Oct 11, 2012

Conversations with Strangers

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.

For the next ten minutes, 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, pressing my dress between wood and thigh.

"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.

Image by Nico Hogg. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr. Post by High Calling Welcome Editor, Cheryl Smith.

 

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