Sunday, August 20, 2006

Dinner with Chuck

"Do you love me? Feed my sheep."-Jesus

The week progressed. I was excited about the upcoming dinner, but life often clouds the excitement. One such night, working as cashier at my job, a usual customer came in ordering the same food as always. She walked up to the register as I greeted her with my cheerful "Hey! How was your day?!" Her response was honest. "It was pretty awful." I gently inquired as to why and she said, "Basically, I've come to the realization that I've waisted a year of my life this town. I can't find a job and life seems pretty worthless right now." People were waiting to pay, so the conversation ended with me complimenting her hat and her chuckling at my attempt to be kind. Later on, as she ate in the dining room, I attempted to find out more. I wiped down some tables, talking to her and it seemed to be as she discovered my plan she closed up. She said "Sweetie, I know you're trying to be sweet, but I don't want to talk about it." Her voice was cold. I calmly received her dismissal and continued my job.

Thursday came quick as always during the summer time. I had class that afternoon, but had to go early to complete the assignment for that day. I was sitting in one of the lobbys and I looked up and saw my customer from the previous day. I was on the phone and she was busy, but I waved to her and she greeted me with a smile. Later on, while taking a break from the multi-hour discussion of stats, I saw her again and again greeted. I just knew that I had to tell her I was praying for her. But the opportunity passed as soon as it came.

I remember driving to the chiropractor before the set time...I believe it was 5:45 and Andrew called to confirm plans. We decided to meet at the square at the place we had talked on the previous Monday.

On my way to dinner, I was listening to a CD Andrew had made and this song came on..."Be still and know that He is God. Be still and know that He is holy. Be still, oh restless soul of mine. Bow before the Prince of peace. Let the noise and clammer cease. Be still." And my heart obeyed. I walked up the steps, absorbing the sights and smells of the evening. I rounded the corner and saw Andrew there. We both admitted to our nervousness and began to pray. Andrew started and once he had completed, I just listened to God for a while. I think Andrew thought I did not want to pray and he began to conclude, but I gently stopped him and told him I wanted to pray. "I'm just resting in Him." I uttered my prayers asking God for guidance and we got up and proceeded on our way.

"The first who asks." That was the message God gave to both of us as we walked down Kirkwood. We headed towards People's park. No one was out yet. And I mean no one. So we both walked toward a bench and sat down in this place in which we stuck out. Two of us: clean cut, neatly dressed, well-put together. The rest: disshevled, stained clothes, cigarettes and white foam soda cups and the occasional loaf of bread. I noticed this one boy. Red shirt, looked as if he was balding, but I soon noticed his hair, once jet black was giving way to the natural brown it once knew. Something about him...I was supposed to interact with him...I just didn't know how.

Andrew and I continued to wait, praying and occasionally singing a verse of "Amazing Grace." I was at peace. Then, I looked across the street as a black man seemed to take station outside of the local sandwich shop. He carried a large black duffle bag and a white bandage adorned his head. Something inside me stirred. A man passed him buy and there was an interaction...a request and denial. The passerby went to the ATM which was about 15 feet away from the other man. As he performed the usual task, my friend approached him again. I couldn't imagine how the man at the ATM felt, denying him a second time. Perhaps he felt threatened. I knew I would be scared.

I looked at Andrew and pointed toward the man as he restationed himself with his bag. He looked at me, smiled, and we got up and made our way across the street. Sure enough, as we "passed him" the man asked if we had any spare change. Andrew approached him and said, "Actually, we were wondering if you would like to join us for dinner." He accepted and we soon learned this Alabama native's name was Chuck.

The place of choice was just across the street equipped with outdoor seating. Chuck made it clear that we would be enjoying the humidity with dinner as Andrew and I went to inform a server of our arrival. We found our seats and began our conversation. Chuck had been in a bad car accident: hence the head wrap. His speech was muddled, hard to understand, but soon we were able to interpret his words.

Conversation began slowly. He kept on repeating the phrase "You know what I'm sayin?" in a drunken slur. We looked at the menus for a little while and continued talking. "So where do you stay at night," I asked. I knew as soon as I asked, I had tread on forbidden soil. He reprimanded me for my tactless inquiry and I felt it in my stomach. Andrew attempted to salvage the conversation by attributing my question to curiosity. Then, taking a lighter approach, I asked him about sports.

We ordered a round of waters, a cheeseburger for me and two Thanksgiving sandwiches for the gentlemen. Chuck continued with his ramblings. He spoke of how money spun the world and how he was just trying to get where he was goin. I don't think we ever specified where...but I knew. Chuck was tryin to find peace...and had been for years.

As we waited for the food, I watched as passerby's examined the situation, wondering what two young kids were doing with a man they saw on the streets. Chuck greeted a couple of his friends and one stopped to chat. With him was a large black dog. We later learned his new name was "Mr. Beep". The man was disoriented and antsy. I think he was shaking. He knelt down and talked with us for a little bit. He never made eye contact, but was loud and abrasive. His language was that of a sailor. I felt the hurt.

I offered him the seat next to me and put in an order for another burger. He declined, but asked for a couple dollars for his beer for the night. I shook my head and offered him the food again. "No honey, I'm alright." He fed Mr. Beep the left overs from another table and left mumbling something about how he had to kill someone that night. I had an extra burger on the table.

Just as he left, as if on cue, the boy from the park...the one with the red shirt came toward us on his bike. I shouted after him. He stopped and looked. I knew what I had to do. "I'm supposed to give you this," I said as I handed him the extra burger and fries. He looked at me, bewildered and confused. "Thank you." Chuck motioned toward him and said "This girl here...she's an angel. You'll never meet a nicer girl." The boy smiled at Chuck and nodded. "Be careful tonight," I cautioned. His eyes opened wide as if I had salted an open wound. He acknowledged it and rode away.

Chuck was soon finished. He asked if he could leave. I smiled at him. "What ya smilin for?" he asked me. "Jesus loves you, Chuck. That's why."

I hadn't been that hungry, so I placed the remaining half of my sandwich in a styrofoam container. We paid and began walking back to the car. We had church that night. As we walked by the library...we saw him. Merl...sitting there. Andrew lit up and exclaimed "Yes!" So, I hadn't been hungry...but Merl was. I handed him the box...quickly noticing that he had no recollection of our previous interaction. It did not seem to matter. God fed three people that night.

We continued up the road and as I looked ahead...I saw her. For the third time that day. I threw up my arms with joy and exclaimed "It must be God!" I asked for her name...Stephanie. I told her I was praying for her and she looked at me and pulled me in for a hug. Imagine!

Andrew and I listened to the song, "Be still" and we basked in the glory of the moment for a while. Be still and know that He is God. And to think...this was only the beginning.

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