We really need to redefine “normal.” To God, many things are normal which should be normal to all Christians: after all, we are seated in heavenly places with Christ. Too often we frame God shenanigans with “It was so weird” when really we should perceive it as commonplace. Even if it isn’t yet our ongoing physical reality, we should train ourselves to see it IS our spiritual reality. What I mean is, what’s normal in heaven should seem normal on earth, particularly to people with heaven inside them. In that vein, I’m more intentionally re-thinking my language when I refer to such experiences. One of those areas is divine coincidences.
Like an alcohol-fragrant homeless man in Redding, California sitting down at your table and proceeding to tell you about how he killed seven people while in the military, oh and, by the way, HE WAS IN BAGHDAD.
That’s what happened today. I was walking in downtown Redding and I had the sudden unction to sit down at a concrete table and read Psalm 1. Then I read a number of other psalms. About fifteen minutes after sitting down a man sat down opposite me with the words, “You don’t look like someone who smokes.” “No, I don’t,” I replied, understanding his indirect request for a cigarette. Then, he started talking about life: the homeless shelter, the lost dreams, and how he can’t seem to move past killing people in The Gulf War in 1991.
I listen. I ask questions. I counsel him. He says He doesn’t think anyone can ever forgive him. I tell him God is willing to forgive our wrong doing, even when we feel it’s impossible or we are wracked by guilt. He’s intrigued by this. We talk back-and-forth about God’s goodness and his generosity evidenced in Jesus. I ask if he wants a new beginning. He does. He dreams of being married with kids, but wonders, “Who would ever marry someone with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder who killed seven people? I mean, would you want that person to be YOUR Father?” he asks. I smile. “God has a knack for redeeming things and rinsing off our pasts. He loves to do that. He wants you to flourish. You have a bright future.”
So on and so forth. Then, I ask, “Where were you stationed?” Very curious to know what part of the beloved Middle East he got to know. “Baghdad,” he replies. My spirit hops, tripping over an unexpected exactness. My only response to him is, “How was it?” He asks if I really want to know. “Yes,” I say, internally asking the Holy Spirit to physically manifest healing in this man’s soul. He slides into 120 degree heat, sand fleas biting his legs, loud bombings which took 75% of his hearing, scary days, stress-filled nights, jitters and fear, and awful everything and “It was war, you know?” he finishes. The way he says, “war” hurts my heart.
Eventually I lead him in an inner healing prayer and explain what it means to follow Jesus. He succinctly says, “I can’t do that yet. I don’t trust anyone.” “You mean you don’t trust Jesus?” I ask. “Yes, I don’t trust Him yet,” his eyes stab mine with a blend of want and fear. We chat more.
I have him say out loud, “My mind works properly. I bless my body with life.” I tell him he’s important and I want him to be whole so he can live the amazing destiny that is distinctly his.
After all this, as he apologizes for telling me so much, I assure him with, “It’s an honor to meet you. And it’s pretty amazing to meet you right now because I’m going to Baghdad in a few weeks.”
He freezes. My future seemed to poke a pressure release straight into his past. He asks who I will work with. I say, “a non-government organization.” I’m not sure where his mind went, or what visage of war crept into his sight, but it looked like he’d been brought into a here-and-now reality suddenly. His old ideas of Baghdad were now being remodeled. His memories were being overtaken by my hope.
I slipped him a “hopeiraq.com” postcard, bearing the lovely image a friend of mine painted for a particular leader in Iraq. He touches it. He thanks me. The postcard now between us like an equator, with the water draining clockwise on one side and counter clockwise on the other. His Iraq felt hopeless. Mine is hopeful.
Something shifted. He stared at the image.
I got up and we said good bye.
And it made sense that I met a homeless man who used to live in Baghdad while I was reading the Psalms at a concrete table in Redding. Of all of the possibilities for that hour, somehow, given God’s track record, that was not at all surprising. God is so much like Himself. And, wonderfully, I am so much like Himself too. As is Robin.
1 Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the LORD,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.
4 Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
6 For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.