Roger showed up on my doorstep nearly four years ago. This mailman I knew only in passing rang the doorbell and hand delivered a bundle of bills, junk mail, and a special invitation.

He asked if I were a consultant and what kind of work I did. When I said I was a speaker, he smiled. He shared how decades ago he had a seemingly random encounter with a little old lady who had stopped him on the beach with life-changing words of Jesus' love.

Roger went on to tell me that he volunteered in a prison ministry and asked me to consider doing the same.

Sensing God at work, I said yes immediately.

Two years ago, Roger retired from the USPS and is now serving as a chaplain in the local jail system. Last month, he presented me with another invitation.

He set up a lunch meeting to introduce me to a husband/wife chaplain team, also serving in prison ministry. We met at a downtown diner with polyurethane-topped oak tables and sturdy chairs.

If I had to guess, I'd say that the three of them have served in prison ministry collectively for 40 years. For the most part, I asked few questions and just listened.

In story after story, their words reminded me of Jesus' heart for those in prison. Lives poured out. Captives set free. Once again, I sensed God at work.

When they left (each for afternoon jail visits), I lingered at the table and sipped lukewarm coffee from a stubby white porcelain mug.

Too often, I run from one thing to the next without taking time to settle into any moment. That day I needed to abide.

Words from our conversation drifted into my thoughts before they settled into my heart.

Inhale.

Exhale.

Inhale.

Exhale.

I'm not sure how much time passed—maybe only a few minutes, but before long I was ready to move on. I fished my keys out of my pocketbook, collected my sweater and umbrella, and prepared to leave.

For the first time since my lunch companions left, I looked up. With my view no longer obstructed, I noticed a woman seated at the next table, facing me.

I'm not sure how long she'd been there, but in that instant, I saw her. She was on the phone, head in hands, speaking softly. I didn't need to hear her words to know she was crying.

I stood to leave, but remembering the text from Sunday’s sermon, I slowly turned away from the door toward her table. She may have thought I was headed to the restroom. Instead, I stopped. My leg rested against the edge of her table.

"Excuse me. I don't mean to pry, but I noticed you were crying. I was just wondering if I might pray for you."

Relief streamed down her face.

"Yes!" she pleaded.

"My son …

"He's …

"in trouble.

"He's in jail."

She shared more details than most would with a complete stranger.

I asked if I could sit for a moment. She graciously motioned me to the chair across from her. I'd been altogether unaware of her husband, who wasn't at the table. But as I sat in his seat, I saw the half-eaten sandwich and fries. I smiled, promising not to eat them.

I explained who I'd just had lunch with and that I didn’t believe in coincidences.

When her husband returned, I slid into the chair on my right and recounted a bit about why I, a complete stranger, had invited myself into their story. Into their pain. After a brief explanation, I prayed out loud, in the middle of a crowded restaurant, with complete strangers.

We exchanged contact information, and I promised to connect them with Roger.

Then, I left.

During lunch the sky had grown darker. As I walked uphill half a block to my car, wind gusts bent trees. I unlocked the door and collapsed into the driver's seat.

Just in time for the downpour.

Cheryl Smith never met a stranger, is fascinated by garbage trucks, vineyards, and flower gardens, and enjoys evenings on the deck with loved ones.
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