On a recent work trip, a lovely hotel just outside of Pittsburgh was home for a couple of nights. The night before check-out, a Monday, I stopped at the lobby bar for a cold drink. Yolanda, the bartender, and I had struck up a conversation earlier in the evening. She asked what I was doing in Pennsylvania and pretty quickly deduced that I was Catholic. I found out she was Catholic too.
"I really like the cross you're wearing," she said.
I told her it was a gift from dear friends who had visited the Vatican well over a dozen years before. Other than my wedding ring it is the only jewelry I wear daily. I have only taken it off a handful of times, once when the chain broke and had to be replaced.
"It's one of my most favorite possessions," I told her. "It was blessed by Pope John Paul II." Suddenly we both realized Pope John Paul II had just been named a saint the day before on Divine Mercy Sunday. We both looked at each other like, "Wow, this cross was blessed by Saint Pope John Paul II! We agreed, that was pretty stinkin' special. I was not gonna let my cross go but I did end up giving Yolanda a copy of my book, Could I Paint The Sky? for her grandchildren. She was pretty excited about it.
Later, when I returned to the lobby, Yolanda was still there. There was a group of very vocal, slightly intoxicated Canadians taking up the middle of the room… so I sat at the bar. The two quiet gentlemen to my left were very interested in a hockey game on television so I knew I wouldn't be bothered. I did notice they both had some kind of southern accent and one of them was wearing a camouflage baseball cap. They seemed busy. They sort of came and went and came back again.
At one point I asked the camouflage hat man if he was a hunter. He replied, "Well I like to hunt, but I don't shoot much." I told him I understood, because my husband suffers the same fate. "I don't even call it hunting anymore," I told him. "I call it, hiking with a gun. No offense to my husband, of course."
"I noticed your accents, I said. Where are you guys from?"
"West Virginia," they answered. I asked what they did for work. Somewhat reluctantly, they told me they work for a fracking company. I had heard of fracking in the news and am well aware of the fact that there are some folks pretty concerned with that method of drawing oil and gas from underground. I won't go into the argument but I will tell you that fracking companies know there is enough oil and gas under West Virginia alone to cure our dependence on foreign oil. That's something to think about. Bottom line is, I just think "frack" is a funny word. I had a great time using it in response to anything the two men said from that moment on. "Are you fracking kidding me?! You must really know what the frack you're doing," and so on. We laughed a lot.
They asked what I do for a living. I told them I was a comedienne. We laughed some more and they asked again, "Seriously, what do you do for a living?" "Well, I'm in ministry, I said. Can't really call it a living, but my husband and I do try to make it pay for itself." Just then Yolanda cruised past and announced, "She's an author."
"You're an author?" They asked.
"Actually I am a songwriter and an author. I travel around teaching, singing and inspiring others to consider the gifts they have been given by God and how they might apply them to daily life."
"She gave me a copy of her book," Yolanda said. "I'll go get it so you can see it for yourselves."
She returned from the kitchen and set my children's book on the bar in front of the two men. I don't know if they read the whole thing, but they certainly spent a good deal of time looking at the pictures.
Somehow, blown away, they asked more questions and shared their own stories. The man closest to my left, without a hat, confided that he tries to be a good Christian but that he struggles, especially with people he doesn't like very much. Just as any decent person would have done; I told him I'm sure God knows why he reacts the way he does to the people in his life and I assured him that if God is bringing those relationships to mind then He probably knows there is work to be done and those relationships can improve.
At that moment, one of my own life stories came to mind, about a time when God revealed to me that I had let human beings and their failings come between me and Him. To make a long and wonderful story short. God spoke to my heart during a Saturday evening Mass in the chapel at Gonzaga University. His message was clear; Never let another human being take me away from you.
The man without a hat looked at me as though he thought I knew him. "You're gonna make me cry," he said. I assured him that if he did cry… it was because God knew right where he was with all of that and exactly what he needs to feel.
"I really like your cross," the man said. Just then, Yolanda passed by again. "It was blessed by a most recent saint, Saint Pope John Paul II." She said.
"Really?! Wow." He said. "Would it be okay if I touch it?" Without hesitation I responded, "Sure." Then the man with the camo hat spoke up and asked, "Can I touch it too?" "Well of course," I said.
Grabbing my cross and stretching it out, as far away from my chest as possible, both men did just that, they touched it.
The look of reverence on their faces told me that they felt the significance of such an opportunity.
"Wow, I said. This reminds me of that story in the Bible, you know the one about the woman in the crowd who had been sick for like 12 years. She reached out and touched Jesus' robe, thinking He wouldn't even notice and by her faith she was healed. It's like you guys touching this blessed cross. There is nothing magic about the cross, or even the fact that it was blessed by Saint Pope John Paul II. It is the faith it took for you to reach out and touch it that heals you.
That statement brought a big wink from Yolanda and an approving smile from her from the other side of the bar.
The man next to me spoke softly, "You're gonna make me cry again," and then he quickly departed. Camo hat man left for a few moments too and then returned. Standing beside me now… camo man asked, humbly, "Could I touch your cross again?" I was not about to deny him a leap of faith.
A few minutes later, the other man returned and placed two $20.00 bills on the bar. Now you might be wondering where this is going but it is probably far from what you're thinking.
"I want you to send me two copies of your book." He said.
I took his contact information and promised to ship the books as soon as I returned home. Throughout the entire exchange, Yolanda was busy working but listening intently. I told the men it was time for me to leave. Yolanda and I happily hugged and said our goodbyes. Whispering to each other about how amazing it is that God can work anywhere… even through us… and it's all because of our faith.
My encounter with the two frackers built faith in me too; to trust God for what He knows needs to happen in the lives of those around us. My job... is to be willing, to stay out of the way of God's work in others and to doubt Him for nothing.
I waved as I walked away from the bar and shouted to my new found friends, "It was fracking wonderful to meet you guys. Travel safe and frack on my, brothers. Frack on!
43 And a woman who had a hemorrhage for twelve years, and could not be healed by anyone, 44 came up behind Him and touched the fringe of His cloak, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped. 45 And Jesus said, “Who is the one who touched Me?” And while they were all denying it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing in on You.” 46 But Jesus said, “Someone did touch Me, for I was aware that power had gone out of Me.” 47 When the woman saw that she had not escaped notice, she came trembling and fell down before Him, and declared in the presence of all the people the reason why she had touched Him, and how she had been immediately healed. 48 And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”