IOU, Steve Proffitt

I’ve been putting off writing this for a while, and the increased cognitive load and knock-on delays are forcing my hand. I can either write it, or forget it altogether, and I think it’s too important to future-me so here we go.

Back of the program for Steve’s funeral

One evening, during my second semester of college, I was walking west to east on the north side of campus. For those of you who are familiar with MSU, you can imagine me passing by Hammons Hall for the Performing Arts and thinking about the nights I had played there in the symphony, and approaching Scholars Hall where someone I cared about deeply lived… but she was in the process of ending our friendship and I was feeling lonely and sad. On that night, I had no one to call or spend time with, no one to commiserate with me, and I prayed to God.

Please God, I need some Christian friends. I need a community. I’m desperate, Lord.

And then I decided that I needed a cup of coffee. I could turn around and head downtown to the Mudhouse, but I recalled that there was a coffee shop just east of campus that I had never visited. I’d pop in there and get something, then continue my walk of angst.

I crossed National Ave., climbed the three stairs to the porch of The Potter’s House, and approached the counter, which back then was left of the door but parallel to it so you faced the back of the shop when ordering. I placed an order, perused the corkboard to the right of the register filled with advertisements for roommates and barbers and whatnot, and then accepted my sugary frappe thing while handing over my credit card.

“Oh, sorry, we’re cash only. No cards,” said the person behind the register, or something to that effect. But I already had my drink, and I was suddenly overwhelmed by shame. I probably blushed, and I stammered out that I could run across the street and get some cash from the ATM. Here I was, screwing everything up again, just like I had been all year.

“Nah, don’t worry about it,” said Steve. “We’ll just write you an IOU. What’s your name?”

My brain shut down about then. “An IOU? What do you mean?”

He held up a small piece of paper and told me that they’d just write my name and order on there and put it on the board, and next time I came in I could pay them back.

“How can you run a business with paper IOUs?” I asked, dumbfounded and somewhat stupid. My brain had already been wrestling with anxiety, depression, loneliness, exhaustion, and unrequited desire. This concept was apparently too much for me to accept.

“We’re a Christian coffee shop,” Steve told me. “So we choose to believe in people, and I believe in you and that you’ll pay us back. So don’t worry about it, take the drink,” he said with a smile.

I did, and awkwardly thanked him, and sat down in the next room stunned. I was trying to process this, which in retrospect seems so minor, but at the time it blew my mind.

And then a fellow named Ben came up and introduced himself. He said I looked like someone who could use some friends, and he convinced me to stand up and he took me around the entire coffee shop introducing me to people and playing icebreaker games with us. Before the night was over, I had friends. Within a month, I was working at PoHo every night I could. Steve, who ran the Potter’s House with his wife Berna, led a Bible study that I joined.

It was at Potter’s House that I met friends who convinced me to share my life story with them, with the promise that if I revealed the real me and told them about my past, they wouldn’t abandon me like I feared. And subsequently, I was invited to share my testimony at Mars Hill, the Sunday-morning service led by people from the Potter’s House.

PoHo became my church and I met so many wonderful people there. I have been saved by a few different people and groups over the years: the friendships of Cody, Brooke, and Ginger; Speech & Debate; the Carters who helped lead me to Christ… and my freshman year of college, PoHo came to my rescue.

I learned what sin was from Steve. I had converted to Christianity without fully understanding it, and he taught me about having a right relationship with God and what it means when we rebel. I learned patience and kindness from Steve. He modeled believing in people in a way that young, cynical Matthew struggled to understand.

At his funeral a few weeks ago, Samson shared a message that had me weeping. I felt like he had grabbed me on either side of my face and forced me to look straight at Jesus and see how much He loves us, and Samson reminded me how well Steve Proffitt showed us the love of Jesus. He was never in a rush to end a conversation, he always asked how we were and actually cared, and he remembered us. He remembered me.

I wept less because of losing Steve and more because of how thankful I was to have had the opportunity to know him. I am thankful that I had such a good example of how to follow God and be a good person. I want to be more like Steve.

Reflecting on that over the last few weeks has led me to make a few life changes already, and I want to keep pressing into that. I want to experience God’s love and help other people to experience it in the same way that Steve did. IOU, Steve.

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