Buried in sermon prep at my Warrenville office last Friday afternoon, an unexpected man suddenly burst through my unlocked door. He introduced himself as “Eric” and asked if I had a minute to talk to him. Needless to say, in the middle of a sermon on trusting the Holy Spirit to fill, lead and guide my waking moments…Eric had my full attention. He shared that he had recently lost his job and his place to stay, was living out of his car and had been sleeping in it the past several nights. He got teary as he related the embarrassment he felt during the previous evening when a police officer had shined a flashlight into his car where he was overnighting, asked him his story and started laughing at him. Eric continued by affirming he was a Christian, still trusting God to take care of Him. I asked him a few questions about his background, which he politely and gently answered with “Yes, sirs”. I asked if I could pray for him and read some Scripture with him and he quickly agreed.
As I read Psalm 23, I shared with him my own unexpected struggle with brain cancer and how God had “led me beside quiet waters and restored my soul” during my recovery over the last year and a half.
Sure, I had brain cancer, but I have a family that loves me, a great church I belong to, and a good, rewarding job. I’ve never spent the night in a car because I had nowhere else to go.
As we prayed, I wondered if Eric would be just like many of the other needy and desperate homeless people I’ve met during my time at Blanchard. But I just had a gut feeling that Eric was different. I felt so comfortable in my spirit that I even gave Eric some money to help him get in his car and drive south to move in and “start over” with an aunt in Southern Illinois. He showed me $10 and said he just needed $20 more to get him enough gas money to get him there. Normally I wouldn’t do this (and I don’t usually carry cash…), but this time I had some and gave it to him. We said goodbye and he said he was on his way to southern Illinois. I prayed he was telling the truth and would get there.
I didn’t hear from him again till Sunday evening, when he shared that after he left my office on Friday, he got a flat tire and spent the money on a used tire to fix it. He said he wanted to do some more work to earn another $20. Hard to provide at 6pm on a Sunday night. I just didn’t know what to say except I was sorry I couldn’t help him. I could have extended radical hospitality and asked him to spend the night in our guest room–but with a wife and three young kids potentially at risk, I was just too chicken (some people would have done it nonetheless…) So Eric was just going to have to spend another night in his car…
Eric called again on Tuesday morning this week asking if I had thought of any other ways he could earn some money–I said “no” but sensed the Holy Spirit asking me for more. When Eric called initially that morning, I had a really full afternoon: three appointments one after the other in Addison then Wheaton and back to Addison. I was totally booked. But between 12 and 1 every single person cancelled. Suddenly, I had an afternoon free. Then Eric called again asking for me to pray for him. I believe God had cleared my schedule for a reason. I asked him where he had spent the night. He said “in the parking lot at Menards”. I asked if he could meet me at Burger King in Warrenville at 2 o’clock. I said I would buy him a $30 gas card to get him to Aunt Terry’s house. He agreed.
As I pulled into the parking lot at Burger King, it dawned on me that I should offer to feed Eric, so I got out of the car and asked him to share a meal with me. He happily agreed. He had a Whopper Jr. meal. He was most interested in his drink, though, and apologetically swallowed it down in just a few sips, going for an immediate refill. As I ate my Whopper, I felt the need to affirm my desire for Eric to get home and start over. We talked about him finding work, maybe even going to SIU for a degree. I still believed he was telling the truth and asked him to recognize that I didn’t want him taking advantage of me, that I had a family to think of and the money I would share with him, though God’s ultimately, was still mine nonetheless. He said “Yes, Sir”, looked me in the eye, and confidently reached his dirty hand across the table, shook mine and assured me his word was good.
We finished our meal and crossed Rt. 59 to the Shell station; I bought the gas card, gave it to Eric and asked to pray for him again. After we prayed I asked him to call me that night when he arrived. He said he would, got in his maroon Camry, and left.
Although he never called back and I don’t know if I’ll ever see Eric again–I truly hope he’s happily at home and being cared for by his Aunt Terry in Southern Illinois.
If I’ve been a fool for Christ, so be it. But isn’t it remarkable (and inefficient!) how messy life is when we choose to follow the Holy Spirit’s guiding and trust Him to lead our steps?
It’s never the way I would choose to schedule my own time. But isn’t that the point?
Eric’s interruption reminds me my life is not my own; that, in fact, my days were designed to be in sync with the work God has already prepared for me ahead of time. (Eph 2:8-10) Paul keeps going by reminding me to “be continually filled with the Spirit and to offer my body [and my time] as a living sacrifice”.(Eph. 5:18, Rom 12:1-2) This is my spiritual act of daily worship, he says. I just wish this behavior defined the better part of my days, like other quiet people at Blanchard who live life like this all the time…for refugees, and orphans, and needy neighbors, and…
UPDATE as of 3:45 Wednesday:
I just got a call from our office manager letting me know that Eric’s no stranger to Blanchard. It turns out my hunch was wrong. Eric doesn’t appear to be who he says he is.
Sure, I’m bummed and feel taken advantage of. And, unfortunately, I’m going not always going to hear the voice of God clearly. But I don’t want to give up trying! I’ll obviously be far more wary next time–yet I don’t want to lose that tenderness for people in need. Call me stubborn, but I’m still grateful for the interruption Eric’s been. I’ve obviously been more in tune with how God wants me to treat the alien and the stranger, the fatherless and the widow. Maybe that’s more what the Spirit had in mind all along? Another word from Paul comes to mind: Now we see through a glass darkly, then we shall see face to face”…Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
And God, be close to Eric for whatever’s he’s up against. Reveal yourself to Him today; show Him that you love him unconditionally and can rescue Him.