Seven Days in Portland

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Our friend H has a heart to share the gospel with hipsters, liberals and new age spiritual types.  Her approach is creative, non-threatening, loving and inspirational as she tries to share about Christ in a language they would understand.  In this story, H shares about how a short seven day trip to Portland became a God adventure when an unlikely friendship with a stranger at a coffee shop changed their life forever.

Seven days to spend in Portland. Seven days to make the contribution of a little touch of heaven. Really now, come on. What kind of impact can you make in only seven days?

But I expect it of God. As illogical as it may be to travel from place to place, when real lasting change often requires root-work, I am at peace. After all, God is God, and he can do whatever he wants. 

Day one. Destination one. That little coffee shop down the street that serves Stumptown, and there are all those couches, and people often have actual conversations in there…

When I arrive, I sit on a couch, occupied at the other end by a white-haired woman, stitching. “What are you working on?” I ask her.

“A quilt,” she says, and explains how she is stitching googley eyes that will go onto animals for a baby quilt. She then sets the fabric, thread, and needle down, abandoning her quilting at the preference of telling me everything about herself. Her name is Susan. She is a quilter, and she has a couple commissions right now. She has just retired, and she’s quite happy about it. She was an activist for forty years, but not so much any more. She is worried for my generation and the world we will face in our lifetime. She wishes she could have done more to leave the world in a better condition for my generation.

I tell her I agree that we are facing times of upheaval. But I have a lot of hope. I see the heart that’s in my generation. I see the courage. I think all the changes will be for the better. 

She tries to catch onto my hope as I speak, but can’t grip it. Her eyes call out with despair.

“You know,” she says, “You are not an ordinary young person. I want to show you my apartment,” and she writes me in her calendar to come over later in the week.

The next day I return to the coffee shop, and she’s there again, sitting on another couch, reading a book. When I sit next to her, she puts away her book to talk to me. This time when she begins to talk about the sorry state of the world, I talk about the spiritual realm that is affecting everything. “This is where we need to focus our fight,” I say. “We can change the systems all we want, but if people don’t begin to operate in a different spirit, it won’t matter. People need to learn who they are in the Creator’s love.”

She likes what I’m saying. “I’m a Unitarian Universalist,” she says. “Come with me to church tomorrow! I’ll pick you up, and we can get breakfast beforehand.”

The next morning I find myself sitting at a Unitarian Universalist church in the midst of a large congregation. Who’d have guessed I’d be here this morning, I muse. I’m a little nervous, half-expecting something blatantly demonic to happen. But the care the community has for one another, and for the less fortunate of Portland, moves me. I read the value statement on the brochure, and whisper to Susan, “I agree with all these values. These are what I live by.” And I’m not exaggerating. This church values all the expressions of love that I do; only it lacks the power to carry them out, through Jesus’ completed work. The final hymn the congregation sings echoes this frustration:

I wish I knew how it felt to be free. I wish I could break all these chains holding me.

After the service, Susan proudly ushers me around the room introducing me to her friends. “This is my adopted daughter,” she says. “She’s a Unitarian at heart!”

I don’t reject the title. It’s not the first unusual title I’ve been given. They range from prophet, to guru, to psychologist, to Susan’s new title for me the next day at the coffee shop: “Traveling pilgrim.”

At this point, I can see that God is doing something big with my little week in Portland. What previously took months is only taking days. I remember a word he gave me at the start of my journey: “When you hook a fish, you’ve got to bring it up on board and carry it through quickly.” With this advice, I’m hoping to see some miracles the next day- day four. I envision praying for healing, sharing the joy message, reading the words of Jesus, and so on. 

But the next day, I’m exhausted and not feeling like myself. I spend the day with Susan but I’m only half-present. “Are you ok?” she keeps asking. “I’m so tired,” I respond. I know that if I try to bring the kingdom now, I’ll be forcing it. So I hold off.

I have three days left, and I’m moving to stay with a friend in a nearby suburb, so I don’t even know if I’ll make it back into the city, or if I’ll ever see her again. All I can do is let go and trust God to finish the work in her heart; the work that belongs to him in the first place.

