I'll never forget the first time I was introduced to Panera Bread. It was Wednesday, November 15th, 2006. That morning, tragedy struck our church and Christian School family. One of our students, Grant Zeinert, a 16-year old sophomore at the time, was found dead in his room. He was an accidental casualty of the choking game, or some form of it.
It was an incredibly rough morning. In the driveway outside his house, I huddled with several of his friends & various adults, and we just cried. We stood there speechless at times just crying. Other moments we hugged, and then we circled up and prayed. We prayed a bunch from what I remember that morning. It seemed to help the time pass.
After a few hours, I was able to go in the house and see Grant's mom, Paige. There's really no words to describe the storm of emotions tossing around inside her...her husband Randy was actually being located in a remote section of Idaho at the time, and a close family friend sent a chartered jet to retrieve him immediately.
A couple men and I went up into Grant's room, and that was an experience. Of course the police, firemen, doctors, etc. had already been there...but simply to hover in a space where he had just been--gently examine various parts of his room, desperately hoping to find some kind of lead or answer as to why this all happened, ya know...what motivated this whole event. We didn't find much. I do remember looking into the closet though, and my heart just sank. A part of me is still up there in that room, looking for the young man I had the privilege of baptizing just a few short months before @ Harding Uplift.
Lunch was where things took an interesting turn. I met several of his classmates, some of which were in our youth group @ Panera Bread, and I'll be honest, I didn't know what to expect. I guess I was always working under the impression that this was just another cousin of my arch-nemesis of restaurants--La Madeline, Cafe Express, etc. Boy was I wrong.
I devoured one of their zesty sandwiches and treated myself to a Cinnamon Crunch Bagel for dessert. I was stuffed but oh so satisfied. And yet sometime during the feast one of the students explained to me why they had chosen Panera for lunch on this horrible day. They told me that this was Grant's favorite place in all the world--and that we showed him honor by eating here on the day of his death. And ya know...Panera Bread has meant a whole lot to me since that day.
Every Friday my wife and I have a date day...it is truly wonderful. We begin by dropping our amazing daughter off at pre-school, which sort of serves as the best free babysitting we could ever hope for. We then head to an incredible place for our breakfast, and yes, you're brain might be predicting it...it's Panera Bread. We pig out on Cinnamon Crunch bagels, mess around on their wi-fi, and have a grand 'ole time. We conclude the day with an early movie at AMC Willowbrook for only $5 a ticket--nice! (sometimes we snag lunch after that, depending on the cravings)
I blog about all this to say that every time I step foot in a Panera Bread, I feel at peace. I feel a home. I feel like someone who I treasured, someone who has departed me now to go begin with God, is close to me. I believe I can just sit forever in one of these booths, and just eat, type, drink aqua or Dew, and on and on...
Grant, I miss you everyday, buddy. I promise to remember you everyday for the rest of my life. Thanks for showing me something of God's heart during your years here on this earth. I will see you again...but not yet. Not yet.