A young lady came in and stopped in front of a display near the entrance. In the middle of a grouping of plaques, Psalm 23, was printed in elegant calligraphy on pale green parchment-style paper, with a beautiful, ornate frame. She stood there several minutes, then left. She returned a few minutes later, and stood there again for several minutes. I walked over to offer to help, and noticed her wipe away some tears. I asked if there was anything I could do to help. She turned her face toward me. She was stunningly beautiful, in spite of a long scar down her right cheek. With evident sorrow in her voice, she simply said, “no.” She stood before the Psalm for another minute or so, then left.
Then there was the young man who applied for a job (I’ll call him Joe). As I interviewed him, I pointed out that we sometimes had people who came in wanting to talk about the Lord. Sometimes they had questions. Sometimes they sought advice on a Bible. I asked if he felt he could answer those questions. He began asking questions himself. Before the interview was over, he had asked Jesus into his heart.
Dave (not his real name) was a teenager from Chicago. He was staying with his cousins. They attended the same church we did. Trish and I were working with the youth, and had met him there. Dave had a lot of hurts covered by a pretty tough shell. He came into the store one day and was looking through the records. [If you’re not familiar with records, they’re kind of like prehistoric cds.] He said, “There’s no Christian rock music that sounds as good as the stuff I listen to.” I gave him an album by the group “Resurrection Band” and challenged him to give it a listen.
Not long after that, I left that store for another job within the Love Shop company. A couple of years later I had the opportunity to buy that store and another. In the meantime, Shortly after returning, Joe’s parents came in. His mom said, “I’m so glad you’re back. I want to thank you for leading Joe to the Lord. He was so different after that. His attitude changed, his behavior changed. Now he’s in Bible college preparing for the ministry.”
Then she added, “Oh, and you remember Dave? Shortly after you gave him that record, he got word his dad had committed suicide. He was going to have to move. He was cleaning out his closet and found that album on the floor, unopened. He took it out and listened to it. One particular song really caught him and he listened to it over and over. Then he asked Jesus into his heart, and now he’s going to Bible college and is going to be a medical missionary!”
Before we bought the two stores, The Love Shop chain had been purchased by a group of investors in Ft. Worth. I was working in the corporate office when my boss told me the franchisees wanted to sell the store I had managed. He asked if I’d be interested. You bet I would. We looked into it. We looked at the financial statements. The stores showed a profit. I was young and naive. I didn’t know you could show a profit on paper, and still be totally insolvent. The corporate accountant for the home office told me, “If anyone can make them work, you can.” Turned out, no one could. We bought them by assuming the previous franchisee’s debt, and watched them crumble around us over the next 14 months.
I was pretty much crushed.
I had invested over five years into a concept I really believed in. I had seen lives touched, and people like Joe and Dave come to know the Lord through that ministry. In addition, I had visions of owning several Love Shops. I was going to be making enough money to start a ministry to street people – addicts and prostitutes. There were lots of street ministries around, leading people to the Lord. But no one was discipling them. The churches either didn’t know what to do with them, or didn’t want anything to do with them. We would give them a safe place to live away from the streets, pimps, and connections. We would provide discipleship, counseling, milieu therapy, job training.
This was a tough one to bounce back from. I had gone through a divorce shortly before beginning my journey with the shops. Since then, Trish & I were married and had three children. So, now we were experiencing another big loss, and we had children to care for. It was a tough time. I took a job as janitor at our church, and proceeded to rethink my life. This was the season when I’d drive down the road, see a dip sign, and felt like it was announcing my presence. It was also a season of soul searching, Bible study, and prayer. It was the beginning of my understanding that when our world is shaken, and everything we are holding onto crumbles, the eternal still stands. There is always One who never leaves us or forsakes us. He is faithful.