The One Amidst the Thousands

"The cattle on a thousand hills...." That phrase pummeled my brain as I drove for a month alone, day after day all over the country, a couple of years ago.

"Every beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird of the mountains, and everything that moves in the field is Mine," is the actual reference, Psalm 50:10, 11.

When my car was a speck on the GPS screen, when the next turn I'd need to take was 595 miles away, I felt small, almost lost in a big world. 

And then I'd remember anew that the cattle on a thousand hills (over there... look at them!) are His. As am I.

Today I was thinking about a number of friends and acquaintances who are struggling, depressed or anxious, discouraged, lacking hope, wondering if they've been forgotten, wondering if God or anybody knows that they are floundering, drowning, not doing well. And it hit me again: the sad ones on a thousand couches in front of a thousand televisions are His.

The lonely ones who will pretend tonight ("Thank God it's Friday!" not withstanding) that they're having fun at a thousand different bars... well, they are His.

And the thousand men and women in flat marriages or abusive ones... they are His too. 

And yesterday I brainstormed entry-level jobs for a friend who's been homeless, who needs a break, who needs someone to take a risk on him in spite of the gaps on his resumé. And it's hard to imagine that a great prospect will open up and his entire life will change. Maybe, but probably not. Yet the homeless in a thousand shelters are His. He's got it all.

Not that we can't and shouldn't join in and try to help. Not that our heart shouldn't ache in solidarity. But ultimately God's got it all -- cattle, birds, us.

We are His.

I Ate A Homeless Man's Cookies

Lord, have mercy. I'm an inconsistent little creature. 

I came up with a brilliant solution to the street-corner dilemma I often have -- whether to give money to someone who is begging or to offer to take them to a restaurant and buy a meal, or to say, "No; sorry!" with a big smile. None feels quite right.

So I came up with another not-quite-right solution -- carry around homemade cookies in baggies, offer a bag to someone who asks for money, and tell them that I made them with them in mind. Which I more or less would be doing, since I'm praying that I'd have eyes to see the people on the streets as God sees them, even if I don't (yet) know their names.

I thought I'd kill two birds with one stone and make the cookies with my toddler granddaughters while babysitting -- and there'd thus be extra love in the batch for sure.

The double batch was made, and I bagged up the cookies, put them in my freezer, and planned to take a few with me each time I went downtown to areas where I'm often asked for handouts.

I delivered one bag. Uno.

And then I started going to the freezer when I was hungry, taking just one cookie from a bag (because the recipients would never know that there were supposed to be four cookies in the bag instead of three), and eating it.

Like I said, "Lord, have mercy. I'm an inconsistent little creature."

Means and Ends

The book journey is just beginning. And I was tempted to think that finishing it was an ending.

Putting on a book launch party was a lot of fun. I gathered random food products mentioned in the book (Red Bull, Twinkies, marshmallows, animal crackers). I chose people for everyone who attended to meet, in the spirit of one of the book's themes of taking risks on strangers, and I wrote the assignments on personalized index cards. I had fun procuring and setting up the food, drinks, and books to be signed.

What sticks with me, however, from the day spent doing errands in preparation, is an elderly, disheveled lady in a chair at the back of my local pharmacy. She was there when I came breezing in, giddy with excitement over "my" book's release, two different times an hour apart. She was awake once, asleep the next time. Both times she looked weary, care-worn, and not likely to be hosting or going to a party that night. 

And I can't stop thinking about her because the book isn't about having a party to celebrate a finished product. The book is about that lady and all the other ones we are tempted to pass by because we have important business or are in a rush. The book is for the people I wrote about — Charles who asked me to eat breakfast with him and who nibbled a giraffe animal cracker as he slipped in and out of clarity, Nicole whom my friend Joey and I found drunk on all fours downtown and ferried home, people I've misjudged and critiqued, and those I've yet to meet. The book is about what God is doing with all of us who are willing to let him mess with us — changing us, transforming us, slowing us down to see each other. The book is about love.

It's not an end in itself — a published book from which I can now turn to other projects.

It's simply the means for sharing all of our lives, for hearing your stories, for gathering people together, for challenging all of us to stop for the lonely woman in the chair even when we're excited about our own successes or wrapped up in our own pain.

The book is about whatever happens next. 

Yes, I wrote this book. But only because somebody had to go first.