I used to wish I could fit myself more into a ‘box’, but over time, I have come to realize that I could never function in a box. I’m the borderline ENFP. As taken straight from my personality type analysis…”They live in the world of possibilities, and can become very passionate and excited about things”…I come by it honestly. These passions along with the joy in learning something new keep me trying, time and time again. I’m a dreamer, a doer, a thinker and a flawed human who wants to do it all! I dream about all of these things eventually intersecting to be used for one common good.
As most, I have great hopes and dreams for the future and pursuing these things can be risky, vulnerable and altogether terrifying. As I think through some of these dreams, I can get easily overwhelmed, but I continue to go back to one common thread, I want to challenge myself and others to see people, to see the good in them, to bring value, to listen, to engage to care for...and about them. I have allowed myself to begin to dream, all the while challenging myself to be fully present in the now. It’s a hard balance, to dream while being present…but so very important, or else we risk missing what is in front of us each and every day.
I'm not one to need a label for everything, but it was a Sunday afternoon a few months ago when I was told to create this website and call it 'Reclaim'. It was a few nights prior, I was sitting in my room thinking through some of these ‘Reclaim’ dreams and putting more of my thoughts to paper, when, per usual, I began to hear the roar of my insecurities. Publicly sharing this is terrifying to me because, like most, I have a fear of failure…'What if no one ever reads this very sentence? What if my dreams don't come to fruition? What if people think the things I say are ridiculous? This is a waste of time.' Lies. As I finished writing, I went out to my living room to find my roommates face-timing with their endearing mom, Yvonne. I chimed in to say hi and Yvonne proceeded to say hello, ask how I was doing and profusely compliment the piece of furniture I had re-done which she noticed in the background. She kept saying over and over again that I had a gift, and should create more. God was saying, ‘see, people like what you do, have confidence, keep going.’ I am an awful compliment-acceptor. My knee jerk reaction is to say, 'thanks, but you don't have to say that, I actually think that piece is awful.' Isn't it funny how we have such a hard time accepting flattery about something that isn't ours to possess in the first place? Gifts are for giving, when we give of our gifts and constantly reject any form of flattery, we just might be holding on to our gifts a little bit too tightly.
Back to the story. I was on my way out the door to meet some friends for dinner, I said bye to my roommates and their mom via the computer screen! I had a few minutes to spare before dinner and I was out of almond butter, so I decided to stop by the Sprouts grocery store on my way. Besides, Whole30 without almond butter is something I wouldn't wish upon my worst enemy…this was an emergency. I went in, got what I needed and was on my way. As I approached my car, I noticed a homeless man standing next to it. He seemed to be in his late 50’s or early 60’s, tattered clothes, dirt covering his face along with a straggly gray beard…he asked me if I had some money for a bus pass. Before giving anything to anyone, I always ask them more about who they are and their current situation. I asked him his name and where he was from, he said, his name was John and he was from Arkansas. He told me that he was a veteran, a navy seal. He was trying to get to the Austin Street Shelter and just needed a bus pass. Usually I have bus passes in my wallet, but tonight I was fresh out. I told the man that I didn’t have a pass, but was able to talk with him about some other shelters he could go to right up the street. I gave him my card and told him to call me if/when he ever did make it to one of these facilities. I told him a little bit about the organization I was working with at the time, which was a program to help individuals experiencing homeless get back on their feet, and that I would love to get him into the program. Tonight, my offer to him was $5 and just a few minutes of my time. As I looked deep into his eyes, I asked him if he had an addiction problem…he told me yes, alcohol. He was honest, I told him that I really hoped he’d stay away from that stuff, at least for tonight, because God had a plan for him. I asked him if he worked, he told me he did odd jobs here and there. He dropped my card, and as he bent down to pick it up, I could tell he was in pain. I asked him if he was injured, he said he had spinal stenosis in his back, I shared with him that my dad suffered from the same problem. I asked him if he was looking for work and he said that he was learning that life was more about the people we meet along the way rather than the destination. I had just written that almost exact line in the ‘about’ section of 'Reclaim' a few days before.
“I see life as an adventure and realize it is not so much about the destination as it is the incredible journey…oh and the souls you encounter along the way.”
