It started as a lunch invitation, changed to an afternoon meeting for coffee and finally just resulted in a visit to the office that I was becoming very familiar with.
I knew that I wasn’t headed in for another interview, and the chances were very slim that they were having me come in to inform me that I was no longer a candidate for the position. No, I was quite certain that an offer was afoot, and that my long, exhausting journey was approaching a conclusion, and a new exciting life chapter was about to begin.
I don’t know if it was pride, arrogance or just plain selfishness that had me preparing so poorly for the ride to the office, but it was obvious to God that I needed to change my perspective and reset my attitude.
I was praying for and about all the wrong things.
You can’t help it sometimes. You work some place for such a long time that the paycheck that lands in your bank account every two weeks and the medical benefits are just there, and when you are suddenly staring at the prospects of no check and no benefits you naturally start prepping your heart and mind for The Offer. So the thoughts – and in my case, my prayers – were focused only on those things.
How much will they pay me?
How much vacation time will I get?
How are their benefits?
Will I get a bonus?
Those were the lofty ideals that were spinning around in my head and ultimately getting lifted heavenward in prayer time with The Lord. It was all “Me, me, me, me, me, me,” followed by, “How much, me, me, benefit package, me, me, me, and how about an office?” And while I can be forgiven for tending to the needs of my family and as a provider, my lack of focus, gratitude and awe for Him were completely out of sorts and I needed a jolt back to reality.
I should also point out that hidden beneath the surface of praying for the right offer was the twinge of fear and doubt that was heavy on my heart, as the job that was being offered to me would involve me managing a group of individuals that don’t know me, and I would be walking into processes and systems that I am unfamiliar with. So for every breath of prayer about money there were also some doubts crossing my mind about how I would be able to wade into these strange waters and be the type of manager they needed me to be.
And it was in the midst of these conflicting moments of prayer and emotion that I encountered Anastasia…
I crossed the busy intersection lost in thought and selfish, fearful prayer when I glanced over and saw the red backpack sitting on the sidewalk. Very close to that backpack was a vision that I can’t seem to get out of my mind.
There was a person, facedown on the grassy parkway.
My prayers ceased as I passed this image, and for one final selfish moment I rationalized moving forward to my appointment. After all, I need to receive this offer and see how much money I was gonna get!
This was not me acting, reacting or stepping out. This was a God moment. Perhaps this was simply God’s Moment. With my heart racing I circled the block and returned to where the person and backpack were situated. I pulled up close, parked the van and got out. I had my phone with me in case I needed to call 9-1-1.
“Hello? Is everything okay? Are you alright?” I asked somewhat loudly.
It was a woman. Disheveled and clearly disoriented, she rolled over and attempted to focus her eyes on me. She sat up, and based on the grass that stuck to her face and hair and the lines on her face I presumed that she had been laying on the grass for a good long time.
“Are you okay?” I asked again.
“I was just resting,” she muttered. “And praying.”
That struck me as odd. The judgmental part of me wondered what she had been praying for and then I was quickly jolted by the realization of what I had just been praying about.
“I’m a Christian and I’m in a lot of trouble,” she said. “Do you know where the Superior Court House is?”
I pointed at the large building while advising her that she was literally right across the street from it. She stood, staggered and then picked up the backpack.
My heart instantly ached for this person. My stomach felt a little queasy and a trickle of sweat ran down my back.
“You must think I’m an idiot.”
She said this to me while staring straight into my eyes. The truth of the matter was that I didn’t think that she was an idiot. I just thought she was a person who may have made some mistakes, was in some serious pain or dealing with loss.
Or all of the above.
Look, I am a rotten sinner, the product of a fallen world. However I am a child of God and a follower of Jesus Christ and therefore have God’s Holy Spirit living inside me. Any compassion or insight that I may possess about the person standing in front of me can only be explained by the very presence of God Almighty in my life. It has nothing to do with me.
In life we are confronted with the reality of making thousands or perhaps millions of decisions each and every day. In this particular instance I was saddled with the worldly reality that a job offer was pending my arrival against the heavenly reality that a hurting person was standing in front of me in need of some compassion. In those moments, when God comes into play and freewill is standing on the edge of right and wrong, it is always nice to report when God and Good win out.
“What can I do to help?” I asked. “Do you need something to eat? Some water to drink?”
“Can you just give me a ride over?” she asked.
Again, it was literally across the street and was no burden whatsoever, so into the van we climbed, and it was at this moment the I saw her tears.
“I am such a screw-up. I have messed up so many times. You must think I’m a loser,” she said. “But I am a Christian, and I’m educated. I have my college degree and I’m working on my MBA at the Anderson School. I’ve just messed things up and I’ve been drinking too much and got arrested twice. I have to go see the judge.”
That was a lot to take in and consider as I steered the car across a few lanes and then made the left turn into the courthouse parking lot. I pulled in front of the large staircase that led to the massive entry doors into the house of justice.
“Everybody messes up. I mess up all the time,” I said. “I’ve already screwed up a bunch of times today and there’s still time for more,” I said somewhat jokingly.
She finally smiled and thanked me for the time and the ride.
“I think you are my angel,” she said.
“Not even close,” I replied. “Hey, what is your name?”
“Anastasia,” she answered somewhat sheepishly.
“Anastasia, you have been brutally honest with me about what is going on in your life and you don’t know me at all,” I said. “Here is your chance to go in front of a judge and be just as honest. Then it will be up to you when it comes to his decision and the next chapter of your life. Be honest and trust in God and I promise you that it will work out.”
That was all I had to offer: A ride and some words of honesty, compassion and hope.
Anastasia reached into the van and shook my hand as she wiped away tears with the other hand. She gripped my hand tightly and it almost seemed like the didn’t want to let go. She was scared. I knew that she was trying to get herself together and muster up the courage required to walk in and face her very uncertain future.
She let go and closed the passenger side door. She walked in front of the van and I rolled down the window and said goodbye.
“Thank you so much. You didn’t have to do anything, but I’m so thankful that you cared enough to stop,” she said.
I told her that it was my pleasure and that I would be praying for her. It made me wonder how many times during the course of our lifetime that we promise somebody that we will be praying for them but never do.
As I drove out of the parking lot I glanced back and watched her slow and unsteady steps up the stairs. As I waited for the light to change I saw her open the large door and disappear into the arms of justice. No doubt she has a long fight ahead of her, but the fact that she picked herself up and bravely walked into the glaring light of this uncertainty was admirable. I drove onward and delivered on my promise to pray for her, and as I spoke with the Lord asking for His mercy on Anastasia I became keenly aware of the fact that this is what this life is all about. We need jobs and income and to be able to provide for our families, but we all need each other, even if it is only for a few words of encouragement and a ride to the other side of the street.
I don’t know where Anastasia is today or how it went in the courtroom, but I do know that God used her situation to redirect the scope of my prayers from my own material needs to those of another.
He also used the situation to remind me that I’m going to be just fine in my new job.
After all, He has given me a new heart, one that is tender, one that willingly bears the burdens of others and this gift is utterly and completely of Him and not of me, so as I walk into a new office with new people I can confidently walk knowing that God is with me and has plans to use me.
He used me on this day, and used Anastasia as well. I helped her and she helped me. God loves her and He loves me. Our job is to simply accept His love and reflect that same love to others even when we are scared or selfish.
So my prayer today is one of thanksgiving for a more than generous job offer that was received and accepted, but it is also one that asks that Anastasia is okay today, that she is sober and on the road to recovery and the acceptance of the forgiveness that comes at The Cross.