first arrived. The colors of fall were everywhere. The lights were going on in some houses and casting a warm glow into the surrounding streets. Before long, the sights and smell of battle faded into a distant dream as I settled into a long talk over coffee with my dinner date. We talked about nothing and everything. Hopes and dreams. Joy and sorrow. Fear and faith and the future. As the fighters helped silence the sounds of the enemy, I could hear my dear companion clearly and his words were as nourishing as the food on my plate.
“So, really,” I asked at the end of the night, “Why here?”
An enemy soldier fell dead not twenty feet from our table and my friend glanced over, smiled and said, “That’s why. It’s not his neighborhood, he only fights here. I want to remind him his time here is short.” Then he turned back to me and added, “And I wanted you to know that if we can be friends here, we can be friends anywhere.”
I went home safe, satisfied and filled with hope.
“You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies…” Psalm 23:5