“I was alone, and my train was late that night
I saw a crumpled man blinded by the life that he treated himself to
crippled from the nights receiving endless beatings that even a house couldn’t endure
palm raised skyward, his meager belongings collected on the floor
singing songs to no one about nothing, but crying because they mean so much
it’s these babblings that keep his life going, keep the nickels flowing deep into his cup
there we both were framed in awkward silence, and I was in his living room invading his trust
he finally said to me that he had “one last cigarette to smoke and it was time to give it up”
but he laughed and added he “wasn’t sure which to give up his life or the habit”
he said “it’s my habits that made my fingers weak, when my chances came I couldn’t grab it
but it’s my life that made it hard and when my opportunities were there for free I chose my habits”
I half smiled and offered the most empathetic nod that I could conjure up, and said “I hear you brother I’ve got problems too, but words won’t fill your cup
I’ve got responsibilities to face and they’re woven tight to my dreams
I’ve got more bills to pay than I have time and I’m starting to rip at the seams
I’ve got a plan and I know that if I stick to it I can accomplish happiness
I’ve got goals that beat my will and lately it’s been hard to accept the challenge.”
and he said: “man, that’s God talking to you, and I don’t know why you can’t see
you’re so blind that you can’t spare to make change because all your focus is on “m-e”
all wrapped up in your own skin that you can’t help set an old man free
I’ve been in your shoes before it feels like it was yesterday if not at all
my existence has been a blink and for the life of me I can’t remember what I saw.”
that made so much sense to me, even though I convinced myself that he was totally insane
I bent over and lit his cigarette and told him to mind his own business
because I was just waiting for my train
he said “I’ve been waiting here forever just dying in my skin, and the only reason you’re living life is because your curious what’ll happen in the end”
“that might be true but why should I pay my hard earned attention to vagabond doctrine
if you’ve got so much knowledge to give why not treat yourself to what you’re offering
you probably have lived a hard life, and I apologize, but I have my own problems, that you couldn’t understand just like a lot of guys
now, here’s a couple bucks go buy yourself whatever makes you happy
even though I’ve promised myself to never pay for you to make my city look trashy”
he refused the money and sat there singing songs of love and hate
I crammed the change in my pocket, called him a lunatic and went on with my wait
as I stood there hovering near his tiny frame I could feel his eyes judging me sadly
it’s as if he had to convince me that my life was on the wrong track, and I needed it badly
I said “Hey old man, your cigarette’s all smoked up, it’s time for you to leave”
he looked at the trail of ash on his shirt and smiled as if it gave him some sort of relief
he propped himself up, collected his life and got prepared to become one with the night
he turned around and wished me luck with all my plans, and said something about learning to walk before I ran
Before I knew it he was out of my sight, and I had already forgotten his reasonings
I could hear my train coming and home was on my mind not his cryptic meanings
another traveler was on the platform and for some reason he was running towards me
all I could see was his eyes, but it’s his words that will always stick with me
through his heavy breaths he asked if I had just spent time with the old man
I nodded in affirmation and tried to calm him, so he could tell me why he ran.
and he said: “man, that was God talking to you, how could you not see
that was God talking right to your face trying to hand you the keys
he was right here and I can’t understand why you chose to make him leave
he just died in my arms right outside the station and said you were his only friend
he begged me to tell you about his life, make you see the light, give you your chance again.”
I cringed at the reality that was facing me
I told the man I had no time for this and on my way I had to be
right about that time my train pulled up and I made my escape
I sat in the empty plastic seat, and held tight to my fate
that was decades ago, and now I sit singing on my own platform
my belongings stowed tightly in my bags handing out my sad sad songs
and I say it’s my habits that make my fingers weak, when my chances come I can’t grab them
but it’s my life that makes it hard and when my opportunities are there for free I choose my habits
I have no responsibilities and as a result I no longer need my dreams
I don’t have any bills to pay, it’s like I’m free but I’m really in captivity
I don’t have any plans except to just sit here and try and weather the storm
I wish I had goals but if I had those then I wouldn’t be here warning you on my platform
singing train songs.”
/”What to feel
this is no float-through world.
but at some point-
you will see
And life will look back into you and hope to see the same…
That which was sought
Has become that which Is
*(Some 21 lines, nearly a year old, pared down to whatever’s left here…)
I feel very much aware of God working in my life.
For much of the time this past three days, I didn’t feel anything from God. If anything, I felt what seemed to be absence. A heavy, pointless absence.
