I was on my way back to work around noon after a quick lunch break today, when I decided I’d stop in at my local Wawa (I hope you have one near you) to get myself a frosty-coffee-something-or-other drink. It’s a beautiful day in the 80s here in central VA and the weather was screaming for such a beverage. So I indulged.
I walked up to the front door, noticed the sign about masks regardless of vaccination and walked myself back to my car to grab one. As I walked back toward the entrance for that second time, there was a young woman standing outside the Wawa with a telltale cardboard sign. She stopped me and began to tell me how her husband had “just died on Monday” and she needed money so she could bury him. I was lock-brained in an instant and while wanting to absorb the information she was feeding me, found myself instantly in an inner mental wrestling match between compassion and cynicism. Have you had that wrestle, or is it just me?
In my response, I think I told her I want to help her, but let me first run in to the store and I’d be right back. I honestly wasn’t putting her off, I just wanted a second to get my thoughts together to decide what would be the best way to minister to her. As I put in my order for my drink, I pulled a bill of cash from my wallet and decided I’d hand that to her along with telling her that I’m a pastor, give her my email address, and if she needed someone to officiate her husband’s funeral, please reach out and let me know.
Let me just stop right here and say something else. I’m so very thankful for the spiritual community I’m a part of. It means my life and that of my family has a built-in network of love and support that will, at the drop of a hat, drop everything to help me and or my family in every and any tangible practical way. The fact that this woman lost her husband “on Monday” and here she was outside a Wawa on Tuesday begging money to bury him–setting aside all my skeptical thoughts about the truth/legitimacy of her story–it just made me thankful that I’m a part of a local church that I know would step in to tragedy and show God’s love to me and my family.
So I got my drink, paid for it, and headed toward the exit. I had rehearsed my response to this woman a few times and was ready to offer my help. I exited the building the same door I entered, stepped outside, and….no one. She was gone. I’ve got to be honest when I tell you that I was both relieved and let down. You ever have those two feelings at the same time?
It had easily been less than 5 minutes from me entering the Wawa so I knew she couldn’t have gone far. Determined to offer help, I decided I’d go looking for her. I lapped the entire Wawa, eyes darting all over. I looked at the storage facility directly behind the Wawa, I looked at the pharmacy right next to the Wawa. Nothing. As I pulled out into busy Hull St. traffic, I found myself looking left and right for any trace of this woman. Nothing. Vanished. Gone.
The skeptic inside me figures she hopped back into her Mercedes and headed to the next place she’d set up her sob story until she gets run off by management. But even still, I felt a sense of compassion and wanting to at least offer to step into a place of possible actual pain in order to be of some help.
That’s not how I normally live though, I confess to you. I don’t get up every morning looking for that good kind of trouble. But as I drove looking and not finding that woman and thought about it more, maybe that’s what I should be doing. “God, where is there trouble I can step into?” or “Jesus, who are you pointing me to that needs to experience grace, a listening ear, the gospel, and love?”
Think what you’d like about this woman and her story. But God used her in my life today to help me recalibrate. And I’m so thankful for that, and for her.