My Valentine’s Day reservations were a little late. The plan was to surprise my sweetheart with dinner at Vivian’s Kitchen at The Bristol Hotel, but, when I called, I heard the disappointing news that there was nothing available for dinner, on Feb. 14. So I decided to surprise Sammie with Valentine’s Day lunch instead. No problem with middle of the day, so we arrived at our appointed time of 12:30 p.m. and quickly learned that reservations were not required for that time of day. In the two main rooms of the restaurant only two tables were occupied. We chose a table by the window, and it just happened to be next to another retired couple.
As we took our seats, I spoke to the couple, “Oh, I didn’t know y’all were going to be here today.” I had never seen them before in my life.
Not missing a beat one of them responded, “We didn’t know you were coming today either.”
Sammie leaned toward me and whispered, “Do you know those folks?”
“Nope. At least I don’t think so. Maybe we have seen them somewhere before.”
They had ordered already, and we placed our order soon. As we ate and celebrated Valentine’s Day, we carried on quiet conversations, separately, and tried not to eavesdrop or be overheard by the others. Except for our server, we were still the only two parties in the room.
As we finished our meals, I turned to them and addressed the “elephant in the room” by asking the standard question, “Where y’all from?”
“Oh, we live in Kingsport. We love to drive over and eat. This is our favorite place, and this is the only time of day it’s not crowded.”
So they were sort of locals. Maybe I had seen them or even met them before in Bristol or Kingsport. Nope. They quickly answered that unasked question. “We moved here about a year ago from California.”
We soon learned that Tom and Gail had retired and wanted to be out of California and closer to their sons in Virginia and North Carolina. They had investigated their options and fell in love with Tennessee, especially the mountains of East Tennessee...and for the next hour we talked about things some folks think you shouldn’t talk about: politics and religion. We also talked about Dollywood and encouraged them to take their grandchildren there on a Sunday and get there in time for the church service.
Tom shared some about his experience in a career as a trooper in the California Highway Patrol, and we told them of our lives at King University for Sammie and my having retired as pastor of Woodlawn Baptist Church and then chaplain at Bristol Regional Medical Center. Then how we had filled in at Mountain City Presbyterian Church as they ended up calling me as part-time pastor because they loved Sammie so much and were willing to put up with me.
Tom’s father was a preacher so we were able to offer our sympathy to a P.K., but mostly we talked about or shared faith in a loving God. Since I was going to a doctor’s appointment that afternoon, Sammie shared with them that I had been having problems with my back...and hip...and knee, and the rest of my leg. They were so sympathetic and as we all got up from our tables to leave, Gail suggested that Tom pray for me. We then held hands - right there in the restaurant - and prayed. Gail said we would have probably been asked to leave, had we been in California. But we were in Virginia - almost in Tennessee - and were leaving anyway.
Isn’t it amazing how, if our eyes and ears are open, we can meet people we don’t know but who are members of the same family who have the same Father. We go to a small church, they go to a church with lots of members, but we’re part of the same family. We’re brothers and sisters in Christ.
Thanks again brother and sister in Christ for the strong prayer and for the love and empathy.
--Steve Playl, firstname.lastname@example.org
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