Posted by Jimmy Spencer
July 17, 2012
[Names have been changed to give more anonymity]
God is never about just me.
Without a doubt, He cares for me. He has showered down blessing after blessing, providing a path into the happiest time of my life. But he is not about me.
There is a precarious trap when forming a relationship with God. Like any relationship, we look inward and ask what He can do for us. Then we look narrowly outward, asking what it is that we can do for Him. But in doing things for Him, many of us are quick to look inward again and begin a laundry list of detailed obedience. “I’ve been good, so God should be happy.”
But recently, I received a powerful reminder that a relationship with God is about achieving His will – both inwardly and outwardly.
This story begins with faith in Him.
On Monday July 16, I sat in discussion with a brother in faith, Armando. I explained to him that I felt more at peace with my life than I ever have. God has blessed me incredibly, and I am happier than I have ever been. I am newly engaged, I am in a career that is fulfilling, and I just recently had spent a great deal of quality time with my family. Life is good. While I am always praying for others and the needs of others, I told Armando that I wanted God to put me in a position to help His will. I just didn’t know what that was. But I did know that the time when I felt closest to God came about a year-and-a-half ago when Armando and I developed a bond with a homeless couple, who we will call “Hunter” and “Annie.” We had endless days of conversation, prayer, victories and heartache with the couple in their 50s. I craved that closeness again. I voiced that to Armando before prayer.
Together, Armando and I sat in prayer as he recited the words of Luke 11:9-10: “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Translated in the Bible version, “The Message,” it reads: “Ask and you’ll get; Seek and you’ll find; Knock and the door will open. Don’t bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This is not a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we’re in.”
So in faith of His word, I did exactly that. In prayer with Armando, I directly asked God to show me a path to do something – anything – in His will. I prayed for a clear opening to help, an act outside of myself. In turn, God turned the notch of my faith to an even higher level.
Perhaps 20 minutes following the prayer, my cell phone rang.
It was a photographer from The Sacramento Bee calling to see if I could help track down a homeless man who had attended Unity in the Community, a potluck event Armando and I organized at McKinley Park in Sacramento in December 2010 to help create human connections between neighborhood residents and the local homeless community. I told the photographer that I had recently been living in the Bay Area, and have not been in touch with that group in more than a year. The homeless man’s family was from San Diego, and had lost touch with him long ago, but the family tracked him down through an Internet search that led to a photograph from the event taken by this photographer. They called the photographer, who then called me.
I waited as the photographer looked up the name of the homeless man from his notes. It was Hunter.
I could have guessed that man was going to be Hunter. Of the many people at that event, it was him and his girlfriend who we had bonded with most. And having prayed to God for an opportunity to help His will, subsequent to having Hunter and Annie on my mind, it was clear what God was doing.
The reason the family was reaching out, as the photographer told me, was because Hunter’s mother was in a nursing home, and in her last days. They wanted to put Hunter back in contact with the family and had no idea where to find him. I had no idea either. The last time I saw him was in June of 2011, sitting with Annie in a parking lot behind a drug store. I didn’t even know if he was still in Sacramento. But I knew God had placed this act in front of me for a reason, and it wouldn’t be for me to simply reply, “Nope, haven’t seen him.” The San Diego area phone number that was left belonged to Hunter’s nephew, Kenneth. I spoke briefly with Kenneth to explain that I hadn’t seen Hunter in more than a year, but I would do my best to find him. Kenneth told me the same thing that I learned from the photographer, that his mother wasn’t doing too well and they wanted to let Hunter know or perhaps urge him to visit.
I drove to all the typical spots around Sacramento’s midtown area where I used to see him. I drove around for nearly an hour that first day. I sat in front of a Jamba Juice eating oatmeal, hoping that he might appear. I vaguely recognized one guy who attended our community event in 2010 and asked him if he’d seen Hunter. “I’ve seen him recently, but really I have no idea where he would be. Sorry, man.” Then, I drove to McKinley Park, hoping someone may have seen him more recently and might be able to tell me where I could find him. It was there that I found a group of three homeless people sitting on the lawn. Taking a bit of a chance toward the strangers, but acting as if nothing were out of the ordinary, I asked them directly, “Do you guys know where Hunter is?” Hesitating at first, they ultimately gave me some good information after I told them the reason I was asking. He had transitioned over to another side of town, the Arden area, a much bigger haystack. Still, it was good to know he was still around. I left a written message with one of the gentlemen of the group who said he would pass it along for me if he saw Hunter. After driving around for nearly an hour in the Arden area, I gave up for the day in hopes that the note I left would likely reach him.
