The Story of Daniel Brown

 

Daniel didn’t have a phone number, but he at least wanted to exchange contact information, so he gave me this slip of paper with his name.

As we turned east down the access road a fresh spring breeze rushed through our partially rolled-down windows and the morning sun radiated warmly through the windshield. In the passenger seat, Daniel Brown thumped a cigarette and reached down into his cloth backpack for an already opened silver aluminium can of Always Save citrus drink. He turned it up for a long, satisfying swallow.

“Pretty good deal for thirty-seven cents,” he looked at me with a smile. “Found forty cents on the sidewalk back at the grocery store and thought I’d treat myself to drink. Sure is good.”

The twenty minutes we spent together seemed oddly ordained. Sometimes we believe we’re doing someone a favor. Then the blessing gets pointed at you.

***

Earlier that morning and as part of the daily routine I’d scratched out a rough to-do list. But today’s list focused on chores that would take advantage of the welcome sunshine and hope for the end of a winter season that seemed it might never end. There were garden seed to buy, a bit of hardware for hammock hanging, and just a day earlier I’d seen mini-palm trees on sale at Harp’s Grocery Store for $9.99. The palm tree sale happens every year and is a heck of a deal. They are always a centerpiece for summer landscaping around our backyard pool.

Loading the trees into the back of my old El Camino a man came up from behind with a question.

“Sir, you’re not by chance headed over toward the Social Security Office are you?” he asked. 

“No, actually I’m headed directly in the opposite direction. I’m sorry,” I replied, thankful for a quick excuse. 

“That’s okay. Have a nice day, sir.”

Reaching for another palm from the shipping pallet, I watched as the man walked back toward the store, sat on a bench, and put a backpack in his lap. He seemed perfectly at peace.

Then as if on cue, a vivid picture of guilty contrasts raced through my mind.

Here’s a man on a bike, obviously in need. He can’t have much money, and he needs a hand. It’s perilous riding a bike in this town, and the Social Security Office is a good five miles away.

I’m buying palm trees to landscape a luxury swimming pool, driving one of three cars I own and bought at auction two months ago because I thought it would be cool having a car named El Camino, and I have all the time in the world.

I looked toward him again and saw the same manner in his eyes. Peace.

About that time, that voice you sometimes hear telling you exactly what you should do rather than what you’re about to do made itself perfectly clear. I growled under my breath a second, and surrendered. 

“Mr., if you don’t mind going in the other direction while I drop these at my house, I can run an errand toward the Social Security Office and we can get you there,” I said.

“I sure appreciate that. Can I put my bike in the back of your car there?”

“Sure.”

The next ten minutes transcended every expectation offering up another test so clear it’s embarrassing acknowledging it was a choice.

***

As we drove toward home Daniel Brown strapped on his seat belt and introduced himself with a hand shake. They were hands from many years of manual labor.

“This is mighty nice of you, mister. I rode here from Paragould and am having a time getting my disability payments started. The people in this town aren’t too friendly toward bikers.”

Daniel complimented my old car and asked a few questions about my occupation and plans for the day. For small talk, Daniel made it all sound down right genuine. He saw a copy of my book, Pilgrim Strong, in the seat, flipped through it a moment and asked what it meant to be on pilgrimage, and I gave him the elevator pitch just about any author gives when someone asks about their book. Briefly, I told him about experiencing depression and some things I do to fight that tendency. Shifting the topic I asked Daniel what kind of disability brought on his hardship.

“They’re mostly mental issues,” he said. “I have a lot of anxiety and can’t make decisions very well, spent some time in prison and it’s hard getting a second chance in the world after something like that. Had ADD as a kid, but back then nobody knew anything about that and all daddy knew to do was whip my ass. It really wasn’t his fault, you know.” 

Daniel said he lived at the Salvation Army and didn’t have a lot of connection to the outside world. “They’re pretty nice to us down there, though.”

Where do I take this from here, and what do I do now? The voice returned.

***

Taking someone by the hand, looking them in the eye, and asking if I might pray for them right then and there in a public place has never been my go-to approach for helping people. I admire those who do it, and see it as a real gift. Maybe it’s a modest Methodist raising, shyness, or the fear that comes with spiritual rejection, but it’s always been easier fixing these moments giving money, sharing some food, or just taking someone somewhere as I was now doing with Daniel. But for the next several minutes and with our destination approaching fast the voice was clear.

You need to pray for this man.

As we reached the Social Security Office I told Daniel about a program called Celebrate Recovery. Our church operates a strong chapter for people who have experienced all kinds of peaks and valleys in life, and I told him I’d take him there soon. He enthusiastically agreed and we exchanged contacts.

Through the window Daniel reached for a final handshake and I asked him if we might pray a moment. 

“You would do that for me?” he asked.

“Yes, sir.”

We held hands and I thanked God for the way He brings people together. I thanked Him for the knowledge that what he sees most is our hearts, not our good intentions, our hang-ups, not even our failures or the times when we know what’s right, but do what’s wrong, anyway. And together we thanked him that even through Daniel’s time in the wilderness, God is making a path for him and that He’s about to do a new thing in Daniel’s life. He is making a way.

