Rick Warren, The Circus Tent, & My Imaginary Friend

I remember when my dad first told me about his friend Rick who started this really cool church that met in a tent.
At that point I was a wide eyed brown kid with a Gary Coleman afro parted down the left side.  Maybe 7?
I remember the look in my dad’s eyes as he talked about you guys.
It was a look of pride.
Not the bad kind…The good kind.
The kind that says…”Look at that guy.  Can you believe it?  Wow.” That Look.
He would talk about you often.
Even when we were living in Atlanta you guys were always in conversations around our house.
I almost felt like…”Why does my dad talk about Rick like they are best friends when I’ve never even met this Rick man?”
When I was 13 an we were in So Cal for Christmas my dad said…
“Carlitos. ¿Quieres ir a la iglesia de Rick mañana?”
I responded…”You mean your imaginary friend’s church? YES!!!”
He muttered something in Spanish and simply smiled.

I think maybe it was a prayer for my teenage salvation.
We walked into the tent. And it was a tent, no qualms about it…
There was Muchow, shaking his arms and jumping around.
I was like… This place is NOTHING like anything I’d seen before.
We sat down in those plastic chairs and I watched as you walked up on stage.
From the second I saw my dad’s imaginary friend, you had this look of joy on your face.
Joy seems like such a small word for what my 13 year old mind recognized.
It was a countenance of overwhelming glee.
You preached…I payed attention to a sermon for the first time in my entire life…and half way through the sermon I looked over at my dad’s face and there it was again…
That look.
That look of pride.
After the service we were walking out of the building…
“Dad? Are you gonna say hi to Rick?”
“Oh son. Rick is a very important man. He has another sermon to preach and lots of people to attend to.”
I shrugged my shoulders and we walked towards the circus tent doors…
It was that voice.
The one filled with unrestricted glee.
We turned around and you were almost running towards him.
“Fermin. Hello my dear friend.” you said to him.
And you hugged him like a friend.
Full force cheek to cheek.
Then you looked at me and said, and I remember clear as day…
“Carlos. Carlos right? Or are you Eddie?”
“Um. I’m Carlos sir”
“Carlos. Your father. This man next to me. He is a good man. He is a very good man and a dear man. You listen to him ok? Do what he says. And then convince him to move back to California so you can be a part of Saddleback.”
You laughed a deep laugh and hugged us all before sprinting back to where you were obviously supposed to be.
Rick Warren…
From that moment to this moment you have been nothing but Jesus to me and my family.
Every time you see me you tell me to come be a part of your church.
Every time you see me you give me a bear hug.

And every time I see you I remember the look on my dad’s face as we walked away from that Sunday circus tent…
It was a look that only touching something or someone near Jesus can produce.
And that someone was you.
Be brave my friend…
Cause when I talk about you to my kids now…
I have that same look on my face…