A couple weeks ago, I told you a little bit about the adventure I’m in the midst of or the unusual homeless summer that I am having. How I threw all of my stuff into storage—besides a few bags of clothing and necessities—at the end of April and flew out to New Mexico to spend a couple of weeks with my best friend Nichelle. From there, I flew out to the east coast to attempt to start a new life out here.
I touched down in Newark, NJ in mid-March. Since then, I have moved around quite a few times. I started off staying with a friend in Stamford, CT then rented a room for a week in West Haven, CT and now I am renting a room in New Brunswick, NJ with a couple of grad students from Rutgers University.
This last month has been an emotional roller-coaster that I’m not quite ready to write about in detail. There is a story that I’d like to share with you that has been on my mind again after visiting church yesterday.
The room that I rented at the end of March through airbandb was in the home of a Christian family from Indonesian. When I came down for a quick lunch on the last day that I was there I ended up chatting with a pastor who was staying with the family. He invited me to eat with him because he wanted a chance to practice his English since he spends most of his time in the U.S. with people who speak his native language. I was happy to have some company before a long trek out to Jersey by myself.
We spent most of our conversation talking about his travels. Eventually, he asked me what brought me out to CT. I told him that I was out on this coast looking for a job because I had been laid off. I had chosen to stay in West Haven that week because I had been hoping to start a temp-to-perm in a nearby CT city that, unfortunately, didn’t end up panning out. He was sympathetic with my unemployment. I was touched when he said that he would pray for me. I didn’t realize that he intended to pray for me right then until he bowed his head and closed his eyes.
I was so surprised that I didn’t close my eyes immediately. Then I kept them open because I was captivated by how he prayed. Even though he was sitting in a chair, I was reminded of when I’ve seen Muslims pray because he seemed to put all of himself into it. He emphasized his words with his whole body moving his head and hands the most, raising them to heaven or toward me. It was incredible to see someone that I had just met pray over me with so much sincerity.
Though he spoke in a language I couldn’t understand, I knew that what he was saying over me was more of blessing than a prayer. After he said Amen and translated the sentiment of his prayer into words, he confirmed my conviction.
While I have had countless remarkable interactions with strangers, this one stands out as being the most moving. I’m reminded of how John Ames talks about blessing in Gilead: A Novel: “There is a reality in blessing…It doesn’t enhance sacredness, but it acknowledges it, and there is a power in that. I have felt it pass through me, so to speak. The sensation is of really knowing a creature, I mean really feeling its mysterious life and your own mysterious life at the same time.” This is the closest approximate I can find to what I felt that afternoon though I was the one receiving the blessing, not having it pass through me.
After he finished summarizing the blessing/prayer he had said for me, he looked up two passages in the Bible on his phone. He found them in his language and then had the app translate them into English for me. The first was Lamentations 3:19-25 and the second was Romans 8:28.
Lamentations 3: 19-25 (NIV)
19 I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
21 Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him
Romans 8:28 (NIV)
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
What he couldn’t have known is that these passages have been following me around since I was laid off. I read Lamentations 3 during lent which began just after I was let go. Romans 8:28 is a verse that I have had memorized since childhood. Both keep cropping up in sermons and in my mind (Romans 8:28 was used again in the sermon I listened to yesterday). That afternoon, I needed someone to read them to me because I was feeling deeply discouraged.
I felt incredibly alone during that week in West Haven. I have never had a time in my life during which I have been so untethered–to people, a place or a job–as these last few weeks since I left my friend’s in Stamford. There have been some incredibly hard days and nights. The trek out to Jersey that night was a ridiculous nightmare that maybe I’ll tell you about another time. The kindness and concern of that pastor—who drove me to the train station that night and had even offered to drive me all the way out to Jersey though I couldn’t bring myself to accept—helped bolster my spirits. He reminded me, just when I needed to hear it, that everything will eventually work out well. Even if it seems hard to believe.