It wasn’t unusual at all when I had a church office on a main road in northeast Texas for people to come by the office needing assistance. Some need groceries, some a place to stay, and others knew about our clothing giveaway. Over the years I met all kinds of people. A few really stick out in my memory, none more than the man who walked in one afternoon asking for directions.
His hair was so windblown that I must confess I thought for a second it was faked. I mean, you couldn’t get your hair to such dishevelment if you hung your head under a hand dryer and sprayed it with that liquid concrete hairspray the Southern women are known for. It was truly wild. Legion in the graveyard in Mark 5 wild. I invited him in, gave him directions, and he asked if he could talk a minute. He was traveling across Texas on foot, and was headed toward New Mexico to see family. He told me about his church back in Arkansas, and a preacher there that had really helped him to turn his life around. He told me a lot of things really. Truth be told, a couple were TMI.
Because of the odd hair (I really can’t explain it without a picture…seriously, it was like Kramer’s hair met Richard Simmons’ hair) and a couple other things I don’t even remember, I was a little skeptical from the beginning. The more we talked, the more I felt there was something else he wanted that he wasn’t asking for. If he needed food, clothing, whatever, this church was a generous one so it wouldn’t have been a problem. I just couldn’t figure out what it was. After at least a half hour, though, I learned what it was. And in so doing, learned a lesson.
He’d been telling me about a particular struggle he’d been dealing with, and one that I’m guessing is not too easy to confess to a brother you’ve only just met. Yet he did. He said that as he’d traveled he’d learned that sometimes the best thing he could do is to stop and pray with someone. That was it. That was what he needed. He wasn’t looking for booze money as the most skeptical would assume. He wasn’t hoping for money for cigarettes or any other vice. He sought prayer and the added strength that comes from approaching the throne of grace with a brother. We prayed, and he was visibly strengthened having done so. I’m not sure which of us needed it more.
As he stood up to go, he asked me to repeat the directions. He declined a ride to the next town, didn’t want to trouble anyone. He did ask for one more thing. He said he was diabetic and needed a cold drink. All he wanted was $1.00. He was in luck, it’s all the cash I had.
In our more skeptical moments we assume too much about people. Crazy hair, journeys we don’t understand, struggles with which we don’t identify…they sometimes tempt us to assume that people are “taking us for a ride.” And maybe they are. Maybe they are taking us on a ride toward understanding that behind all the differences they are really just like us (or maybe we are like them?). They are people needing a word of encouragement, a prayer of strength, a listening ear, and on a warm and windy Texas day, a buck for an ice cold Coca Cola in Jesus’ name to help them down the road.