Floating Encounters are experiences that Bob and I have been noting since we started attempting to live listening lives.
Oswald Chambers (My Utmost For His Highest) suggests that our lives are like a river. We're always moving forward; a current-pulled body that leaves it's mark on whatever terrain it's meandering (or rushing or white-capping) through. Because we're swept along, floating with the current, we don't, Mr. Chambers says, have the privilege of seeing our impact on the banks and rocks and debris we pass over. We're simply obeying the water's pull.
Today, after months of not-much-at-all (I think Danny was our last connection of this sort?), I coincidentally bumped into Kelly.
Kelly ~ A Floating Encounter
Kelly was our dog groomer before his business went belly-up. (I should clarify that when I say he was "our" groomer what I mean is that we'd taken the dogs to him a grand total of two times to be shaved naked so they'd stop coating our home in wiry black hair.) Several months ago, the last time we saw him, he was in a desperate situation: his finances were tanking, his addictions were consuming, anger and despair sat like two spectre's on either of his over-burdened shoulders.
That day was a typical summer day for me and the boys. Bob was at work and I was powering through the day, juggling schedules and meals and messes. Mid-morning, mid-tantrum, I was feeling particularly annoyed with the build-up of dog hair on my kitchen floor and thought that I really should get them shaved soon. I left the thought right where it was, filed under "Stuff to do Sometime," and went on with the day.
As the hours marched on, though, the thought persisted. Intently. Get the dogs groomed. Get the dogs groomed soon. Call the groomer and book an appointment. I shoved the thoughts aside. I had enough to do and couldn't be bothered to make the call. But by four in the afternoon, I was more annoyed by the insistent intrusion of groomer thoughts than I was by the dog hair. What started as a fleeting thought was now an all-consuming nuisance.
I picked up the phone a dialed, fully expecting to get a machine on the other end and wondering why one earth the OCD part of my brain was refusing to shut up about the groomer already.
I didn't get the machine. I got the groomer.
By his own admission, Kelly is a bit like Chef Ramsey (Hell's Kitchen) on downers. He's quick tempered and intolerant, focused and aggressive. His unkempt hair and weathered-by-rage-and-worry face frames icy gray eyes. He has the ease of conversation of a man who knows how to survive anything. He answered the phone with, appropriately, a bark. "What?"
"Uuuh. 'Just wondering if I can book my two newfie-labs in for a shave sometime in the next month."
"Yeah. Well. Whatever. If you want 'em done you'll have to bring 'em today. Like, right now 'cause I don't know if I'll even be here after tomorrow."
"Oh," confused silence to follow. "Uh. I wasn't really thinking about getting them done today. There are two of them. And they're big. It takes several hours to shave them both."
"Well, do what you want but I can take 'em now if you want me to."
"Right. Okay. I'll be over in fifteen minutes. With both dogs? You're sure you want them both? It'll take you until, like 9:00 to get them both done."
"Look. I'm really stressed out right now and I need the money, so this is kind of perfect. Just come right now."
I arrived at Kelly's hole-in-the-wall shop to find him very distressed, but, while he wrestles with common courtesies in the human world, he's very tender and funny in the dog world. He remembered the dogs and gently led them back into his shop, talking non-stop about his predicament. Rent was past due and the doors were going to close tonight if he didn't get his money. Bad investments, bad management, and bad business had landed him in an all around bad spot.
"Hmm," I mumbled. Listening. Inwardly waiting for the Holy Spirit's direction about how to engage in this situation. Suddenly my obsessive groomer thoughts became more about the possible leading of God than about my inability to control my mucky-floor thinking.
"So here's the thing, Kelly. I'm wondering if maybe the God who loves you has something for you today?" I told him about how hard it was for me to get the idea of getting the dogs looked after off my mind and how that had led to a four o'clock in the afternoon phone call.
"I think, maybe, that You were on the mind of God today. So He reminded me to think of you, too. What exactly do you need today -- right now?"
I had his attention then. I could see the addict/survivor in him wrestling with this-woman-is-a-stranger propriety. My defenses were up, too. I didn't want to be taken for a ride or to have what could be an investment on my family's part misused. I read him carefully, watching for signs that he was spinning a tale. I didn't care, really. By then I was convinced that God had me at the dog groomer's for a reason. It was just a matter of hearing what that reason was.
"Awww. You know. Really? You think God was thinking about me? Me?"
