Guest Post by:
Amanda's husband and webmaster of My Own Unexpected Journey
As a Christian, it’s always been difficult for me to put convincingly into words why I have faith in God.
It’s difficult to explain how I can believe in the death and resurrection of Christ. Why I believe that Christ’s blood paid for our salvation. Why I believe that the Holy Spirit is real and not some fairy tale. Faith is such an abstract. Yet to the faithful, the truly faithful, it means so much more.
Now, do I say this to somehow downplay the faith I have? Not at all. My faith is absolute and I am very secure in it. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s difficult to explain that faith to someone who is either unable or unwilling to reconcile their interpretation of worldly scientific and anecdotal evidence with my own abundant and unwavering certainty of our Creator and His goodness.
But once in a while, every now and again, God gives us a story to tell. A story that demonstrates His perfect plan and His love. Recently, I allowed myself to listen to His still, quiet voice on my heart when it unexpectedly came.
Here is that story…
Last Friday (8/19/2016) I had some errands to run at three different stores locally. After finishing up at Walmart I had to drive PAST County Market (Stop 3) to get to Aldi (Stop 2.) It needed to be in that order to make sure the perishables didn’t go bad, etc.
As I drove from Walmart to Aldi, I saw two (most likely homeless, I thought at the time) guys sitting by the County Market sign. It was tough to tell their ages, but I guessed that they looked to be in their 20s/30s. One was African American and had a dog sitting with him and a large traveling pack. The other was a tall and very skinny White guy with dreadlocks. He had a very loose fitting tanktop on and I was able to see what I very quickly identified as “leads” from an Echocardiogram machine that he had failed to remove. Most likely from just minutes or hours earlier, I figured. Putting two and two together, it seemed that this person had very recently been hospitalized.
I saw a bystander walk up to the skinny man (who was just sort of wandering aimlessly around the parking lot, which was a bit unsettling) and give him something, and the skinny man seemed very appreciative and shook his hand. The bystander continued to talk to him for a moment as my light turned green and I continued to Aldi. The whole time I was driving to/shopping at Aldi I couldn’t stop thinking about those two guys. I knew that shortly I would be parking in that very lot when I headed back to County Market.
When I pulled into the County Market lot, I didn’t see them there any longer and almost immediately I felt a sense of guilt over not having stopped on the way TO Aldi to go and… Talk to them, I suppose? Help them? Pray for them? I wasn’t sure what God wanted of me, but I knew it was… Something.
But as I walked into County Market I looked to the far end of the store parking lot and saw the skinny man sitting at a picnic table with the dog, a jug of Sunny-D and a bottle in a brown paper bag.
“Go talk to him. Tell him that I love him.”
No, I am not suggesting that I heard God’s voice audibly coming out of a burning bush or the trash can outside of the grocery store. But I am absolutely stating that in that moment those exact words were imprinted on my heart.
There have been times in my life I’ve felt God putting things on my heart in an immediate sense like this. At times, I’ve listened to that call. At times, I’ve been selfish and ignored it. I’ve come to know what these “moments” feel like. I have seen the blessings that can come from listening and obeying, as well as the guilt and repercussions that come from ignoring and rebelling.
This was without any doubt one of those moments.
However, introducing myself to a perfect stranger who is very likely drunk, has recently been hospitalized for something, has a very distinct outward appearance and is sitting alone at a picnic table with a random dog at his feet is NOT typically one of those things that I just do on a Friday afternoon. Regardless, I felt convicted to do so.
As I walked past the pillar next to the picnic table that was largely obstructing he and I from each others view, my nervousness turned into sheer terror as I saw him up close. He had several facial tattoos, and I’m not necessarily talking the weird but mostly just funny Mike Tyson variety. But symbolic “all seeing eye” Illuminati-type stuff that caught me off guard and frankly scared me. His arms had the Anarchy symbol all over and a bunch of other symbolism that I’d never even seen before.
He turned around and saw me and I just sort of said… “Hi.” To which he replied in kind.
Around that time his friend, who had been out of view, started walking over towards us when…
“NO WAY! DUDE!!!” – the tall skinny man yelled as I basically turned into a deer in headlights.
Now before I go on…
Let me go backwards a couple hours to when I was getting dressed to go on errands for a bit of context.
We’re still in the process of unpacking (Ugh…) from our recent move, and so all of my shirts that I infrequently wear are just sort of sitting in one giant jumble in our closet. Another embarrassing, yet relevant little tidbit is that I’ve gained a bit of weight recently due to a new pain medication my doctor and I are trying to help with some of my chronic issues. So a lot of my shirts that weren’t “bulky” on me before are, um, a bit snug.
But even though all I was doing today was going to a few stores I said to myself what the heck, how about today I wear a fun shirt that I barely ever wear. 99.9% of the time I just choose whatever is clean and most comfortable.
(My wife will vouch for this!)
But today I chose my totally awesome retro Doctor Who shirt that has a graphic of an old Doctor Who comic book featuring the Daleks on it. Despite it being pretty tight. Which, remember, I honestly almost never do.
Back to our story…
“AWESOME SHIRT! Hah! Daleks! Dude, check this out… See my knuckles?” the suddenly manic level hyper man blurted out.
He makes a fist and points it at me. The first and second knuckle on his right hand spell out, letter by letter:
A very well known famous Doctor Who plot line and phrase. I let out a smile at such a clever tribute.
“Hey James, check out this guys shirt! It’s the Daleks!” the skinny man said. (I soon learned his name was Johnny)
His African American friend (James) walks over, sees the shirt and immediately we all sort of start laughing about how epic this shirt I never wear is. And in those few short seconds, we went from being three people of very different walks of life on very different paths, to being three friends united in common interest and humanity.
