We saw him in the rain. He was pushing his bike up the hill, his thin arms outstretched as we passed in our car, laughing about something as our music played too loudly.
My eyes met my husbands from the warmth of our heated seats. He began to hunt for a place to turn around on the slushy two-lane mountain highway.
We pulled up slowly beside the stranger, and I rolled the window down, the small dog in the basket on the back of his bike greeting us with a bark.
“Hi” I started lamely, his eyes searching my face wearily. “We saw you as we were passing, and just wanted to see if you were alright.”
He watched me for another moment, his full gray beard dripping into his layers of wet clothes as our car idled on the cold, empty highway.
“Well…” he started, his soft voice like the lamenting of an old rusty porch swing, “we’re just about out of steam here.”
There was a short pause as we studied each other. The stranger reached out a weathered hand and scratched his dog on the head, water dripping into both eyes. My heart jumped, higher, higher, until it was nothing but a throbbing lump in my throat.
“We have extra supplies with us. Could you use some?”
His long gray braids streamed rainwater slowly onto his chest as he nodded his head without speaking.
My husband pulled the car to the shoulder and stepped out onto the pavement. We’d covered about 1500 miles of open road, and the trunk of our car was piled high with gear. I had been praying for our eyes to be open and our hearts to be ready to stop the car. To take the detour. To get out of our comfort zone. I had been praying for an opportunity, and here it was right in front of me – dripping onto the cold pavement.
I grabbed our extra water jugs while my husband started sifting through the food bins, and I walked towards the man and his dog. The stranger’s red fingers, raw and uncooperative in the icy air, resisted his efforts to remove the lid of a glass water bottle.
The frosty mountain rain had seemed so cozy to me just a few hundred feet ago from behind the windshield.
I took a step closer and offered my hands, still warm from my car cocoon. He handed me the closed bottle, his kind eyes lowering to linger on his wet boots.
“Have you traveled far?” I asked, hoping he would speak.
“Yes, very far.”
The plastic bags hanging from his handlebars were nearly empty and hanging in frayed pieces. We began filling a canvas bag with essentials.
My mind was racing. This quiet man was struggling; it was easy to see he was tired, sore, wet and cold. How long had he been exposed to the elements out on this road? Weeks? Months? The closest town was miles away. What was his story?
Growing up in the church, I’d heard the saying: “do the ask.” Throughout the years it echoed in my mind as both an encouragement and a challenge. An encouragement to be bold in my faith. A challenge to spend less time dancing around the leaves and to seek the roots of those around me instead, showing my veins as I parted the soil. I wanted to truly see people who needed help, to reach out to those who needed hope. My heart ached to extend the love that has been extended to me, and to be brave enough to ask if I could pray for a stranger in need. I wanted to get to the point of asking after their heart. I hoped Jesus to lead me to these opportunities. I longed for them as much as I feared them, but I prayed for opportunities nonetheless. Could this be one of them?
I walked beside his bicycle and offered the freshly filled canvas bag. He took it from me gently with a stiff hand and began to tie it tightly to his handlebars, pulling the scraps of the old plastic bag away.
He patted his companion on his wet scruffy head and looked at us, his shy dark eyes lighting with a slow smile. “Thank you.”
We stood together, looking at each other on the cold mountain road.
5 seconds…10 seconds…15 seconds.
This was my chance, and I knew it. My chance to offer my veins. My chance to part the soil. My chance to ask — something.
Open your mouth.
“Well, safe travels.”
The rain turned to snow as we continued down the road. I replayed the scene in my head again and again.
He obviously didn’t want to talk, I argued with myself. He wouldn’t have wanted a long conversation with a stranger in the rain, I reasoned.
Maybe all of this was true. The thing is, I’ll never know. Because I left.
I had so much more than just food and water to offer to a weary traveler. I had hope. Maybe he had it too, but maybe he didn’t. I’ll never know now.
Deep in my heart, I know that this life is too short, too important, too precious and beautiful and outrageously fleeting just to be surface level. So I’ve been praying for the awkward. For the difficult circumstances. For the uncomfortable. And yet when I meet it, I choke on the words, and drive away, choosing the safe words instead and regretting it still, months later as I sit at home – wondering where this man and his dog are today.
Though my intentions are good, they’ll ultimately mean nothing if I can’t open my mouth. If I can’t overcome my shyness, my fears of being “strange” to a stranger. Did his saturated soul need more than food? I’ll never know if I can’t do the ask.
I had the chance to extend hope on a cold mountain, and I missed it. If you glimpse a moment, don’t hesitate like I did, like I’ve done too many times in the past.
Sometimes your window lasts 15 seconds on a two-lane road before it’s gone.
So I’ll keep praying for those opportunities. I’ll keep asking to recognize them when they appear. Next time; I pray I’ll take advantage of the moment.
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