I told him I believed that same thing…life is about the people we meet. Being a person of strong faith, I asked him if I could pray with him, because I believe there is power in prayer and God is a God who moves mountains and sees our need, in our darkest hour. He excitedly said, ‘yes!’. It seemed as if this was the best thing I could have done for him in that moment. We stood right there in the Sprouts parking lot where I was able to pray for John…pray for his healing from his ailments and his safe arrival to the shelter. I prayed for his future, that God would make a way for Him and that he would trust Him, for safety, and direction. As he looked up, his eyes were filled with tears, he said, ‘thank you.’ He went to shake my hand and I gave him a hug…it is always good to hug, and look into the eyes of people you meet, they often aren’t expecting that and both of those things can go a long way.
I got into my car and just began to cry, as I was starting to see faith...working itself out through action of myself and others. My friends texted me and told me they were going to be late, I had a few more minutes to spare, so I quickly ran to 7-11 to get some gas. I had an early morning meeting and didn’t want to have to fill up in the morning.
As I got out of my car and began to pump my gas, another man approached me. He spooked me a little, but assured me that he was not going to harm me. He was an older African American man, his clothes were filthy, his body bruised and as he began to speak to me, I noticed that half of his teeth were missing. In his very broken, slowed speech, He told me he had just gotten beat up, he showed me his feet which seemed to be bruised and broken. He then proceeded to tell me that he had been stabbed a while ago, and raised his shirt to show me his stomach. I quickly dodged my eyes so as not to pass out right there in front of this man. As I continued to listen to him, his stench was getting stronger and stronger. I had not smelled anything this foul in a while, this man was filthy. I could smell the alcohol on him, I was unsure if he was sober or if it was a lingering aroma from the past weeks. He told me he just wanted to get to a hotel to take a shower. I then told him about some of the local facilities he could go to where he would not have to pay a fee. As I was telling him that, he looked into my eyes and said ‘girl, you gots Jesus in your eyes, you know that?’ He said ‘I don’t know if you know Him, but you gots Him in your eyes.’ I said, ‘yes, I do know Him, do you?’ When I said that he immediately began to cry and said, ‘thank you Jesus.’ He then said, ‘yes, I do know him, but I have some questions for you about Melchizedek…I’ve been reading about him and I don’t understand why the bible says he was in the likeness of God.’ I told him that I had never studied Melchizedek’…he said ‘well, look him up, it’s in Hebrews chapter 7!’. I took out my iphone, looked up Hebrews chapter 7, and sure enough…there was the chapter about Melchizedek. He asked me to read it…I then proceeded to read the entire chapter aloud. In the middle, the man said to me, ‘by the way, my name is Gregory Brown’, I said, well, nice to meet you Gregory, my name is Leigh. He said ok, keep reading. I finished the chapter and he began to tell me all that he knew about Melchizedek. He said he understood the bible, but sometimes had questions that drove him crazy. As I kept looking into his eyes, he kept instructing me to turn to different passages. He then told me a story that he said he hadn't told many people in his life. He said that the day he got out of the hospital, he was sitting on a bench reading his ‘little green bible’ when a slow moving, elderly man with a beard came up to him and said ‘boy, do you know what you are reading in that bible?’ Gregory said that he told him, yes. He said the man told him he needed to shut his bible, get on his knees, pray for understanding then start reading again. Gregory told me that he looked at the man, got on his knees, prayed for understanding, and when he opened his eyes the man was nowhere to be found. He said that since then, He has understood the bible like never before. He then started to tell me all about his theories on Adam and Eve, and why he believed they were not the first people on earth.
After preaching an entire sermon to me where he periodically would have me read, then say ‘we are about to bake a cake here’, meaning, we were going to get to his point soon…Gregory then asked me for that money for the hotel. I told him that I really didn’t feel that my money was what he needed, but that I was going to pray for him. I asked him how I might be able to do that…he looked down at the ground, then looked up at me and said ‘will you pray that I might be able to help people?’ I looked at him and said, ‘yes I will pray for that, how would you like to help people?’ He said, ‘well, I think I just did.’ Of course, I knew that I had been encouraged by Gregory, but I didn’t know that he would ever know that. I said, what do you mean? He started to walk away…I said, ‘you are right, you did help me tonight, thank you.’ He came back, looked at me in the eyes and said, ‘you know, I wasn’t going to tell you this, but I feel like I gots to…you need closure.’ He said… ‘ from whatever it is, you need closure, you need to have that conversation because it is eating away at you.’ As tears welt up in my eyes, I looked up at him and said ‘how did you know?’ He said, ‘I don’t know, from the minute we started talking, I have been wanting to tell you that.’ He said, ‘just know that He sees you, it’s for a purpose, and He wants you to be free.’ He said, ‘I don’t know how I know these things, I don’t even want to know these things, but I do.’ I told him that he was spot on…he told me not to cry. I just stood there and looked at him for a few moments and he said again‘have that conversation, you need closure, then let it go.’ I told him I knew this, and that this was my hope.
