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Nashville II

October 8, 2012

Out in the open wisdom calls aloud, she raises her voice in the public square; on top of the wall she cries out, at the city gate she makes her speech,

“How long will you who are simple love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge? Proverbs 1:20


Hello All,

The title of this post chronologically should be “Nashville I” but since the events in this post pale in comparison to my testimony, which chronologically should be “Nashville II”, I’ve decided to keep my testimony as “Nashville I” and this post “Nashville II”. I’ve also started using Word when I initially write, so if you see an improvement in grammar or spelling, I’m still horrible (not as horrible as some people try to make me believe) but technology is saving me a little.

This part of my life starts in Nashville in February of 2010 (two years before I met Jesus). I was attending the annual Culver’s convention where all of the franchisees for Culver’s meet to talk about business, have some fun and strategize for the following year. One Monday night at the Convention my friends and fellow franchisees Jack, Katie, Brian and myself were all sitting at the hotel bar when we decided that it wasn’t much fun and that we should join the majority of the franchisees and head to a bar named Tootsies downtown. So we finished our drinks and jumped in a cab.

When we got to Tootsies it was quite a scene, especially for a Monday night. It was made up of about 200 Culver’s people. Culver’s franchisees are known to work really hard and play hard too. The majority of them are husband and wife combos that have one or maybe two locations and they proudly make them their life. So while Culver’s franchisees are far from uptight they are mostly a family orientated, GOD fearing group of people who tend to be pretty conservative (I want to make clear that I’m never referring to politics. Politics are a sham meant to keep us divided and distracted and in my opinion nobody should pay any attention to it especially Christians) in every way. This used to drive me a little crazy but now I embrace it and love it as you can imagine. The prayer at the Gala Dinner was always my chance to hold my head high and think how weak everyone else was; and I’m genuinely looking forward to this year where I can thank GOD for everything He’s blessed me with from a Culver’s standpoint.

When you look at the way Culver’s is structured and how it’s grown, it’s clearly a divinely driven business opportunity to give married couples a way to have a good quality of life for themselves and their families. From the very beginning it was Craig’s parents Ruth and George and his wife Lea running the first location. Craig and Lea are still the bosses and are involved intensely on a daily basis. Culver’s has had chances to grow much faster and has even attempted it a couple times and GOD has abruptly put on the brakes. Culver’s success is 100% a result of GODS blessing and GOD is 100% in control of it’s future. I pray that someday they will gain the piece of mind and security that comes from trusting GOD with everything.

So back to Tootsies: We walk in and there is a band on the right and one in the back. We walk to the back and I’m standing there when a girl starts talking to me who’s sitting on the edge of the stage. After a couple minutes of talking to her it becomes clear that she’s kinda hitting on me. I’m not interested but I continue to be nice and just hang out. After about ten minutes of this she starts to become a little abrasive. At first I can’t figure out why but I soon realize that she’s probably becoming frustrated at the fact that I’m not returning her level of interest. She becomes increasingly rude and direct. I start to return that sentiment slowly but more aggressively and things start to escalate.

At some point she says something that I can tell she hoped would really get at me, so I decided to lob a verbal hand grenade back saying something that I’m not proud of at all. My hand grenade had about as much affect as hers did, which is zero, and in reply to my comment she says “GODS going to judge you for that”. My eyes light up because I can’t wait to tell her how ridiculous she sounds and how I already know that He doesn’t exist. I tell her “I’m not too worried about that since He doesn’t exist”. This elicits a reaction I would have thought my hand grenade should have generated. She goes off the deep end, yelling at me and taking a couple halfhearted swings at me. I back up and continue to prod her as I’m thinking; I’m going to show her how detrimental believing in fake stuff can be. It’s at this point that she starts yelling to the guitar player on stage “this guy doesn’t believe in GOD, he’s an A-hole”. The guitar player, who I later realized was probably a friend of hers, starts yelling over the mic “Get this guy out of here, he doesn’t believe in GOD” In about three different ways, over a one or two minute period which feels like one or two hours.

