This hasn’t been edited… But i’m posting it anyways…
Yesterday was a busy and stressful day for me. I updated my phone the night before and the software update (for the third update/year in a row), disabled my alarms on my phone. I use these to wake up every morning, so needless to say I was late for work on a day day that was busy with clients and deadlines.
Adding to my stress was a week of driving back and forth to the other side of the state to visit my frail grandmother who is dying, meeting with family and listening to doctors. When I showed up on the first trip late at night to ICU she had had a heart attack the night before and was unable to breath on her own. She was fitted with a mask that was pushing air into her lungs and jerking her body when the air was pushed in to she lungs. She was asleep and it crushed my heart to she her that way, so I kissed her head and let her sleep to return in the morning.
In the midst of this my wife and are are struggling with just being busy and at a point in our lives where we always feel like its, go-go-go and we don’t have any time for each other or our family. My daughter is almost out of the house and I feel like i’m not spending enough time with my son. I know this really is bothering my wife too. We feel like life is passing by so fast and things are happening that are just out of our control with no solutions or end in sight. I think this is just something all parents goes through when you work, raise kids and try to have some kind of life without everyone you know wanting some pound of flesh from you from you. I’t makes me feel like a spend a lot of time not trying to rip peoples heads off.
With all this weighing on my mind, I found my self driving around town after work to find a wireless internet adaptor for my sons computer. He’s been wanting a computer for a while and a friend of mine mentioned that he had one I could give him. I felt like it was a “dad win” and at least I could do something for him that he wanted. The computer didn’t have an wireless card to connect to the internet and the one that I had didn’t fit, so I unscrewed the antenna of the adaptor card and carried the little antenna around all day to remind me to go after work and buy one for him that would work. I often put things on the dash of my car or in-front of me on my desk and even hold things in my hand all day just to remind myself to do something and not forget. My ADHD easily pulls me in a thousand direction and that seems to help me focus on not forgetting something important.
ALL KINDS OF NOPE
I tried the local computer shop and then best buy but neither of them had one. As I pulled out of best buy I called staples thinking maybe they had one of these adaptors and I could swing in because it was on the way home right off the expressway. The distance from best buy to staples is about 6 miles. The reason I point this out is because I was on hold the entire drive with the service employee finally picking up as I was driving into the parking lot. She had no clue what I was talking about and thought I was another customer on hold looking for matte paper. I told her never mind I’d come in and look for my self since I drove all the way here on hold. I grabbed my little antenna reminder in my hand and headed in.
Nope. Didn’t have one.
So I walked out of staples and stood in the parking lot feeling a bit defeated because I really wanted to get this stupid little adaptor and make my son happy when I got home… or maybe I just wanted a good thing (any good thing) that came attached with smiles and gratitude and not sadness and stress in my life at that moment.
There is a Walmart in the same parking lot as staples. I knew that they wouldn’t have what I was looking for, but I decided to go over and look anyways. I jumped in my car and drove to the other side of the parking lot and purposefully parked way at the outskirts because I hate the congestion of the particular Walmart parking lot. Again I grabbed my little reminder antenna and headed in.
If you ever want to go people watching I suggest two places. Any mall obviously and any Walmart. The walks of life in a Walmart are about as diverse as the stores them selves. No two look the same or are laid out the same way. The only thing that identifies them is the giant Walmart sign on the building. (A great analogy for the word “human”.) I pay attention to people most times. What they are wearing, their face and expression, all while trying to guess or assess where they come from or their circumstances. It’s not possible obviously but I still wonder.
I noticed a group of african american teen girls, laughing and hanging out. There was a really old gentleman that looked angry to be there (he probably wasn’t), but again I was judging him by his looks. I saw a couple at the check-out counter counting pennies and change trying to pay for something to which I rolled my eyes. There was an indifferent employee half checking that people actually paid for things standing at the door. I think that employee comes standard with every Walmart construction. (Building up – check, Walmart sign up – check, one indifferent bag checker at the door – check.. ok open the doors to the public..) — thats what goes on in my head when I enter and leave Walmart. I saw two mixed couples, an Indian couple and a disabled employee in a wheelchair working in the computer / audio / tv department.
Nope. They didn’t have what I was looking for, but I figured they wouldn’t anyways. I just wanted to do something that would make my kid happy. Oh well, I thought.
I walked out the door, antenna in hand. On the way out I noticed that the couple counting pennies had taken the entire time that I had walked to the back of the store to come up with the money to pay for whatever it was they where buying. The laughing teen girls were in the checkout lane too and grumpy old guy was walking out with me. He politely smiled at indifferent bag checker lady as we walked out and his face went from old and grumpy to bright and well worn with the lines of life. My perception changed.
