Like all great pizza places, Papa Murphy’s has its own unique and wonderful smell. I looked up at the menu as we waited in line.
“This place smells good,” Cody said.
I looked down to see his eyes, both deep pools of blue, staring up at me. He clutched a small toy raptor to his chest. “Yes, it does, buddy,” I answered.
I looked up to see it was my turn. I quickly ordered our favorite, one large chicken, bacon, ranch pizza. “Just put tomatoes on about a quarter of it,” I said.
The cashier just smiled and went to work. I told her I would come back to pick it up after we went to buy some groceries. I left the store, Cody on my heals.
“Sir?” I heard someone behind me call. I turned to see a man standing there. He looked at me with tired eyes. His chest-length beard was almost as dirty as the unkempt explosion of hair escaping his forest green baseball cap.
My first thought was to keep myself between him and Cody no matter what. “I’m trying to get to Abilene. Do you have any spare change?” His voice was almost a growl.
“I’m sorry,” I answered with a sympathetic look. “I don’t usually carry any cash on me.” As I watched his deep set eyes I was genuinely sorry I didn’t have any cash.
“That’s ok, thanks anyway,” he said. “You know, your boy looks just like you.”
“Uh, thanks,” I said awkwardly, “Have a good day.” I turned and walked away, Cody’s hand firmly in my grasp. He was focused on his raptor, oblivious to the world around him.
It didn’t escape my notice that we were standing right by a Subway and a liquor store. “He’d probably just have spent it on whisky,” I thought, comforting my stinging conscious.
“Why didn’t you just go in and buy him a sandwich?” God asked, intruding on my attempt to justify my lack of caring.
“What?” I asked.
“Why didn’t you just buy him a sandwich?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t think about it.”
“So focused on getting away quickly? Why not go back and do it?”
By this time I had a basket in hand and was pushing it through the grocery store doors. “Look, I will finish buying groceries. If he’s still out there I’ll buy him a sandwich. Ok?”
“Ok,” God answered. He fell silent in my head, but I could still feel him pushing on parts of my soul that I don’t like him pushing on. As I tried to focus on the list and getting everything, all I could think about was the homeless man. I didn’t linger on each aisle like I usually do. As quickly as possible, I finished and made my way to the checkout.
The blistering Texas heat hit me square in the jaw as I walked outside. We made our way through the maze of vehicles and began unloading the bags of groceries. I looked expectantly and noticed the man still in the same area, talking to everyone who passed by. Some would hand him change, some a few dollars. I noticed he had a drink in hand now.
“Ok, God, I guess I have to do this,” I said, “You know I hate this kind of thing, right?”
“I know,” he answered, “But I don’t.”
I walked back toward Papa Murphy’s, as if to pick up my pizza, but I knew what I was really doing. I approached the man. He smiled at me through a yellow stained mustache.
“Hey,” I said, “Are you hungry? I’d love to buy you a sandwich.”
“That’s ok,” he said, nodding his head toward Subway. “A nice lady already bought me one.”
I looked at the clear plastic Subway sack next to his pack. “You see that God? He already has a sandwich. Now what?”
“I guess all that’s left is for you to pray for him. Ask him if he’d like that.”
“What? No. Do you see all the people around?”
“It’s would sort of be impossible for me to miss them.”
“I didn’t mean literally,” I thought in frustration.
“I know what you meant. But you should hurry this up or he’s going to think you are the crazy one.”
“I don’t think he’s crazy.”
“Yes you do. Now get to praying.”
I smiled my warmest please-don’t-laugh-at-me smile. “Would you mind if I prayed for you?”
“I’d love that,” he answered.
I noticed Cody take a seat at my feet. I began to pray for this man who’s name I didn’t even know. I prayed he would reach his destination unharmed. I prayed he would trust in God who had ordered all his steps up to this point and that he would look to God to be everything for him. I prayed quickly, and quietly. People waited to give him money. As I finished praying, they handed him some cash. He quickly thanked them and turned back to me.
“Thanks for praying for me,” he said.
“No problem,” I said. “What’s your name?”
He then began a story about his time studying at Baylor years ago. He’d written a paper about trusting God and my prayer had reminded him of it. He began naming off professors as though I should recognize them. I didn’t. “Um, ok God, what do I do now?” I asked the part of my soul that got me here in the first place.
“Just be quiet and listen.”
I had to really focus on Dan’s words. His gravelly voice was little competition for the loud vehicles as they drove by. I tried my best to read his lips. Occasionally I’d interject a few words. “Just be quiet and listen,” God repeated, “He doesn’t need to hear your life story right now.”
I continued to listen to Dan’s story. He spent some time in college and had done some writing. He told me about a few lines he’d written that his professors had loved. After a while he stopped talking to ask a passerby for money. “Dan, it was good to meet you, but I have to get this pizza back home for dinner. I’m sorry.”
“It’s ok. Good to talk with you.” He nodded his head at Cody, still sitting at my feet. “He really does look just like you.”
“Thanks. I’ll see you around,” I said, knowing I probably wouldn’t.
I moved back toward my truck, pizza in one hand and Cody in the other. “So what was that, God? I didn’t get anything life changing from his story.”
“You weren’t supposed to.”
“Well, what then? The prayer didn’t seem to drive him to you. Seems like he already knows you. I just expected some big faith renewing moment.”
“I just wanted you to listen to him. How many people do you think actually stop to listen to him?”
“Oh,” I said “Yeah.”
I began to strap Cody into his seat. “One last thing,” I said.
“Why did he keep saying Cody looks just like you?” God asked.
“Yeah, what was that about?”
“It’s because he does look like you. But more than that, he is like you. Deep down he is very much you. Which means you need to stop worrying about him. Don’t worry about his anger and hard headedness. I’m working those things out in your soul and I can do the same for him. Just trust me. When you don’t think he is listening and you don’t think he is watching, he is. He saw what you did here today.”
I fell silent as the weight of God’s loving mercy overwhelmed me.
“It really is fine if you want to cry in the HEB parking lot.”
“I’m not crying. Just something in my eye.”
“Looks like you have something in both of them.”