For the next six weeks, I think I’ll put an “Out of order” sticker on my forehead and call it a day. I’ve been granted a sabbatical by my boss with the caveat that I have to finish a book. The BOOK in question has languished on my computer because until only recently, did the ending become known. I suppose I could stare and look out the window and ask myself, “What could I write that would interest anyone?” Even if someone doesn’t know me, telling a story where an outhouse plays a prominent role would at least garner some attention. Then again as I stubbornly write, it would give added meaning to the term, “on a roll.”
The title of my book is, “As For Me and my Outhouse, We Will Serve the Lord.” The book will be to the publisher hopefully before years end. My story mirrors some of the same stubbornness as the biblical character, Jonah. No I haven’t been swallowed by a whale, but if I don’t lose some weight on my hiatus, someone may think I’m playing both characters at the same time. Throughout my life, I have run from God. I never realized to what extent until I began to place pen to paper. Half way through writing my book, I’ve found it to be a bit more arduous than I anticipated. There are so many stories I’ve had to set aside for another book. To offer a glimpse into my future book, I share a chapter from it entitled,
“The Oblivious Ambassador”,
“When it rains it pours,” as the old saying goes. It seemed as of late, my umbrella had been a colander. I was agitated; jobless, my wallet and patience was running low. Now. numerous local car agencies refused to honor my wife’s vehicle warranty and I couldn’t figure out why. We had paid good money and purchased that warranty for added measure. I knew what their refusal to fix it meant; I’d get soaked again and have to return it to the original dealership. We had just paid over $1400 repairing her minivan in Jacksonville before we moved to south Florida and now it had started right back doing the same thing it had done before. A return visit back to Jacksonville was not what I had planned. It was an annoyance, but it wasn’t an unwelcome distraction either. I was between healthcare jobs and after three years in the business, I was open to anything new. In my professional history, I had already had five careers; radio broadcasting, social work, food service, hospital chaplaincy, and now healthcare management. Four times over the past decade I had rebuffed offers to enter the full-time ministry. I was beginning to think God was leaning on me heavier to finally make the leap.
I was irritated because now I would have to take time to drive the four hours back to where we had once lived. The next morning, I set out on the long journey back. As I spoke to the service manager at the original dealership, he told me the process could require four days to complete repairs. Nonplussed I figured I could at least spend a few days visiting close friends. I had rented a small car at the dealership and I was looking forward to spending a couple of days in the company of my friends Paul and Veronica Gayle. My wife and I had some wonderful memories of their family, and it was always a pleasure to return and renew acquaintances.
I had never traveled back to Jacksonville alone without my wife and family, and I found the trip a tad bit lonely. My most pressing task this first day was to go back to our favorite Mexican restaurant and eat at their all-you-can-eat lunch buffet. My mouth watered as I reminisced about how much I missed that old place. I drove onto Sunbeam Avenue and cruised into the parking lot and pulled in front of the eatery. I was early, so I knew business wouldn’t be busy for a while longer.
I entered the establishment and glanced around the restaurant; the smells were still fresh in my mind. This wasn’t my first rodeo when it came to this particular buffet so I positioned myself in front of the, “Waitress will seat you” sign. I patiently awaited my greeter, I was starving. I thought it a bit rude that I could see two waitresses standing and talking oblivious to presence. As I stood there for what seemed like an interminable time, neither made a move to approach me. A number of minutes passed with no acknowledgment by the waitresses. Mere moments later, the door behind me opened, and in walked a middle aged couple. Immediately as if on cue, one of the waitresses promptly ignored me, walked past me and escorted them to their seat ahead of me. As quickly as she sat them down and took their drink order, she picked up the conversation with her colleague again ignoring me. Thinking she had just overlooked me, I circled the sign, coughed out loud, and acted a bit impatient. Again, I found no response from the waitress except when the door opened moments later. Quickly as before, she walked quickly past me, escorted the couple to their seats and waited on them promptly. By this time, I was a bit peeved and short tempered. I saw the steaming table of Mexican delicacies just feet away and I was REALLY anxious to be served. Again, no effort was made by either of the two waitresses to come and serve me. Now I became emboldened and desperate. I walked up and stood right next to the cash register not seven feet away, expecting at least one of them to notice me and ask to seat me. I was wrong. It was upon my third attempt to be seated when the door opened yet again and the waitress rushed past me to seat the newest couple. I was incensed, how could you miss me, I’m a three-hundred-pound guy? I decided then and there to go somewhere else where my business would be far more appreciated.