I then opened my trunk to find something to give to Gregory…my trunk which was always filled to the brim with different things because of my role at the time as ‘running gear delivery girl’. He said he didn’t want anything…but then said he would take a Dallas Cowboys beanie, even though he wasn’t a Cowboys fan. As I shut my trunk, I also gave him a dollar, it was the cash I had, and the cash I felt he needed. He took the dollar and gave me a hug. We hugged, and he began to walk away, singing some gospel tune. He turned back, looked at me and said ‘I love you.’ I told him I loved him too and so did the God of the universe. I thanked him and told him I hoped to see him again sometime.
That night was confirmation…in so many beautiful ways. Confirmation in the things that stir my heart; in passions, in moving forward, leaving behind and in my belief that God truly is using the least, the unseen, the poor, the broken and the hurting...in a mighty way. That night I was given a word from God by a filthy, tattered, bruised man at the gas station. That night, a man who surely thought I had something for him, really ended up having something for me.
A verse from the bible I was challenged to memorize that same week through a prayer study I was going through at the time is…
‘Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.’ Hebrews 7:25
Hebrews 7….the exact chapter Gregory asked me to read aloud to him! God is interceding, He is literally praying on my behalf. He is for us…and that is all we need.
I eventually made it to dinner, 30 minutes late but made it. My friends were a little perturbed at me…I tried my best to explain to them why I was late, but was really not able to put the experience into words. We ate quickly, then the restaurant closed shortly after that, so we left.
I came home and told my roommates about the evening I just had…where dinner with my friends was clearly not the focal point. They got chills, they, more than anyone know the significance of this evening and the words spoken over me. I knew I also wanted to tell our friend Lindsey…who had just last week told me about a recent experience she had similar to this. I texted her and told her I had a story to tell her, but I wanted to get it in writing and send it to her. I sat and wrote the story you just read late into the night, then sent it off to her the next morning…I received a text from her which said…
‘Leigh, Gregory Brown is the homeless man I prayed over in the back of Mudsmith the other day. When we prayed I asked God to use him this week in a mighty way so that he could be reminded of the value he has in this world and in the kingdom.’
Mudsmith is the coffee shop we often spend our days working from, and Lindsey had just told me last week about a man she met outside. When she sent me that text, I got chills all over my body. As I sat there on my bed, in awe of the way God is working in and through His people. Lindsey was led to empower Gregory last week, to pray that he would be ‘of use’…someone whom from the outside, seemed to have nothing useful left in him. Gregory was then led to talk to me…though he asked me for money, in the end, he realized that this wasn’t necessarily about what he could get from me…the purpose was that he might give what he has to me, and find the value he has to bring to this world.
For me, on this unlikely journey to dinner, I heard the words, 'go' from three unlikely people. 'Go' meaning, do what has been put in your heart to do, regardless of your fears! I was once again reminded that we all have so much to give, not in this ‘pay it forward’ sort of way. Our stories are being intricately woven together to encourage and breath life into another's to contribute to the greater story, God is using the very least to make the very most of Him.
If you aren't a person of faith, I hope you are still encouraged. Simply to see beneath the surface and in to the heart of those brought into your path. Know and believe that each person has value to bring to the world and a story worth listening to. There is so much we can all gain from one another. There is no rule that says, only the monetarily rich can give to the poor, we can give to each other, I believe that’s the way God intended it to be. That it is in our greatest efforts to put our best foot forward and help someone with ‘nothing to offer’, that we see the power of hope. When someone has been given hope, they have everything to offer in their ability to extend hope to someone else…and this is the greatest gift of all...
So whatever it is, may you go confidently in the direction of your beautiful dreams and invite others to join you! Let the value spoken over you through subtle whispers of the unlikely speak louder than the roar of your insecurities. Freely give, while freely receiving, walk with confidence and let your passions ignite a fire within you! May this fire continually light the way towards the 'next' and lead you to see the value in others. You never know what could be around the corner...may we trust the process all the way through.