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The Bus Ride

Laguna-Beach-13-comMy oldest son accepted an exciting new job in beautiful southern California, so I got a call to help him move. It was also my first opportunity to explore the beautiful Laguna Beach area. I had a good breakfast and set out on my own personal walking tour.

It was a gorgeous day and impossible to not marvel at God’s beauty and creativity. I couldn’t help but be reminded that in my wildest imagination, I would never have come up with something as amazing as a sea lion or skinny palm trees that can grow over 100 feet towards the sky. God’s imagination and creativity are mind boggling!

After a few hours, I was ready to give my feet a break so I climbed aboard a city bus headed in the direction of a new scenic spot (and lunch).

Sitting a couple rows in front of me was man about my age who, I gathered, lived on the streets. He was pleasant and carrying on a conversation with the bus driver. I learned his name was Jim. We were making a routine stop when another passenger from the back moved to get off the bus. Just before exiting, he noticed Jim, said hi, and instead of getting off, sat down in “Jim’s row” as the bus pulled away. The conversation then went something like this: 

“Hey Jim, what are you doing today?” 

“I’m just riding the bus.”

There was a short pause, a shrug of the shoulders and then he said, 

“Sounds good.”

The conversation continued with a discussion about various places where they had found things to eat or places to sleep. The contrast with the daily lives of my bus companions while being surrounded by the amazing wealth and beauty of Laguna Beach was profound. The bus made a new stop and a third man entered who instantly knew Jim and the other man.

“Hi Jim. Good to see you. Where you going?”

“No place. I’m just riding in the bus.”

“OK,” the man said and sat down in a neighboring seat. 

The conversation picked up where it had left off as the three friends exchanged helpful information about places to go as well as places to avoid. Then their conversation took a different turn.

“Hey Jim, I’ve got some weed if you want.”

“Nah,” Jim answered, “I’m a drunk. I just want to drink.” 

Jim’s other friend said he’d take some and without hesitation his friend reached into his pocket and handed over a joint.

“I heard your mom was in town,” the guy with the pot said to Jim.

“Yeah,” he answered, “It was my birthday. It was really good to see

her. She got me a hotel room so I could clean up and sleep in a bed. 

She took me out to eat and told me about my kids.” Jim stopped, lost in thought. There was a long, silent pause.

“Your mom is great,” the other said. “Mine don’t like me much…”

I missed my stop and several after that. I was so entranced by their conversation everything else blurred away. I looked at these three men and I couldn’t help but wonder what their stories were. How did they get here? Where were their families? How do they survive from day to day? Then I thought of the popular phrase, “There but for the grace of God, go I.”

It’s Easter season, a time to celebrate that Jesus Christ, paid the price for our sins and rose again to reconcile us with God the Father. He conquered death, our greatest enemy, and if we would only believe, made us right with God.

The phrase, “There but for the grace of God, go I” is attributed to the English Reformer and martyr, John Bradford (1510 – 1555). It is meant to be an expression of humility and reliance on God’s grace. It is also a reminder that God’s grace brings hope to each one of us — me, you, the guys on that bus — if we will only look to Jesus.

The bus stopped, others got on, and I got off. I was about to return to my comfortable world. I stood and watched as the bus pulled away. It turned a corner and was quickly out of sight. All I could think was, “There but for the grace of God, go I.”

Writing Stories

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View from the outdoor cafe

I’m sitting at an outdoor coffee bar that serves a lot more than just coffee. It overlooks a sports arena, downtown buildings, and a commuter train railway. There is also an airport close by. A few minutes ago an airplane flew past while at the same time a train and a bus rolled along. Everyone is going someplace.

It’s interesting to observe the mix of people in this place. There are all shapes and sizes and I count at least six different nationalities. Most seem quite happy. I suspect the median age is late 30’s and I suddenly realize I’m pulling the curve up instead of down.

Most conversations I overhear seem pretty light. If I had to guess, I would say there is one budding romance across the way. They are all smiles and laugh even if what was said may not have been particularly funny. A trio of ladies have gathered for drinks and are swapping stories about their respective “crazy” day. An elderly man is by himself staring into his glass deep in thought.

