I noticed him through the cloud of smoke, his hardened features and untamed beard accenting his untamed eyes.
His hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and the side of his neck was covered in tattoos. His jeans were ripped and scuffed with mud, and through his shoes I could see his bare feet. Maybe it was the cigarette smoke that caused people to walk around him to the other doors, or maybe they worried his filth would somehow contaminate their lives. Whatever it was, I watched as many people glanced in his direction and quickly turned their heads, looking at their feet as they briskly fled the scene.
After studying the man, I finally noticed the little girl standing six feet away, obviously avoiding the cloud of smoke. It wasn’t her gnarled, unkempt hair that caught my attention or the layers of dirt that covered her face. It was the dried tear streaks that coursed their way down her grimy, innocent face.
As I walked to the entrance of Wal-mart™, I too moved toward the other door to avoid the man and his daughter, much like the many other people. Moving through the doors, immediately I felt a smitten conscience, but tried to ignore the guilty feeling as I rushed around the store getting the few items I needed.
Bottled water, a head of lettuce, shampoo, and Peeps™.
I thought about putting the last item down, knowing I didn’t need the extra calories, but it was a losing battle trying to reject the ten little marshmallow chicks staring back at me from their sealed tomb.
So I paid for them.
Walking out of the store, I noticed the man and his daughter were still there, obviously waiting for their ride. I don’t remember God ever talking to me or nudging me in their direction, but soon I found myself walking toward the little girl, pulling my Peeps out of my bag. As I knelt down next to her and held out the Peeps, I saw the biggest, most rewarding smile spread across her young face. I told her I “really didn’t need them” as I patted my stomach, and she laughed. Her uninhibited giggle filled the air, and I glanced at the man still smoking.
His face was turned away as if ignoring me.
I was just turning to leave when I heard him gruffly clear his voice. Looking in his direction, I watched as he nervously cast his eyes down, watching his feet as they snuffed out the butt of his cigarette. “Thank you,” was all he said as he lifted his eyes to meet mine. Instead of a threatening man, I saw a scared boy. At most, he could have only been a few years older than myself. Again, my conscience pricked, and I realized . . .
I didn’t know his story.
I didn’t know who he was.
But I had cast judgment.
What if Jesus had done the same to me? In His eyes, I must have looked much worse than the boy in front of me. Sins had dirtied my face, lies were stamped like tattoos on my soul and hopelessness hung around me like cigarette smoke. No, He didn’t walk deliberately around me, trying to avoid my gaze. Instead . . .
He stopped, He knelt down, and He offered hope.
I’m still clinging to that hope.
CC Image • Markyeg on Flickr