Steaming with indignation, I got in my car and drove across the highway. As I drove, I searched for a suitable alternative, I got angrier by the minute. It was then right in front of me, my eyes caught sight of the big Pizza Hut lunch buffet sign; and I knew that was the place. Famished, I pulled into the parking lot and made my way into the semi-crowded restaurant. I was surprised, usually this time of day, the place would be packed. Regardless, I was hungry and I was quickly seated by my waitress. I smiled as I made my way from my table to the decks of fresh hot pizza and salad bar. Balancing my plate as I made my way back to my table, I couldn’t help notice three women seated in the corner. It was odd, the three woman and I were the only ones in this two room restaurant. Everyone else seemed to prefer being crammed into the other side. I would soon learn there was a higher purpose for these seating arrangements.
As I sized up the ladies I noticed they were all attractive and nicely dressed; clearly they had some money. As I observed their banter, I noticed two of the women were more animated than the third. The third woman had her head down throughout the conversation and nary said a word. The exchange of words between the friends was loud enough to overhear, and they were venomous. Clearly they were peeved about something. It was a diatribe against all men. I couldn’t help but catch snippets of how men were all Cads, and were lower than dirt. One particular comment was so over the top that I couldn’t help but snicker over the absurdity of their claims. Out of the corner of her eye, one of the participants saw me smiling and quickly drew me into the conversation by yelling across the room a question to me. “You,” “Me”? I replied. “Yes you” she stated, “Are you married?” Before I could respond she blurted out, “You look married.” I thought to myself silently I don’t know how one “looks married” but I went along with the indictment. I replied, “Yes, I’m married. She continued, “Have you ever been unfaithful to your wife?” Caught off guard not expecting this question from a stranger I answered “No”. It was then that the second young woman jumped into the conversation by asking a bombshell of her own, “What would you say about a man who not once but three times has had affairs on his wife and he has now lost his career over it. Should she divorce him?”
Embarrassed by her friend’s banter, the silent young woman in the middle cast her eyes further to the floor and blushed as she quickly gave me a glance. I was at a loss for words for a few moments. My first thoughts were this woman was beautiful her features were flawless. How could any man cheat on such a lovely lady?
As I opened my mouth, words of comfort and encouragement flowed out of me and it caught me off guard. I hadn’t expected this type of conversation today, but I knew who had; God. Grasping for the proper advice, I answered her friends’ questions by looking directly at her and saying, “I cannot tell you what to do. I have seen marriages work through unfaithfulness and I have seen them fall apart. The fact that your husband has been unfaithful not once but three times at the risk of ruining his career, tells me this is not your fault. Don’t let any member of his family or your family place the blame on you. While I personally can’t give you an answer on what you should do, I know someone who can tell you. I urge you to take your Bible, sequester yourself away in a hotel from family and friends with no television or phone calls for three days. Read your Bible and spend some time praying, and by the third day, you will have your answer. After conveying my counsel, she looked up at me and with a face that showed pain mixed with gratitude, she whispered softly, “Thank you so much”. As if in church, the three got up from their table and without a word, exited the restaurant and drove away.
I sat there stunned. What just happened? Did God just send me four hours from home to come to a city of a million just to assist one hurting young woman? As I drove home I couldn’t help but replay the incident in my mind. Despite my reluctance to say yes to the ministry, I had a lot of questions for God. Why had He asked me an unwilling participant for Him on this trip? Was the family car allowed to break down just so this encounter would occur? The next thought was even harder to explain. Was the reason I hadn’t been seated at the Mexican restaurant because God made me invisible to two waitresses? It was the only plausible way to explain how I had been overlooked multiple times. I had been made invisible, because God needed to borrow me for an hour. Imagine if we all were willing to give Him an hour for our own personal encounter!