Thank you, Pastor, for showing me what is real

Dear Bebs:

A wise Jesuit in grad school once taught me the difference between the true and the real.

Truth, he said, is verifiable; it is supported by empirical data that cannot be refuted. The sky is blue — true. The earth is round — despite the small cult of naysayers, true. Death is inevitable for every living thing on our little planet — existentially and unquestionably true.

What is real, however, is vastly different.

I am a church girl through and through, raised in Sunday School,youth service, and ministry. I know the language by heart and was educated about theology by men who stood on a pulpit every week. They taught me verses and parables. They schooled me on the etymology of various Greek words in the Bible. And they were good men, don’t get me wrong, but they did not know my name.

It took a long and complex spiritual journey for me to realize that I was not looking for knowledge. No, my soul was looking instead to be known. I was looking for life and blood and breath and heartache. I was looking for the real.

That wise Jesuit told me that you know something is real because it affects you, because it leaves a mark on who you are.

And now that I know that, no other word can really quite cut it. Because for the last 5 years you have been a very real force in my life. From being invited over for dinner at your home (and partaking of your world class chili!) to those group drives to the beach to t-shirt packing til midnight for Walkway to random movie nights and, of course, some good wine afterwards. Yes, these moments have colored the bulk of my late 20’s.

I have seen how profound and life-changing it is to be known. To not just be a face in the crowd or a name that barely registers at the tip of one’s tongue. I have seen the good that comes from coexisting together even after the service is over. To walk together through the mundane and the sorrowful; to feel safe enough to wrestle with the never-ending grays that come with being human.

It looks a lot like Jesus.

You have taught me that the most sacred act we can participate in is to show up for each other. That we cannot divorce love from presence. That even our most grandiose of ideas will never be as redemptive as sharing a meal or telling a story or giving every person a seat at the table.

Those coffee shop moments, the group dinners after church, that time you came to my book launch — those tell me something extraordinarily real about the heart of God. He is better than a concept. He is humility, midnight laughter, the infinite stars dotting a velvet night sky across a quiet beach, the tears of the broken, all things bright and beautiful... and then some.

You wonder so frequently about your place in the world and if what you do even matters. So let me say this:

If you asked me what the gospel story was 5 years ago, I would’ve given you a formula. But today I will tell you that it can be found at the heart of that holy and beautiful thing we call friendship.

What you’ve given me, what you’ve given us, is something so profoundly real — a place to belong. The beginnings of heaven but I’d like to call it home.

And that, dear Bebs, is no small thing.

Thank you doesn’t seem like enough but it’s all I’ve got for now.

Thank you for seeing the fullness of me, not as a mere number but as a person with hopes and failings and, most of all, a story to tell. Thank you for every chance you’ve given me to leverage who I am in (and outside of) church — it has been an ongoing education in courage. Thank you for empowering all our dreams, both small and big; we can live knowing that whether we dare to follow our hearts or not, whether we fail or fly, we most certainly never have to walk the road alone.

You have left a mark on who I am. And that, dear Bebs, is everything.

*Written by Isa Garcia, author of Found: Letters on Love, Life, and God for Bebo Bharwani, pastor of Church Simplified