Eight people who had never met, from different states, careers, and storylines gathered around a common table.
When I first walked into the banquet hall of the Wyndham Grand in downtown Pittsburgh, I wandered through the mass of strangers feeling disoriented and out of place until I spotted my favorite number.
To many the number thirteen represents an unlucky number. The hotel we're staying in doesn't even have a thirteenth floor. But I have knowledge that goes beyond superstition.
A hijacking occurred in history. The most holy of numbers, the number of the tribes of Israel and their God, the number of the disciples and Jesus, was tainted by a Friday slaughter of Knight's Templar, single-handedly smearing them from the earth and mocking their belief by killing them on the sacred number of thirteen.
And so I embrace that number. The room begin to fill as others avoided table thirteen. I sat there, tattoos and earrings visible, watching the other tables fill.
But slowly, one by one, the chairs around table thirteen began to be filled as others who came alone sought a place to sit. From our commonality of aloneness, we formed community.
This is our story. We are unlikely characters who find that we share the narrative. We follow the same carpenter. We've all walked paths that have taught hard lessons. We've all experienced suffering, disappointment, and we've enountered hope.
We've looked despair in the eyes and fiercely embraced it. We've carried grief and layed it at the feet of the One who has suffered for us. We find hope in the love of a God that suffers with us.
We love because He first love us. We offer life because He gave us life. We can provide hope because He is with us now. We look those in the face who mourn, who grieve, who rage... and we do not shy from their torment.
We take it on, and we carry it to thr feet of Jesus. He is the One that took on our suffering, and made a way to hope.
This is our story. We are Stephen Ministers. We are table thirteen.