Monday, June 18, 2007

Dear Frank...

Dear Frank,

When I first met you in the Denver Greyhound terminal, I thought you were a wee bit eccentric. After all, you were wearing dark shades in a dimly lit public building. Your eccentricity was confirmed in my mind when you explained you are a poet--albeit unpublished--preferring the medium of "life rap." I was intrigued to learn you were somewhere on the downhill slope of a 3-day ride from Tacoma to Branson, with only a backpack full of belongings. You said you were going to Branson to be a chef's assistant, "specializing in sauces." Or, if you couldn't find a chef in need of your specialty sauces, there was always painting. And after Branson? Spend a year or so on the beaches of Costa Rica. Know Spanish? Nah, but it can't be too hard to pick up a few words.

You were kind enough to help carry my bags as we inched forward in the line to the bus. When we finally boarded, you sat down beside me, commenting, "You're thin and I can't detect any B.O...you're the perfect seat-mate." Then you promptly fell asleep, dreaming of specialty sauces while I enjoyed the fantastic sunset.

As you slept, I did some thinking. I thought about you. I thought of your comment about an aching neck from two days spent in uncomfortable bus seats. I thought about your directionless life. You had nobody to meet you at the bus stop in Branson, nobody to greet you with a hug and a homemade meal. I imagined the ache in your heart to be far deeper than your physical discomfort.

Then I thought about myself. I thought about my dear friends on one end of the bus ride and my wonderful family on the other end. I thought about the direction, the joy and the hope I will always have as a child of God. I also thought about the gift of a good friend the day before I left Utah: a fleece blanket that rolls into a pillow. It was the perfect size and firmness for both a neck and back support, and it had spared me the aches you had mentioned. And I remembered with tenderness my first Greyhound ride years ago, when a kind stranger noticed I was cold and lonely, and gave me her soft blanket to keep.

I glanced over at you, Frank. You were still asleep, your head resting at an awkward angle. You would be even more sore when you awoke.

I knew then that I should give my blanket to you. You needed it. More than that, you needed to be shown love.

Selfishness is an ugly instinct. It causes one to cling to things that have absolutely no eternal value. It makes one forget he's been on the receiving end, himself, of countless blessings from a generous Father. It's something of a lid that fits tightly on the cup of life, preventing the overflow of love into other lives. And I'm ashamed to admit that I let that lid close tight, that night on the bus. You see, I wanted to keep my blanket, and I thought up all kinds of (what I considered) valid reasons. I desperately didn't want to give up this parting gift of a close friend--a friend who was moving across the country, whom I didn't know when I would see again. In the end, of course, a blanket is just a blanket, just a "thing"--but I allowed selfishness to blind me. I was choosing my selfish desire over your legitimate need.

You woke up somewhere just west of the Colorado/Kansas border, Frank. We chatted in the darkness until you switched on the overhead light and began reading your book. Even then, you were your friendly self. Every few paragraphs you would stop to read me an interesting sentence or fill me in on the story. We shared a love for words and good writing, and you made the miles pass quickly for me. Our conversation turned to the book I had been reading, about the life and imagination of C.S. Lewis. I explained the most recent chapter had been about Lewis' conversion from atheism to Christianity. It was the perfect opportunity to share that I am a Christian, myself, that my sins are forgiven by God's grace and I am bound for heaven. But you had picked up your book again, and I was weakened in boldness by the selfishness I harbored in my heart.

The bus pulled in to Colby, where my parents were already waiting, at 11:30 p.m. As I gathered my things, you caught me off-guard with the question, "Are you keeping your blanket?"

It was as though the Lord were giving me another chance to do what I knew to be right. He does that often, and I usually give in by the second or third time--but it's never as good as immediate obedience. This time I finally chose your need over my desire, Frank. I pulled off that lid, allowing the love of Jesus to flow, which I had selfishly kept bottled up for myself. And--oh!--did it feel good!

I gave you the blanket as we said our hurried goodbyes; you said it would be something to remember me by. I, too, have plenty to remember. I am poorer by a blanket but richer by a valuable life lesson. Next time, I hope I won't hesitate to show love to the one who intersects my life for a brief and opportune time.

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