“Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13:1-2
He told me His name was Tom.
I didn’t see him coming which was strange because I’m usually hypervigilant about the people in my surroundings.
I was just leaving the grocery store and was in a hurry to get home after staying way too long to chat at a friend’s house. Preparing to start my van, I glanced up to see this man – average build, thin sandy blonde hair, scruffy, weathered face, with a red plaid quilted work shirt and dingy blue jeans, likely in his 40s. His eyes were blue and if I didn’t know better, they seemed to be fixed on me.
In just a glance, he seemed to have almost materialized in front of my vehicle and started to walk toward my door.
Because of my rush, I made a mental decision to ignore his presence or that he seemed to be looking at me intently. ‘I have to get home,’ I thought.
I quickly realized, though, that he had no intention of being ignored and was in fact locked dead on me as he moved quickly – too quickly, the timing just seemed off – next to my driver’s side door.
Survival instincts kicked in and I immediately locked my door, sure he was going to open it. I had my 11-year-old daughter with me, making it even more alarming.
He came to a stop outside my window and I hesitantly pushed my automatic window button down to allow just enough space for him to speak without feeling like I was assuming him to be a criminal yet not low enough for him to reach in and gain control of me or my keys.
To rewind, I had been having what you could characterize as something of an emotional breakdown. I was absolutely certain that God could not and would not ever use me for anything.
Given my state as a hopeless sinner and broken mess I was even further broken to think that I was so far gone that I no longer had anything to offer God’s people. That I was a ridiculous fool to believe I ever had. That I was unusable.
Earlier that day I had been literally on the floor asking God to make me usable. ‘Fix me so I can be usable,’ I pled.
Now I know what you’re thinking.
Of course my head knew that the Bible says God uses the weak to lead the strong. That when we are weak we are strong. That He doesn’t just call the equipped but equips the called.
I am a coheir with Christ, the daughter of a King and therefore a princess. His girl. His precious beloved child. His capable, holy spirit-indwelled and empowered daughter, a saint, a daughter of Abraham whose inheritance I share in.
Yeah, I get all that in my head. I could tell others these things all day long.
But for me? No that isn’t really true for me.
I’m too filthy, have sinned too grievously and am not only unloveable but have made myself unusable.
My heart just ached to be usable.
Back to the parking lot, Tom nervously began telling me that he had a need. As someone with a history of being used by God in countless parking lot situations like this one I was immediately tuned in. He wasn’t overly difficult to understand, but he seemed to struggle with his speech, like he was handicapped.
My defenses lowered significantly as he fought to get his words out, telling me he had gotten off the bus and wasn’t sure where he even was but he was hoping I had a few bucks to help him out.
It was cold and windy and he had been huddling behind the building, being hit by tumbleweeds. He just needed to somehow get through until the next morning when he could get back on the bus and go to San Diego.
When I said that of course I would help him – no hesitation – his response was like no other I’d ever seen. He was overjoyed. He was incredulous. ‘You’re going to help ME?’ he asked, tears welling in his wide blue eyes.
I had started flipping through my phone contacts trying to decide the best person to call to pick him up and get him a place to stay, and I had to just stop. I had to look at him and say, ‘Yeah. yeah, I will help you.’ I couldn’t look away. Couldn’t unlock from his gaze.
Then he said something that stopped me in my tracks. ‘God loves me.’
‘Yeah’ I replied softly, smiling at him. ‘God loves you.’
There was no other way to follow that up.
Then I reached in my wallet and pulled out some money. I told him to go in to the store’s deli, grab some hot food and wait outside for someone to come get him.
I didn’t know who, or where they would take him, but I committed to Tom that someone would be coming to make sure he had a warm place to stay that night.
Then he broke down sobbing. ‘Jesus did this for me,” he cried, patting his chest with his open hand. “God’s going to help ME.”
I didn’t know what to say. I was stunned.
‘Yeah. Yeah, he is. God bless you,’ is all I could spit out, and he returned the words, nearly seeming to dance as he backed away toward the wooden bench where his black backpack was sitting.
Never had I been so moved by the response of someone I had encountered in this backyard missionfield of mine.
He gave it all to God. All the glory. His Jesus was coming through for Him. Wow. What faith! I thought, ‘Do I even give God that much credit for the things He provides?’
I called my husband immediately to enlist his help, as I have several times before. He said he’d come out to pick up Tom and try to find him a hotel room, but it would be hard given the recent oil boom in our region. They had been quite impossible to come by.
Determined, I stopped in at a downtown motel and was thrilled to hear they had one room left. Perfect! I went to pay for it when something stopped me. I had a strange feeling that Tom wasn’t going to be needing that room. That I shouldn’t pay for it. I asked the hotel worker to just hold the room until my husband arrived, and he agreed.
About 20 minutes later, I got a text from my husband, telling me that no one who fit that description was anywhere to be found. He wasn’t in front of the store, in the store, in the parking lot or anywhere to be seen. Tom was gone. Vanished. And I wasn’t surprised.
I asked my daughter, “You SAW that guy, right? He really came up to the window and talked to me, right?” She confirmed that he had been there.
I checked my wallet. The money I gave him really was gone. It had really happened.
But everything in me told me that Tom wasn’t just some guy getting off the bus in a strange, unfamiliar town. I recalled that he had told me he wasn’t from here. In fact, he said, he wasn’t even from this country.
At the time I thought maybe he was confused. He very clearly looked and sounded American. Given his simple speech, I had brushed it off as just confusion.
At the risk of how crazy this sounds, I’m telling you I just know that Tom wasn’t some guy at all.
“Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters,” begins Hebrews 13:1-2. “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”
Who knows why I had this encounter. Maybe it was God’s reassurance that I was still usable. Maybe it was a test.
Scripture, after all, tells us that God will test us.
“I the Lord search the heart and TEST the mind, to give every man according to his ways,” says Jeremiah 17:10. (emphasis mine)
1 Peter 1:6-7 says, “So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your Faith is Genuine. It is being TESTED as fire TESTS and purifies gold—though your Faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your Faith remains strong through many, it will bring you much Praise and Glory and Honor on the Day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.”
No doubt that Jesus Christ had been praised and glorified during this encounter, whatever the Father’s intention. And I am humbled that He considered me worthy to experience it.