I got out to my car. I called my daughter because my son never answers his phone and asked to talk to him. I explained that I had been out looking for this little adaptor so he could get internet on his computer. He laughed and didn’t care. “Whatever dad, it can wait. I’m just happy anyways that I got it”. It was all good and he wasn’t concerned about it. I guess it was more me than him anyways and I knew it. But I just wanted a second of “Joy”. Weather it was from my son, my daughter or from my wife, or life in general I just wanted “something”.
I reattached the little antenna to the computer card I took it off and set it on the dash. Thats when I noticed the couple who had been counting pennies and change at the check out counter again. They were stopping people as they were walking and going car to random cars as people were leaving. I could tell right way they where asking for “something”… I parked far enough back that I a watched them confront about a dozen people, and I saw a dozen people uncomfortably shake their heads no, or ignore them all together.
They were coming my way so I immediately started my car with my get out of there as fast as you can before you get asked for money or something attitude. But they never got that far. They stopped at an old black truck a few spaces before mine, opened a bag a shared what looked to be bagels. The man at one point made eye contact with me and we stared at each other for a moment.
I’ve spend about year feeling defeated. Life has been hard and pretty much nothing that I had planned for this last year has worked out. I’ve been up and down emotionally, sometimes even a little angry at God. But this guy… he didn’t even have it i’m him to walk the last two spaces over to my car after whatever rejections has just taken place on the way to eat bread they obviously couldn’t afford at a broken down truck that looked like everything they owned was shoved into the back of.
I looked down and way texting a friend, maybe two minutes had passed. When I looked up the guy must have mustered a bit of courage and was walking towards my car…
People jokingly call me an asshole. I’m hard, critical, cynical and weigh the words of everything people tell me by mulling it over in my head for days because I don’t trust people’s words or take things at face value. I’m working on this part of my life. But in that moment i’ve never lived up to the name more. I kind of jumped a bit when I looked up and saw him, I threw my car in reverse and literally backed away from the guy as he was coming towards me. He raise his hand as if to protest my action for a second, then let his hand fall and dropped his head.
Remember that part of the child hood prayer (and if I die before I wake..).. yeah, that terrified me. I was always going to hell. Mainly because God lived in my closet when I was a kid and was always going to drag me to hell for some reason or another. My music, video games, books.. looked at the neighbor girl wrong.. who knows.. every week at church was a series of manipulative preachers who got you to rack your brain for anything you did (or perceived) was wrong that week, then filled the alters with crying fearful kids that didn’t want to burn in the flames of hell. Rinse, wash and repeat that senerio until I was 18 or 19. I remember when I found out that the boogyman god I was taught about was actually a loving God. A God of grace and mercy. After walking away from the church and God for the longest time, that was one of the first true revelations of my life.
Im my wanderings away from the church and questioning of God, faith and life many stories and things shaped me into who I am today. One of the most profound was this one, I had a friend (that I am still friends with today) that told me a story that always stuck with me. He was laid off and broke. All he needed at the time was cereal, eggs and milk so his kids had something for a few days. He said at the time he was broken and defeated in every way, and just about on the verge of tears. He just needed something to get him through until he started a new job in a few days and his wife (who made less that $100 dollars a week) got paid at the end of the week. He had five dollars to his name and had to put it in the gas tank so he could make it to the first day of work. He was standing in the gas station putting the five dollars in his tank when a man who visibly saw that he was visibly on the verge of crying asked him if he was ok. After a brief conversation and almost breaking down in tears, he explained how he lost his job, was losing his house and how he wasn’t sure how he could keep his family together if they had no where to live. He took a chance and asked the man if he could borrow a few dollars till the end of the week so he could buy a few things. The man handed him a folded $20 and said, “this is all you need, God is looking out for you and everything will be ok”. He graciously thanked him, and the man left. My friend walked into the gas station and grabbed milk, eggs, bread and some peanut butter and stood in line to pay. He was like me, we both walked away from out faith and the toils of religiosity, but in this instance maybe God was looking out for him. He had a moment of joy. Just before his turn to pay, he pulled the folded twenty from his pocket and quickly realized something was wrong. He stepped out of line and unfolded the twenty. I was actually a christian promotional track that looked like a twenty dollar bill, but when unfolded said, “Jesus is all you need”. He told me what he said out loud standing there in the middle of the gas station as people looked at him quizzically. Embarrassed and ashamed he put everything back and went home empty handed utterly defeated.
I think of this story a lot. This is the kind perfect example of the type of christian I never want to be, the type of Jesus christians I hated and almost cost me my relationship with the God I would come to know later as the God of mercy, grace and second chances. But in this moment, the one who was supposed to be the hands and feet failed someone who was hurting.
