Every few years or so, God in His kindness and mercy, orchestrates meetings in the universe between human beings. Such interactions fill me up, much like the gallons of water camels take in after surviving without liquid for months.
If you look closely enough, we humans are really living, breathing glass windows. Each moment we are alive holds so much possibility and plausibility. Every interaction we have with each other impresses itself onto our window and every fingerprint and footprint leave a mark, an indent, a tear, a crack. Sometimes, an abundance of footprints and fingerprints shatter our glass. While some impressions are clearly positive and work towards building us up, it is those that break us that seem to capture my entire spirit. I get lost in the wonder of it all, questioning the brokenness as I attempt to reconcile the fragility of emotional existence with the promises of Christ.
I once met a woman and was overwhelmed by the sheer obliteration of her window. She lives with the kind of brokenness that one might see if a glass pane were dropped onto concrete from 20 stories above. The pieces are all tiny and sharp and indecipherable. There were no words that could give a voice to her mutilated soul. I was blinded by her wreckage, unable to grasp where it all began and incompetent in my attempt to identify a sense of who she’d been prior to the eradication of her being. As I search my mind for words of comfort I found none. I wanted her to know she held precious value in the eyes of Christ, but her pile of broken glass shredded my words.
“Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” Matt 6:26
I continue to be astonished and dismayed by our ability to destroy each other and yet I live with an insufferable curiosity about human existence and survival has plagued me my entire life.
In recent years, I was present for a God-Orchestrated-Appointment and had a conversation that ebbed and flowed for three days with someone previously unknown to me. I still struggle with the nature of our discussion, and feel the weight and intensity of it almost every day.
There was something unique about the beginning of this meeting and I knew in an instant that it was God-orchestrated. Even today, I lack full understanding of this encounter or why it affected me so deeply. It began when I found myself in conversation with a complete stranger on a random day several months ago. Right or wrong, I typically avoid interacting with others at events outside of my home, finding the pretenses and pretending required by society to be detestable. This meeting seemed different and somehow unavoidable.
I was attending a sporting event where seats were limited. After surveying my surroundings, I located an open spot. I noted with some irritation and trepidation that it was in proximity of another individual, but also noted that person was an older gentleman. I reasoned that he likely would not feel the need to engage me in conversation and was momentarily grateful that there seemed to be few women sitting in that section. The women always want to chat. Often times, those “chats” become a measuring stick by which a woman measures her worldly success.
I gingerly took the open seat next to him and after settling in to my area, my attention was immediately drawn to him. I noticing his quivering hands, his bouncing knees, the conspicuous signs of anxiety, the apparent confusion plastered across his face related to societal expectations of him. Little was said immediately following the quiet exchange of names and cumbersome pleasantries. There was instead a quiet, discerning assessment between the two of us.
I saw it on his face and in the stooped way he held himself. The deep wrinkles and lines amidst a once proud face spoke of a thoughtful, bright tormented man. His unkempt face, dirty coffee mug and haphazard book-filled bag sitting next to his side spoke volumes. After my initial evaluation, I found myself anxious to move beyond the external belief barriers and delve into what I discerned to be an intelligent, complex, struggling human being. His window was shattered, and it was clear to anyone who might notice him. I was unable to ignore the sudden flame of compassion that developed so quickly in my soul. Who was this man who seemed to be in such a state of anguish?
I gingerly took the open spot next to him. It was clear he had never been to this venue.
He looked up at me as I took my seat. I was startled by the unsettling fear etched across his face. There was a certain insanity that enveloped him. I recognized the nature of his madness immediately. I have lived a life that has been filled with the same derangement that permeated his atmosphere. It felt both familiar and heart-wrenching. I wanted desperately to leave the area, and yet something made me stay.
In a moment, he knew that I saw his damage and he left it there, in the middle of us. Most folks desperately attempt to hide their glass shards. Not this man. In the midst of hundreds of people, we sat there, a pile of smoking, filthy debris between us. His debris. His wreckage. It was like an offensive, glaring beacon in the midst of us. He was desperately broken, yet imperfectly brave as he abandoned any effort to pretend to be anything other that what he was at that moment.
