Channeling my inner stereotypical-broken-hearted-teenage girl, I went to WaWa last night to pick up some Ben & Jerry’s (Stephen Colbert’s “Americone Dream”, in case you were wondering. I’ve written before about the spiritual experiences both B&J have brought me.). I had just gotten off work and was about to head home, pig out, and catch up on some TV. I pulled in, got some gas, and then pulled up to the side of the actual store to get my ice cream.
I saw the usual “poor guy” sitting on the pavement on the side of the building asking everyone that passed by for their spare change. The usual little battle happened inside my mind: Oh God, I’m going to get asked for money aren’t I? Okay, what walking path can I take that keeps me just far enough away from him that he doesn’t actually ask me. I’d rather say nothing than have to say no and feel bad later. Ah! What am I thinking! Stop it, Paul! Why are you so heartless? This is not the Gospel. Serve him.
So I got out of my car and I walked right by him. He didn’t even talk to me like I was expecting. I stopped myself and turned around: “Hey man, can I grab you something to eat?” “Sure. Thanks, man” “What do you want?” “Oh, just anything’ll be fine.” “No; whatever you want.” “Well, an Italian hoagie would be nice.” “How big?” “Classic” “What do you want on it?” “Everything.”
I went in excited. I got his hoagie and got him some water. I also got myself some water, a little wrap, and my ice cream. I went back out and sat down next to him: “Here ya go. What’s your name?” “My name’s Kenny, but everyone calls me Kenny G.” “Can you play an instrument?” “That’s the f–ed up thing about it. No, I can’t.” “Ha Ha. That’s awesome. So what’s your story?”
I pulled out my wrap and ate alongside him while he told me his story. Kenny went to school and got certified to be a home care nurse. One night, he “drank too much, got in a car, and ended up going to jail for a couple of years”. While he was in prison, Pennsylvania passed a law forbidding any certified nurses convicted of any felony from practicing their nursing (or something like that). So when Kenny got out, his certification was useless and he couldn’t find a job. He hasn’t been able to find steady work for the past couple of years. He spends many nights on the street, although some nights he can stay at a friend’s house, but his friend is a hardcore drug addict and pretty much spends his days lying on the floor of his place on the verge of a drug overdose. While he was in prison, Kenny’s wife divorced him and remarried. He said:
“Man, some people look back on their lives and they think ‘oh, if I only knew what I know now I would change this part of my life, or that part of my life.’ Lots of people think that they’ll go to school for something else, or they’ll not do a certain bad thing they did in the past. Me? Man, I just wish I was still married to that girl.“
I started to cry along with him as he told me all this. We then had an exchange I’ll never forget for the rest of my life:
“Man, Kenny, I’m so sorry. Life hits us so hard some times. I don’t even know what to say.”
“It’s all good, man. He never does any of this to hurt us; only to make us stronger.”
“Really? You really believe that? Like, way down deep, I know you think that, but do you really feel it?”
“I have to.”
“Because, Kenny, I’ll be honest with you: I believe in God, I love Jesus, and I believe He’s good, but sometimes there are just some things and some people’s stories I just can’t seem to fit into that.”
“I know. But He’s gotten me this far. I just wish I could rest.”
We continued sharing stories for another twenty minutes or so. He thanked me, stunned for the the dinner and conversation. “Man, nobody ever does this,” he said; I replied, “Bro, I don’t ever do this! Thank you for letting me. Really. My soul needs this. You’re serving me by just letting me break bread with you. What good is it being blessed with a new job if I can’t bless other people?“
“That’s sounds real nice,” he said.
“I wasn’t the first to say it.“
We ate together, shared together, and then ended the night by holding hands, praying, and crying together. My hope and prayer was that God would draw very near to Kenny and give him rest; that He wouldn’t just give Kenny peace through his internal experience with Him, but also through external things as well, showing Kenny that He loves Him and died for Him and cares about him and his good. And I thanked God that I wasn’t just feeding Kenny, but I was feeding and talking with Jesus himself through Kenny.
I don’t write this to exalt myself, because I am the least likely person in the world to have done this. I hope that anyone reading this right now may also pray for Kenny, his ex-wife, and his job situation. I also write this to give those other “least likely people in the world to do this” some hope and encouragement that there is grace enough for us all to share our lives with people in ways that can only be explained by an encounter with the Gospel.