Now keep in mind he’s saying this in front of about 200 of those GOD fearing conservative franchisees that I’ve been trying to gain the respect of my entire life. The place quiets down a little and I’m thinking optimistically “ok, no big deal, maybe nobody heard that”. It’s at this point that the bouncer comes over and asks me to leave. Immediately my legal/logical/defensive/intensely not going to have my atheistic rights trampled on brain pops in with “You’re kicking me out because I don’t believe in GOD?” The bouncer calmly says “no, because you’ve angered the band”. I think for about one second and realize, that’s totally logical and he points me to the back door so I can walk out.

Katie, Brian and Jack follow me and as we take a right down the back alley, I see we can go in the back door of the next bar and come right back on the main street where the front door of the initial bar is. Now the thing you have to realize about me is that at this point I’d been kicked out of about 100 bars in my lifetime. Never for physically fighting or anything serious. It was always some sort of verbal altercation. Me trying to rattle the cage of some emotionally unstable bouncer or person who I thought saw himself a little to highly or just getting way too rambunctious between my friends. The one constant that accompanied each of these bootings was me trying at least once to get back into the bar and fly under the radar and finish out the night. If I got caught, no big deal, it was worth a shot. If not I finished having a good time with my friends.

So this night was no different. I figured lets go through this bar and try to get back in the original. Jack was used to this maneuver and the other two didn’t really see much risk since they’re both pretty adventurous themselves. So I get about two steps in the door when the bouncer who asked me to leave initially, puts his hands gently on my chest and says “come on man”. I said “ok” and as I turned around to leave we both started playfully jabbing at one another. There was no animosity or anger just one in the morning stupidity.

So this continues out onto the sidewalk where there are about fifty people just loitering and screwing around from the bar, again 90% Culver’s people. So as we spar back and forth three cop cars pull up onto the sidewalk behind me bank robbery style. I immediately forget about the bouncer because I figure there must be a brawl going down. Now one of my favorite things about going out was always the potential to watch a fight. My friends and I would never get involved but the goal was to feel out that bubble where you could get as close as possible with out getting caught up. So as I’m scanning the area, completely ignoring the cops, a cop walks up behind me and starts to put me in cuffs. I’m like “what’s the deal” He’s like “I’m arresting you for public drunkenness and disturbing the peace”. A bunch of thoughts go through my mind including, I’ve only had two drinks over five hours, you haven’t given me a Breathalyzer, I’ve never been arrested, what exactly does that mean, etc…

At this point I’m shocked. All of my peers are watching this go down with no idea of what the catalyst is. I say to the guy “What did I do”, I seriously had no idea. He says, “ You were yelling at the bouncer” As he’s telling me this, the bouncer is telling the cop that everything is cool and we were just screwing around. The cop doesn’t care, I say “I wasn’t yelling” He says “I heard you across the street”, at this point I realize that every teacher I’d ever had was right in saying that my voice travels like nothing they’ve ever heard. The same voice that got me singled out (rightfully so most of the time) all my life was really biting me this time. He searches me and puts me in the back of the squad car.

During this entire incident my number one super drunk supporter Jack is video taping the whole thing and pretty much agitating the cops. His agitation didn’t negatively affect my situation and initially I found it endearing. However once I was in the car with my hands behind my back I could hear on the radio the cops discussing what they should do with him. They were on the verge of arresting him. I’m trying to motion to him to chill but he took it as me egging him on.

At this point we pull away from the scene and I hear over the radio that Jack is chasing the car that I’m in on foot. As much as I want him to stop at this point my heart fills with thankfulness for having such a great friend. It’s at this point that I find a way to finagle my phone out of my pocket in the backseat. I fumble the phone, which on the plastic seats in the squad makes a pretty loud noise. The officer asks me “ what was that”, I say “nothing” and we continue on down the road. I fire off a text to Jack to stop and go home right now, that they’re going to arrest him. He later tells me that the cop stopped him and asked him what he was doing and he replied “I’m chasing the car so I know where he’s going so I can bail him out”. It’s at this point that the cop told him if he took one more step in that direction that he’d be going to jail too, so Jack got in a cab and passed out in his room.

