After baseball practice this afternoon my friend Susan and I took our boys out for hamburgers. We were just settling into a meal when a middle-aged black man came and sat down at the next table and started talking to us. Dirty clothes, bad teeth, less than plain speech. ‘Panhandler’ was my first thought, and I dreaded being asked for money. Well, I was right that he asked for a dollar. We didn’t give him any – bought him a meal instead – but some things he said in the course of his 20-30 minute “visit” were just wrenching. He talked to both of the boys and told them to thank God for their mothers. Then he said, “My mama set the house on fire and ran out and left me in it. And I wasn’t but five years old. She set it on fire for the insurance money.” He pulled up both pants legs to reveal scarring. Then he said, “If your own mama don’t want you, then what good are you? I’m ugly. Don’t nobody want me. I’m just taking up space in the world that ought to be for somebody else.” He started crying, but got himself back under control in a few moments. He was a panhandler, likely slightly off his rocker, a veteran who wasn’t talking his meds, etc., etc., whatever. And Susan, who works at the VA hospital, talked to him for quite some time about getting help there.
But God wanted to say something else to him – I just knew it. In similar situations I’ve been caught off guard, made very limited eye contact, and tossed the person a few bucks (against my better judgment, simply because I wanted to get rid of them and didn’t know what else to do). Then I’d be angry at the person – and myself for being manipulated. Today was different. I was fresh from thinking about God’s love for me, no matter what, and so was able to hold his gaze for a long time and to say something to this man about how his mother had been wrong in what she had done and that he was worth something to God, that God liked him. I just wanted to kill that evil spirit that had harmed him in his life, that spirit that had taken over his mother and prompted her to abandon her precious little boy in a fire. When I heard him, of course I pictured Keith in his place, and my spirit was just so grieved and stricken. When he finished his story, he told both boys again to be thankful they had mothers who loved them. Then he sang a short song that I’m sure he made up on the spot; it went something like “Jesus, all I need is your love for me.”
Dear God, there is so much heartbreak in the world, such devastating consequences for sin against a child. I kept thinking that if Jesus could have just been there, he would have told him how valuable he was, that he was loved, and maybe the guy would have been able to hear him. Maybe Jesus could have made him understand that his mother’s actions were not the truth about his life. The scars on his body were nothing compared to the scars in his soul.
God, can you help?