Daniel wiped a tear and said, “I sure am glad we met. I’m going to have a good day now and feel so much better already. Let’s go to that Celebrate Recovery.”

And that’s exactly what we’re going to do.

I thought I was helping Daniel. Turns out he poured grace and blessing on me.

Yo so el camino, y la verdad, y la vida. – Jesus

The Truth About What You Hallow

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(Blogger’s Note: I’ll create a second video journal tomorrow about preparing for pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago. It will be published here on the blog, and distributed through my personal Facebook account. If you’re not a follower, and wish to be, just click the button to the right.)

Every good thing, and every failure is traced to that which we adore most. It’s all about what we hallow. And it’s clear what God desires most from us, is not our moralistic behavior or good deeds, but our genuine adoration.

It’s contrary to everything we’ve learned and requires a change in our point of view particularly because behavior and deeds are those things which are seen (even placed on exhibition and measured), and yet, adoration is an unseen characteristic of the heart.

Just before He gives us the model for productive prayer, we read this counsel: He says, don’t be a hypocrite elevating yourself in the public places, but go away privately and close the door. And don’t babble with a long litany of fancy words. “I already know what you need,” he says. Then pray in a manner like this:

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”

The very first thing we do, is to hallow. It’s not a word you hear often, maybe because of its precise meaning – to honor, glorify and set aside as holy. The word is so unique in meaning, it survives many biblical translations.

What God wants most is our adoration. I’ll try explaining how I learned this as truth. We all adore something. It’s how we’re wired.

***

In my early years as a Christian hallowing God wasn’t so easy. As I wrestled daily with family responsibilities, never-ending bills and small-town pressure to climb an exhausting social ladder, everything seemed grounded in my abilities as a provider and a doer. As the storm weathered over the years, I nearly killed myself beating those necessities into submission.

Then, it became dangerously fun.

I learned how to make money. One step at a time, I surmounted the social ladder. After thousands of bylines,  attending endless social fundraisers and parties, and even my relatively good and moral standing in the church, people knew my name. I adored it.

Then, on a cool, crisp beautiful October day in 2009 it ended as if everything I set aside as holy was sucked into a black hole, never again to see the light of day. My publishing business closed. I entered a time of depression that was like nothing I’ve ever known before or since. I remember telling Dana I literally couldn’t ‘see’ tomorrow. The blindness went on for at least three years.

The money was gone, the party invitations stopped coming, there were no more bylines.

It lasted until I somehow realized one day that a real, fixed, unshakable truthScreen Shot 2015-10-04 at 6.09.17 AM must exist out there somewhere, and that it was the only thing worth really pursuing.

I can stand on a street corner as a fool working to draw attention to myself all day long, but it’s pointless. It’s what I do in private that matters. The ultimate truth is what I see in the mirror.

If you take anything from this post today, I hope you take this thought:

What you do in secret drives your view of yourself.

That’s worth some meditation. It really is.

Just yesterday, I spent nearly six hours on a 15-mile training hike for a 600-mile pilgrimage across Spain that begins in two weeks. I can tell you from the core of my soul that I spent nearly the entire time, praising and adoring the Creator. I was all alone, just a backpack and a pair of shoes, in a place, where so to speak, the door was closed.

It’s His infinite creativeness, I think, that permits me to do this, and it’s something I’m particularly drawn to on these long walks.

I’m a creative guy. I create things. Mostly words and ideas as they relate to communication. Start throwing around analytical jargon, numbers and a spreadsheet and consider me “checked out.” So when I think about God as the creator/author of all things it’s practically impossible to put my adoration elsewhere. Everything flows from that.

Moreover, when I think about the extremity and highness of His glory in creation, versus the low place where He sent his Son to pay my debts, I find no option but to hallow His name. It’s the highness of His majesty and the depth of His love and grace.

Praise and adoration is what life’s all about, and it frames the context for everything we do.

Vaya con Dios for now.

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The Truth About Knowing When Someone Has Your Back

 

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Many years ago I read a book that offered this imaginary account of a woman who’d just passed into the heavenly realm.

As she met  St. Peter at the gate, she took a final look back at the earth and noticed an array of dotted lights across the earth, just as stars would look, some radiant with clear bright light, others so faint and flickering they were barely visible.  As the moments passed, some lights would appear from nowhere, and others would extinguish altogether.

Before walking further, the woman asked Peter about the strange phenomenon she saw.

“The lights represent prayers from the earth,” Peter said. “Because of the different situations from which they come, God hears some with great clarity. Others, as you can see, are quite muffled.”

***

The story raises the often-asked question, “Does God hear all prayers?”

The simple answer is that God can do anything He wants, but scripture makes it clear there are many things we can do to get in the way of clear communication.

And I believe, also, there’s a matter of spiritual gifting. Prayer is one of those giftings, or at least closely related and essential to a few of those gifts. And the fact is, some are more strongly gifted in prayer than others.