The car I’m in then pulls into a garage at the station. It’s at this point that I get the distinct feeling I’m actually going to be booked and in jail. He takes me out of the car and I’m booked into the Nashville jail. They tell me to write down three people’s numbers that I can call to get me out. I write down, Jack, Katie and my cousin Tammy who came with us but was not attending the convention. Unbelievably she told me before we dropped her off to not call her if I went to jail. Along with the fact that Tammy has been a Christian her whole life, I’d never been in jail before, so for her to say this was pretty prophetic to say the least. Along with this entire story you can see clearly that GOD is doing things in all of our lives whether we know or moreover recognize and understand truth or not.

They then finger print me, which to this day I’m still the most disappointed about. I never wanted my fingerprints in that system. A system that for the most part is corrupt and many times self-serving. There’s a horrible dynamic created when thousands of people’s jobs rely on people being arrested and put in prison/jail. An even more horrible one when jails and prisons are built by for profit private companies. I’m not saying all cops or people in the criminal justice system are bad. Cops have saved my life and done me more than fairly on several occasions. I’m simply saying the system is beyond broken, corrupt, self serving and destructive to society. It’s an intricately designed revolving door concentrating on isolation and lowering someone’s self worth in the hopes that they’ll reoffend and keep the system running. There is nothing rehabilitating going on in our criminal justice system and it’s all by design.

After they finger print me I’m sent to the holding room. At this point I’m dressed like Ricky Martin staring at two guys who are exhausted, with tattoos on their face and just seem at the end of their rope. They then bring us bagged dinners (I don’t know if you can call it that because by this time it’s 4am). I look inside and knew I wouldn’t be that hungry for at least two days. I ask the one guy who’s chowing down his sandwich “You want mine”; he looks at me like I’m trying to trick him and says “why”; I say “because you look like you can use it more than me” and his face lights up and thanks me. At this point the other guy in the room is kinda looking at me weird and I say to him “what’s up” in the coolest, hippest, nicest way I can. He asks me what I did and I tell him. At this point we kinda hit it off a little and soon enough I’m talking to him about Gucci Mane and we’re both spitting verses (Gucci and his verses now make me want to puke).

After about an hour in the holding room, we get moved into the main room. It’s about 100 chairs in a big room with about half of them filled. Women are in one corner but not isolated, which was surprising to me. Earlier they had told me that once I’m in the main room I should first call bails bondsmen instead of my list because they can get me out for 10% of the $2000 bail amount. So I called about twenty of them and none of them would touch me because I lived out of state. So I was down to three numbers. I first called Jack who didn’t answer after about twenty tries. I later learned that he quickly went from really concerned about me to passing out once he found a bed. At first I was little stung but after thinking about it more, I really couldn’t blame him. I pretty much was the one who interrupted his drunkenness and good time. I then called Katie who answered on either the first or second try. I told her where I was and asked if she had $2000 on her. She either said yes or said that she could get it and took a long cab ride at 5am to come bail me out.

At about 7am I come walking out of the jail to find Katie sleeping in the most uncomfortable position ever in the jail waiting room. I was surprised to see her since it took the jail a couple hours to get me out once she posted bond. She could have just left. I woke her up and we took a cab back to the hotel. I thanked her profusely and to this day I’m so thankful for her understanding, patience and beautiful heart.

The next day my arrest was buzzing all over the convention. People asking me what happened, when did I get out, what was the fine, etc… Even though I was a staunch, persuasive, bold atheist I wasn’t sure if it was something I wanted every Culver’s franchisee to know, so I started figuring out how I could sugar coat it and tell half the story.

