We Are Not Forgotten or Wasted

A man recently approached me at a gas station.

This doesn’t happen often; in fact, I only remember one such other occasion, and it wasn’t particularly pleasant.

My initial reaction when anyone approaches me while I’m busy doing something goes something like this:

I’M UNDER ATTACK.

WAIT, NO I’M NOT.

AT LEAST, I DON’T THINK.

WAIT, WHAT DOES HE WANT?

UGH, DO I HAVE TO TALK TO HER?

I see the encroaching form from the corner of my eyes, and I tend to start from a place of doubt and cynicism and social anxiety. Whether it’s a homeless person begging for cash or cigarettes, or a supervisor asking for a favor.

My first thought when I’m approached is never:

YAY A PERSON COMING TO ENCOURAGE ME.

A couple weeks ago, I parked at a gas pump and stepped out of my car. I started to reach for my wallet when it happened — someone approaching me from the left.

We are not Forgotten or Wasted

Photo courtesy valleymark2013, Creative Commons.

I recognize him immediately as the long-haired kid on a skateboard I’d just passed upon pulling into the gas station. I’d even pointed him out to my roommate who was in the car with me: “Wow, look at that kid. So cool with his hair and wheels and graphic tee.”

And now here he is u-turning toward me with his skateboard.

“Excuse me,” he says, coming closer. “Did you work at Second Nature?”

I stop in my tracks, looking him over: blonde locks to his shoulders, silvery blue eyes. His eyes are searching mine.

“Yeah…” I say, confirming his question, my voice trailing, trying to figure out how in the world this random kid would know I used to work in the woods —

“Do you remember me?” he asks.

And right as he asks it, it hits me.

I start pointing at him as words rumble up my throat.

“Grant!” I shout, and his face lights up. I step toward him, and we bypass the handshake for a hug behind my car.

Grant was one of the students in the seemingly foreboding yet brotherly addicts group. I worked with him for a couple shifts, learning of his story as a 17-year-old new father who’d also done some prison time for his drug use. We’d connected over how we were both from Charlotte, where I was living at the time.

That I’m now looking at Grant’s face OUT of the woods and NOT in Charlotte, but Asheville, where I now live, is throwing my brain through all kinds of hoops and loops.

“What are you doing here?” I ask him. “How are you?” I follow up. “How’s your son?” I can’t stop.

Grant smiles a boyish grin, and he nods a few times. “I’m good, I’m good. I went back to using after getting out of Second Nature, but I’m focused on my recovery now. I’m actually staying in a halfway house down the road, and I work part-time at a couple restaurants in town. My girlfriend moved here with me, too, and she’s staying in a similar place. We don’t get to see our son since we put him up for adoption, but we’re hoping with enough sobriety between the two of us that the parents will ease up and let us see him someday.”

He tells me the name of the restaurant where he works, a building quite literally one block from my house. I’m standing there by my car, my roommate patiently waiting in the passenger seat, my car still needing gas, and I’m wondering if I should let Grant on his way or drag him into a booth for coffee at the gas station’s adjoining Dunkin’ Donuts.

To think: Grant’s story and mine, re-converging in these same Blue Ridge Mountains hardly an hour away from where we first met nearly a year ago. He is the same kid I met in the woods, and yet he is distinctly different, older and wiser, with more of a sparkle in his eyes I didn’t quite see back then.

“I’ve always wondered if I’d ever see any of those kids outside the woods,” I tell Grant. Additionally, I’m thinking: I’ve always wondered if I even made any difference for those kids inside the woods.

Grant is still grinning as he swipes a lock of hair from his eyes, and I want to stand or sit and talk longer with him, but he has a job to get to.

“It was so cool seeing you again,” I tell him. “Maybe I’ll see you again some time.”

He nods, and we shake hands, and then he skates away.

I fill up on gas, and I drive with my roommate into the mountains, an excursion we had planned on taking an hour earlier but gotten delayed at home for whatever reason. I can’t even remember why anymore.

Had we left an hour earlier, Grant on a skateboard and myself in a car would not have crossed paths at this unsuspecting gas station.

“It’s stuff like this that proves God is real,” I tell my roommate as we drive into the hills.

I live for moments like these. Encounters we never see coming.

I need moments like these. The assurance of not being forgotten.

I cry out for moments like these. For hope realized that a season of our lives was not wasted.

