Last week, I was on my way home after spending some time with a client. It was super hot so when I saw the 7/11 sign, I started tasting a super big gulp in my head. I pulled in and hopped out of the car. Just before I got to the door, I heard, “Hey man, you got a couple bucks I could borrow?”. My mood was hurried and self consumed as I now realize, and in accordance with that I snap my head around to see where the barking is coming from. I spot a tall handsome teenager leaning against the building, wearing designer clothes and 100$ shoes. I don’t know what came over me but it boiled my blood that this suburban kid would dare ask me for “a couple bucks” when it was apparent that he had a roof over his head and food to eat. I turned and v-lined over to him and got within 6 inches of his face. I said, “what!” He repeated the request without making eye contact. I seethed inside and decided I needed to understand what in the world would compel a kid to sink to asking a stranger for money so he could buy a Red Bull. I said, “What are you doing here asking people for money?” He replied, “I’m waiting for my mom to pick me up and I was hungry”. I said, “What would your mom think if she knew you were out here begging for change!” He said, “Whatever man, just forget it”.
At that moment sanity set in and I got a strong sense that there was more to his situation than met the eye.
What he meant was….”You have no freakin idea what I’m going through Mr. Better-than-me”
“I’m not mad, just tell me the truth, what’s going on?”, I said.
He proceeded to explain that he attended the High School across the street from the 7/11 last year as a Freshman, but he had gotten in some trouble at the end of the year and was now supposed to be attending a different school. He told me that he had been staying with one of his friends but it was time to go home.
There is much more to the story, but my great hope is that this kid ends up reading this one day so I’ll leave it alone.
The real reason this story is worth telling has to do with the profound lesson I’m in the process of learning, not in my friends trouble.
Once he and I are calmed down and it’s clear that a connection has been made between us, I reached in pocket and pulled out my card. I explained that I had “someplace” to be but if he was still stuck here at 8:15, he should call me and I’ll come pick him up and drive him the ten miles to his home. All at once, the tension in his face broke as he was realizing he was being loved for the 1st time in a while.
On my way home, my heart was racing as I contemplated what it might look like to come alongside this kid and help him get over this hump.
“Lord, thanks for putting this young person in my path, please unfold what you would have me do next.” I prayed.
I raced home because I was now running late…for church.
On the 1st Wednesday of each month, we get together in the evening. This was a particularly exciting Wednesday because we were kicking the night off with a huge potluck! Those of you that know me, also know that I would probably rather attend a potluck than find a 100 dollar bill in the street. That being said, I got home, rallied the troops and zoomed back out the door. I called Rebecca about what had happened as I was pulling out of the 7/11 parking lot and talked to her all the home and then I was going on at a million miles a minute until we pulled in the church parking lot. I was truly encouraged by the fact that this kid might reach out for help, and hopeful that I could speak some truth into his life.
We filed into the church and immediately started filling our plates. I ate like a freak, resulting in a combination of “sugar belly” and the “meat sweats”. There’s nothing like singing and clapping in a crowded room while tuna casserole is coming out of your ears.
Seriously, once the meal time was over and I wiped my brow, we launched into an encouraging time where the pastors came forward to share about all the great things that were going on in…and through our church and it’s people. I was caught up in the simple joy of hearing the good news of how we were reaching the people around us with…The Good News. I sat there clapping like a penguin and grinning like a gameshow host as my phone began to vibrate in my pocket. I felt it and instantaneously slipped my hand in to shut it off. Even though nobody heard it as it vibrated against my leg, I still responded in my head with, “I don’t answer calls while I’m in church.” It’s a simple rule that I made years ago and by now it’s simply the auto-response in my brain when I feel it in my pocket during church service.
Anyhow, I gazed and listened and clapped and smiled for another 25 minutes or so. At 8:40 ish, church was over and we all started heading for the door like cattle. I get about 5 feet from the exit and my stomach literally does a backflip as I realize the fullness of what had just happened.
I had sent my new friend into voice mail because I was busy hearing about all the wonderful ways me and my church family were reaching the people around us with the Gospel!
I can count on one hand, the number of times I’ve felt such a visceral sort of instant regret in a single moment. My mouth opened…”oh my God!”
“Hey man, you still need a ride?”
“Are you talking about the kid in the red hat?”
“He just borrowed my phone man, he said he needed to call his ride and then he just left.”
“How long ago?”
“He waited around for a few minutes but he’s been gone for at least 20 minutes.”
I was overtaken by the sad reality that was staring me in the face.
No different than the Guy with the fish bumper sticker speeding by flicking you off for driving too slow, I FORGOT that God had brought a kid into my path JUST 2 HOURS EARLIER because I was too busy applauding myself for getting straight A’s on my Christian report card!
We got home and I scooted in behind my computer so I could begin the work of erasing the day with media. My beautiful, remarkable, thoughtful wife scooted in next to me and looked at me square in the eyes without saying a word. A tear popped out of my face and dropped onto the kitchen table. I began unpacking all that was going on inside me at light speed and as soon as there was a gap to shoot she interjected with…
“You want to go look for him?”
Long kiss….”I love you John Pack”
I trot to my car and jump in like I’m Jimmy Smitts just getting the call on NYPD Blue.
Off I go, to the 7/11 and all the other places in the area, asking cashiers and clerks if they’ve seen a good looking kid in a red hat named…?????.
For over an hour I drove around looking for him, no dice.
I’ve been looking before and after work everyday.
I share this because I hope it well reminds you of how easy it is to get lost in good things, to the point that the BEST things get forgotten.
I met with the vice principle today at the school he attended last year. He was awesome and was also concerned for him. I’m meeting with his old football coach on Friday.
If you pray, please pray that God would give me another at-bat with this young man. It’s my hope that I’m able to connect with him and love him in a way that convinces him once and for all that He has a God that loves him and wants a relationship with him.
I didn’t mention it, but But my new friends name is Eli….go figure:)