Prodigal Magazine

Love In A Taco Shop

The first time as an adult that I felt like God actually loved me, I was eating tacos.

I wasn’t in a church, wasn’t fasting or praying. I wasn’t by the ocean, I wasn’t on a mission trip, I wasn’t pouring my heart out over bread and wine with a friend. I wasn’t listening to music, and I wasn’t expecting anything.

I was alone. In a taco shop.

This isn’t a love letter to guacamole and margaritas, although I could write that one, too. I want to talk about finding God in unexpected places.

When I think about my spiritual transformation in the past few years, I can only think of one or two times I’ve met God in church or a “traditional” Christian environment. Some of the people who have taught me the most about living in the fullness of freedom in Christ aren’t even Christians. And I think that fact says something, not only about God, but about the way many of us were raised to encounter Jesus.

I don’t remember being told this specifically, but I somehow absorbed the idea that there was a hard line between “spiritual” and “unspiritual” people, places, and things.

God was in church and at church camp every summer.

He was “in the heart” of every Christian, he was with missionaries in Africa, he was in the Bible, and he was with me when I was being obedient and diligent and good. I had God neatly segregated and constantly felt guilty for not spending more time being “spiritual” while fearing the influence of everyone I deemed “unspiritual.”

I don’t think I’m alone in this functional belief, either. It’s easy for all of us to get wrapped up in the actions of faith to the point we are merely acting rather than engaging with God. When we think God is primarily found in spiritual striving, we can’t hear the whispers of love and truth saturating this Kingdom He’s building.

The day I met God in that taco shop, I wasn’t doing anything special.

I had started being all-out honest with God a few weeks before, but hadn’t heard anything back yet. If I prayed at all that day, I’m sure it was nothing more than my raw and oft repeated request of that season: “God, I don’t even know if I believe, but please show up for me.” I sat at my usual table by the open garage door, stumped on the clue for 21 Across, and placidly watched the hipster bike commuters. I wasn’t expecting anything except some happy hour tacos and a decent run at the daily newspaper crossword puzzle.

But then, out of nowhere, God showed up for me.

I was overcome with a train-force presence of love and acceptance. Like most fleeing, powerful things, it is hard to describe, even to myself. But it lasted about three seconds, it nearly knocked me over, and I know it was God answering the honest prayer of a faith being rebuilt.

When I drive past that taco shop now, I always think about that deep knowing I felt on that very regular July day in 2010. I’m not anxious to recreate that moment, because God’s presence is always fresh and real and now, but I am grateful for a monument of sorts, right on my usual commute. If God showed up for me over tacos, he’ll do it again and I can hope rather than fear.

Maybe that’s why God met me in my own neighborhood:

So in my every day, I have a reminder of his love. When I don’t feel like I’m seen or I know God at all, I have a physical place of reference where I experienced it boldly.

I’m not saying you can’t genuinely experience God’s love in liturgy or a spiritual discipline. In fact, my encounters with God in unexpected, ordinary ways drive me to embrace the expanse of Christian practice and tradition all the more fully. Meeting God in unassuming places throws me into enthusiastic prayer, study, and fellowship.

I’m more alert for ordinary, untrained moments of connection and worship springing out of an open relationship with Jesus.

I’ve found God in a funny looking tree, in the slow, exuberant “yes” at the end of a tough yoga class, in simple acts of love and justice by people of all faiths, at recovery group meetings where rough people turn their over their wills, and in the miracle of a well-poached egg.

And I’m grateful.

I don’t think God is interested in us being “spiritual,” just for the sake of spirituality. I think he desires us to be our complete selves with Him. Spiritual transformation comes through continued encounters with an active, loving God, not obedience to a set of rules.

Besides, have you had tacos? They are seriously delicious evidence that God loves us.

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Speak up! If you grew up going to church, what messages were you told about where and how to find God? What’s the most unexpected way you’ve encountered Jesus and his love for you? What’s your favorite kind of taco?

About The Author

Emily Maynard is an outgoing introvert from Portland, Oregon. She likes Twitter, vegetables, fashion, Harry Potter, college students, and new information on anything. Emily is passionate about questioning, exploring, and growing alongside great friends. She's learning to speak up and loves watching people find their voices. She is not the Emily Maynard from The Bachelorette.

  • http://chriscornwell.org Chris Cornwell

    “When we think God is primarily found in spiritual striving, we can’t hear the whispers of love and truth saturating this Kingdom He’s building.”

    Wow.

    Excellent reminder that God tore down the walls of the church building a long time ago and His love abounds!

    • Emily_Maynard

       ”God tore down the walls of the church building a long time ago and His love abounds!”

      YES. Love that, Chris. Thank you for reading! Where have you found God outside of those walls?

