I was feeling good. Just walking down the street.
It was October. A sunny day. 2009.
I was in a foreign city, on my way home. The pot-holed streets were crowded. Noisy with the din of traffic congestion and car horns.
As always, I was in my feel-good, do-gooder mode. Passing out pennies in the Kingdom.
I had some folded bills stuffed in a pocket for quick access, and some coins in one hand.
Buying gum from street urchins, passing out pennies to beggars.
Doing my thing for the Kingdom. Feeling useful. Feeling good.
The broken narrow sidewalks were jammed with vendors. More often than not, room for only one lane of pedestrians. The air was redolent, wafting with fragrant plumes from outdoor barbeques.
Then it happened. Seems like it always does. On these trips through town, back to the border. Dodging and weaving quickly through congestion surrounding a street vendor, I look up just in time to find myself squeezing past a shriveled old derelict holding out a cup. Too late. To late to react, without causing a traffic tie-up. I ignore his barely heard request and hastily mumble the first completely inane thing that comes to mind: “No gracias … Sorry.” And move on without looking back.
Thinking, you are soooo stupid, you idiot! You can’t be for real! I don’t speak Spanish, but this guy’s begging … and I say, “No thank you?” Jesus, what’s that all about?
And sorry? Sorry for what? Sorry I didn’t see you in time? Or sorry I didn’t care enough to go back? Take the time?
And every time I miss one of these opportunities I’m reminded of Jesus’ words, “I was naked, thirsty, and you gave me nothing to drink….”
Jesus? Wow. Was that another Jesus I just passed by without helping?
I hate it when this happens. But I like something about it too. It always sparks this dialogue. Is it dialogue to talk to yourself? Well I guess God was included in these dialogues, too, so it’s probably okay.
The dialogue usually goes something like this.
A few months ago I read something that made me realize I live everyday in the Kingdom of God. Jesus said when he came 2000 years ago, that he came to usher in the Kingdom of God. Here. Now. (Or then, actually.) But it opened my eyes to a beautiful thing. The awareness that each of us is living right now, this moment, in the Kingdom of God.
Growing up as a child, I’d always been reminded heaven was a beautiful place. And that Jesus was quite busy designing and building my custom home there. Like he promised. It was certainly something to invoke warm feelings.
But this new thought, that his kingdom was already among us. Or more precisely, that we are already living in it. Now that was exciting! And thought provoking.
Having never been accused of not being a romantic, I began envisioning that that being the case, then all of us Christians were actually like princes and princesses. Dressed in regal, royal finery. Deep Purples. Bright sky-blues. Swords encrusted with jewels. Riding about our Father’s kingdom on these giant, glorious steeds. And as princes in the King’s family it was our daily duty to ride about the kingdom greeting his subjects, inspecting his property and setting aright any and all things remiss. Like keeping the sheriff of Nottingham at bay.
Like passing out pennies. Loving on the poor. Okay, maybe $5 or even a rare $10 now and then. Certainly nothing, though, that would break my bank.
What a great job! Stamping out injustice. Righting wrongs. Polishing the kingdom.
So a few blocks later, Prince Enyart is right in the midst of this ongoing dialogue (with himself?) when the unthinkable happens. In retrospect, you sort of imagine this is the kind of thing God loves to do, right? Just to get your attention? Maybe knock you off your high horse? It always hurts, but in the end you (hopefully) learn something from the experiences.
Dodging around another passerby I look up and see the unimaginable coming toward me on the sidewalk. I mean like, Jesus! This is unimaginable! Bear in mind, this is not downtown LA, or anywhere in the USA. It’s a poor third (second?) world country. And not a great city, at that. But still … This?
About ten feet away I see Jesus. Wait. Let me explain.
At the time I didn’t recognize him. Would you? I mean, what does He look like anyway? And He’s certainly not female.
Before this I would have told you I’d seen everything. Walking through this, one of my favorite towns. Beautiful people, poor people, blind people, rich people, crippled people, you name it. I’d seen it all.