For the first time in my life I was holding back on telling what I thought was the truth about GOD (which at the time was He didn’t exist). At the time I didn’t see any connection between saying I didn’t believe in GOD at the bar and being arrested. I didn’t see that connection until I learned the real truth about GOD. However something was telling me to temper my thoughts on the subject. On the surface I was ashamed and embarrassed about becoming a part of the criminal justice system in front of everyone but without me even knowing, I now think that ugly feeling is the feeling you get when you disappoint and break the trust of our first love. GOD the Father. The love that’s always there and when you’re separate from it, you feel it the same way you would if you were separated from anyone you love in your life. This separation from our first and most powerful love is the reason all of us are searching but may never find. The reason for hinduism, astrology, drugs, premarital sex, buddism, self help gurus, addiction, why we identify with and idolize the Bears more than our families and GOD, why we’re constantly trying to fill the void with sex and porn and entertainment and endless folly and self indulgence. Why we’ll never be satisfied until we start doing independent research into the only thing that requires us to make ourselves and our needs second, Jesus Christ. He instilled this in each of us regardless of whether we have the selflessness to find the truth. GOD set up a basic construct and design for us, and convenient ignorance is no excuse when it comes to how that design affects each of us daily.

So I know this is getting long but I’d be doing each of you a disservice if I didn’t finish this story with the main point and lesson to be learned. That lesson as you’ll soon see is that GOD loves to forgive and can turn any bad situation into something amazing. He loves to forgive because he knows how humans will react to unmerited grace and forgiveness. He knows that when the broken person (as we all are, the more broken the better for Him) feels Him and they are forgiven that they’ll give their life to His cause, the only cause, the cause we were designed for. He knows that humans are so broken and the concept of unmerited love and forgiveness so foreign, that when they experience it from the creator of the universe they’ll be in their most effective state: humbled and passionate. This is why he loves to forgive when you don’t deserve it.

So as you can see, GOD was trying to send this atheist a message. I just never put together why this all happened until I was saved. He was doing things in my life and since I can assure you I’m no more special to Him than you are, He’s doing things in your life as well. After I got back home I realized that I’d have to get an attorney. Some guy sent me a letter from Nashville saying he’d represent me and I took him up on it. He did everything he could to prevent me from going to court but GOD wasn’t going to let me off that easy. I ended up having to go to the courthouse but before the time came for the hearing, my attorney set up a chance for me to talk to the cop to see if he’d let me off easy. I spoke to him in the most humble way I could and I was let off with community service and a fine. I got the bail money back to Katie a few months later and started looking for places I could do community service.

Luckily the judge said that I could do it in Chicago. I found a program that planted trees at this school and I joined up. I’ve always loved digging since I was young. We had a big hole in the back yard that everyday we’d just go and dig in. We were really bored and trying to get to something cool we thought. So the first day I show up to the school I meet the guy running it named Michael. He’s a really nice guy who knows everything about organic farming. At this point I was a year deep into researching organic farming and other things involving a new restaurant I wanted to open and still do called EarthFood. What I thought at the time to be an amazing coincidence actually turned out to be GOD turning a negative into a huge positive. I’m working on opening up a locally sourced, organic restaurant and my community service leads me to the man himself. So over the next few weeks we talk about a lot of things and become friends. I get done with my community service fully intending to keep going back and helping but my selfishness and self-indulgent unchristian life keeps me from doing it. In my head I’m thinking I’ll just holler at Michael when I need him, however I don’t end up needing him and my inability to connect and sustain relationships makes that not happen. I still work hard at sustaining relationships and not being self-centered, GOD has taken away a lot of it but I still need to get better.

About two months ago I’m walking my dog Juliet in the park and GOD puts it on my heart to call Michael out of nowhere. So I give him a call and he answers. We exchange small talk and he tells me about a couple things that are going on. I tell him I’m going to stop out at the school the following Saturday to catch up more. So I get out there around noon and we start talking. Out of nowhere he says, “ I heard about the work you’re doing with Paula”. I realize that he’s talking about the interior designer I’d been working with on EarthFood. I met Paula about three years ago after she gave an amazing presentation on indoor air quality. She knew everything about how to have a healthy indoor environment and my thoughts immediately told me that she would be perfect for EarthFood.The only problem was that it wasn’t GODS time to let this atheist get his idea off the ground and I spent the next couple years in frustration trying to get things going.

