September 4, 2015

Searching the Obvious

You’re getting better.” Busy placing my groceries on the conveyer belt, I don’t even look up to see who is speaking. “You know, with your column?”

I look around. The young cashier is talking to me.There I am, Dixil Rodríguez, standing in aisle 13 with a loaf of bread in hand, dying of embarrassment.

“I started to read the magazine. I read your column. Better.” He shakes his head in approval, smiles, and begins to bag the groceries.

I glance at his name tag and muster a “Thank you, Steve,” then hurry to empty my cart. I’m getting better? In my mind’s eye I see my editor, reading my column, shaking his head in disappointment, whispering: “I wish this were better!”

As I’m about to pay for my groceries, another cashier trades places with Steve. My new cashier, Ivan, apologizes for the delay. I barely listen as I swipe my card and push the buttons in the little blue point-of-sale touch screen. Ivan tells me Steve had an appointment. His mom is a paraplegic, and his brother is finishing cancer treatment. “I would crumble,” Ivan says, “but he has it together.” The receipt handed me feels as if it has Steve’s story printed on it. Steve finds a place in my prayers that evening.

The next day I leave my business card for Steve with a small card thanking him for the feedback, inviting him to call if ever a chaplain is needed at home. The store manager, Annie, tells me colleagues have created a fund for Steve. But he accepts no charity and instead works double shifts. “I wish he knew we are family here,” she says.

Three days later Steve calls.

As I pull into the address he provided, an ambulance is leaving. At the door I see Steve kneel and talk to his mother. A setback; Steve’s brother needs to spend time in the hospital. I stay for a while, promise to visit Steve’s brother in the hospital. As I walk to my car a warm breeze rustles the trees. I stop to enjoy it. There it is: the obvious. How did Steve learn of the Adventist Review? Why reject help from friends? I turn around and knock on the door.

* * *

Months later I receive an e-mail from Steve. As it turns out, an Adventist neighbor bought a subscription of the Adventist Review for Steve’s mother. This neighbor now helps the family and takes them to church. There is a party to celebrate Steve’s brother’s remission, and I am invited. Steve, my friend who worked hard and was stubborn, when all along His heavenly Father had all the pieces in place.

As I say my goodbyes I tell Steve how I am constantly amazed at the puzzles of our lives, and how God knows where the pieces go when they are ready to be placed. He will now be better at recognizing those who need a helping hand. I hand him an envelope. “Make it better,” I say, knowing he will e-mail me his comments. Before my editor reads this month’s column, Steve will edit it first. He laughs and nods.

I drive home thanking God for placing us where He needs us, and for sending the Holy Spirit to make us better.

Dixil Rodríguez, a university professor and volunteer hospital chaplain, lives in Texas.