"Yeah, I'm kind of thinking so, Kelly. And I'm thinking this might have more to do with who you are as a man than it has to do with your business and your bills. The God who made you is interested in who you have become."
Kelly had a lot to say about that ~ the usual defensive-reasons-I-haven't-had-time-for-God-stuff-lately chatter. I was saying personal and uncomfortable things. He doesn't know me and I don't know him. This was a risky situation.
"What do you need today," I asked again.
"Hey. You know. Nothin' really. Well. If I could just do the dogs that'd give me a bit of cash. Maybe enough to fill the tank with gas and clear my stuff outta' here so I can leave before they come after me for the rent."
Dodgy. God, I silently wondered, what's my family's role in serving this guy? 'Not crazy about helping him avoid the inevitable. God was quiet. Have I mentioned before how really silent He is in these moments?
"Okay. Well, I'll leave the dogs with you, then. When should I come back for them?" We set a time. "Anything I can do for you before I go?" Then, in response to another of those flit-through-your-brain-so-quickly-you-hardly-notice-it thoughts, I asked, "Have you had anything to eat today?"
"Well, no, but I'm fine. But," he pauses, "I could really use a smoke." I beetle to the Mac's around the corner and buy him a pack (Steady hands on the razors that will be next to the dogs' skin seems like a good enough reason for that purchase!) and then head for home.
I call Bob and outline the day's drama and we started to talk about what God might have for Kelly. We had no clue. Not one. What he needed was money. We got it that any money we gave might be funneled into any number of wacky fixations or addictions. That's always the risk, right? No telling how your "gift" will be handled once it's out of your hands.
We settled on an amount (using the usual "What dollar amount popped into your head when I brought this up, Hon?" approach. It works remarkably well. We're always within a few bucks of each other.). We gave it when Bob went to pick up the dogs. And that was the end of that. We prayed for Kelly. We wondered what had happened to him. We forgot about him.
God whispers. He's not in the storm or the earthquake or the fire, right? He's in the teeny whisper.
Today, at the video store, He whispered a really holy instruction: This would be a good time to look for that movie Cory's been wanting to see. I didn't know it was Him, of course. If I'd known it was Him I would've gotten all weird and sanctimonious about listening, or some such nonsense. But I didn't know it was Him. I thought it was me having a brilliant idea and so I asked for a hand from the desk staff and proceeded to extend my run-in-and-grab-a-movie trip to Blockbuster into an extra-long hunt for a misplaced flick.
And then God stepped out from behind the whisper. Kelly walked through the Blockbuster door. I couldn't place him immediately. I caught his eye, recognition struck, and I acknowledged him by name. He had no idea who I was until I said, "Hey Kelly. I'm two black newfie-labs."The light came on behind those sad, cool eyes.
"You. I never got to thank you. Sandra. You sent your husband, Bob -- really tall guy -- for the dogs so I didn't get to thank you. You'll never know what you did for me that day." He, remarkably I thought, pulled both of our names from whatever memory bank they'd been stuffed into.
"No? Well, umm, it kind of seemed like God wanted to connect with you, hey?"
We spent a few minutes updating his story. The business went under, but he was able to pay his bill. He'd left the city for another province and had spent four months in rehab. "It didn't take," he grimaced. And now he was trying to help his parents deal with a brutally messy divorce. Life was hard. Life is hard.
He extended his hand for a goodbye shake and said how glad he was that he'd had a chance to see me again. I agreed and said again that God's interest in Him went beyond business and into things like rehab and broken family.
"Yeah. Well keep praying for me. The people that are praying for me -- it must be workin' 'cause I'm still here."
I want to downplay that assessment. You're still alive? That's something worth acknowledging God for? But I catch myself and re-think it. For Kelly just staying a live is a big deal. If that's where God's meeting him than that's enough. And he's gone.
The by-now familiar confusion (What the heck was that all about?) that follows these floating moments settles in. I didn't say anything amazing or do anything miraculous ~ again. I hope that Jesus in me connected with need in another. Another bit of "Oh! I should listen to that little voice," settled into place. And that's all. No great moral. No flash of holy light or polished halo. Just Jesus injecting Himself into human experience.
I don't imagine we'll ever see Kelly again. If we do, I won't likely have anything more to contribute to his life. "Oh. Hey! How's that God thing going for ya'?" or some such fumbling. But He's on God's radar, right? Always. I'll just keep asking Him to continue to offer freedom and hope to the dog groomer. And He will. Because He's a God who invests in small moments in small amounts through small people. He will.