Meeting God in a Friend

The strangest circumstance occurred. The board meeting I was booked to attend in Nashville got moved to Ada, OK. It also changed so just the executive committee needed to attend. The rest were to attend via zoom. Technically, then, I could have canceled the trip and stayed home. But, I was scheduled to stay with a great friend in Nashville. She had promised to give me a tour of the city on Thursday, the day after I arrived.

At first, I thought I’d just change my ticket to Oklahoma City (88 miles from Ada) and attend the executive board meeting in person. Then I could hang with the folk who were part of the team over meals. I wrote a friend, Marlene, on the board to see what her plans were. Marlene’s parents lived in Ada, and were the reason the meeting move to that city. This couple, her parents, both 90 are dear friends.

While I awaited Marlene’s response, I checked flights and changed my reservation to Oklahoma City. But then I received her reply. She was not arriving until late Thursday night by car with another friend and flying out early Saturday morning. Basically, I’d be on my own Thursday in Oklahoma City. She suggested I rent a car to make the drive to Ada. I checked around further, and was told by the executive director perhaps the best option was to fly to Dallas and drive up (8 hours) with another board member from there. I made the decision to change my flights back to Nashville.

My wife and I talked about my choices. Her response was classic: “Brian, if we have learned anything this past year, it is the preeminent value of our relationships in life. I think you need to invest in them. Go.”

So, Wednesday I flew to Nashville. This is what put me in that airport for last week’s post. My friend Diana met me at the airport, drove me to her place where I got to meet her 93 year old mom, Beverly, and Barbara, the caregiver who works part time with them to help out.

It was the best of Airbnb’s – my own room and bathroom upstairs, workspace for my meeting on Friday–and friends downstairs.

They had a puzzle up which Beverly and I worked on that evening, while awaiting dinner which Diana had ready. I looked at my plate: Half a smoked chicken, some amazing onion and cheese dish, which was a southern, melt-in-your-mouth affair, broccoli/cauliflower salad and the green jello pistachio salad. Plus Greek yogurt and fresh fruit for dessert. Clearly, I wouldn’t starve.

Stories flow through Diana like a waterfall on a river. She’s retired clergy in the UMC and has had an amazing life of ministry. God has repeatedly shown up and it’s beautiful to hear the many ways. Her mom is sharp as a tack, delightful and likes to listen. Dinner was such a flow of stories.

The next morning as we drove into Nashville, after I asked if she would like to share the meal costs or have me pay. Diana said, “Now, we don’t need to have this conversation again. I am treating you today. No arguments! This is my treat.” I was stunned. What grace is given me in this life.

We parked in the lot at the First Baptist Church and walked down Broadway first. It is this street of bars and restaurants, of every variety, and music blasting out of every open window.

In each restaurant, the performer sits on a stage by a large open window. Their high decibel music can fill the place but also clash with every other tune out on the street. It is a cacophony of noise.

We chose Jake’s BBQ, the one place without a performer and ate delicious southern fare.

We walked out into the back alley behind the Ryman Auditorium. This is the alley performers at the Ryman would use to get to their performance. They’d have a drink at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, exit the back, and go to their gigs.

We walked around to the front of the Ryman Auditorium and entered for a self-guided tour.

We walked around 2nd Ave under construction after the 2020 Christmas Day bomb, stopped at Hatch Show Print, where posters are still typeset and produced 1890s fashion, and saw other sites, then left to drive to see more.

This venue was built in 1892 by riverboat Captain Tom Ryman after his conversion to faith in Christ. He had attended the tent meeting of the revivalist, Methodist preacher Sam Jones to ridicule, but the Holy Spirit surprised him with conversion. Thereafter he built this venue for preaching so more people could encounter the Savior. This edifice was then originally called the Union Gospel Tabernacle and hosted many revival events. Because of its excellent acoustics and size, it also became the unofficial city auditorium hosting many singers and comedians. Later it was dubbed the “Mother Church of Country Music” as the home of the Grand Ole Opry from 1943 until 1974.

A favorite, incredible site is the silo upon which an artist painted a 15-story mural of a local 91-year-old resident, Lee Estes.

The Australian artist, Guido Van Helten used a black and white palette to produce this epic, spray-painted, realistic painting of Mr. Estes. Lee Estes had lived in this part of the Nashville community since the 1920s. He’d tell you, he never thought he’d be famous, just wanted to be remembered.

We stopped to get me ice cream at Bobbie’s Dairy Dip, established in 1951.

Had not had one of these in decades!

Then drove to the Opryland Hotel for a boat ride on the river in the middle of this vast, covered property, and a walk through the maze of pathways.

It was a day of God sightings as we shared instances of the mighty works of God in life. Diana’s stories are a marvel. The birth of a granddaughter whose miraculous healing at birth is recognized by the medical community as a “miracle.” So it says on her medical records. How God showed up in the baptism of a prison inmate at a prison worship service she and her organization planned. Diana said, “It was the most powerful moment of ministry in my life.” A wasp sting led to a life-threatening seizure of lead pastor Jacob Armstrong at Providence Church, Mt. Juliet, but how God has healed and restored his life. Hear his recounting of this story and what God taught him here.

Pastor Jacob Armstrong in the red shoes

We told one another stories of warfare and God’s deliverance. Stories of provision and hope. And she told other unfinished stories in which she walks. God is on the move.

At one meal we prayed with our waitress, Connie, as she told of the grief impacting her family’s life. It was a time filled with blessing. At many places we had the opportunity to pour into people’s lives the love we experienced in ours.

Even though I spent several hours on zoom the next day for my meeting, still, this brief time away was the most life-giving gift to my heart and life. I felt refreshed, hope-filled, alive and so inspired as I stood in line to board my homeward flights.

I loved the contrast of the social distancing sign and the impossibilities demonstrated

A breeze had washed over my heart leaving me renewed. I pray the same renewal for you.

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