Last night I was with a group of wonderful friends talking about various things. Our conversation eventually worked into the topic of hearing the voice of God, and it prompted me to share with them an experience that happened to me on the eve of this past Christmas. The experience was so memorable that I journaled it immediately afterward so as to never forget the details down the road. Upon discussing it last evening, I was politely strong-armed to share it more widely... not in an attempt to brag or to be boastful, but instead to "be public with our faith." For me, aside from getting a bullhorn and standing in Starbucks naked and shouting, this silly blog is about as public as I know how to get. Until I hear a voice telling me to get into that Starbucks, I'm steering clear of all coffee houses just to play things safe.
What an amazing and unexpected Programming meeting last night. The last thing I ever expected to happen was to be with a homeless firefighter from New York City. After just beginning our weekly meeting, Pastor Johnny received a call from his wife that we were going to be having a visitor shortly. A homeless man that was discharged from Southshore hospital with only three months to live walked to the parsonage to have someone pray for him. Somehow he had learned that there was a pastor within walking distance, and was pointed to Johnny's house. Aaron told him that a small number of leaders from Metro were in a meeting at Steak & Shake, and directed him our way.
He arrived to us about twenty minutes later, as we were deep in the middle of laying out the details for the Christmas Eve service this coming weekend. His name was Randall, and Pastor J invited him into our group. He was from NYC, a firefighter that went into the towers on 911. Of his team of 38, he was one of two that survived. He became unemployed after 911, homeless, developed lower intestine cancer, and worked his way to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for free treatment. Somehow, he ended up here in Trenton for more medical attention at Southshore Hospital. We listened to him and quickly came to understand that he had nowhere to go after leaving our company. He didn't ask any of us for money, not for a meal, nor for shelter. He didn't come to us with his hand out at all. He simply wanted to be prayed for and wanted to know where other churches were located so he could try and find basic employment through one of them to ultimately earn money and get back to New York. Pastor J lead us in prayer for him as he requested, and after about twenty more minutes I realized that our team needed to get back to the pressing business at hand. I took Randal to a corner of the restaurant myself and kept him company as he ate a meal that we placed for him.
While I was sitting with him, I was amazed to hear his story as to how be came to be in our company. He was still wearing the patient wristband after having been discharged from Southshore just hours ago, his lower abdomen still wrapped in bandages with stitches clearly visible. His clothes were not far from being rags, definitely not enough for the approaching cold. He was physically shaking from the medications he was still on, but he certainly wasn't confused about where he was or how he got there. I listened to him and let him do all the talking for the most part. It was obvious that he was embarrassed yet proud of the person he knew he still was as opposed to the one that he was outwardly presenting to us. He kept saying that he was sorry to bother us, and that after he finished his meal he would be on his way. I could see the disappointment in his eyes, disappointment and embarrassment in himself. But in his next sentence, I could feel the bitterness in his voice and see the rage in his face for being homeless and perceived as "an animal" by people. It was both confusing and shocking to me. He never asked me for a dime, he never asked me to do anything for him. I truly believe that he came to our meeting to be prayed for, like he told us, and he was going to be on his way to fend for himself until he died. My mind was racing with what I could do to help him out, with the only answer being to simply get him a room for the night with a clean bed and a hot shower.
I excused myself from our meeting, left the diner with him, checked him into the Woodhaven Inn and gave him forty bucks to help him on his way. I told him Merry Christmas, wished him well, and came back to rejoin our meeting. I crawled into bed at 1am, confused, and fell asleep feeling hollow and that I somehow failed this total stranger… wondering what else I should have done or could still do. Was he truly a firefighter from NYC? Was he just telling us a memorized story he had told to others time and time again? He certainly knew amazing details of his firemans life and 911. Not that it matters, but I completely believed him. Even if I didn't, should it matter? He came to us clearly in need and desperate, and that's all we should need to know.
This morning my alarm went off, and before I could even turn down the sheets it was obvious where I failed Randall. SO obvious. Since Pastor Jeremy's incredible sermon two weeks ago I've been asking God daily to place someone in my path that I could share my faith with and have an opportunity to serve. Every day for two weeks those prayers have gone unanswered. This morning I awoke to the realization that last night God walked Randall right into my life and I didn't even recognize that he was my opportunity and my answered prayer. God walked him right smack into my presence and I completely missed seeing it in the moment. I had dinner with him and politely listened to him and all, but I completely missed my opportunity to share God's love and to reach out to him in faith. I have honestly never sensed that God has ever spoken to me in my life, never. I often hear people say that God speaks to them, which I've always rationalized as your subconscious simply directing your choices. But what I experienced this morning was a powerful, virtually overwhelming, flood of feelings and thoughts that I truly believe was God's voice speaking to me with force. Incredible force. I can't describe it in words, other than it was one of the most powerful feelings of absolute direction I've ever had. And what was crystal clear was that He was telling me that I am His servant, just as J preached to us so clearly, and to act as such.
When I checked Randall into the hotel last night, I remembered him telling the receptionist that he wanted a 7:30 wakeup call so he could get underway nice and early. I knew that I needed to be his wakeup call this morning, not the hotel phone. Me. I quickly packed him a fresh set of clothing: socks, underwear, pants, a fleece pullover, and a winter jacket, and shot out the door with a complete understanding of what God expected of me. I knocked on his door right on time, unsure of what to expect or what I would find. He was surprised to see me again, and I was quickly able to recognize that the jumpiness he had last night was completely gone. He was showered and without question a more composed man. We chatted for a while and I gave him the clothes. He responded with a sincere thank you and a hug. I looked him in the eyes and said that God loved him, that He's always there for him, and to speak to Him. He simply said, "Yes, I know" but I could see in his face that he was sincere and believed that acknowledgement. The power of his simple response with the look in his eyes was clear to see that Randall knew this, and I was just a reminder for him.
What an incredible chance God gave to me when I was least expecting it. He placed Randall onto my path last night, and literally kicked me out of bed this morning with straightforward direction on how to answer the request that I had been asking of Him. Never forget that we are all here to show love and grace to one another; it's as simple as that. I am so thankful to have been provided with this opportunity to not only put a faint bit of hope in Randall's Christmas, but to remind me that I am Jamie, a servant of God and nothing more. Being able to tell Randall that God loves him was my unexpected Christmas present this year.