I could tell he was desperate. Maybe it was just a vibe. Maybe it was the cadence of his speech. Maybe it was the heaviness of his gait. I could tell he was desperate. He needed something and we were his last stop.
I've dealt with these kinds of people before. I know how to handle them. Give them some gas at the corner station and maybe a meal at Mr. Gene's and they'll go away. After all, they are just looking for a handout. It's tough not being callous. Compassion seems remote when so many have abused the kindnesses offered. Either my vision is getting worse or it's just getting harder to see Jesus in them waiting to be served. It's sure not something to get excited about as it usually means another 30 minutes, or more, of my day hearing a tightly crafted and well rehearsed sob-story. But, like I said, I could tell he was desperate.
He had just been released from prison (I'm already reaching for my make believe tissue to wipe my make believe tears) and didn't have any clothes other than the ones on his back. He had court costs due real soon; if they didn't get paid he was headed back to jail. He was looking for a job but there just aren't many around for anybody, much less somebody like him. He just needed $70. He was desperate.
Maybe that was what caught my attention. So often people come through with needs but they are not really desperate, they just want some help. There was something different about this one. He didn't just need help, he was desperate for it. He was willing to do anything for it.
I don't know why I asked it but the question came tumbling out like a baby elephant being born; messy and unavoidable. I asked him, "Are you getting ready to make another bad decision?" The conversation came to an unexpected pause. Usually by now they are out the door on the way to the gas station. He just looked at me. Finally he spoke and said, "You just read my mind. Did God tell you I was about to do something?"
Moments later he was returning from his car with a bandanna and gloves. Laying them on the table in front of me he said, "I had already decided which store I was going to rob. I don't think I need to do that now. I need to take a different road."
With undeniable agreement and unfeigned relief I shared God's plan. We talked about the path he was on and how he could begin making decisions that would lead him down a good road. I heard him talk about injustices suffered as well as punishment earned and paid. I cautioned him about questionable relationships and he readily agreed that things had to change. We looked to scripture for guidance and found truth that made a difference. He prayed and I wept as I listened to this desperate man find grace.
We found him some work. Some honorable work. Hard work. He earned that $70 and came back the next day and earned some more. He walked away in peace. He walked away knowing, that at least this one time, he chose to do the right thing. He walked away a little less desperate and a little more hopeful. He walked away surprised by God's provision. He walked away a little bit different. I am praying he continues to walk with God.
It was all for want of $70 dollars.