There was a challenge poised in the air above the broken pieces. He saw my own slivers of glass and crumbling foundation. He saw my smoking debris and emotional insanity just as clearly as I saw his. I saw the brief flicker of understanding as he studied me. He noted my own anxiety, my inhospitable attitude, my stiff demeanor. My walls.
It is a gift from God when another human being shares his or her brokenness with another. The Holy Spirit is present in those moments. Only with the strength of God can breathing continue and words be spoken that convey the depth of pain associated with a shattered life. Without God in those sacred moments, we are simply a fallen people, driven by the whims of our own sinful natures. True honesty and depth of spiritual existence can be found when God is in the midst of two or more broken people, but each must make the decision to jump from the cliff into the care of our Lord, who waits for us in these Snapchat moments of life that He orchestrates.
In an instant, I knew this stranger, this broken human being, understood more about me than most people in my life had ever understood. People who share the insanity that comes with mental torment have an immediate bond that supersedes worldly definitions of value. When you connect with someone who lives in the same mental anguish as yourself, the world and all of its rules and measurements disappear.
I jumped off of the cliff, accepting the stranger’s implied challenge and threw my shards of glass on the pile of debris with his. Our conversation began surrounded by the smoking jumble of our broken lives.
He had a small, slightly worn, leather bound book with him that he’d removed from his tattered bag. He thumbed through it nervously. I glanced at the book and asked about it. He explained that it was a book regarding the making of “spirits”. He spoke of his love for the crafting of spirits and how he’d begun a business doing just that. He spoke of a tragic accident that had altered his reality permanently. The barriers were destroyed and the floodgates were opened.
We spoke about forgiveness and mercy and our love for our families, acknowledging our understanding that we were undeserving of such blessings. We spoke about teaching our children counter-cultural things amidst a backdrop of world view that teaches the opposite. He looked at me and said, “I’m an alcoholic.” I told him I already knew. We spoke about sobriety and our struggles related to our human desire to escape from pain. We spent no time hiding or dismissing the ugliness of our failures and our sorrow related to those we’d hurt with our selfish recklessness. We wished others could just get it. We talked about the meaning of it all, suffering well in the midst of excruciating pain, failing at life and our collective disappointment in the system that seems to have taken the place of our churches. And we discussed the ways we have tried, and sometimes continue to try, to escape from it all~to leave this world for a place without such heavy pain. We discussed the necessity of making hard choices….painful choices in the midst of our brokenness, simply because we’d been entrusted with the lives of those who depend on us. We wondered how our brokenness had damaged those we love the most.
Each bit of conversation led me to understanding where each of his glass shards once had been held in place, and what caused the distruction of his window. Each moment brought me closer to sharing the truth surrounding my own messy life. I told him of wounds left unhealed from years far gone. He understood. He’d been where I was at. I was not alone on this path. We’d walked this tragedy together, yet apart. The conversation was completely absent of judgement.
And just as easily as it began, it ended.
I’ve seen this individual a few times since that odd weekend. The first time we spoke, he came to me with an air of humble pride, standing slightly taller than the last time I’d seen him. He was clutching something in his hand, a hand which was absent of his prior trembling. He wanted to show me something. He opened his tightly clenched hand to show me his 24 hour-a-day sobriety coin. He said he’d obtained a sponsor and thanked me for the conversation we’d had.
Since then, on the few occasions when our paths cross, we pretend to know nothing about the other. There is no acknowledgement; no cumbersome, polite pleasantries. We’ve quietly slipped into societal norms as easily as leaves fall from Autumn trees. It’s easier than admitting we broke societal rules by failing to pretend.
The conversation with the stranger was raw, brutally honest, and authentic. My questions about faith and grace and hope remain; questions about finding a desire to survive beyond this moment when I cannot see past the pain and hopelessness of my condition. I remember the things he said about choosing life when dying would have been much easier. It is those remembrances that remind me of the mercy of God. I require those reminders. I need the words of the stranger to stay with me. I have a God who knew sometime during my life, my impoverished spirit would cling to the hope that was shared with me all those months ago . I am comforted in knowing part of the purpose of the intrusion of this stranger into my world was to redirect me to the One who can calm all my fears.
It is a miracle to behold when the existence of one broken believer is used in a few brief moments of time to point another to the infinite love and acceptance of our God.