That was until about seven months ago (a month before I was saved) when a site became available that I couldn’t let slip by. At the time I couldn’t even believe it was real and even though things are still not in stone, I now know that it’s as clear of a blessing as you can get. I spent the next couple days scouring my phone for Paula’s information. I finally found it and gave her a call. We talked and things just felt really right. It wasn’t until I sent my testimony out to everyone in my contacts list (blindly, check the “all” button, everyone. There is no room in GODS kingdom for lukewarm as is made clear in REV 3:15) that I found out that she was a Christian. Since then GOD has made it clear to me that I needed to scale back my plans and I’m now working on opening EarthFood with the bare minimum of resources. GOD loves a something from nothing story (it gives him glory and He only wants glory or credit so that you’ll know it was Him and you start to trust Him with everything) and quick riches or easy money are almost always from the devil. So I had to tell Paula that once I have the place open for a bit and prove some numbers, I’d bring her in on the remodel. I also told her that I’d love to have her do our potentially combined new condo unit and she said she’d love to.

So back to the conversation with Michael, I’m at the point of disbelief that he’s mentioning Paula. I ask him how he knows Paula and he says “I’ve known her for years”. At this point I have tears welling up in my eyes, which happens every time GOD makes His work clear to me. He tells me that he talks to her a lot and they’ve discussed my project. The whole city of Chicago and my designer knows the best organic farmer in Chicago that I happen to do my community service with, while I’m working on an organic restaurant. After telling him about all this it hits me as it had all that week that I still need a volunteer to help me with the homeless program Tara and I set up and Tara named “Wash and Worship”. So I ask Michael to sit with me and I start to tell him my testimony as a precursor to asking him if he knew of anyone who could help me the following day. On one days notice I wasn’t very hopeful.

He was clearly moved by my testimony and as I started telling him about Wash and Worship this guy comes up behind us out of nowhere with two plates of chocolate chip cookies and asks us if we’d like any. I can’t remember if I told this story already but just in case let me rehash. I love chocolate chip cookies more than anything. About three months ago I’m two days into a fast that no one knows about and I have a meeting to close on another blessing in the form of a refinance of one of my restaurants when the two bankers start a half hour conversation about chocolate chip cookies. At first I’m annoyed but don’t say anything, then I’m painfully getting hungrier and hungrier and then I just start laughing as it becomes clear that GOD put it on the bankers heart to start talking about chocolate chip cookies to mess with me. YES THAT’S THE GOD THAT LOVES YOU AND IS BEGGING FOR A RELATIONSHIP WITH YOU! So then fast forward to how my heart fills up when this guy offers us chocolate chip cookies as I’m telling Michael about the work I’m doing for GOD. It’s strong reinforcement that I’m doing what He wants when He wants and anyone can have it if they’re ready to search for Jesus.

I tell him, I’ve never been afraid to talk or interact with homeless people. I’ve always treated them with respect while at the same time not really paying much attention to them or helping them. That was until I was saved. Something dramatically changed inside of me when I saw or thought of people in need or whom I could help. I can’t take credit for this any more than I can take credit for any of the stories in this blog; the Holy Spirit just changed my heart. The first few days I was just walking by them as usual but something just kept nagging at me to talk to them. The next thing I know I’m sitting on the sidewalk with them talking about life. Being the recipient of all the selfish, arrogant, self-righteous people’s stares the same as they get everyday. Except my stare is a little different in that mine includes a little “stop making me look bad and exposing my selfishness and blind eye, I want to keep acting like their not there” Then GOD puts it on my heart to start telling them my testimony. I realize right away that telling humble, broken, lonely, mostly alcoholics my testimony is much more impactful than telling arrogant, selfish, self serving, beautiful people, who are too afraid to let go of the lie they tell the world everyday about how great they are and how great their life is. That these homeless people are more free than the rest of us in that they don’t have to be prideful and put on a show everyday. That their heart is much more open and willing to admit their faults and turn themselves over to GOD.

