i heard priscilla shirer say recently that we need to keep notes on what God’s done in our lives.
to remember and recall and stamp it more vividly across our hearts by writing it down.
i liked that.
that’s exactly what i feel with this blog – my place for “keeping notes” on what God is teaching me~
there was one story from our recent trip to new york that i didn’t want to miss recording..
it happened the same morning as our episode with the turnstile!
we had just pulled away from the station and were still laughing into our hands when a guy that had been buried under an over sized army jacket in the back got up from where he was lying on the floor and moved closer to where we were standing.
you could tell here was someone that knew hard!
he stood just feet away from me. pulling the stocking cap from his head and wringing it nervously between his hands. i heard him clear his throat and try to raise his voice above the sound of the speeding train..
“uh. hi everybody. my name’s jerry and uh, i don’t do this real often but i’m desperate and uh, sometimes i’m left with no other alternative…”
“desperate? no other alternative?” my mind reeled and apparently i’ve watched way too many movies because i was instantly convinced he was going to pull out a gun and rob us!
i wrapped my hand more tightly around the medal bar i was holding as jerry continued..
“i don’t sleep real good at night. i don’t have a home or a bed like most of you. i sleep where i can and i’m tired alot during the day. so i was just laying back there minding my own business trying to take a nap when, uh, these ladies here got on laughing and having a good time… ”
my heart raced wild, “oh, my word!! he means us!! he’s talking to US!!!
i knew it. knew it.. I’M SURE HE’S GOING TO SHOOT US NOW!!!
and my eyes tried searching for where i thought the gun might be hidden.
“but, that’s okay,” jerry was going on. “i know they were just having some fun and, uh, i like having fun too. nothing wrong with that. but… but i’m going through a rough time right now.”
my eyes looked away. trying to look anywhere but at him.
i looked around the train car. every one else was doing the same.
looking down. looking out the window. looking at their phones.
looking anywhere but at jerry!
i know he knew. knew none of us were looking and even really listening.
he stepped back. i thought he was done.
i heard him swallow hard and could see his hat still winding round between his hands out the side of my eye as i stared straight ahead.
i wondered if he was trying to decide what to do. say more or go back and sit down?
i felt bad. it was awkward and silent and the only noise was the train screeching against the tracks.
then jerry moved forward again. his voice a little softer.
“uh, i’ll tell you right now i’ve done time in prison. i made bad choices when i was young and i paid the consequences. i don’t have no family or home to go to no more. i burnt all those bridges…”
i could hear the sadness and it seemed as if he was almost talking more to himself than to anyone else.
“and i wish i could go back and do things differently. and man, God knows i’m trying.. trying to pick up the pieces and put my life back together but, uh, it’s hard…”
and here his words caught me and my throat tightened and i looked up. right into his face and it’s like i saw him for the first time since he started talking five minutes ago. really saw him. his sandy blonde hair matted and messed. his jacket pockets stuffed with what was probably the entirety of his worldly possessions. his face though hardened, not old, couldn’t have been more than twenty five. and his hands, still wringing his hat looked calloused and rough. i wondered if he knew hard work. where his mother was. if she cared? did he have any family? was he someone’s brother? someone’s husband? someone’s friend? and all i could think as i looked at him was, that could be someone i loved. someone in my family. someone i cared about. and how would i want others to treat them if in the same position. how would i want others to treat me? because, and i felt myself gulp at the sober thought, really.. that could be me. whoever said, “but for the grace of God there go i, ” said it best. why do any of us think we couldn’t be in the same place? that we aren’t in the same place? needy. broken.
some of us just carry our scars more visibly than others.
some of us have never been locked behind real bars, but we’ve known bars just the same.
things that have imprisoned us, held us captive.
we’ve known hurt and rejection and maybe from those we thought we could trust most.
we might not wonder where our next meal is coming from but we know the weight of financial pressure.
bills mounting. things closing in. dreams dashed and future unsure.
have we had others step in to help us during those times?
haven’t we all been jerry at some point in our lives?
not strong enough to get by on our own.
but as he asked if anyone had anything they could spare of course my mind began weighing the obvious -
what if he just goes and gets stoned…
drinks the money away…
makes more bad choices…
laughs about the people he conned that day?
