Elizabeth Greene (Koppa )
We Were Beautiful
We had decided it was best to meet every Saturday night in the girls’ apartment upstairs. There were six of them renting the top floor, and six boys on the floor beneath them. They were a strange bunch, all huddling together in the middle of the coastal college town. Isla Vista was the ideal place to party; it was lined with beaches you could walk to, board-shorts and bikinis, more beer than you could dream about, and some twenty thousand students all just looking for a good time. Every house was a party. People were known to travel from miles around, just to walk the main strip and drink themselves from one keg to the next, stopping occasionally to observe some live music or a fight breaking out by the curbside. It was a medley of immorality in the disguise of higher learning, a mess of twisted teens and twenty-somethings shoved into a square mile of bicycles, brand names, and burrito joints. Local teenagers, thrilled by the rebellion, would come into the city on the weekends to waste themselves in the festivities. We came there to pray.
It was Jacob’s idea. He was the dreamer. Of course it wasn’t really a new idea at all, but it was new to us and full of excitement and pregnant with possibility. At first he didn’t really have much to offer; none of us did. I mean as far as “stuff” goes, money and resources and fancy cars and things. Jacob was barely scrapping enough cash to afford a one-bedroom apartment in some guy’s attic and keep a quarter tank in his sputtering geo-metro. And Jacob had two kids. Mostly that was how it went with all of us, except for the kids part. We were bound together by two commonalities: we were Christians, and we were poor (or whatever “poor” really means in suburban America).
To be honest, that was pretty much all we had in common. I don’t think I’ve ever met a more eclectic bunch in my whole life. We were students and surfers and losers. We were teachers and waiters and politicians. We were engineers and visionaries and dropouts, artists and prophets and letdowns. We were beautiful.
We were a bunch of untamed hooligans who had found something worth fighting for. Hope. Love. Justice. Grace. We had something to believe in together. So we decided to sit for a couple hours in the girls’ apartment on Saturday’s and pray. It was not in judgment that we felt compelled to make a difference in the city, but in compassion. After all, most of us had just recently found our way out of the party scene. We knew why they were out there; we were just like them, wandering around searching for something to satisfy, something to hope in, someone to love us. So we sat upstairs and kid named Chase would play guitar for a little while and we would stutter through some sort of primitive dialogue with God, trying our best not to be distracted by the neighbors blasting “Thriller” from their balcony. We would pray and pray and pray. Sometimes we would shout and scream and plead with God. Other times we would sing and dance and the girls might cry into the carpet. And every week midnight would roll around and we would find ourselves amidst the same pain, the same sin, and the same disappointment in the faces of people walking up and down that street. And we decided that maybe praying wasn’t enough. Maybe it was time to be the answer to our own prayers. We knew what we had to do. We had to make hamburgers.
It was brilliant.
We would pray and make hamburgers and tell people about Jesus. Soon the belligerent masses were lining up in our driveway, ready to receive. By the end of the second year they came with expectancy, some eager for the burgers and others merely for the conversation. The grill became the perfect platform. Of course it was always about something bigger than burgers; it was a way out. It was holding back the hair of the girl choking on her own vomit in our front yard. It was pulling a warm blanket over the boy that was passed out on our living room couch. It was driving home the girl on the street-corner because if we didn’t she’d end up in a stranger’s bedroom. It was feeding the hungry, nursing the sick back to health, and protecting the weak from schemes of the strong. It was kneeling down to serve a community. With every burger that was flipped and smothered with ketchup and mustard and handed off in the driveway, we were finally learning how to be Christians.