So after a couple weeks of forming relationships with every homeless person I could find, a woman named Terry asks me if I’d take her to church. I jump at the chance and then my newly formed not for profit entrepreneur in me kicks in and I realize that there are probably others that need help in this way. So I print off some flyers and start recruiting. The plan is to hang out at the Laundromat, pay for their machines and detergent so that they can do their laundry on Saturday and remind them about church the next day. On Sunday we meet at 8:30am at the bus stop in front of my building and Tara and I (and Lawrence, who you’ll hear about in a bit) pay for day passes for the city bus so that we can all take the bus together to Willow Chicago. We then buy them lunch and go home on the bus together or they do errands with the day pass.

So I mention to Michael that I need a volunteer for Wash and Worship by the following day. He says he’ll see what he can do. Later that day as I’m at the Laundromat with Tara and our clients/friends who make up Wash and Worship I get a call from a guy named Lawrence. He says Michael told him about my need and that he’d do what ever I needed. He had a sense of purpose and commitment like I’d never heard on a first phone call and I’ve done a lot of hiring (not that I was hiring Lawrence or he is my employee in anyway) in my day at Culver’s. I said awesome and told him to meet me at the bus stop the next day.

Finding Lawrence was imperative to Wash and Worship. The weekend he showed up was the last weekend Tara and I were available to do it for two weeks and I needed to train someone and have him meet the men and women or the program would probably fall apart. This is another classic example of how GOD sometimes waits until the last minute to make things happen. As I’ve said he does this for two reasons. The first is to see if you’ll really trust him even when things look hopeless, the second is so that you’ll know it’s from Him, so that you will give Him credit and then know you can trust him In the future. I want to make clear our creator is not looking for human praise, credit or glory. He only looks for it to help us know how things get done so that we trust Him more. Lawrence has been helping for about a month now. He has been amazing and was the perfect fit. It even turns out that Lawrence was homeless himself for a spell. GOD is so amazing!

In addition to telling this story with the hope that all of you can continue to see and feel GODS cadence, I tell this story also so that the friends who have appeared to abandon me can still know what’s going on in my life. It pains me to no end that life long friends are not only not involved in this part of my life but also are not even talking to me. That something so fake to them (Jesus) could be so threatening. Especially when I thought it was fake, I went toward Christians out of empathy and sympathy for what I thought was a debilitating condition. Never once would I shy away from that topic and neither would they until now. Friends that would talk for hours about atheism and things that would tickle their ears. Friends that now say, “that topic doesn’t interest me” when the mere mention of GOD would have been endless fodder for mocking and discussion that would have given their fragile ego a boost. Friends that have let a couple emails and few discussions jeopardize a fifteen-year relationship. Friends that over our entire life together have claimed to be searching for truth, intelligence and progress. Friends that feel comfortable grilling another friend of mine in my absence on a car ride about her scientific knowledge in relationship to her belief in GOD but at the same time have put an aggressive moratorium on the same discussion with me. A small part of me would love to put their family members and loved ones to the same test. See if their mothers or girlfriends know how long it takes for the light from the sun to reach the Earth. See what the nontruth seekers they care about know about the supposed evidence behind evolution. Instead I’ll continue to pray for them intensely every night out of love and hope. The irony of it all is that as unsophisticated as that girl in their back seat may have seemed to them on the scientific front, she makes up for 1000 times in knowledge about the most powerful truth on this planet. A truth that gives her peace and comfort that their ego and insecurity may never let them understand. To think that it’s all potentially thrown away over truth.

I encourage all of you to read Proverbs. If it makes you more comfortable just skip over the references to GOD and sit back and gain divine wisdom and direction.

Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding (Proverbs 4:7)

A Christian!

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