I know I said I’m taking a blogging break…and really I am, but there’s a story about something that happened to me yesterday that kept me awake last night and I really want to share it with you. Most experienced bloggers would tell me to break this into multiple posts to get you coming back more, but the truth of the matter is that I want you to know this story all at once….I don’t want you to miss the point, or to miss a chance to ask your hearts to open up and share too.
As I was on my way home yesterday from the ophthalmology office where I’ve been working on the interior design and decor for their new building, something happened that I can’t quite figure out how to process.
I drove towards home, my mind racing and happily bouncing from fabrics and textures to artwork and lighting. The heavier lunchtime traffic was to be expected and the slowed pace allowed my thoughts to wander a little more. As the traffic crawled, I began to notice a number of sad looking people meandering along the road through a depressed area…walking aimlessly…seeming to live the same way.
Two cars ahead of me, the driver stopped to let someone cross the busy street.
His head hung low, surveying the ground, not the cars full of people in front of him. His pants were too big and draped loosely from his thin frame. A tattered red plaid shirt hung open, revealing a heavily stained t-shirt below. His hair hadn’t been cut in years or combed in what must have been days. Shoulders drooping, he carried an 18 pack of cheap beer slowly across the street at 12:30. He had an open can in his other hand.
The beauty of fabrics and textures was interrupted by the crash of reality and the harshness of life. And my heart felt sad.
His face lifted and eyes looked up as he began to cross 3 lanes of traffic, and it was then I realized that I knew this man.
I glanced at the clock to see how much time I had before my babysitter had to leave…15 minutes, and I was 20 minutes away. My foot pumped the breaks…everything in me wanting to swing my car in a violent U-turn to go talk to him. The light changed and my car moved forward towards home… my heart breaking into a million pieces as I realized that the boy I once knew who never had a chance, never got one.
Twelve years ago when I graduated college, I spent the better part of a year cooking in a lovely restaurant in downtown Greenville. I learned so much and loved my time there. The restaurant industry with its late night hours and fast pace often draws a different crowd of people than I was used to growing up. I was a lot different from most of them, but that didn’t matter….we’re all people, and they became my friends.
He became my friend….and I became his too. The first real friend he’d had in a very, very long time. He told me so.
His friends all had impure motives that they made no real effort to hide….mostly to sell drugs to him or bum them from him. They were people caught up in the same destructive cycles…noone really knowing how to get out because most of them didn’t know how they’d gotten there in the first place. I was the first person he could remember who hadn’t wanted either of those things.
He ran away from home when he was 16 because he had abusive and angry parents. Somewhere along the way, he’d gotten a job in a kitchen and over time worked his way up. He had a great sense of the flow of the kitchen and the blending of ingredients. He was creative in combinations but patient enough to allow flavors to blend in perfect harmony. He had a gift, but noone….NOONE had ever encouraged that….encouraged him. He cooked because he was good at it…and it paid the bills…and bought the few other things he wanted. He never had high hopes for himself…he’d always been told he wouldn’t amount to anything. He was the person in my life at the time who I knew the Lord put in my life to encourage…to really care about, and to point a lifetime of broken words spoken and hopes dreamed towards the One who could redeem it all.
And honestly, throughout our friendship, he began to change. He stopped the heavy drugs, he shied away from the people who made him feel used, and his creativity in the kitchen began to flourish. He was on time for work, was sober when he arrived, and I began to see a softness in his heart. He finally began to allow himself the opportunity to dream of a better life…one where eventually he might even be able to buy a car.
My season at the restaurant sadly came to an end after some nudging from my parents to find a different kind of job. I was sad to go, and the only thing I didn’t miss about it for months was the fact that I didn’t smell like garlic all the time anymore. B and I kept in touch for a while, but by then I was working 60 hours a week selling radio advertising during the days, and he was still at the restaurant pulling the dinner shift until late into the night. And as with any life changes, you see friendships change too. I saw less and less of him… until before I knew it, it was 2 years before I saw him again.
I was running some errands and he was wandering around downtown. I bumped into him and said hello. I gave him a hug and was immediately hit by a wave of alcohol on his breath. It was the middle of the day and he needed a ride home. Someone had stolen his bike a few months before, and he never had been able to buy that car he’d hoped for. We chatted a little bit and then I drove him to a place that made me cry when I left. It was one side of a dilapidated duplex…right across the street from the place I saw the long-haired, older version of him walking from yesterday.
And I’m left with no frame of reference for this. I sat in my car and numbly moved forward yesterday…2 carseats in the back and the reality of another one to come in the fall, a husband who loves me, a home that’s beautiful, privilege that I so often take for granted…and my mind stuck on the boy I once befriended who never knew love or opportunity….and seems to still be eluded by both.
Some part of me wants to take my husband and go back to find him. To “rescue” him. To care and to point to something better…to encourage him and to help. I honestly don’t know what to do. But doing nothing isn’t something that I think I can live with. What though, does doing “something” look like? To tell you the truth…I just don’t know. I just don’t know.
So friends, I find myself wondering how Jesus would handle this, and I ask in earnest….What would you do?
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me. 44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ 45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ – Matthew 25:34-45