Although I’d like to believe I’m in control of my life, evidence keeps showing up to prove otherwise. At times, I feel as if I am a character in a play, whose is finding his role within an already written script. Let me explain:
Yesterday I went to get some groceries, and as I was about to enter the grocery store, I noticed a woman by its entrance, sitting on her bike, asking a question to a man who had just bought his groceries. Their conversation lasted for about two seconds since the man soon walked away. Thinking she was asking for directions, I asked her if she was looking for an address.
“No I was asking him for some change.” She replied.
“Oh, OK,” I said as I reached into my pocket to give her a few dollars. “What’s your name?”
“Samantha,” she replied. She looked strangely familiar, and then I remembered.
I had met Samantha a few months ago outside of the Wal-Mart down the street from where we were now. She had asked me for some change as I was walking out, and I gave her what I had. Yet, as I walked to my car, I felt convicted that I could have done more. Only, I didn’t feel comfortable with doing more. After all, that might mean I would have to engage this woman on some sort of personal level, instead of our rather functional and impersonal exchange of currency ownership. This conviction brought on discomfort, which in turn, brought on an internal debate of sort.:
What do you want me to do God? I don’t have any more cash, only my debit card. Do you want me to go to the ATM and give her some more money? After all, she could use that money for anything. How do I know that she won’t waste it on something like beer or cigarettes?
My inner voice responded.
Uggghh. Aaron, you are such a prude. What about the McDonalds in Wal-Mart? Have a meal with her … They accept debit cards.
Mind you, I didn’t actually have this conversation with God, or hear His voice audibly, but in a general sense, this is how my thoughts basically unfolded, and I don’t have much doubt God helped those thoughts along.
Samantha told me her story as we ate our meals. She told me of the small downtown apartment she was living in with her husband and nine-year-old son. Her husband’s back was completely messed up.
“He’s addicted to his painkillers, and with his back pain, he can’t work,” she told me. “And although we receive unemployment insurance, I still need to panhandle.”
Samantha also told me about her pride and joy, her son Dakota. Dakota has autism, and although Samantha admitted the challenges his condition presented, she said he was slowly showing improvements. I’m not sure when or how our conversation turned to Jesus, but it did.
“I’m a Christian, I asked Jesus into my heart when I was young,” Samantha mentioned. “I haven’t been to church in awhile though. I just don’t agree with those Christians that seem to hit everybody over the head with the Bible, if you know what I mean.”
“I know exactly what you mean Samantha, and I think that’s exactly the kind of person Jesus isn’t like,” I added. I recommended a church to Samantha that I thought she might like to get to know. A body of believers located near her home that I was sure didn’t hit people with their Bibles, so to speak. After a bit, Samantha had to get back home, and so we parted ways.
And now, I was face to face with Samantha again:
“Samantha, right, we met at the Wal-Mart. How have you been since then?!”
Her answer was less than good news. She recounted to me of her husband’s death from a brain tumor not too long ago. Dakota, who had autism, had now been diagnosed with schizophrenia as well. And they were both “going from place to place, downtown.” This, by my estimation, meant she was homeless. After offering condolences for her husband’s death, I asked Samantha if I could pray for her.
After we prayed, we sat together in a few moments of silence, and then she asked me if I was planning on going in the grocery store:
“Yeah, I was,” I answered.
“OK well, I’ll see you when you get out,” she said, walking away from her bike where we were talking.
“But what about your bike?”
“Oh, it’s no problem, I’ll be back.”
“Where are you going?”
“To panhandle,” she replied, as if sighing at the same time.
And so, after walking into the grocery store, I stopped and looked out the window to watch Samantha slowly approach a woman who was putting her groceries in her car.
This shouldn’t be happening, I thought to myself as I pursued the grocery store for their Ramen. I decided to buy some gift certificates from the grocery store for Samantha, but when I got back outside, she was gone.
I scoured the street for her in my car, asking God to guide my search. I found her a half-mile up the road, riding her bike in the direction of the city’s downtown, an area well known for its economic collapse a few decades ago and its poor living conditions. I was able to stop her, give her the gift certificates and exchange email addresses.
“I shouldn’t be in this parking lot,” she told me while looking around, presumably because she had been told not to come back after caught panhandling. “And I need to get back to my son. Thanks for everything. And I will email you.” She said those last five words as she rode off on her bike.
I’m looking forward to reading her email. And even more, I’m looking forward to reading the rest of this script.