While attending the New Canaan Society 2013 Washington Weekend, I had a thought to invite a guy to attend with me the following year. He kept coming to invite.
I left awash in a sea of new ideas and yet the thought to invite this guy stuck with me. The conference was a year away, I wasn't even sure if I would go again, the cost is over $1,000 and I was not in a position to pay for this guy and I didn't want him to have to pay either. Finally, I wasn't so sure how he'd feel amongst 800 guys who raise their hands in worship of God while singing and tend to be very transparent in their conversations. All of these were not small details, and yet I decided to invite him anyway expecting God to work out the details if it was his will.
When I did invite him he said he was interested, so I told him not to worry about a thing, that I'd take care of it all. Knowing he was in the military I applied for him to get a scholarship. The conference planners said they'd know closer to the date if someone would pay for him. Months passed and as the conference came back around I learned that someone would pay his full fee to attend.Praise God!
So we were all set to attend together and share a room and it was going to be a great chance to get to know this guy better. The day before the conference I drove to meet him, and right away I could tell his family was beyond busy, organized chaos even. Not only did he and his wife have two young children, they both worked in high-level demanding jobs and were both getting a Masters degree at the same time. So it was understandable that they were often running at 100%.
As we drove to the conference together, I could sense that it would take time for this guy to wind down, with everything that was going on in his life. I wondered if we'd get a chance to really connect on a heart level. Even more, I could feel a sort of pull to keep him away from the conference altogether.
We arrived, had dinner together, and settled in for the night well enough, but without "breaking the ice" to deeper conversation that I desired. Even more, I knew he was getting texts that were concerning him and had him contemplating leaving the conference.
The next day something happened that changed our trajectory. We listened to Erwin McManus preach a great sermon.
When he was done, Dudley Hall stood up to transition to the next speaker. Before he did, he said he had a sense to stop and pause and give guys a chance to stand up and be ministered to if they needed it. With his invitation, the guy I was with stood up right next to me. I was caught off guard but I stood up next to him and put my arm around him. Soon a few other guys huddled around us and we prayed together. Several of us were choked up with tears.
From the moment we sat down, I could tell everything was different. Our conversation had a lighter quality to it. We snuck off to talk more personally. At a reception later that night, I saw this guy talking amongst a small group and when i walked over to listen in, I heard one former war veteran encouraging him to let go of some of what he had encountered at war. I knew that these were divine connections being made.
That same night, as we laid down to bed rich conversation ensued, in fact, we stayed up until after 2 in the morning talking about our faith in Jesus, questions, things that don't always make sense, our perspectives. It was amazing and I was so blessed to see our relationship open up even more.
As the conference came to a conclusion, I was full of emotion over this dear new brother, not just a friend now but someone with whom we had discussed the depths of our hearts. We worshipped the King together, made new connections, and we left feeling as though we had a few new ideas to consider. Miraculously, this guy even shared with me that he felt as though he was healed in some way over the weekend.
And yet, having gone to these things before, I knew that it can be a challenge to go back into a busy home from a "mountaintop experience" to a spouse and kids who have missed Dad. Even more I believe these reconnections can be wrought with attack from the enemy to prevent unity and progress. So I prayed that this guy would find a way to get away from his busy schedule to spend intimate time with his wife, share some of his experience, and even bring her to the mountaintop too. I asked my wife to pray the same thing, and we were astonished when just a short time later, we saw that this couple had posted online that they had found a Christian retreat center to visit in the mountains where their pets and children would be cared for so they could connect one-on-one. My wife and I were so excited about this announcement.
Going into this conference, I thought in some way that I was maybe driving some kind of progress, that I would be responsible for getting us there, diving into the heart issues, cultivating the relationship. Looking back, I can see that yes, there was a role for me to make and follow-up on the invitation, but everything was out of my control and firmly in God's hands. After the conference, the things I thought I might do to keep us connected, this guy beat me to every one! He suggested that we talk regularly to pray, he's sent me notes, small gifts, he's inquired about life even though we live in opposite sides of the country. It reminded me that God draws people to himself, the Holy Spirit teaches, my role was just to be obedient to one little piece of the puzzle to make the invitation and follow through to get us there.