I’ve been working on allowing God to work through me in a way that is beyond my comfort zone. I’ve specifically been thinking a lot about how much of me is changed when I try and serve God in this way. I am an introvert and I do appreciate quiet. Reaching out isn’t something that I’d say I naturally desire to do. That being said, I do think that God stretches us and He does want us to do things that we ourselves may not naturally feel inclined to do. I think this has much to do with dying to ourselves everyday, taking up our crosses and finding ourselves dependent on God and his provision. But I do also think that He instilled us with unique mannerisms and personalities and wants us to be true to who we are and who He created us to be. I believe that He intends that we live our lives in a holistic manner. I don’t think that God wants us to be superficial. I do think He wants us to be honest with both ourselves and others.
But I digress.
I had been quite intentional about doing what I thought I should, whether I wanted to or not. I certainly failed many times. One instance I can remember specifically. It had to do with someone making themselves vulnerable to me. This wasn’t during a conversation or any drawn-out situation. It was a split-second happening and a split-second decision. I could have made myself vulnerable as well- which would have been the right thing to do- yet I chose not to. My flesh was pleased- no embarrassment there- but I had fallen short. Which is what we as humans tend to do.
I apologize for the ambiguousness of that example.
But now that it had been done- what was I to do?
“Should I beat myself up over my choice? Should I just forget about it?”
I think that Tozer’s approach is beautifully correct.
“When I understand that everything happening to me is to make me more Christlike, it resolves a great deal of anxiety.”
Later that day, I was a bit frustrated. I wasn’t seeing any positive results from putting myself out there and days of doing this was wearing me out. I went to God with it and resolved to let it be.
That very evening, I was blessed by an amazing woman’s words. A visiting professor spoke in our night class. Of the many things that she said that really resonated with me, one was that if we believe something, we’ll be willing to put our bodies out there for it. She said this in reference to a march that she had attended protesting South Africa’s apartheid policies. She marched with her child clinging to her back. She did this because she wanted him to understand the truth of the physical outcomes of genuine beliefs.
That brought about a small amount of understanding in my mind.
This morning in chapel I was once again blessed by important words. The man who spoke talked about the importance of understanding that there is not a perfect Christian. But there is a perfect Savior. This is why there is meaning in looking towards Christ- keeping your eyes firmly set upon Jesus. He is the source of our strength and our peace and, ultimately, He is where we find the lives that we are to live. We find affirmation in Him, not in others.
That again brought an amount of understanding.
This evening I had the chance to go to Lansing for ESL as I do every week. As we headed out, I felt fairly powerless. I did find solace in the fact that I truly was powerless myself, and if anything was going to happen, it’d be through God. The night really went well. I felt that I was able to connect with the guys in my group. It went smoothly. It was a blessing to be part of.
What really hit me, however, happened afterwards.
I was speaking with the lady in charge of the program, the pastor of that particular church. She asked me how I was and I gave her an honest answer. I was well. And I asked her how she was.
Truly inquiring of persons how they are has been something that I’ve really been working on. Asking is easy but asking with intention is tough. To care, to listen, to simply be aware- I think that’s powerful and meaningful. Like I said, I had been working on that. But as with the other things that I had been doing, I felt my actions had brought about no positive effects. There were no signs that anything was happening. Nothing was telling me that it was worth the effort.
But when I asked this lady how she was, I could immediately see that that was the most important thing that I could have done all day. One simple question. So easily overlooked. I could see it in her eyes and hear it in her voice when she told me that no one else had bothered to ask her how she was. When she told me she didn’t even know how she was.
She had focused on others and asked others and cared about others and put herself out there and- nothing. And it was really wearing on her.
And I knew exactly where she was coming from.
I felt what she felt.
I pray for her. I pray for all-encompassing peace, strength, renewal and direction for her.
Henri Nouwen says that no two humans experience sorrow in the same way. I think that he is right.
But I also think that we can truly empathize with others. And that moment with that pastor made all of those other moments- all of those other times when I felt that I sacrificed to no avail- make sense.
You don’t know when you’re going to get through.
But God wants us to be willing to put ourselves out there.
To put others before ourselves.
To depend on Him.
To grow in Him.
To move over and let Him.
I think that this is what God is working on teaching me. To do good, even if it isn’t appreciated. Because it often won’t be. But that doesn’t make it “not good”.
I can only do so much. But when I give my aims and intentions to God, He is able to accomplish things so much more beautiful and pure than anything driven by my own selfish ambition.
Thank you for your presence today God.
“Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one’s weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.”
Even if it’s difficult.