A Heart for Men and A Calling to Shepherd

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Stops along THE WAY: January, 2016

When I decided last fall it was time to look for a semi-retirement position because my landscape design business was struggling to pay those winter bills, it seemed given my background in construction and landscaping one of the large home improvement centers would be a good fit. I applied to the two biggies several times, and for some strange reason could not land a position. Once one of the store managers wanted to hire me, but could not get my application sent to her store even though that is the very store I applied to. I even went in, sat down with her, and she re-filled out the app with me. She said, “That will do it. I’ll be back in touch with you in a couple of days when you clear the system.” After a week or so I called her to ask why I hadn’t heard from her, she checked in to it, and found my app had been sent to another store half way across the city—a store I had never even applied to. We both tried to reach the HR person from that store to release it to her, to no avail.

While all of this was going on Tammi, the ever vigilant one, was keeping an eye out for other possible positions. One morning she said, “Mike, it looks like your old school district is hiring bus drivers.” I had never even considered that, but somehow I knew this was going to be the place for me. The pay wasn’t great but the benefits were, and the schedule would allow me to continue to do the work of the ministries. But more than that all of my old Young Life juices began to flow. “I can make a difference in some kid’s lives again,” shot through this aging brain! So I got on line and applied.

After submitting my app I was called in for an interview. I had always found a way to segregate my work from my spiritual life, but God was telling me, “Not this time.” After all He had shown me over the past years about living in the kingdom of heaven on earth, I knew it was full time or nothing. No more doing Jesus’ business one day and the world’s bidding the next. I went in to that interview praying [in public schools…yes, it can be done] God would grant me an opportunity to discretely share my faith.

As I sat before a three-person panel the question came up, “What do you think qualifies you to be with children K-12 grades?” Bingo! Mack Truck opening alert! I was able to share with them the 11 years I spent as a Young Life volunteer and counselor. Smiles were seen around the table. Then they asked me how I felt about working with the disabled? Next question, next opening! I shared with them the past four years spent volunteering at Open Door Ministries with the guys at the Cornerstone House for the handicapped. More smiles. Finally, they asked me when I had gone “over and above” in a job I had done. I said having worked for myself most of my life I wasn’t sure how to answer that, other than to again bring up the past four years driving downtown three times a week to serve with Open Door. Two days later a call came offering me the job.

As I began my training I was determined not to fall to my old compartmentalizing ways, and so every morning as I drove to work I would ask God to use me there. Around 300 drivers plus support staff work in the district, and so there would be no shortage of opportunities.  The first one that arose was with one of the three people who interviewed me.

Linda [names fictitious] ended up being my tester for my commercial driving license about a month after I was hired. However, the day before I was to test my classroom instructor told me we might have to reschedule because Linda had a tragedy going on in her family, and may have to leave town. Later that afternoon I happened to meet up with her in the bus storage lot. She was coming in with another guy she was testing, and I was returning with my driving instructor from a morning of training. Our buses just “happened” to be parked next to one another. When I saw her I asked what was going on? She told me her daughter had been diagnosed with Stage 1 Cancer in two areas of her body, and that she was referred to a specialist who was going to treat her. Linda wanted to be there for her, but was waiting for the specialist to check her out and report back.

As we stood there the Spirit cried out in my spirit, “Pray for her right here [on public school grounds], right now!” My classmate gave the typical, “I’ll pray for her” I had given people many times in my life, rarely following through. I asked “How about we pray for her right now?” This engendered several wide-eyed stares, but Linda said, “OK.” I put my hand on her shoulder [which could have been seen as sexual harassment if she had reported it], and prayed for peace for her and healing for her daughter. When I was done she hugged me [could have gotten her back for that one. All this PC rule breaking! But we were now hanging out in Jesus’ kingdom], and thanked me.

The next day I arrived to find Linda there waiting for our test, and commented I hoped that meant good news concerning her daughter. She said, “Funny thing. The specialist examined her and said, ‘I don’t know what the referring physician saw, but I can’t find a thing.’” Then Linda said, “Strange, yes?” I replied, “Strange no! Linda, we prayed for her just yesterday. I think that may have had something to do with it!” She smiled, and said, “Oh yeah.”

Fast forward a week, when after I had gotten my license and was sent out to buddy up on a route with one of the tenured drivers. We picked up a load of high school kids and took them to the school, and as we were pulling out I prayed, “Lord grant me a divine appointment today.” George, an elderly black man with a gentle spirit, told me to head to a local fast food place where he always spent the 90 minutes between the high school and elementary school routes. After we got there he found a place at one of the tables and told me some other drivers would typically show up to talk. I went to a nearby table so I wouldn’t be distracted, and opened my laptop to spend some time with the Lord. George said, “Oh, I forgot something,” and went out the bus. When he came back in he plopped down a well-worn Bible on his table. Prayer answered!

George and I spent those 90 minutes in blessed fellowship. It was so rewarding to see a man his age still on fire for the Lord! Just before we left he pointed to a young lady that was hanging out with a group across the room and said, “See that little girl over there? She’s trouble. I tried to help her but had to finally write her up. She got suspended from my bus, then they tried putting her in another and she got suspended from that one too. Then she got suspended from school. I hope she’s OK.”

A few minutes later I went to use the restroom, and upon returning found that girl had come over to our table and was talking with George. She had tears in her eyes, and from what I gathered she had come over to apologize to him, thank him for helping, and tell him she was trying to get her life back together. He was encouraging her to tackle her problems and make something of herself. Then she looked at me and I said, “We all make mistakes. It’s what we do with those experiences that makes all the difference.” Then she gave George a big hug, and walked over to me and gave me one! George looked at me and smiled. Think bus drivers can’t make a difference?

Later on that day, as most of the drivers were sitting around the employee lounge for lunch, I noticed George sitting with a large group of people.  I had seen them there before, but didn’t think much of it because I didn’t know him up to that time. He motioned me over, and said, “Folks, this is Mike and he’s a brother!” I then got introduced to the east terminal church!

So often as Christians we tend to compartmentalize our lives. We have our church life, our family life, our work/school life and our recreation life. We tend to act differently within them depending on the environments offered within them. There are only two environments—two kingdoms—on earth, and they are at odds. The kingdom of heaven on earth and the kingdom of man are like the spirit and the flesh. The two are opposed to one another, and set their desires against one another (Gal. 5:16-17). If you are familiar with my journey you know God has been showing me for the past two years we cannot live in both, yet that’s precisely what most who claim Christ try to do. It’s what I spent most of my Christian life trying to do. Do I always get it right? No. But I like to think I am becoming more like Paul who said, “Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect. But I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet, but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:12-15).

We need to make decisions, every day, to forsake the one kingdom and live for the other. We can make an impact in the public schools, the board room, or the mail room. All we need do is seek to become obedient to His calling, and say to Jesus every day, “Here am I Lord, send me.”

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