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I had the privilege of celebrating my son’s 16th birthday this weekend. Little did we know, this day would change his life forever.
It was a very full day of several events, one of which was my daughter’s soccer game. My husband and I drove separately with plans to meet at the field. I had our boys with me. As we drove to the game, my birthday boy talked on the cell phone to his nana as I approached a busy intersection. Turning right at the light, we saw a homeless gentleman standing on the corner holding a sign and asking for food.
There was nothing I could do because of the traffic flow. We were already 20 minutes late to the game, and I wasn’t quite sure where I was even going as this was the first time they’ve played at this field. Add to that, the concrete medians and turn lanes and lights, and well, this was not something I could easily navigate on the fly.
However, we have gift bags in our van for just such an occasion as running into a person who is homeless. We keep a laundry basket in the back of the van filled with brightly colored, glossy gift bags with lots of colorful curly ribbon tied to the handle and tissue paper bursting out from the bag. In the bags, we put soup, water, granola bars, etc. along with encouraging Scripture and a prayer of salvation. The reason we dress everything up in a gift bag is because we wonder just how long it may have been that someone in this desperate state has received a present. It has been a joy to hand these out and connect with our community, as well as have deep conversations with our children about our responsibility as believers to help others by being the hands and feet of Christ.
Knowing these bags were in the back made me feel quite guilty that the spontaneity of the moment did not lend itself to give this gentleman one. My birthday boy finished his phone call with Nana, then began to tell me how we needed to go back to the man.
I was torn between arriving even later at my daughter’s last game before tournament and delivering the gift bag. I was tired from a very busy week and, well, I came to the end of myself.
I told my son, Tell you what, we’ll drive back the same way after the game and look for him.
My son replied, But we don’t know how long he’s been there. Maybe a long time. We should go back now.
Disheartened by my inability to be both places at once, I promised we’d go after the game. We reached the field, but my son couldn’t let it go. He is an extremely easy-to-please kind of guy who rarely has strong preferences. He goes with the flow and has quite a relaxed personality. But this time, he was insistent.
We really have to go back, Mom, he persisted. I can’t let this go.
I was a bit baffled at his insistence because we’ve given out many bags and will continue to. I didn’t understand what was different with my son this time. We walked down the field, set up our chairs next to my husband’s, and I plopped myself down hoping to stave off a migraine, caused by an impending weather front, that I felt coming on.
Can we leave and come back? he asked. It won’t take long. I know I’m supposed to do this.
I’m happy to try look for him on our way home, Honey. The game won’t be much longer, I replied nursing my headache.
A few moments passed as we watched the game, then he asked again. Can we go at halftime?
This was really unlike him. Typically, he is the first to let something go. A peaceful life is more important to him than pushing his issue.
How about you ask your dad to take you at halftime? I proposed. My migraine was at the crossroads of either going away or blowing up to epic proportions.
The halftime whistle blew, and my husband and son bolted to the van. I have no earthly idea why I said this (referring to the gift bags), but before they left, out of my mouth spilled, Why not take two? I didn’t know if he decided to or not as they drove away.
The second half of the game began, and eventually my husband and son reappeared. I asked my son, Was he still there? Did you give him the bag?
Yes and no, he answered. That made no sense to me. The situation was either or, so I inquired.
This is what they told me…they drove back to the large intersection, but didn’t see the gentleman. Disappointed, they crossed the intersection to make a u-turn and return to the game. Just then, my husband saw the man at a city bus stop out of the corner of his eye. My two guys devised a plan and as quickly as possible they made the u-turn in hopes of catching up to the man. As they approached the bus, the man got onto the bus and it drove off.
Arg! What were they going to do? They weren’t sure, but they knew they couldn’t give up. In a split-second decision, they followed the bus many blocks as it bypassed the next five stops. At the sixth stop, the bus finally stopped. Our son jumped out of our van and ran toward the bus. A businessman stepped off of the bus, saw my son, and told the bus driver someone was coming and to please wait for him. She held the bus for my son, and he jumped aboard and asked the bus driver, Can you please wait a second?