HELLO MY NAME IS…
Keven, as I learned his name later, put his hand down. Head down he turn to walk away. I literally slammed on my breaks and honked my horn. I think I scared him, but in that single moment I was determined to not be an uncaring asshole like the rest of the people that ignored him or turn and run. I waved him over and rolled my window down. Keven needed food, money and a better place to stay. But he didn’t ask me for any of those things. I learnt those things later. He had no money because he lost his job and he had a record. He was only out of jail for less than a year and he company downsized — “a guy with a record is expendable” he said.
What he needed was gas for his truck so he could get home and move the last few things out of his house and into the back of his truck. All his possession sat there in the back of an open truck while him and his girlfriend (Marie) tried to sell anything they could to passer-bye’s or find enough bottles just to get enough change to bye some bagels so they could eat.
We drove over to a gas station and put my card in the pump and started filling. He kept saying, just a little bit – I’ll pay it forward, I just need enough to get home and to a new place they were crashing at until they could get on their feet. He said I don’t want to take anything from you that I could never pay pay forward. He watched as the gas kept pumping. I learnt a little bit about his past and jail time, how he was determined to stay out and make a life for himself. I met his girlfriend Marie who was almost in tears that someone actually listened to them and was doing this for them. After a 20 minute or so exchange I shook his hand and he asked my my name. I said Wally and told him God was watching out for him. I filled Kevins tank to the top. No regrets.
After I left the parking lot, I was driving down the expressway back home when I had a profound revelation. I also had a moment of very mixed emotions.
I thought about Kevin and Marie and where their life was at in their time of need. I’ve been in that place before. I’ve needed help before and wonderful people have stepped into the gap of the inconceivably impossible and made things possible in my life.
Sadness — These moments define our faith in many ways when people listen to the heart of God and the soft whisper of compassion for others. I felt completely heart broken for them, but at the same time I pray that my act was just many in a line of events pulling Kevin and Marie to God. I’ll never know, I’ll probably never meet them again.
Joy — I had spend a week down in the pits over my grandmother dying in a hospital and dealing with the emotions that come with that, and the whole previous year dealing with depression over the overwhelming stress of life, my marriage and my kids. It’s funny how little random acts of kindness open your eyes.
My grandmother was singing hymns at one point while I was there, talking about her faith and the love of her family. She know’s the love, grace and peace of our God. This thought suddenly gave me great peace. It also a cured to me that my wife and kids both believe in God and our family is firmly planted in our faith. So whatever happens is in Gods hands. Remember that little “something” or “moment of joy” I was looking for.. That was it. I literally cried in my car driving down the road. The weight of realizing God is in control can be heavy — crushing — and awesome. Sometimes you have to look past the crud and hard things and see that God is still moving.
Anger — Something else happened to me, the last emotion, I got angry. Another friend of mine once said, “If you light something on fire and make it big enough, people will come from miles away just to watch it burn”. I say that in this context (talking to myself too) — If more people where less caught up in themselves and actually lived as the hands and feet and LIT THEIR FAITH ON FIRE.. (looking for joy in that) people would be drawn to it like moths to the flame. I had a small insight into the mind of Jesus’s frustration with people and their lack of compassion for the weak, poor and powerless. Realizing in that moment that this one act doesn’t make me a saint by any means, it also stirred something in me.
I was angry that more of the world wasn’t this way. Preceptive to the whispers to be the hands and feet of God every day. I was angry because I started to think about all the times I missed it too or chose to ignore God, only to whine about my own circumstances later.
If you think about that it’s a stupid sentiment. Thats like saying I know God, I’ve seen his power, I felt his presence and heard his voice… but I just don’t listen to him. Why would anyone live that way right?
Thats like saying your a huge music fan and knowing every member of your favorite band, what brand of instrument they play, the designer brand of clothes they wear, the name of every song and album title, all their tour dates and never once listening to their music once in your life.
BEING THE HANDS AND FEET
So after a range of emotions and the day at it’s end, I’ve made a resolution with myself to step back and re-evaluate my internal bon fire. Lately i’ve been burning kindling and my spirit hasn’t been very warm in the dark times or much less kept any one else warm. People are not drawn or interested in glimmers of light in the dark, but people WILL pay attention to a fire so big it can’t be ignored. Being the hands and feet is hard, thankless and sucks at times, but it fans the flames and catches the rest of the dead wood on fire. That is my encouragement to you my friends. Lets start big fires in our hearts and see who shows up to the party. Many, many interesting people I’m sure who would like to meet this God of grace and mercy we talk about.