Up, Up, and A WAY
Sometimes the teacher becomes the student. And when that happens, true learning begins. The picture above represents one of those moments for me…and so much more. Many have asked about the future of The Well Coffeehouse. Come with me on a short journey and I’ll let you know some very exciting news. I know. Why not just come right out and tell you? Because the journey is as important as the destination.
It was a cool October (2013) weekend in Mentone, Alabama and I had just finished leading 5 sessions as a guest speaker for a weekend retreat for about 50 teenagers and adults. It wasn’t just any speaking engagement. This was the church where I’d grown up in Marietta, GA. I was invited by youth minister, Justin Moore, to join the group in Mentone for the weekend to inspire the students to put love into action by sharing stories of how I’ve tried to do the same.
Much of my recent inspiration has come from Bob Goff’s Love Does, a book of Bob’s incredible stories of faith and whimsy. Justin loves the book too and so the theme for the weekend was naturally, “Love Does.” All weekend I stood before a youth group that I was once a part of and shared God’s Word and my own “Love Does” stories of how God had given me opportunities to love and serve people. Many of my stories came from my interactions at and through The Well, a nonprofit coffeehouse I co-founded in 2012. The Well was our way of living a bigger story by loving our Nashville community and serving globally by helping to fight poverty. I got to tell crazy stories that ranged from helping a Nashville bartender (who’d been a victim of a recent Nashville flood) to helping provide clean water for people in Africa through the work of The Well. I got to tell about an atheist becoming a Christian through WELL_HOUSE (a church I planted on Sept. 29 at The Well designed to reach people who wouldn’t normally go to church buildings).
In the midst of these unfolding stories I had the privilege of meeting Bob Goff. Even though we had never met, Bob was kind of my hero. I wanted to be like him. I deeply resonated with the stories in his book and I wanted to love people as whimsically (a word Bob uses often in his book) as he did. I even had my kids read his book and our family became caught up in his adventures and capers for Jesus. We found ourselves sometimes saying, “I wonder what Bob would do in this situation?” Don’t worry we didn’t make W.W.B.D.? bracelets. But Bob reminded us of Jesus. And we all dreamed of meeting him.
And one day it happened. I knew Bob was coming to Lipscomb’s campus to speak in chapel. I was just excited I’d get to be in the same room. I’d tweeted to him a few times suggesting that we get coffee at The Well or that he come teach my freshman Bible class. I knew he wouldn’t have time. Bob’s a busy man. He was now a New York Times best selling author and in full demand. I went to chapel, was inspired by Bob’s absolutely incredible message, and then made a beeline for the stage to try and meet him.
Right when I got up to him I had just enough time to introduce myself when he was whisked away by some leaders who said he had somewhere to be. I walked on air as I headed to the Swang building to teach my class which was about to begin. I had met my hero. My class had heard me talk about Bob so I had to tell them about getting to meet him. I then started into my lesson for the day when out of the blue there’s a knock on the door.
I’ll never forget what happened next. Bob walked into the room with the biggest smile you’ve ever seen and started making his way down the steps of the classroom to greet me with a bear hug in front of my 60+ equally shocked students. What a caper. Before he left we took a “whimsical” class photo to everyone’s delight. Bob’s book and his intentional effort on that day lifted me up just like the whimsical balloons depicted on the cover of his book.
The balloons on his book gave me an idea. As I concluded my “Love Does” retreat I encouraged all the students to take a balloon that I had prepared for them. It had been an amazing weekend. They had latched on to what I’d taught them and I loved hearing them talk about how they were going to put it into action.
I’d worked out a plan ahead of time with the adults to inflate a helium-filled balloon for each student and my closing challenge was for them write on the balloon a bold dream or vision of love in action that they would “lift up” and then go out and do when they returned home.
I got to peek at some of them as they were writing these visions. They were truly beautiful. These teenagers were serious about changing the world and I felt so humbled yet honored to play a role in leading them. After they finished writing, I told them to follow me outside as I led them to a nearby creek to prepare for launch. It was time to put “love in the air.”
