"Excuse me... I don't know if you remember but my name is Tony and we met here last year. You were going through a tough time and we chatted about it and life a bit."
"Oh, yeah," he started, putting down his paper, "I remember." He didn't say his name... AGAIN! Man, I can't stand forgetting names, let alone when I have to beg for them.
"I'm sorry, to interrupt. Could you remind me of your name?" I humbly asked.
"Larry... it's Larry. Yeah... and that was a tough time but, well... I've worked through it. I mean, when I think about it even now it's still hard but I'm doing okay. How about you? Weren't you going to do something with... writing?"
"Yeah, good memory," I answer. "Actually, I did end up writing two books last year and am working on a third right now."
"Let me see... it was about leadership, right?"
"Right! Wow... you remembered."
"So," he continued, moving his chair to face me more, "what did you end up writing about leadership?"
"Well," I began, thinking of all the ways I could answer this question, "I essentially wrote two books dealing with how leadership needs to come from an authentic place within us. Often we look at how another person leads and think we need to be like that person, whether it's a coach who gives great team speeches or a corporate leader who makes a lot of money. We are all created unique, though, and we were never intended to be anyone other than who we really are."
"Hmm... I think that leadership has a bit of theatrics involved, though. You have to do things that are not always true of you."
"Well, I agree to some extent," I offered. "Leadership is like a hat we wear. Anytime you wear a hat you are in a sense adding something artificial to who you are. I'd argue, though, that the hat needs to fit our heads."
"Anyway," I shifted, "you said things are going well for you?"
"Yeah. Oh, and I guess I should have mentioned this before but the two lives I lost were dogs that meant a lot to me. Maybe it's kind of silly to some people, but... you know, I'm not married and never really felt the need for that because I'm so close to my family. Some people have a need for companionship and so they get married but I never felt that way, so I pretty much stayed single. At my age, though, the dogs became like family to me. To lose them was like losing children."
"Wow... I can imagine. I'm real sorry for that, too."
"Yeah, well, that stuff happens," he said.
I pulled out my wallet and grabbed a picture of my family. "These are my two little guys and my wife. We're actually without our dog right now because the park where we live doesn't allow pets. It's been hardest on my oldest boy especially."
"Oh yeah," he said, looking at my picture. He pulled out his wallet and showed me a picture of his dogs. "These were my two precious ones. They were award winning dogs that you usually pay a lot of money for. I just had them be regular dogs, though."
We went on talking about this and that, including everything from Panera and its regular customers to his background in engineering. Turns out he's a part of a project that is putting new rear view mirrors in cars that automatically dim when someone shines their lights behind you. Pretty cool, eh?
Eventually, though, we turned back to a deeper place when he asked, "So where do you get your philosophy of leadership?"
Good grief. Was this guy just begging for me to tell him about Jesus Christ? I mean, do people still do that? I heard that Christians were supposed to be "relevant" and "non-confrontational" so as to not offend anyone in a world where everyone is entitled to... blah, blah, blah.
But he was asking for it. I mean, really asking for "it."
"Well," I began, as if I needed a running start, "life isn't about us. Our stories are a part of a much larger Story that we are sort of aware of when huge things happen in our lives and we get in touch with it within us. There is this sense when tragedy strikes that this 'isn't the way things are supposed to be' because deep down we have a broken sense that there *is* a way that things are 'supposed to be.' That comes from our Creator who we start out life having a broken connection with. When we get in touch with these core truths - who He is, who we are in light of who He is - we're able to lead from an authentic place. When people tell us differently or shout loudly with their opinions, that 'still, small whisper' keeps us anchored."
He took it in, then offered, "Well, you should know that I'm an agnostic. I never had much sense for believing in God or being religious. My brother is a bit religious, but I just don't think you can ever figure out anything for certain about God. "
"You know, I am a Christian and I have to say that I am actually quite thankful that there are parts of him that are a mystery to me. After all, if I could figure him out completely then he wouldn't be God, right?"
Laughing, he agreed. I kept going.
"You used the word 'religious.' I grew up semi-religious - which is essentially our chosen way to search for God - and became quite disenchanted with this idea of having to pursue a deity I had no interest in. During my high school years I started down the path of atheism and concluded that God didn't exist."
Interrupting, Larry added, "You can't say that, though. Saying God doesn't exist is as much of an act of faith as saying that he does. At best you can say you aren't sure."
"I get that now," I offered, "but then I didn't. Then I realized the story of Jesus Christ was less about me pursuing him and more about him pursuing me. It took a bit of exploration, but eventually I received that relationship through his forgiveness and have found nothing more real. The deal is that we often want God to fit into our box but finally I stopped doing that. I mean, *IF* God existed who would get to define his identity - us or him?"
"Oh, he would... definitely," Larry said.
Wow. This was going abnormally well.
I added, "Once I let him do that... everything changed."
We talked some more after that, and essentially started to build a friendship. We had some good laughs, kept healthy eye contact, and opened the door to future chats. He even asked to see one of the books I'd written. Wow.
I don't know where it will go... but I know I threw some seeds out today that were true. God speaks about such things as if they really bring life to soil in need of life. From the empty stare that Larry first had when I sat down to the literally reddened cheeks and ear-to-ear smile I left him with...
I have the sense the Lord isn't lying about this.
As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11)