It's 6:01 on Friday morning, and I'm at my neighborhood Panera Bread in the heights of Redlands. These days I get up between 4:30 and 5:00 to make it here by the time the doors open. My Bible and C.S. Lewis' "The Problem of Pain" sit beside my cup of coffee.
There's a group of old men that beats me to the door every morning. (One of them drives a red PT Cruiser and dresses as if he'll be attending the Santa Anita horse races this afternoon. I wonder what he looks like without that hat on.) The men take up the two tables by the door and talk for hours on end.
Another old man sits by himself a few tables away and reads through his Coke-bottle glasses. He carries a manila folder with a big superman-like S drawn on the front. I'd like to know what's in that folder.
Then there's a quiet Asian woman whose hair is always pulled back into a ponytail and who reads her Bible and journals--and then slips out quietly around 6:45. Once or twice a week, six medical doctors convene at the big conference table in the middle of the restaurant. They eat bagels and talk about important stuff.
The classical music doesn't start playing until about 6:15, just about the time one of the Panera employees pulls the cafe umbrellas outside. But I don't think I've ever seen anyone sitting outside this early in the morning. It's too cold. Too dark.
Of all the Panera regulars, my two favorites are about to walk through the door: two Redlands High girls whom I became friends with in this corner of the restaurant last Monday morning. I wonder if any of the students at our school would, of their own volition, get up and go sit at a coffee shop at 6:30 in the morning?
The periwinkle sky has just caught my eye, and it looks like the midnight's lighthearted storm left behind some billowy remains. It's beautiful. Everything is wet and cloudy and peaceful. Just what my heart needs before my day full of responsibilities that far exceed my capabilities.
Which is why my favorite part of Panera is the part that's unseen and indescribable. Unbeknownst to everyone around me, there's someone else at my table with me. I walk in here every morning in desperate need of more than just coffee. (Although that's pretty important, too.) I need Him. His words. His truth. His hope. His wisdom. I need to lay my day before Him and ask Him for His strength and joy.
And He gives it in abundance. He's not stingy or aloof or grumpy. He's eager to accomplish His purposes in and through me--if I'll only let Him, ask Him, wait for Him to do just that.
I want to be a regular with Jesus. I want to know what He's like and what He's up to each day. I want to sit and observe and listen and learn. And then do. I want to go from here and obey what He's spoken to my heart.
Thank You, Lord, for this little corner. This healing place. This daily cup of joy...