  • Mark Buzard

    Awesome! Thanks for sharing…… we may never know til Heaven what a difference we have made in someone’s life. Once in a while, God lets us see something like this.

  • Marielena

    Beautiful, Tom! I LOVE this blog post and your sharing. We never know whose lives we are touching and how they are touching ours. This is what life is about (as your grandfather might say). God IS real and our lives are never wasted! Thanks for sharing this wonderful moment.

    • Ahh is such an inspiration to me when it comes to interacting with “strangers” or passing acquaintances or anyone, really. Thanks for that reminder, Cha Cha, that we never know whose life we’re impacting. Especially as fellow writers!

  • Rebecka

    Wow, what an awesome and uplifting story. Thanks for sharing.

  • Dad

    While “touring the Southeast” with your mother and her sister and your two cousins this past week, I was approached by a homeless man in Savannah. Meeting new people always has an element of “fear” associated with it, especially when someone approaches you out of the blue that you do not know. Using these as opportunities to share God’s love with them is one of the greatest gifts we could be given (and might I add, a fulfillment of Ephesians 2:10 if we handle the situation biblically)

    The overflow from the encounter is usually not what we expected, because that is how the Lord likes to operate, “beyond anything we can ever hope or imagine!” In this case, the man who said his name was Lonnie told me he was confident the Lord sent me to him. I believe that as well, but not just for Lonnie, even though that was part of it. Your two young cousins got to see and hear me interact with this man on the free bus shuttle for about 20 minutes and I am confident that the Lord is penetrating their little hearts towards Him. I had prayed for a good way to communicate to them, how much God loves them. This is what He handed me!

    Every encounter is supernaturally engineered by the Lord (even the bad ones are under His purview and control). How we react and what our attitudes are….this is what the Lord is looking to see from His children. After all, we are representing Him! We should do it well!

    “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, certain that God is appealing through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God.” 2 Corinthians 5:20

    I love you Tom!!!!

  • naturgesetz

    Whatever your reason for leaving later than planned, God’s reason was so Grant and you would meet. Great story. It put a big smile on my face. I hope you’ll have a chance to follow up with him.

    • A big smile or a GIANT smile? Please be more specific. Thanks.

      • naturgesetz

        Well, I wasn’t looking in a mirror, but it definitely felt bigger than yours in your profile pic. It may not have been a GIANT smile, but it was probably a great big smile.

  • Josh

    What a great story! One of my pastors once said, the people in your life are there for a reason- God put them there. To bring both of you closer to God.

    • Thanks, Josh. I hope Grant sees some of Him in me. If not in the wilderness or at the gas station, then perhaps in the months ahead…

  • Eddie

    Superb reunion story Tom. I do pray you find the answer to that burning question (if I even made any difference?), at least in part.

    “My initial reaction when anyone approaches me while I’m busy doing something goes something like this: I’M UNDER ATTACK… WAIT, NO I’M NOT… AT LEAST, I DON’T THINK… WAIT, WHAT DOES HE WANT? UGH, DO I HAVE TO TALK TO HER?”

    You were curious as to what a Enneagram 6 like me is like? Well, you found me out. This sizing up goes on in my head constantly. I’m not proud of it as intellectually and as you discovered not everyone is a threat. Yes, there is good in the world, but there is also evil and I don’t perceive the world through rose-colored glasses. Bear in mind, I consider my “6” side (“six” side? “sixth” side? “sith” side? hmmm.) to be my dark side scrupulously ascertaining people: Are you friend or foe?

    Internal Dialogue:

    “Friend. Ok, shields down. At ease soldier. Open hailing frequencies. ‘Greetings friend. How are you? How may I help you?'”

    “Foe! RED ALERT!!! Shields up! Arm weapons! Prepare to fire on my command! Plot strategic withdrawl. Engage engines.”

    Well, the “foe” portion is rather over the top. I deal with “foes” in a more diplomatic fashion by being stern, but not rude and asking questions as to clarify their intentions. This of course goes out the window if life or limb is threatened. If we ever have a chance to speak one-on-one Tom, do remind to tell you my “Steak ‘n’ Shake coupon story.”

    Happy trails brother & friend.

    P.S. Please feel free to see http://www.enneagramwork.com/type_6.html for a description.

    • Eddie! Thanks for stopping by my neck of the woods here. Glad to know I’m not alone in my friend/foe mindset. We share a lot in common there. Thanks for the insight into your Type 6ness! Blessings, brother.

      • Eddie

        You’re more than welcome sir.