Monday, January 31, 2011
Lunch With Pauline
First, let me share with you the final words of the devotional behind today's entry:
"Ask God to give you a divine opportunity to boldly share Jesus with someone today. Maybe it's a co-worker, maybe it's your child. Maybe it's a stranger who sits next to you at a restaurant. Be strong and of good courage. God will go before you to prepare the way."
Well, I read these words and immediately thought - "I'm not praying for that. Where's the next devotional? I want something different." It turns out that was my only devotional at the time, so I decided to go ahead and pray for God to give me a divine opportunity to boldly share Jesus with someone. I prayed the words almost verbatim and then moved on. It was Saturday and I had no plans, so I didn't really think about it again...until I pulled into the parking lot of a local Christian bookstore and saw her - a possibly homeless woman who would no doubt ask for my assistance as I passed by. Usually when you think of homeless people, you envision someone who smells badly and wears torn clothing, but this wasn't quite the case with the woman I saw. Neither her hair nor her clothing was disheveled and she wore a nice beanie. She sat on the edge of a large, concrete flower pot with head bowed as she counted change. Honestly, at first glance I wasn't sure she was homeless. I couldn't see her face, but as I watched her from the inside of my car, I felt something inside of me say that she was.
"She's going to stop me and ask for help," I thought. Now that, I was happy to do, and then I remembered the devotional. "Uh oh....Oh, no, God...not now. Please don't tell me I have to share Jesus with this person. I don't think I'm ready, and to be quite honest, God - I really don't feel like it right now. Can we reschedule?" I silently begged. Well, after I realized God wasn't planning on a rain check, I took a deep breath, told Jesus I trusted Him, and I opened my door.
As I got out of the car, the woman sitting on the flower pot's edge did as I suspected she would. "Do you have any spare change so I can get something to eat?" she politely asked. I didn't have much. I had only a quarter in my wallet and I offered it to her. "Dang it! Now what?" I thought, discouraged. As I placed it in her hand, I waited on God to tell me what to do next, and then it occurred to me that I could take her out to eat instead. I don't usually carry cash, but I knew I had my debit card, so all wasn't lost after all. "I don't have anymore cash, but if you're hungry, I can buy you lunch," I offered with a newfound enthusiasm. She was thrilled and asked if the Carl's Jr. across the parking lot would be okay. I said "of course" and we started to walk.
We exchanged names (hers is Pauline, though she later told me to call her "Liz"), and while we walked slowly across the lot, she began telling me the horrible thing that happened to her recently. Someone at the bus stop splashed something on her face and she now had a glue like substance in her throat that made eating a challenge. I would give you more, but really - that's all I was given. I briefly wondered whether she was mentally balanced, but I was more focused on what God wanted me to say so I directed my attention to any opening I had to speak. I finally had a chance and I clumsily brought up God's love. She responded warmly and said she knew He loved her. "Whew! This wont be so hard after all," I thought. Well, within minutes we were inside the restaurant. She seemed to have forgotten that she was there to eat, so I politely interrupted her and suggested she pick something from the menu. Though part of me wanted to pay for her food and leave, I knew God wanted me to stay.
I let her pick the seats and we sat down. I wont go into detail about the time we spent ordering her items, but let's just say it was then that I knew she suffered from mental illness, though I didn't know which specifically. "Umm....God? I think you gave me someone who isn't going to understand what I'm saying," I silently informed Him. Naturally, He already knew this. Once we sat down, she continued to tell me about her life, most of which I honestly can't recall now because it was so confusing to follow. What I do remember is that the majority of her bodily organs are in a VA hospital in Long Beach and the last she heard they are all healing just fine. I don't tell you this to make fun of her, but instead to let you see just how confused this poor woman really was. She truly was suffering from a mental disorder of some kind.
So, after listening to a confusing life story, I asked her if it would be okay for us to pray. I grabbed her hand and prayed with her. Somewhere in the middle of my prayer, my mind went absolutely blank. "Where did you go, God?" I yelled in my head. Well, I rebounded and wrapped up, letting her know I did have to go. She said okay, but continued to talk. I decided that maybe she just needed for someone to listen, so I continued to sit. I started noticing that she really had no idea what she was talking about and she also didn't remember that I had already told her my name. I wasn't feeling any strong spiritual sensation from God, so I gave her a hug and said good-bye for the second time - and I left.
As I walked back across the parking lot, I just really wasn't sure what to make of the encounter, so I went into the bookstore, bought my items, and got back into my car. I sat there quietly for a minute and then I started to laugh. "Ummm, God - You really kinda left me hanging. I mean, what did You want me to do in there!?" I asked Him out loud. I did try to talk to her about Jesus, and though it came out as awkward as I felt, it was all I could do under the circumstances. It wasn't until I got home and shared the story with my husband that I knew God was doing me a favor when he aligned me with someone who probably doesn't even remember me today. If nothing else, it was a great practice opportunity at evangelism, and my awkwardness was never even noticed by her. In her eyes, I was never a failure at sharing God's love - I was God's love. All she knew was that I showed her kindness. It was never even about how eloquently I shared the gospel. It was about simply obeying God and realizing that I wasn't only being used by God to bless her; she was also a blessing from God to me - but to receive it, I had to be made to feel a little uncomfortable.
In wrapping up, let me just say that I love Jesus wholeheartedly and I know that as a Christian it's actually one of my responsibilities to share Him with other people, but I can humbly say - I'm working on it. While I find it effortless to write about my love for Him and how important He is - speaking is, for me, a work in progress. God has opened my hands, and slowly but surely He's opening my mouth. Last night, I came across the following words from John Maxwell - "If we're growing, we're always going to be out of our comfort zone." The point is - let yourself be drawn by God outside of your comfort zone. I'm learning that it's the best growth I've ever endured.
Photo taken from http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=809