The young man on the seat next to me had no where to go.
Heading back from an inspirational trip to Baja California, deeply satisfied with the knowledge that we had just helped a ministry to build a new home for a precious local Mexican family, I was a little annoyed by the long line we sat in at the border.
With all the amazing technology available today, we had received the latest update that the wait was approximately 30-40 minutes. Perfect, but lets give ourselves an extra 2 hours in case something happened. And it did. After the 3rd hour of waiting, we had run out of funny stories or interesting comments about our weekend, and we began to make calls to find out what it would cost to rebook our flight home. Crazy numbers and times were flying around and we began to get more discouraged. A thought floated by that we should pray, but I quickly pushed it away as “It’s too late now, nothing can be done”. Then the inner battle began of “If God is who He says He is, something will change by praying; or, quit trying to be such a Pollyanna, it will just irritate everyone now; or, just accept what’s happened and try to make the best of it”. I finally settled on something like “Well God, I pray that if we are to miss this flight that you will set up a divine appointment, and we pray that we make the flight”.
We zoomed up to the departure entrance and ran in to stand in line, finally getting to the desk and “Yes!” we were able to get on the next flight. We rushed to the gate, only to wait some more, but we finally walked down the entryway on to the plane to try and find those last 4 seats. I saw a middle seat towards the back and headed towards it. A young man saw me and slipped over to the middle and gave me his seat.
“Oh thank you!” I exclaimed, relieved not to have to squeeze into the middle.
“Yes maam” was the polite response. Wow, such a polite clean cut young man, must be from the south. I’ve never heard any teenager talk like that before.
I was tired, and gratefully sunk into my seat to rest my weary bones. Even though the weekend had been enjoyable, my body was not used to manual labor and was complaining. As we took off from San Diego and began the short flight home to Sacramento, I began to notice the young man next to me with his head in his hands, sighing from time to time. I also heard him coughing as if he had some kind of bad cold and I selfishly hoped I didn’t get what he had. Eventually I began to wonder about this young man, and see if I could stop thinking about my aching bones, and see if there was something I could do for him. I could feel a heat coming from him, as though he might even have a fever. I began my usual inquisition as my kids would call it, asking about his home, family, friends, etc.
“Where are you from?”
“Were you down visiting friends?
Yikes, he’s a tough customer.
After a few more attempts, I was able to pry a little more information from him.
Chris has been living on the streets for two years. His father died when Chris was only 16 years old and his step mother decided he just couldn’t stay with her anymore and told him to get out, so he left…only he had no where to go. He stayed with friends for a few months and then found places he could stay when someone wasn’t there. As I listened to his story, I shuddered to think of the things he had done, to be able to have a roof over his head or to find a meal to fill his frail frame. School became pointless and he dropped out. He was trying to stay alive. Eventually he realized he wanted something different for his life, and decided to join the marines. Finally he would have a place where he belonged. He worked hard for a year to qualify and with great excitement and anticipation his recruiter drove him to Sacramento and loaded him on the plane for San Diego. After 3 weeks, he washed out for medical reasons and they put him back on the plane with a few dollars in his pocket. He had no where to go.
Now my momma bear instincts were on full alert. Slow down Momma bear, he’s probably not telling you everything and you’re going to get yourself into a mess. So I continued to question, looking for any sign of confusion in his story. I couldn’t find it, so immediately in my head I was thinking, “I need to take this boy home”. Then reality swooped in. “And just where are you going to put this boy? It’s 8:00 p.m. on a Monday night and he’d have to come home with you. After you land, you’ll have a 3 hour drive to get to your home. What if he’s a thief? Or was into drugs?” Now, let’s see, I could put him up in the entertainment room. He could sleep on the couch for tonight.
The movie “Blindside” immediately popped into my head.
Surely he needed to come with us.
“Okay God, if this is from You, You have to tell my husband that we’re going to take this boy home with us, and Christian our son will agree”. Of course I knew I already had Christian on my side, as he one day declared that when he got his license and a pickup, he was going to pick up all the travellers that walk along our highway and give them rides. He often spends all of his money on helping someone get something to eat. The real challenge would be my husband.
“Where are you going to go when you get off the airplane?”
“I don’t know maam”, he said.
Oh my, now I’m really in trouble. Imagining him on a dark and rainy night, trying to walk down the freeway.
“But where will you stay tonight? “
“I don’t know maam.”, he softly responded, looking at me sideways.
“How will you get to Sacramento?” I tried to keep my voice calm as if I had this kind of conversation with people every day about not having a home to go to.
“Oh, I can walk.” he announced resolutely.
He can walk to Sacramento, which was 10 miles from the airport with no where to sleep.
“God, are you talking to my husband yet?” I silently prayed.
We had landed at the airport. As we stood to go, I knew I’d better lean over across the aisle and inform my husband of my intentions so he would have time to think it over before we got out. Just in case God needed some help…
“Michael, you’re not going to believe what happened. This young man doesn’t have a place to go and I think we should take him home with us,” I whispered.
God had definitely not been talking to Michael.
“What?!” No!” We are not taking him home with us. He looked at me as if I had grown a third eyeball. Actually I think I might have because I could now see into the future.
If I couldn’t bring him home, I could get him set up at the Good News Rescue Mission in Redding, and then I could get him set up with some friends and then…I was beginning to plan out his life. But I had a small obstacle to overcome. Mike said no. And we have a deal that when one says no, we wait. God is totally capable of telling us both when we are to do something. Hmmmm, well I had from the gate to the baggage claim.
“Family”, I said as we stepped off the bridge from the plane. “I would like you all to meet Chris, and I would love him to tell you all his story.” Everyone was on the spot. Deers in the headlights. Mike, Christian and our friend Mark were all perplexed as to why they needed to hear his story. And out it came, slowly at first, but there it was. Now, what would we do?
I have to say the guys were great. Even though they weren’t sure they believed his story, they began to politely ask questions as we walked toward the exit. I knew we weren’t going to come up with a solution that fast, and I didn’t hear Mike speaking out the words I was hoping God would tell him, so I suggested “Why don’t we get a bite to eat and maybe we can figure something out to help you”. I knew once they heard all the details they wouldn’t be able to just leave him there. “After all,” I reminded them, “Didn’t I pray for a divine appointment, and then we meet Chris…isn’t this what we prayed for? We just happened to be delayed, ended up on his flight, and sat right beside him!” Oh, they were feeling it now.
Thankfully they all agreed and we sat, had a bite to eat, and heard his story again. I’m sure there were many things he didn’t tell us, but in the end, I think we all genuinely liked him and wanted to help. We came to an agreement (well, ok, I had to give in on this one), that Sacramento was the best place for him to find work. So we found a Rescue Mission just off the freeway and a hotel around the corner where he could spend the night.
The men were brilliant. Even though they had spent the day travelling in cars and planes, and we had 3 more hours to drive, they took the time to drive south and get Chris set up. As we shared our hope in the Lord with him, and prayed for him, we all knew this was a very hard thing. I walked him to the hotel door and handed him the key for this one night and some extra cash for meals. All I could think about is what if this was my son, who happened to be just about the same age, sleeping out on the street at night. I hugged him a long hug and told him it was a mom hug . “You’re going to be ok. There is so much that God has for you, and you’re going to be amazing.” As I held back my tears, I knew this was the right decision for this situation, but it didn’t make it hurt any less.
I’m definitely adding this one to my prayer list every day.
Of course I gave him my phone number…just in case.