I want to share what happened to me a few weeks ago.
Here in northern California, we’ve had an extremely wet winter; storms have been “on” more than they’ve been “off.” In an evening of respite, while expectant clouds painted the night sky, I visited the old town grocery store to fetch my daily bread. As I passed by, I noticed what appeared to be a homeless man shuffling through shopping carts by the entrance. If he was homeless, I mused, he might appreciate a meal. It was too late for the store to serve anything warm, so I fetched a wrapped, refrigerated submarine sandwich. After collecting loaf cake from the discount bakery, bottles of diet soda, and sliced bread, I checked out and stowed my goods in the floor of my car’s front seat.
The man in question was gone. Sandwich in hand, I figured that he couldn’t have travelled far and looked around the immediate area. Finding nothing, I started walking towards one (now abandoned) corner of the parking lot, far enough away from civilization to house an encampment.
It started to rain.
My usual apparel for this time of year is shorts, an undershirt, and a nice short-sleeve shirt. Cold affects me sparingly little, but I was especially susceptible to rain in my getup. Perhaps God didn’t want me to serve the homeless this particular night, I surmised. Then again, perhaps He tested my resolve. I should at least check it out. I continued walking.
The rain intensified, and the wind started to blow.
I was now uncomfortably wet, and would be much more so if I continued in that direction. It was too dark and blurry to see the corner clearly. Very well, I thought. The rain dialed back in intensity as I returned to my car. Perhaps, though, I should check out that other corner of-
The rain picked up.
Fair enough. With God on my mind, I placed the sandwich in the shotgun seat of my car and got in. Still, I would check out one last spot before heading home. Sharing the lot was a second, long-abandoned grocery, whose storefront I could check from my car. Lo and behold, I found traces of a homeless encampment under the awning of the old building.
The rain stopped.
I parked and investigated. There was indeed a mattress as well as a half-eaten box of sushi but no individual. Given the shelf life of sushi, though, someone was probably here recently, and someone would just as probably return. I was about to place the wrapped sandwich and a bottle of soda on the mattress, but I reconsidered. Whether the man would return was all but guaranteed, but when he’d return was a different story. Perhaps the sandwich would spoil by then. I left the bottle and went to fetch the loaf cake instead. Just before I dropped that off, I reconsidered that it might attract ants. I retracted it and returned.
It drizzled slightly.
Well, the plastic casing that enclosed it would probably hide the scent of sugar, at least until it was eaten. Loaf cake it would be. I placed the box on the mattress and departed, with negligible if any rain as I walked back to my car. The rain resumed in force as I traveled home.
My actions responded to the rain, just as the rain seemed to respond to my actions. I know that God can control the rain. Was this, then, the guidance of God? I certainly thought that as I went about my evening, and I wondered that on my way home. When all is said and done, I couldn’t tell you, and I refuse to make that determination. As much as I would be honored to have such a tangible, physical communication with God, I will not hinge my faith around a single interaction that might after all be strictly coincidental. Does it justify my actions? Likely not. For what it’s worth, I returned to the encampment at a later time. It was still vacant, but the bottle and loaf cake were both gone. I found no ants.
I take joy in this, though: Whether it was God’s calling or not, I was ready to change my behavior for the cause of good, even if only in small ways. When He next requests my services, I hope that I show the same willingness to serve. In a world of uncertainty, that’s the best I can hope for. And for anyone who’s wondering, the sandwich was delicious.
Image is Sous la pluie: La mère et les enfants by Théophile Alexandre Steinlen