But today, there was a young woman crawling toward me on the filthy sidewalk. She wasn’t crawling really, because she was flat on her stomach, inch-worming and dragging herself along slowly, sort of listing on her right side. Her arms and legs looked to be crippled and curled. Amazingly both she and her clothing looked clean. In spite of the fact she’d been painfully dragging herself along on this dirty sidewalk.
No one was paying her any attention. Almost like she didn’t even exist. Thinking back now, I realize she must be a permanent fixture there. Someone they must see daily.
It happened so fast that by the time I’m past her with my folded bills and handful of change, I realize she wasn’t holding a cup or begging. Hard to do when forward motion is a full time job. My eyes are suddenly pooling, my face contorted in anguish. I ask myself what would a true prince in the kingdom of God have done?
I envision him swooping her up in his arms and swinging onto his steed. Pounding off to the castle, taking her to his Father. Certainly he would not have ignored her. Passed her by. Crawling on the sidewalk. In his father’s Kingdom. Like all the others. Like I did.
Soooo … what could I have done? What should I have done? A couple of obvious things popped into mind immediately. Nothing to do with filthy pennies.
One thing though was foremost in my mind. As hot tears streamed down my face. It was this thought: No one should ever have to crawl in the Kingdom of God. No one. Not ever. In fact, I’m certain there’s probably even some ordinance against it.
In my dreams now I’m sitting down in front of her. Pulling her up. Holding her in my arms. Whispering in her ear the good news that crawling is not allowed. You have to get up. Pointing to heaven and telling her because the King commands it.
Oh yeah. Did I ever want to go back. But I didn’t. I never even looked back. I was too afraid.
On that beautiful day of promise. October. 2009.
The day she probably would have loved to meet a prince.
Find out about that rule about crawling in her Father’s Kingdom.
I weep all the way to the border.
Maybe next time.
Yep, there’s actually an epilogue to this. And it’s not a happy ending, either. Not yet.
The next couple of trips down, I scouted around a few blocks in the area where I had seen my Jesus. Not sure what I’d do if I did come across Him. Honestly I think I was hoping, in fact, that I wouldn’t. And could salve my conscience knowing, Well, I tried, didn’t I?
I also made some inquiries, too. One person thought they knew who she was, and maybe even the neighborhood where she lived. Thought she had a daughter that lived with her. Even thought he knew her name.
This guy is a friend of mine. You might call him the Laguna Greeter of Tijuana. He works a pedestrian bridge over the river leading to “Tourist Alley” and the downtown shops. With his tin cup. I buy gum from him and usually bring him a bottle of water. Sit with him and chat. (He speaks passable English.)
There’s a craziness about this too. Because in over the year I’d known him, I’d never once thought about praying for him. My friend. So now I’m asking him about my crippled Jesus — and my friend has no legs. He drags himself around on a rolling dolly.
And what do you pray for a man with no legs, anyway? Strength? New legs?
This dilemma was escalating, not abating.
It’s now been years since the day I almost — but not quite — met Jesus. Crawling on a sidewalk. I’m trying to be more spontaneous. Trying not think so much about what people might think. Maybe there’s some improvement, but it’s probably not noticeable.
But there’s a little big thing in the back of my mind I have to confess I’m kinda worried about. What if there’s a sequel coming soon? What would I do if I ever come across her again. Would I do anything differently?
I know some of you know exactly what I’m talking about. You’ve been there too. And if you’re honest, you’ll admit it’s actually more about us looking foolish, than giving God a chance to get glory. And kick the sheriff of Nottingham out of His kingdom.
There’s a saying by William W. Purkey I love. It’s one we’ve all heard and wish we lived by, but don’t. It goes:
“You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching, Love like you’ll never be hurt,
Sing like there’s nobody listening, And live like it’s heaven on earth.”
I love that last part: ‘Heaven on earth.’ Wow. That’s the goal, right? That’s what you and I want to see. And help make happen.
Sometimes we all need to just play it to God. And no one else. Just forget they’re watching.
Lord, please help me remember that the next time I come across you lying in the street. Help me put my fear aside. And most of all my pride.
And help me play it just for you.
Then get out of the way.
For the glory is all yours.
Now and forever.
So be it!