It had just started raining as I was giving them my final encouraging words down by the creek. In preparation for the big release I asked them all to pray over what was written on their balloons when something dawned on me. The rain. The quality of the balloons. Gravity! I noticed some of them already seemed to be struggling as they were held on their strings. “What if some of these balloons don’t take off? What if some poor 13 year old girl is all hyped up and asks God to help her go out and change the world only to watch her balloon rise a few feet and then pathetically tucker out into the creek!” I worried. Then I had this horrible picture in my mind of this happening to everyone.
What a way to end an inspiring weekend. “Go change the world students!” as we watch our visions and dreams for God lose the battle to the rain and gravity. Cue the violins. I was about to scar some of them for life. I had this instant nightmare of students going home in tears. Mom: “Honey, what did you learn this weekend?” Teary eyed 7th grade girl: “That my dreams [sniffle, sniffle] are no good and I’m [sniffle, sniffle] not faithful enough!” Oh man. I was in trouble if this didn’t work. Never fear. I had been a youth minister for 16 years. I had a degree in this stuff. Super hero music commence. I got this. I was used to adjusting on the fly (pun most definitely intended). Quickly, I made a final inspiring speech, matched only by William Wallace in Braveheart, to save the day.
I boldly proclaimed before launch, “Young women and men of faith. If your balloon does not reach the sky [dramatic pause]… it’s okay. Remember, this is just a metaphor. GOD STILL LOVES YOU. If your balloon sinks just remember there are real challenges in the world that are going to seek to defy your hopes and beat down your dreams. But God will honor your faith and lift up your dreams in His time!” Whew. Quick thinking. Now we’re ready. I had just prepared us all for the worst but still hoped for the best. Either way, disaster avoided. So let’s release the balloons! “Hold them up everyone. Here we go! On my count – 3…2…1…LOVE IS IN THE AIR!!!” Now what I haven’t yet told you is that I led the way in writing on the balloons. I wanted to lead by example.
So I dreamed boldly. I wrote on my balloon, “raise $100,000 to relocate The Well.” Now that’s how you dream boldly ladies and gentlemen. But this was no object lesson. I really did have that need. We were losing our lease on our current building where The Well is located. God had given us that old Burger King located in a wonderful space, at an amazing lease price, and through a few incredibly generous donors. That is what allowed us to open The Well. We knew it was only because of God’s provision. We were merely a brand new startup business with no experience and very little money to begin. God gave it. And now it appeared He was taking it away.
The landlord had sold the property and the plan called for our building to be demolished to make way for a high rise building. We had tried and tried to find affordable locations to relocate but nothing was working out. We needed God to provide funds we didn’t have to open a new location. Time was running out. And quickly.
I also wrote on my balloon, “build wells in Haiti to help 20,000 people.” Throughout 2013 we concluded that God was leading us toward a project to build a network of wells in Haiti that could actually provide clean water for that number of people. We also knew it would cost $80,000 to complete this project. The Well would have to generate that much profit or donations in 2014 for us to accomplish our vision. And yet currently we didn’t even have a place to relocate. But I dreamed wildly and prayed boldly for God to provide. God could give us a location and He could help us generate enough money to build wells that could save a lot of lives. I was ready to lift it up.
And we have lift off! It was glorious. Once again I led the way as I lifted my balloon to the sky. Surely I had dreamed bigger than anyone here. I held my breath as I watched all the balloons rise. The rain couldn’t stop them as they courageously fought their way upward. Gravity had lost on this day! Middle schoolers awkwardly cheered. High schoolers took a photo and tweeted. Adults golf clapped. Up, up, and away they went! All of them! Except mine.
50 balloons sky high. 1 still within reach of my outstretched arms. And it was mine. As the upward cheers began to subside everyone’s attention came back to earth. Oh no. What am I going to do? Everyone was looking up. Do I grab it and hide it? No one would ever notice. I was so embarrassed. Here stood the guy who told them all about faith, the one who challenged them to dream big, and pray boldly, and he can’t even get his balloon higher than a basketball goal. I didn’t hide the balloon. I stared at in disbelief. My only consolation? “If it had to happen at least it happened to me and not a poor little 7th grade girl.”