But on my way out of town the next morning, it would not be enough. God placed on my heart that I needed to try again. So I did, driving out to the Arden area and checking a few of the spots that I had checked the prior day. No luck. To be honest, even after 15 minutes of a quick look, I was giving up. I turned on a street that would lead me back to the highway and on my way home.
Then I looked to my right. A beacon in a McDonald’s parking lot, Hunter’s bright smile flashed and caught my attention. Standing with that seemingly frozen smile, staring out toward the street, there stood Hunter in a red beanie and khaki jacket. God had led me here, there was no doubt.
I quickly pulled into the parking lot. “Hunter, I have been looking for you!” He had a puzzled look for a moment, and then the smile returned, “Jimmy?” I broke the bad news about his mother. He asked how I found out. I hesitated to tell him it was through the photo from The Sacramento Bee that allowed his family to track him down. He had hated that photo because it publicized his being homeless – his failure – and the worry that his family would learn this information. But right there, he admitted, “Well, now I am glad my photo was taken.”
He called his brother to learn more. He came to tears when he found out it wasn’t just his mom who wasn’t doing well, but also that his brother had brain cancer. Before the phone call, Hunter had told me that he had just been talking about his nephew Kenneth and thinking about his brothers earlier that morning. Before learning about his brother’s brain cancer, he also told me he didn’t care about his brothers. But after learning the news, he most certainly did care. That was obvious through his emotion. Today, he told me he plans to find a way to travel down to San Diego to see his family.
His animated girlfriend, Annie, pulled up on her bike during my conversation with Hunter. Equally as shocked to see me after more than a year, she walked up and immediately told a story that attests even greater to God’s work. Before she even knew why I was there, she walked up and began gushing words. “Jimmy. Jimmy. Wait a minute. Now just hold on one minute. What’s going on here? What’s going on? I was just standing on the corner trying to get Hunter’s attention and this lady pulled up in a car. She gave me a sandwich, she gave me a $20 bill, and she pointed to you guys in the parking lot. She said that someone is ill and I needed to go over.”
Later, sitting on the curb, Annie said, “If anyone didn’t believe in God, this story would sure make them believe.” She added that she and Hunter really needed this for their faith.
I think it gave my faith the same boost. A relationship with God is about more than just me and Him. It’s about His will. It’s about playing a role in His plan, honoring Him along the way. This story was just another of his many reminders.
Further thoughts and an update …
I keep thinking about how precise God’s timing was to have me in Sacramento when I received that call. So I could act for Him in that moment. It got me thinking about coincidence vs. God’s timing. I was reminded of the fact that amazing things have happened a lot with this couple. I have seen this woman, Annie, burst into tears and hugs at the first sight of my pastor friend, Ben, before knowing him or the fact that he was a pastor. I once prayed with Annie and Armando outside of a motel as she was being kicked out because the foundation that payed her stay had not extended past that day, which was Easter Sunday. As we prayed with her, the guy behind the counter came out to say that the moment we started to pray, the phone rang and the foundation payed for another two weeks. He said he hadn’t believed in God until that day, but did then and had goosebumps to prove it. We’ve prayed to find Annie and Hunter before only to have them show up just seconds later. There is something very, very spiritual and special about that couple. Today was just another day in a long year-and-a-half story.
Update [Monday, July 23]
Thanks to the love, kindness, and support of those who read this, we were able to send Hunter to San Diego to see his family. Not only did he have a train ticket down there, but he also had a spiffy new wardrobe, a duffel bag, and fresh toiletries with him. There was a moment where we turned to prayer again to make the right decision. Annie had expressed a strong, again animated, desire to go with Hunter. We just didn’t know if it was the best idea, and if it would help serve God’s will. We were stuck in decision-making mode, didn’t know what to do, so we turned to prayer. We did a group prayer asking for God to intervene and give us the right answer. Just hours later, Hunter called us to say that he felt God in his heart telling him that he needs to go alone. Another answer to our prayers. This is truly God’s will. Hunter is now in San Diego with his family and so, so thankful for everyone’s prayers and support. His Mom is doing OK, but his brother is gravely ill.
You can email Jimmy at firstname.lastname@example.org