He said she looked stunned and confused, but agreed. Our son walked the aisle of the bus toward the back where the man was sitting. He approached the man and held out his hand to him and introduced himself with a firm handshake and a big smile.
What did you say? I asked with eager anticipation on the field during the 3rd quarter.
Our son continued, I told him that we saw him earlier, but couldn’t turn around. That Jesus loved him and wanted him to know that. Then I gave him the gift bag.
Okay, hold on a second, I interrupted. You mean you guys followed the bus several blocks, and you jumped out of our van, ran to the bus, hopped onto the bus and asked the bus driver to hold her schedule and wait for you? Really? I said with sheer astonishment. Our son has never done anything this bold before.
What did the man say? What did he do? I asked.
Well, after shaking my hand, he sat there for several seconds – speechless. He had a blank stare on his face as if in disbelief. Then, I gave him the bag and his eyes grew huge! He couldn’t believe it was for him. He said, “Thanks so much. I appreciate it.” Mom, this man shared a seat with his fellow homeless friend. And…I had two bags. The other man looked at me kindly and said, “Thank you.”
My son sat next to me at the game completely sure that this task was the prompting of the Holy Spirit. We talked about what it felt like to be the hands and feet of Christ, literally.
We knew in our hearts that God had an agenda on this particular day. He knew this man’s timeline and had a divine appointment with him. If my husband and son had not ran to the van, or they caught a red light, or simply weren’t looking in the precise direction of the bus, they would have missed him for sure. It was an almost near-miss, but it wasn’t. This mission impossible was perfectly executed with a team of players from our little family, to my daughter’s soccer game that was at this time and in this first-ever location, to the clerk who checked out the gift items at the store, to the business man who called out to hold the bus, to the bus driver who let my son hop on momentarily, to the other cars who drove around my husband’s van as he waited on the road behind the bus. Do you see how extraordinary this ordinary moment was? The people. The timing. The whole thing was beyond coincidence. It was as though it had been rehearsed a million times – yet none of us knew it. God did.
For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost. Luke 19:10
This was no not about my guys, rather what God had on His mind that afternoon. Even more than receiving the gift bag, this man needed to see God pursue him. Think about how it would’ve felt for the man to be sitting on the corner holding a sign for food for who knows how long, then ride the bus for several blocks when a teenage stranger jumps on with a colorful, shiny bag and says that he saw him earlier and had this gift for him so they chased the bus down. I would have been speechless, too!
There was a duel purpose in God’s will that day. Things could have played out like the other times when we’ve sat at a red light and simply made the acquaintance of someone who needs food and we’ve given them the bag. No. Not this time. God radically pursued this gentleman in a very personal way.
For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. Ezekiel 34:11
We don’t know if this man has ever accepted Christ as his personal Savior, but truly he was sought by God because God allowed everything to work out to the very second. Whether his soul was lost, or perhaps he just felt lost in society-displaced by circumstance-or lonely. Perhaps he felt lost within himself or separated from family. We don’t know this man’s story, but God moved heaven and earth to be a part of it.
We may be utterly lost in our lives, in ourselves, and feel completely alone, but we are not. We are never out of arm’s reach of God who made us, breathed life into us, and sent His Son as the final blood sacrifice for us. No other god has ever done that. God’s love is relentless, radical, unconditional and unstoppable. The choice is ours to accept it.
(The prodigal son said) ‘I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again;he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. Luke 15:20-24
The biggest part for my husband, who couldn’t get through the story without choking back tears was, as he said, Two bags. Not three, not one, not four…two. No one could have ever known this man would have a friend with him in the same dire straits. But God did. For our son, he summed it up best when he told us, “Being a small part of this incredible moment was the best birthday present I received.”
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