Day five in Portland, I wake up sick. I sit in bed all day and cry. I’m so exhausted from fighting sickness. But it’s much needed cry-time, and I feel happy and carefree by the evening. At this point, I’m doubting I’ll see Susan again. I only have two more days, and I don’t feel well.

But the next morning, I wake up at 5:30am, feeling good as new. This is truly a miracle. I haven’t woken up before 8 since…. Well, I don’t remember. Because I wake up so early, I’m able to accompany my hostess to work and borrow her car to drive into Portland. I go straight to the same little coffee shop. And a few minutes later, in walks Susan!

“Do you want to hang out today?” I ask her.

“Yes, have you been to the Japanese garden?”

We go together to the Japanese garden, and take the tour. I embrace her arm as we walk. It feels like I’m spending the day with my mother or grandmother!

As we begin to say goodbye, I ask if she would mind if I prayed for her for healing. She has been complaining about arthritis and hip pain. We sit in her car, and I lay my hand on her and begin to pray. I welcome the peace of God. I give her a word or two. I pray for healing.

Then Susan looks at me and begins talking… for real. Something has changed in the spiritual atmosphere, and she’s finally letting me in. “I don’t like the idea of a Supreme Being,” she says. “I believe that God is Love. I just try to focus on Love. But having met you, my heart is opening up. It was already opening up before I met you, but now it is more than ever before. But I hate it when people proselytize! When they try to tell you what you have to believe, and this is the way it is and all that junk! But you’re something totally different. You just… loved me. I feel so comfortable around you, and I felt that way right away, right when I met you. There’s just something about you… but I just can’t stand organized religion and all the terrible things it’s doing to the world!”

“You know, I’ve been hurt by organized religion too,” I say.

“Really?” She is surprised.

I begin to talk about the religious spirit. I explain its characteristics. Then I explain the good news of Jesus, and how its characteristics are completely opposite. I tell her a bit of my story, how I grew up in a religious spirit and was finally set free by the truth of Jesus. I explain the fear that once gripped me, the agonizing fear of being alone, of being rejected by God. I explain how God encountered me with his love and acceptance and made me feel free to be myself with him.

“I know I also have many wounds from my past,” she says. “I know that I believe I’m unlovable. But I’ve never had the money for a good psychologists who could bring me through it all… who could bring me to the other side.”

“Oh I can do that,” I say. “I call it inner healing.”

Day seven. I arrive at Susan’s apartment early in the morning for our inner healing session.

She is nervous at first. “Now wait where did you learn to do this?” she asks. It is pretty sketchy when an unprofessional claims she can navigate you through your deepest psychological wounds the next morning over coffee. I explain my history with it, and she calms down a little.

First I welcome the “Spirit of Life,” as Susan likes to say. Then I tell Susan she’s going to see a painting in her imagination that will reveal the path we are to take.

“Well the first thing I saw…” she says hesitantly, “was myself cowering below several evil-looking figures.”

“What do you think those figures represent?” I ask.

“My fears,” she admits. “Fear of rejection. Fear of poverty. Fear of illness. Fear of being socially unacceptable.”

“Let’s start with the fear of rejection. Spirit of Life, can you show me a memory in which I learned to fear rejection?”

I continue to pose questions for her to ask the Spirit. I teach her to settle her mind and to hear answers from her spirit.

“You can choose to love what you have rejected,” she hears. It’s her first time to hear God’s voice.

“What have you rejected about yourself?”

She begins to list off her problems and mistakes, with lots of shame.

I lay my hand on her. “Susan, look into my eyes. You are forgiven for all your mistakes. You are forgiven for all your shortcomings. You are forgiven for all your offenses.” She begins to cry.

I lead her in a statement of self-forgiveness and self-acceptance.

“Spirit of Life, what else do you want to say?” I lead.

“I love you, Susan,” she says quietly with her eyes closed, and her lips form a genuine smile.

The atmosphere in the room is electric love. A precious human being has just heard “I love you” from her Creator, her Daddy God, for the very first time. There can never be anything that compares to this.

Image Credit: Flickr / RowdyKittens