We went on to talk about Doctor Who for a good hour. Partially sprinkled into that time but mostly after we were “done” geeking out (as if such a time exists,) I asked Johnny and James about their lives. They are certainly interesting people, that’s for sure! Like the rest of us, some things looking up and some things looking down. But mostly we shared plenty of things about each other that I’ll keep private here. We talked what they were doing, which was making their way cross country from the Seattle area, mostly by walking and hitchhiking. Turns out they met each other partially along the way and became friends! And I found out that they were headed to New York, where James has some family.
I told them that I saw them sitting out by the County Market sign earlier and I just really felt God put it on my heart to come and talk to them. I had no idea how they would react once the “God talk” came out. Especially with Johnny. Because let’s be brutally honest here for a moment, Johnny does not look like the most “receptive to the gospel” type individual.
But they both looked at me, smiled and thanked me and we were able to continue enjoying each others company. I told them that I really felt God had asked me to put myself out there by offering help, to let them know that He loves them and that I loved them too, and was there anything I could do for them to help?
James and I went into the store together while Johnny and Blue (the dog) waited outside. We spoke about a lot of deep stuff while we walked down the aisles. God, what it truly means to be a Christian (and by extension what it means to be a lukewarm Christian who drives people away,) modern race relations, their experiences with the types of people who were and who weren’t willing to help them along their cross country quest. That last topic was particularly interesting, but perhaps not best suited for this post.
James continually kept hesitating when I told him to keep pointing out things on the shelves, whether it be food or amenities, that they needed. I told him simply to stop. This wasn’t my money that was going to help he and Johnny, it was God’s. He had put me here today for this purpose, and that was that. End of discussion.
You know those Chef Boyardee Spaghetti and Meatballs cans that we all know so well? I learned that ONE can was what had been getting them through “A day or two.” So I asked James just how many they could carry, and when he purposely low-balled the number I put triple that many in the basket.
I asked if they wanted any candy. Just something to enjoy. Frankly, I also just wanted to ensure they had sufficient blood-sugar with the lack of nutrients they were dealing with on the road. James said that a small bag of Jolly Ranchers would last them “a long time.” – so they got 3, all that was left on the shelf. Oh, and bags of their favorite Doritos each. Because come on, Doritos are awesome.
By the time it was all said and done I managed to pry out of him that they didn’t have toothbrushes, toothpaste or deodorant. Brushing their teeth simply wasn’t a luxury they’d been afforded. Clearly, that couldn’t stand, especially with all those Jolly Ranchers sitting in the basket. I insisted that they get two toothbrushes instead of just one as James tried to convince me that they could simply share one. He was very obviously shocked at the price of something as simple as toothbrushes and was trying to spare me the extra few dollars. Not today, my friend. We made sure they got some good quality Sensodyne toothpaste to help with their sensitive teeth that hadn’t been cared for. They had only recently been able to take a shower at a shelter, so James was excited to get deodorant as well. Again, I had to essentially force him to allow me to put two in the basket instead of one for them to share.
As we were walking around picking this stuff up, James noticed that I was limping heavily. Unfortunately this tends to happen on days when I am on my feet and doing lots of physically exerting things, due to a very lengthy history of orthopedic injuries and surgeries I’ve endured (that’s another set of blog posts for another day.) He insisted that he carry the basket that was now full of heavy cans and so on.
I could see in his eyes in that moment that he felt the same need to help me that I did him. Even though he was the one “in need” – James knew I was, in my own way, just as in need of help and compassion.
In that moment, I felt and saw God working in ways that no scientist will ever prove, but I know without a single iota of doubt exists.
James took the basket from me and I told him thanks, explaining briefly my leg and injury issues. As he looked at all the stuff in the basket he kept telling me that “You’re being too kind” – “You really don’t need to…” – “I can’t ask you to do any of this for us…” etc.
And again, the only response I had was: “James, stop. You aren’t asking me to do anything. I am asking YOU what I can do. Now stop. What else would help you?”
After saying that he looks at me and says, “After this, I don’t care man, you’re getting a hug.”
“I sure hope so!” I told him.
We bought all the items in the basket (along with the one item my wife had actually sent me there for) and I spent well over the budget that we had for our groceries this month, without actually getting any of them ourselves. But that didn’t matter in the slightest.
James and I headed back to the picnic table and he excitedly showed Johnny their haul. I could tell that he too didn’t really know how to respond, but he expressed his gratitude and yet again I could see that look in his eyes that he had experienced something beyond simply meeting someone and chatting for an hour or two. It was something that made an impact.
Although I honestly wanted to just stay and hang out, I told them that I really did need to head back home. Almost immediately James came over and gave me probably the most meaningful hug I’ve ever gotten from someone outside my family. In that hug, I truly felt love and loved right back. From Johnny too, elaborate impromptu handshake included.
Then just like that I was headed back to my car.
As I was walking away I turned around and yelled back “Now you guys know I’m going to be praying for you right? Because that’s happening!” in a serious but jovial sort of tone.
Two big, bright smiles. From perhaps two of the unlikeliest of people I could have thought possible just hours prior.
So yes, I have faith.
I have faith that God put Johnny and James exactly where they were meant to be, and that He put me exactly where I was meant to be for that meeting to occur.
I have faith that it was no mere coincidence that I decided to assemble my wardrobe like I did. That ever since the day that shirt was sewn together, it was destined to be purchased for me to be worn on this exact day, for the exact purpose of breaking the ice with Johnny. I absolutely have faith in that.
Could a prestigious think-tank of the world’s leading scientists examine any type of tangible, forensically obtainable data or evidence that points to God’s hand in all of this? Of course not. That’s just simply not the way He works.
He works by giving us stories to share.