***

An earlier post about preparing for the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage mentioned I was being prayerful and meditating about a group of people I’d ask to pray for me as I prepared and walked the journey.  To date, it’s something I’ve thought about as much as anything else on the “to-do” list. Slowly and over time, the five people I would ask became clear. A few days later, I sent a group email to these five people making my request, and one-by-one, they each replied that of course they’d pray for me. A couple of them said that they already did, which greatly touched my heart.

I could cover a list of so many reasons why this is important, and such an essential part of the pilgrimage, but it’s a lengthy list , so I’ll try to summarize it in a sentence or two.

I’ve learned when you go about something that you know has  a purpose for the higher, greater good – a Kingdom-purpose we’d call it in The Church – the spiritual forces that oppose that higher good will come against you, and they will come against you relentlessly.  Now, there’s a lot to unpack there in that last sentence, and it’s a little “churchier” than I usually like to write, so maybe another time. For now, I’ll just let it sit there, but I think most people do, in fact, believe in some form of a negative spiritual force.  Some just call it “negative energy.” Others believe in a fallen angel known as Lucifer.  The point is, that many people relate to that negative presence in their lives. It’s very real.

Because for me this journey included such a higher purpose, I knew I’d experience that darkness, and that it would be important to have a group beyond family praying for me … a group of mature warriors I could count on to have my spiritual back and pray those prayers of clarity in my behalf.  I’ll tell you they honor me by sharing their individual and collective strength.  It’s difficult to describe my feelings of gratitude.

So I want to tell you a very brief bit about each of them. Not to mention names, because they’re the kind of people who do things absent of agendas without shouting their good works from the mountaintops. It’s probably the thing I love and admire most about these three men and two women.

***

Interestingly, the first man is someone I’ve never personally met. Our introduction came a couple of years ago via the internet as he researched and found some of my writings about living in Ecuador. He wrote me a few times, and called me a few times. The first thing I quickly discerned about this South Carolina man is that he is smart in a super smart sort of way. I liked him a lot right off the bat. He labels himself a “reformed lawyer” who’s been engaged in full-time ministry for the greater part of his life. He strikes me as an extraordinary family man, with a broad, mission-focused view of the world. I like this guy, and I like him a lot. He’s a model for so much of what I aspire to be. One day, I’ll shake his hand, and hug his neck.

The next person is someone Dana and I actually met in Ecuador. During our first four months in Puerto Cayo, our relationship with her quickly grew into something really special. I often joke with her that sometimes she’s known by the locals as “el chihuahua” standing for the good, and eating local injustices alive. Let me tell you, this woman has a special spirit. She is much how I think I would feel about an older sister. After four months, when Dana and I left Puerto Cayo in 2013, I was still experiencing some moderate depression, torn about leaving versus returning to the states and not knowing exactly what our future in Ecuador would be – not knowing what our future in the states would be for that matter. In the moments before we drove the rental car back to the airport, I wept in her arms with sadness. Then she began praying out loud. With her hands in the air she continued to pray as we pulled out of the driveway and out of sight. My eyes are watering now just remembering it. I knew for sure at that moment that this woman would forever be a part of the life Dana and I live. And she is. She’s a mighty warrior.

The last time I actually tried to put myself back in the corporate world was 2010 at a local technology company that works primarily with banks across the country.  It was a small, but powerful and progressive company of only about 20 people, most, by far were men, and what I enjoyed most about my time at the company, was that every guy who worked there was brilliantly entrepreneurial. It was a really special environment.  Shorty after they hired me and before I came to work, the man who became my immediate supervisor invited me to dinner just so we could get acquainted.  He was one of the kindest men I ever met, and I later realized what an important role he played at the company as someone for whom everyone had the greatest respect. We talked often about church, and our frustrations with it. We talked about things that were real. My relationship with him was kind of a bonus perk for working there. He’s the model for a servant-leader, and I will always be grateful for our introduction.

The second woman was born, raised, and still lives in my rural, Arkansas hometown. Every small town really needs people like her. Her family still farms there, where my family actively farmed years ago. She’s actually not someone I’ve spent a lot of time with, but it’s not necessary because she’s undeniably good and laser focused on higher things. She’s a wife and a mother and a grandmother and an undeniable advocate for youth in her community.  I can guarantee you that she’s a person of routine, much of that routine focused on prayer for the sake of others. She’s compassionate, determined, unshakable. She was on my list from Day 1.

The final man I mention is someone I view as a lot like me. Closer to my age than all the rest, a seeker, a fixer, a man who has questions and looks for answers. Ironically, I met him working in the same technology company as the other man. It just goes to show you God can have a great purpose in all things.  At a time in my life when I was really struggling with my relationship with the church, he introduced me to a book titled “Pagan Christianity.” It was a great read, and gave me some insight into things I’d considered, and above all, it helped me understand that it’s okay to have more questions than answers.  That’s just the journey. This guy’s a good man. I think he can probably relate well to my reasons for undertaking a journey like the camino. That insight is why I asked him to pray for me. I know that he is, and will. It’s so great to have that trust in someone.

***

I’m thankful to these people for being such a special part of this moment in my life. They’ll be with me everywhere along The Way.

I wonder if they’ll pray as much as my mother who says she’ll have to buy knee pads for so much kneeling on the hardwood floor while I’m gone.

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