  • http://www.cross-platform.org John Hanan

    I had a similar experience…geez, probably ten years ago.  I was in my room, lying in bed when the enormity of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross just hit me.  And even more overwhelming was the fact that He would have done it just for me.  I was completely blown away.  Even thinking back on it now, it’s hard not to be impressed by His love.  I had never before thought that God could show up like that as I was about to fall asleep, but since He did it’s kind of changed a lot of my perspective on Him.

    • Emily_Maynard

      Thank you for sharing, John. This is awesome. We need to tell stories of God showing up.

  • Joy

    I just loved everything about this post, Emily! Very well written, insightful, and thank you for brighteningy day. Could not have said it better, especially the love of tacos :-)

    • Emily_Maynard

       Thanks for reading, Joy!

  • Larry B

    Awesome post, Emily! I remember growing up in youth group and hearing about a friend who would hang out at parties that had beer (gasp) and rap music (shriek). Our reaction was, “What is he doing? Is he backsliding?”

    What a tragic irony that people who follow Jesus would say such a thing.

    • Emily_Maynard

       Larry, sometimes I still think this way. It’s not just kids in youth group! But I’m continuing to grow and trust in a Jesus who is bigger than backsliding and more faithful than anyone’s faithlessness. Thank you for reading!

  • http://christymcferren.com/ Christy McFerren

    Tacos + Jesus… what else is there?! Ha.. I’ve had a few moments like these. They are priceless and inexplicable. He’s so good to us!

    • Emily_Maynard

       He is good! Hope we get to meet over tacos someday. :)

  • http://twitter.com/shrekpdx Josh Schreck

    The best taco is a carnitas taco. Everyone knows that. 

    My most impactful encounter with God was walking by a beggar with no arms and no legs. Talk about “least of these”

    • Emily_Maynard

       I’m so grateful for all our good conversations over carnitas tacos, Josh!

      Wow, I want to hear more about that encounter. It sounds incredibly powerful!

  • Bonnie

    My friend Haley Cloyd shared this article on Facebook, and I’m so glad she did. It’s lovely!

    • Emily_Maynard

       Thanks for reading, Bonnie! I’m glad Haley shared it too, she’s lovely! :)

  • http://twitter.com/ashprettylady ashley santiago

    “Spiritual transformation comes through continued encounters with an active, loving God, not obedience to a set of rules.”

    amen. He is found in the unexpected. And that’s how it should be! Jesus taught at the temple occasionally, but he was encountered outside of it.

    • Emily_Maynard

       Great point about Jesus’s sphere of teaching and being, Ashley!

  • Jonny M

    Thank you for sharing your experience! It’s important to be reminded myself that I can’t compartmentalize my life in such a way. God is both an awful lot bigger and more personal than we typically give Him credit.

    • Emily_Maynard

      Thanks for commenting, Jonny! I hope you meet more of a very big God on that island you’re heading back to! He has protected you greatly already this summer.

  • Louise

    Loved this…gives me hope that I may have a similar experience one day and really feel like God loves me. I’ve been a Christian for 3 years now but it still all feels like intellectual knowledge. 

    • Emily_Maynard

       Hi Louise,

      I’ll pray that God shows up for you! Thank you for being honest about your lack of feeling God’s love. You are not alone in that!

      I get what you say about it feeling like intellectual knowledge. I want to encourage you that it still feels like that for me a lot of times. But it helped me once I realized that my relationship with God is like my other relationships: there’s ebb and flow, times of lots of connection and times of space. I press into the spaces where I do find God: in gratefulness, scripture, honest prayer, and the stories of others who have met God and follow him and hold the empty spaces with open hands.

      Faith, though, involves lots of FAITHFULNESS. It’s an verb more than a noun. Keep seeking God and asking him to show up. It may not look like it did for me, because God will be relating to you and your unique way of relating with him. 

      Thanks for hanging out here!

  • http://twitter.com/meltitus Melissa Titus

    My husband and I have discussed this a lot. We both grew up in church and were taught experiencing God and worshiping him are done through music. We both love music, but we experience and worship God through other ways and we have always felt guilty for not getting as into the worship music at church as we feel we “should”. The most unexpected place I have encountered Jesus is on an airplane. It was stuffed with passengers and noises and a baby crying, but I knew God was right there with me. He provided comfort for me at one of the most difficult times in my life in one of the most distracting places. I love how we can “be still and know” in the loudest places. My favorite taco is the soft chicken taco from a place called Fuzzy’s.

    • Johnathan Paul

      I’ve always been told that Church and Worship specifically is where we meet God or can experience him. Funny how that is not my reality. You can meet God and experience him at church and I have, but I have found God several times in conversations with non believers and believers alike. Maybe its something someone says or its just a moment where God shows up and I feel is presence in the conversation. Its probably why I enjoy talking to people so much because for me that’s where God shows up.

      Tacos aren’t my favorite dish but two things come to mind. 1) There is authentic mexican lunch/bakery place near my home and the tacos are not what we americans are used to and they are great! Also the baked goods are delish!! 2) It reminds me of the episode of The Office where Nelly (from UK) has never had a taco and Darrell buys her one and she doesn’t know how to eat it. Its crazy Hilarious!!!!

