It was 8:00 p.m., and I was still in Baton Rouge. The packed day had included getting Lamin to the Salvation Army for rehab, going to work, running home to get some items for Sam, going back to Baton Rouge to deliver them, and picking up Brittney, my stepdaughter, from work. In all the running around I joked with my son Jonah, "Well, God has sent me a person to help each week. I wonder what's in store for next week?"
Without realizing it, I had just confined God--the One who operates outside of time and space--to a timetable.
Mike was working late, so we grabbed some dinner and stopped for fuel before starting 30-minute drive home. I handed my credit card to Jonah, and he walked around the vehicle to pump the gas. I glanced at him in my side mirror and saw a man approaching and speaking to him as he inserted the card into the machine. Of course I went into full Mama Bear mode.
I opened my door and put one foot out when the guy said, "Oh I'm sorry ma'am. I thought he was--"
"Oh he's almost grown, but he's not quite there yet. You'll have to talk to Mama Bear."
Probably in his 30s, he wore a do-rag and black, thick-framed Elvis Costello glasses. "Well, I was wondering if you could spare a dollar or two so I can get something to eat?"
He was clean, well-built, and didn't really fit your typical definition of "hungry" or "beggar". I immediately wanted to dismiss him but instead found myself answering, "Sir, I don't have any cash on me, but if you're hungry I'll be glad to buy you something to eat."
I pulled my debit card from my wallet then turned to close the door, all the while watching the man and looking around. "Anyone else in the car with you?" I gestured to the black SUV behind us with the driver's door ajar.
"Oh, that's not my car, ma'am."
I told the kids I'd be right back and walked into the store with him. "Get whatever you want," I quietly instructed him then waited while he moved from the drinks to the snacks to the sandwiches then to the drinks and back to the sandwiches again. He returned and stretched out his hands to show me what he had gotten--a sandwich in a triangular package, a bag of chips, and a tall, canned drink.
"It's an energy drink--if that's okay." I placed the items on the counter. While the cashier scanned them, he hung his head and said, "Thank you again, ma'am. I really appreciate this."
"Sir, today I have given a man a ride to rehab and visited a man who just got into an apartment after being homeless. If God wants me to buy you something to eat, who am I to argue? You see this--" I pulled my t-shirt away from my body so he could see all the words. "This shirt says, 'I will even make a way in the wilderness.' And He will. Whatever wilderness you're in, God will make a way."
The young man stood still for a moment as my words landed. Our eyes locked, then I turned to the cashier to finish the transaction. He followed me out of the store, and I turned to him and asked, "Could I have your name so I can be praying for you?"
"Richard. Richard Ellis. Thank you, ma'am."
"I appreciate the opportunity to buy you a meal. Thank you for letting me know you were hungry."
"I figured it was better to ask somebody for some money than to just take something from the store."
"Well, you are right about that! That's a sure way to get your butt locked up!"
"Yes ma'am. Thank you again, and God bless."
I walked toward my vehicle as Richard headed the other direction around the building and out of sight. I started the engine, fastened my seat belt, and drove around the store to exit the parking lot. There stood Richard, using the top of the trash bin as a place to hold his drink and chips. He held his sandwich with both hands, shoving it into his mouth so ravenously that crumbs fell from his lips.
He looked up just as I passed him and lifted the sandwich in thanks as tears formed in my eyes. My expectation that God would operate on a weekly schedule coupled with my cynicism had nearly cost a hungry man a meal.
The next day, a friend directed me to My Utmost for His Highest:
"Our natural inclination is to be so precise--trying always to forecast accurately what will happen next--that we look upon uncertainty as a bad thing....gracious uncertainty is the mark of the spiritual life. To be certain of God means that we are uncertain in all our ways, not knowing what tomorrow may bring. This is generally expressed with a sigh of sadness, but it should be an expression of breathless expectation. We are uncertain of the next step, but we are certain of God. As soon as we abandon ourselves to God and do the task He has placed closest to us, He begins to fill our lives with surprises....The spiritual life is the life of a child. We are not uncertain of God, just uncertain of what He is going to do next. If our certainty is only in our beliefs, we develop a sense of self-righteousness, become overly critical, and are limited by the view that our beliefs are complete and settled. But when we have the right relationship with God, life is full of spontaneous, joyful uncertainty and expectancy. Jesus said, '...believe also in Me' (John 14:1), not, 'Believe certain things about Me'. Leave everything to Him and it will be gloriously and graciously uncertain how He will come in– but you can be certain that He will come. Remain faithful to Him."
May I be so uncertain of what God is going to do next that I am constantly ready and waiting for a Richard Ellis.
Please pray for Richard. I do not know his circumstances, but I know that like every other human, he hungers.
Chambers, Oswald. "Gracious Uncertainty". Retrieved from http://utmost.org/gracious-uncertainty