the train car jerked sharp and i grabbed the other bar overhead to catch my balance and it’s one of those moments engrained on my mind forever – the jerking of that train that just sorta jerked my thoughts from their selfishness to something higher.. the clarity of that still small voice from within, and the realization that giving isn’t about the outcome, what the person does with what you give. giving is about obedience.
it’s not my responsibility to decide who is worthy. who will use what i give wisely.
my responsibility is to follow what God puts on my heart to do.
but even with that, as i started looking in my wallet seeing the smallest bill i had was a twenty i turned to my change purse instead. rooting through the nickels and quarters and dimes, but my eyes couldn’t ignore the green sticking out the corner.
i wanted to give something. i just didn’t want to give that much!
i thought of the shoeboxes we had recently picked up from church, like we do every year to fill and bring back. the food bank we had walked around our neighborhood collecting for. the pamphlets we had for compassion ministries because we wanted to sponsor a child… and yet when i’m faced with need only feet away from me and looking me right in the eye why did it suddenly seem too much?
it’s easier to give from a distance. when our hands don’t get dirty. our noses can’t smell the stench. our personal space isn’t invaded. or our time inconvenienced. to wrap it all up in a neat little box and carry it into church dressed in our sunday best. when all our friends are doing the same. where it’s noticed. appreciated. safe.
but what about the jerry’s of this world?
too unsure of the outcome?
of how our “hard earned” money will be spent?
we say we need to be good stewards. that people need to learn to work and true.
but do our spiritual sounding words only mask our own greed?
do we honestly think another pair of shoes or that dream vacation is more a “need” than broken lives?
i don’t think God’s plan is for us all to sell our homes and move to the jungles of africa to live in grass huts.
but i also don’t think His plan is for us to go bigger, buy better, and consume all on ourselves.
and as i’m standing on the subway train that morning with my hand full of change -
the tip of that twenty was screaming out conviction over my life.
don’t think for a minute this was about a heart of compassion and kindness.
this was a battle. my pride and selfishness spilling out all over the place inside me.
but i couldn’t get away from jerry’s words – that he was trying, and it was hard.
that resonated with me. i knew that feeling.
and sure that twenty wasn’t going to change jerry’s life. but maybe it would remind him he’s not alone.
isn’t that what we all want when we’re trying and it’s hard – to know we’re not alone!
and though reluctantly at first, but then with more peace as is often the case when we obey, i found myself holding that twenty dollar bill and watched as it passed from my hand into jerry’s. and then the way his eyes widened and he stretched it out tight and stared at it and i instantly wished it had been a hundred!
i opened my mouth to say something and surprised myself with the tears that suddenly welled and made it hard for me to talk. and between broken words it was something like this that came out..
“any one of us could be in your shoes. and we need each other to help us in these times. i hope you do right, jerry.. that you get your life on track…”
and he was still stretching that twenty between his hands and thanking me over and over and i smiled and didn’t care that all the eyes in that train car were watching us.
jerry got off at the next stop and i doubt i’ll ever see him again in my life.
and as the train rolled on the jamaican lady sitting behind us- the one who had said we should be glad we were wearing panties when we jumped the turnstile ;) began to tell us all the stuff she saw on the subway each day. of the stories people made up and the babies they pretended were sick and my heart began to sink because i thought she was going to tell me jerry was the best of them and i had just been really dumb. but instead, she pulled my arm so i had to bend closer. looked me straight in the eye. and pointed her finger with conviction as she said, “it’s not up to you what dey do with da money. you don’t know. and you never will. but..” and she paused as if wanting to make sure i was really listening, “you still get da blessing! because da blessing is not about what dey do with da money. da blessing is because you gave!”
and i blinked hard and nodded and thought that if angels wore bright purple scarves wrapped around their heads and talked in jamaican accents then surely this was one because i so felt God use her words to confirm what He had just said in my heart. ~
i learned something that day on the subway.
not just about giving but about myself.
because when we’re faced with something out of our comfort zone..
and especially when that something touches our wallet, it reveals what’s really in our heart.
i have a long way to go but i want a heart that’s more in tune to His voice and tender to what’s He’s trying to teach me.
to not be so comfortable in this world and caught up in myself.
needs are all around us. all the time.
we don’t have to wait for shoeboxes to fill or fundraisers to hold.
there are people in our community. neighborhood. within our very churches needing to see the love of Jesus just as much as those in faraway countries.
people standing within just a few feet of us.
people like jerry.