As soon as I stepped through the door, I hated the place. The interior was almost as dirty as the exterior, and the place smelled of bacon and old grease… or maybe it was bacon IN old grease.
I followed my new friend Mike through the diner past several tables covered in plastic gingham and dirty dishes. He spoke to an old lady wearing an apron and a chubby cook behind the counter, and they both greeted him. Finally, we settled into a corner table at the back of the small dining room… would you call this place a dining room?
Two men were already seated at the table when we slid into the book. Mike introduced me and told me their names were Fred and Henry… or was it Ed? No, I think it was Fred. The older of the two men – Henry – immediately asked Mike about his new job, which is where I had met him. Mike started working in our department just a few weeks ago. It was exciting to learn that Mike was a Christian, and even more exciting when he went to church with me last Sunday.
Then, he invited me here. Who has ever heard of going to church in a greasy spoon at 6:30 a.m. on Tuesday mornings? But, I kinda felt like I owed it to Mike, since he came to my church. He and his family even invited us to lunch after the Sunday morning worship service. We declined, of course, but I still felt like I owed it to him to go to church with him. I was praying that Mike would see how great our church was and start coming with us regularly.
Mike was telling Ed/Fred and Henry about working in our department. I was half listening while cleaning off my silverware with a napkin, which seemed clean enough. The older lady, who turned out to be the only waitress in the place, brought the other three guys coffee, each one fixed differently, and asked me what I would like to drink. I noticed she had a name tag that read “Mildred.”
After she headed back to the coffee pot to get my order, I heard Mike saying that he had prayed with Trish.
“Wait,” I interrupted, “You prayed with Trish, our boss?” I was listening carefully now.
“Yeah,” Mike said. “She’s going through some tough things in her family.”
“Did you know she’s an atheist?” I asked.
“She told me that,” Mike answered. “But I asked her if I could pray for her, and she said, ‘Yes’.”
Before I could say anything else, a big guy burst through the front door. “Hellooooo, Mil,” he said much too loudly for this little place. He hugged the waitress and spun her around. He called out to the man behind the counter, who grinned and waved back. “Jim, I’m gonna have to sing this morning. But, I’ll try to keep it short.” The cook nodded and turned back to his grill.
“Oh God,” I thought, “Don’t let him come to this table.” I already didn’t like this man. He was so loud and impolite.
But, of course, he came to our table. Each of the other men stood and hugged the big guy, then Mike introduced him to me as Walt. I quickly stuck out my hand, and Walt shook it enthusiastically.
As we sat back down, I was suddenly stunned to hear a burly, deep, off-key voice beginning to bellow “Amazing Grace.” I looked up, and Walt was singing, if you can call it singing. The others guys were all smiling, but I was trying to sink back into the bench. People were staring, especially a man in a suit at a nearby table. I felt so embarrassed.
The other three guys at our table (including Mike), joined Walt in singing the last few lines of the song. The guy in the suit started a slow, sarcastic clap in response. He started laughing, and I turned even redder.
“I’m sorry that I bothered you,” Walt said… and he seemed sincere. “I won’t sing again.”
“That’s good,” the man said.
“Walt just got some incredible news,” Henry said to the man. “He and his wife separate just over a year ago, and she filed for divorce last month. Yesterday, she dropped the divorce, and wants to work it out. Walt just wants to praise Jesus for that.”
“Well, I’m glad it worked for you,” the man said looking toward Walt. “All of us aren’t that lucky. I guess Jesus didn’t want me to stay married.” The man turned back to his coffee and newspaper.
“Boys, nature is calling,” Walt said, still a little too loud for my liking. “Time to visit the little boys’ room.” He walked through a door beside the counter while the other three men picked up their small talk.
I was beginning to wonder if Mildred was going to take our food order when Walt came back into the dining room. He paused beside the man in the suit and asked him if he could sit with him for a moment. The other men didn’t seem to notice and continued talking about families and work and friends and Jesus.
I sat there for several minutes, fidgeting in my seat. “So,” I asked finally, “When does church start?”