I could handle this. I tried to console myself. “Remember, it’s only a metaphor…only a metaphor… God still loves me….I’m good enough…I’m strong enough…and people like me.” As we walked back to the lodge, students thanked me for a great weekend. I don’t know if they noticed that I was still carrying my ridiculously inept, insufficient, wretched little balloon. I shared some conversations, gave some goodbye hugs, and listened to some students and adults tell me how the weekend had inspired them. But I couldn’t stop thinking about my darned balloon. I was the only one whose dream was not lifting up gloriously to the sky for God and the whole world to see. Instead it rested inadequately in my hand…for the whole world to see.
Then it began to sink in. Maybe this was God’s way of telling me things weren’t going to work out for the future of The Well. At least I’d inspired 50 others to dream but my dream was being deeply challenged. Maybe my dream had come to an end. But there was no way I was going to settle for that. It wasn’t MY dream. It was God’s. I was just getting to participate. God had brought us this far. He had done too much for The Well to leave us with no where to go next. This couldn’t be the end of the road. I’d just shared story after story of amazing things God had done to open The Well and then the many things He’d done to work through The Well. He had been faithful and He had provided. How could I ever doubt? And then I saw them. As I entered the lodge there they were. Two balloons. For whatever reason there were two extra balloons that had not been written on. One of the highlights of this retreat was that my mom had been there. My mom has been the greatest inspiration in my life. None of what I’d shared all weekend would have ever been a reality without her influence upon my life.
Right then and there I knew what I needed. I needed humility. I needed utter dependence. And I needed to ask for help. “Mom, will you take those two balloons and come back down to the creek with me? There’s something we need to do together before we leave the retreat.” She intuitively knew exactly what I was thinking. As we walked the path to the creek she tied the two balloons to mine. Every other balloon needed no help. My balloon needed the help of two. With dreams in hand we stood on the bridge together. My mom and me. And together we launched. I think this picture speaks for itself as to what happened next. It was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen.
I learned a lot about humility that day. The teacher had become the student. I could stand before 50 or 50,000 to inspire them but I would always, always, always need God and others to lift me up and inspire me. I learned a lot from those balloons as they pulled mine upward. Up, up, and away. I watched them for as long as I could as they defied gravity…together. And I prayed for God to lift me and the vision of The Well in the same way.
So what will become of The Well? It is now January 10 and we must be out of our current facility be the end of February. The building will then be demolished. Was God telling me there were going to be serious challenges ahead? He sure was. I knew I was going to have to place myself fully at his mercy to lift up the The Well’s future. For the next two months after that October retreat things became even more challenging. A very promising property we had hoped to lease fell through. Another property that seemed like a sure shot also fell through.
The Well’s days were numbered. Time was running out as the end of the year approached and we had no place to relocate. It seemed like no matter how hard we tried, gravity was winning. All we could do was trust that God would lift us up on his timing. We tied ourselves to him fully. And we prayed. And we waited. And we prayed. And we waited. No news. Still nowhere to go. Until a phone call came out of the blue just a few days before Christmas. It was an opportunity. And not just any opportunity. This was big. The Well was being invited into a location in one of the busiest yet accessible parts of town! Wow! Little did we know there was another phone call coming. Two days later, we became aware of another opportunity for potentially opening a second location! And as good as the first one was, this one was beyond our wildest imagination! But how could we afford it? Let’s just say… with two balloons.
I’m excited to say that, though neither of these deals are 100% finalized and we have not quite raised ALL the money needed, as of today, it appears that God has provided in a way we couldn’t have scripted in our boldest of dreams. He has provided the potential location(s) and seems to be showing us how to get there financially. He has already provided through many of YOU and we are so grateful. Thanks to these provisions, The Well now has potential to soon have two locations in two amazing places with dreams to build hundreds of wells to provide clean water in Haiti and all around the world. We also have plans to continue WELL_HOUSE and to plant another WELL_HOUSE church in our potentially second location.
I can’t reveal these new locations in detail just yet because, as we’ve learned, things can change in an instant. But what I can say is this – God has lifted us up. Maybe those two balloons represented not only His presence and His provision but also the two gifts He was just waiting to reveal. Up, up, and A WAY. His Way.