    • Emily_Maynard

       Ooooh, Melissa! I’m so glad you chimed in. This is awesome.

      I have friends who are very in tune with music and experience God in that way, but like you, sometimes singing in church isn’t where it’s at for me. I love your airplane story, and honestly, that’s where my spiritual transformation took a new direction, too. I love traveling but hate flying.

      How do you listen for God in the loud places? Any suggestions for how to do this practically? I’m always curious what this looks like for other people!

  • Melody B

    Nice post! I agree!! Love God….and tacos!
    First time I heard God’s voice for sure, it was a joke! I was driving along, praying and musing to God how funny a situation turned out. I said “Lord, You are pretty funny! You have a great sense of humor!” He said pretty distinctly….”Made you, didn’t I!”

    • Emily_Maynard

       Thanks for reading, Auntie!

  • http://chriscornwell.org Chris Cornwell

    Unfortunately, as of late I’ve been finding God and have been burdened when recognizing where God should be but isn’t. Not only in my own life, but in things around me.

    The beauty of grace is that when I recognize where God may be missing in my life, His Spirit is gently whispering, “see. Thank you for letting me show you and teach you.”

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  • http://twitter.com/diana_dawn Diana Palka

    Thank you SO much for sharing this article.

    These types are moment are fleeing, just as you said it. And they are few and far between. But when we encounter God in these powerful and unexpected ways– man, His presence alone quiets us with.

    God has blessed you with a gift, girl. I pray you always stay in a place where He can speak to and through you.

    • Emily_Maynard

      Thank you so much for your encouraging words, Diana!

  • http://www.transparencymag.com/ Kevin Howell

    I love these type of experiences. Always bring tears to my eyes, and give me a feeling that can’t be explained. So cool that God loves us enough to give these subtle, personal embraces.

    • Emily_Maynard

      Thank you, Kevin. We are very much loved. :)

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  • http://twitter.com/lauren_hardy Lauren Hardy

    Emily,

    In high school, I struggled with severe anxiety attacks. The pastor at our church would always talk about surrendering to God, but no matter how hard I thought I tried, I didn’t feel any different for the longest time. I ended up meeting/surrendering to God in the middle of reading a book.

    You’re right, God often shows up when and where we least expect it. That’s part of the beauty of life: we never know where we’ll find him next. That’s why we have to keep our eyes open.

    Lauren

  • http://www.songbird31.blogspot.com/ Lindsey Lou

    I know this article is from a nearly a year ago, but it reminds of an incident that happened probably close to 10 years ago. I was hanging out with my brothers and one of their friends, playing board games, when the friend had to use the toilet. We all took our turns in the game, and then waited for a what seemed a long time for him to come back and play his turn. When he finally did come back, he had tears in his eyes. He explained that while he was sitting on the toilet God has revealed to him how love he is, and how deep God’s love for him is.
    So yes, God shows up in some pretty humorous and unexpected ways!!

  • Lungleng

    “..I had started being all-out honest with God a few weeks before, but hadn’t heard anything back yet”…. I love this statement. God is everywhere, however our sincerity and honesty with God is something admirable. And our conscious effort in letting him ‘in’ in us is inevitible.

  • Flower Patch Farmgirl

    I really love this. You speak my language. (About God and tacos.)

  • bakerds

    The most unexpected Jesus moment I have had was in the women’s restroom of a casino in Freeport, Grand Bahamas. Yes, I was in a den of iniquity and feeling more than a little guilty about it, though my gambling was very light (I bet $5, won $20, and stopped). At one point in the evening, I even had that proverbial question pop up — “Is this really where I want to be if Jesus choses this moment to rapture his Church?” Sheesh. Little did I know that Jesus was visiting the casino that night, too, in the faith and joy of a bathroom hostess who sat on her little stool by the sink, passing out hand towels and singing “Oh How I Love Jesus” in a soft, soothing way. And more than that, she was ready with the reason for her joy. While I was busy doing what women do behind the closed stall door, I overhead her making conversation with another local, and though it took me just a moment to wrap my mind around their accent, the message was clear. A simple bathroom attendant in the middle of a casino was sharing the Gospel with a tearful woman, and in fact, that woman was praying the sinner’s prayer! Glory! I’m pretty excited by this time, trying to pull up panty hose and get out to where it was all happening, because I heard the messenger ask her new Christ-sister if she had a Bible at home. The sweet, tearful young woman said no, because her family were Buddhist. Now I knew why I was there, because in a bathroom in a casino, someone needed the Bible I had in my purse. I’m not even sure they knew I was there until I busted out of that stall like a crazy woman, with a Bible that I had with me even in a casino, because that’s how I roll. Or, more truly, that’s how God rolls, making sure that people hear his voice, even in the most unlikely places. peace…

  • jsem_cristiano

    Where is this Taco Shop? I love Tacos and Jesus too haha