I wonder what their stories are?

We all have them. We’re all on a journey. All of us are hopeful our story comes to a happy and peaceful conclusion. We’re all writing stories.

I can’t help but wonder how God’s eternal and perfect plan—His story for us—is possibly taking place at this exact moment in each one of our lives. There just seems to be too much going on, too many  details, too many people, too many possible outcomes. How can it be that God is in control and that “…every day of my life was recorded in His book and every moment laid out before a single day had passed” (Psalm 139:16)? How can this be true right now, right here in this coffee bar?

I know God lives in eternity and is outside all of nature’s laws regarding time and space. It is difficult to try and comprehend. My Dad loved to tell me that this meant “God has all the ‘time’ in the world to focus on me and me alone for my entire life—every moment of every day.” That both thrills and terrifies me. But I do believe that in some mysterious God-ordained-free–will way, we write our story with uncoerced choices which fit exactly into God’s eternal plan. 

Maybe David was sitting in a coffee bar (circa 1000 BC) drinking a strong black coffee (no way King David drank lattés) thinking about some of these things. Why does the Almighty God–with that kind of power and ability–unconditionally love and care for someone like me? Why would he even care about my story and even desire that “through his mighty power at work within me, accomplish infinitely more than I might ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20)? It’s too outlandish to imagine.

But He does. And so David had to say what I’m feeling at this moment, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand” (Psalm 139:6).

I need another strong black coffee.

The Good Samaritan Strikes Again

missed bus

So here’s the story.  I was driving to work and noticed a big city bus pulling away from a bus stop while a middle-aged lady with a large bag in her hand ran frantically behind trying to get the bus to stop.  The lady was obviously upset and I couldn’t help but feel mildly irritated that the bus driver so callously drove away.

I pulled off to the side of the road and as non-creepily as possible, told her I’d help her catch her bus by driving her to the next stop.  She was a bit wary of course, but then seemed relieved as she got into my pickup truck. “Let’s go catch your bus,” I said with a macho flair, quite pleased with myself and my Good Samaritan intentions.

Stomping on the accelerator, we took off with a jolt for the next bus stop.  Ignoring most traffic laws we darted between cars and other obstacles and arrived at the bus stop just as the big bus was slowing to a stop.  My passenger gave me a grateful smile.  Then suddenly, the bus picked up speed and took off down the road.  All I could assume was that the bus driver hit the gas after determining there was no one to drop off and no one waiting to be picked up.

My attitude changed from mild irritation to slightly miffed.  “What’s with this bus driver?” I said to my anxious passenger as I once again stomped on the gas.  Her eyes widened as we lurched forward.

In moments, we had closed the gap until I was directly behind the bus. To get the bus drivers attention, I began honking my horn and flashing my lights like an emergency EMT ambulance.  Inexplicably, this caused the bus to actually pick up speed.  I upgrade my “slightly miffed” to a full “miff” and angrily stomped on the gas.

A tiny break in traffic enabled me to cut off a little wimpy “Mr. Bean” French car and I pulled up beside the bus so that my passenger and I could yell at the bus driver through closed windows.  As we yelled and flailed our arms, I couldn’t help but notice that for some reason, the lady bus driver appeared frightened out of her mind.

Rather than slow down, however, the lady bus driver hit the gas and barreled ahead. I quickly upgraded my full miff to “extremely miffed” and said, “There’s no way that bus is going to arrive at the next stop before us.” I abandoned all traffic laws and tore down the road in search of the next bus stop.  My wide eyed passenger let out a small gasp and clutched the dashboard.

We arrived a full 15 seconds before the bus and screeched to a halt in front of a handful of startled passengers in waiting.  With surprising agility, my passenger bailed out of my pickup truck almost before I came to a complete stop.  Her eyes were about the same size as my steering wheel as she stood there glaring at me, softly hyperventilating.

As I slowly drove off while my passenger continued to glare at me, I realized that in all her relief and excitement to reach the bus stop,  words had simply failed her regarding saying, “thank you.”   But of course, we Good Samaritans aren’t looking for such adulations.  We’re just glad to help.

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