03 November 2008

i just kept driving: how one decision broke my heart and changed my life

(I had written something else for today. Instead, this confession - maybe it'll make more sense after tomorrow's post.)

There are these moments in all of our lives...

A few years ago, I was working in the banking industry. I felt like I was pretty good at it, too. I had been at it for about a year and my first African missionary stint was fading quickly into the rearview mirror.

Well, one day I was in training at the company headquarters on the affluent north side of San Antonio and we broke for lunch. I don't remember what I ate for lunch that day. frankly, I don't remember much about that day at all. I don't know what the training was about or what, if anything, I might have accomplished.

What I do remember about that day is this:

As I was headed back to the office that day after finishing lunch, I came upon the traffic light at Blanco & 1604. Usually a busy intersection that required a wait at the red light, it was green for me that day and I took pleasure in accelerating right through it. Only out of the corner of my eye, I saw one of the most heartbreaking sights of my life. Despondent and holding a cardboard sign at the intersection I was now leaving was a guy I knew from high school. He had a slight physical handicap that made his identification unmistakable. It was him. And I was driving away.

Everything in my soul told me to stop - somehow. Help him. Take him into the diner at the corner. Give him a meal and some money and a ear to listen. Yet I found the car being propelled forward. Almost panicking, I tried to find a place to make a convenient stop and nothing seemed favorable.

The next thing I knew, I was on the freeway. I was speeding away from a man that I once called my friend. And I was quivering, weeping, knowing what my role was to be. How could I be driving away? I was there at that moment to help him. I was there to change his day, his week, his life. God dropped me there that one day for that purpose. And I knew it.

I exited the freeway and sat for just a moment. If I turned around, I would be late back to work. Training was not something that could be easily made up and I didn't anticipate my time with my old friend taking less than the entire afternoon. So I bit my lip and finished the drive back to work, aware that every minute that I spent at work was a complete abomination to my reason for being that day.

As soon as the training was over, I raced out to the car and headed right back to the spot where I saw my old friend begging. I pulled over and looked around. I didn't see him. I looked to the other side of the intersection, to the parking lots all around there. Nothing. He was gone. Vapor.

I got back in the car. Inconsolable. Of all of the unspeakable sins I had committed in my life, it was that failure for which it was most difficult to forgive myself. I knew it was my place to help him. Screw my job. And when the chips were down and the moment was there, I froze and just kept driving. His hunger was on me. His thirst was in my omission. His pain or depression or death (or whatever has become of him) was now blood on my hands.

It was one of the absolute lowest moments in my spiritual life.

I tell you this story to tell you that not many days go by where I don't think of that guy. I chose self over the least of these and it is still a painful, sorrowful memory. And yet it is a sorrow that spawns a repentance in me every time I see someone holding one of those pitiful cardboard signs.

I don't know how human beings get to that place. What I do know is that the guy who came to me on the street a few days ago smelling of tequila and calling me "campion" needed food. He is someone's brother, someone's son. I know that the guy who offers to clean my windshield at the Woodlawn exit is someone's husband. He needs dignity, grace, and mercy as much as I do. So he gets my money and my attention. The guy who sells newspapers at the corner is someone's Daddy. He needs acknowledgment of his humanity more than a 50-cent tip on a paper. So he gets a taco, a bottle of water, and a hug.

You see, I can't ever go back to help my old friend on the side of the road. I drove away from that chance a long time ago. What I can do is take notice of those like him a little more often. I hope I never have to learn that lesson again. I hope that his loss is somehow the world's gain. I hope...


  1. thank you! i remember you sharing that story back when it first happened. you told that story to all of us up in the tribe with tears in your eyes, and it changed my heart. i've thought about that story countless times and tried my best not to be the person driving away. this time, as i read it, it puts a bigger lump in my throat and smile on my face! thanks for showing hope.

  2. i'm so proud of you...you are an incredible example in my life! thank you.