It was my first time, driving up I-25 to Santa Fe, by myself. Having spent my entire life living in Southern New Mexico, I wasn’t accustomed to the high desert landscape that I’d be driving through. More specifically, I was unaccustomed to snow. Nevertheless, I was nineteen, fearless, and I had a made up mind to make the trek to visit my friends, despite my lack of experience.
Upon my arrival to Santa Fe, I encountered a challenge that I hadn’t anticipated. Every home and building was painted in an earth-tone color. I was unaware of the city mandate requiring this. As an outsider, every building looked the same. To say I was lost would be an understatement. Feeling a sense of defeat, I pulled over to a convenience store, walked up to the payphone, inserted a quarter, and called my friend for directions.
With a new set of directions in my hand, I hung up the phone, empowered to locate my friend’s house. Just as I hung up the phone, I was approached by a lady, asking me for a quarter to make a call. With a quick glance I noticed that she was middle-aged, blonde, she drove a small white car, but even more noticeable was the sadness that I saw in her eyes. As I dug into my pockets to find a quarter, she went on to explain that she was in a rush to call her boyfriend to tell him that she would be home late. I’m still unsure why she decided to divulge all this information to me. Nevertheless, just like a volcano, her life story began to erupt from a deep place of pain and hurt within her heart. “I don’t know how I got to this place. I’m in a relationship with a very violent man. If I don’t call him and let him know where I’m at he’ll hurt me.” My heart hurt as I listened to the fear in her voice.
Suddenly her conversation changed directions, “It wasn’t always like this. I used to go to church. I used to take part in communion. I used to have a great relationship with God,” she said, ….. “but I traded it for this. Why did I do this?…. Why?” I don’t remember the exact words that I shared after that. However, I remember feeling a surge of righteous indignation and energy burst from within me. I remember sharing with her a brief, but bold message of God’s love, mercy and grace. I remember telling her that God was not done with her yet and he was standing waiting for her with open arms. Somehow, I mustered up the boldness and asked if I could pray for her. This was out of the norm for me. The denomination that I was raised in frowned on having anyone but an ordained minister lay hands on anyone. However, in that moment, I defied my upbringing and prayed a prayer of restoration and wholeness over her. When I finished praying, I hugged her, said good-bye, got in my car and drove away.
I spent that weekend having a blast with my friends. However, I couldn’t shake off the memory of my encounter with the lady that I had met at the convenience store, during my entire visit. When it came time to leave, I headed down the freeway thinking about her. I couldn’t remember her name. I couldn’t remember what she looked like. All I remember was her blonde hair and the white car that she drove. Nevertheless, I made a personal commitment to continue to pray for her…. And I kept that commitment for about three years afterwards, until the moment that God took me to revisit the event once again.
A year later I found myself living in Santa Fe. The next two years could be described as a roller-coaster-like adventure of a life time. I initially moved to help a pastor friend of mine with the music at his church. However, the pastor had an emotional breakdown, left the city, and attempted to steal the girl that I loved from my side. I found myself helping my best-friend lift the church back out-of-the-ashes. This season of my life led me to a season of deep prayer, intimacy with God, and monumental growth. God used this season to help me release the fundamental belief system that held me in bondage for years. However, it was also a season where my faith was tried. My relationship with my girlfriend was quite rocky and eventually ended in abruptly and painfully. Nevertheless, the presence of God was constant, and I knew that I was not alone.
During this time, I began to sense that God had a bigger purpose for me than I initially thought. Up until this point, I always found myself hiding behind a piano and limited any act of worship to things that involved music. Much to my surprise, I began to feel that God was calling me to speak, and even more surprisingly, I sensed that he was preparing me to be a pastor.
At first, I fought off the feelings. I reasoned that someone like me could never be a pastor. I had always been the rebellious one out of the group. While I never did anything terribly wrong, I knew that I had a bad attitude. I was the kind of guy that wouldn’t allow people to push me around. This was a big “no-no” in the fundamental church that I grew up in. As a young man, I spent countless hours in the pastor’s office being scolded for my obstinate behavior. Surely, I wasn’t preacher material. Nevertheless, the feelings persisted, soon they became too much for me to bear. I found myself crying out to God and trying to convince Him that I was the wrong man for the job. Finally, I found myself throwing the ball back in His court. I remember that for several weeks I found myself telling God that there were specific things that I had been praying about for years that he had never answered. I found myself telling Him that I was unwilling to take any steps further until I saw that He was willing to answer my prayers…. I should have known better.
One morning, after having prayed one of these prayers, I went to my friend Michael’s house. I met Michael shortly after I moved to Santa Fe. At the time we had been friends for a little over a year, and he had become a key person that I turned to for spiritual support. We prayed together, laughed together, did stupid stuff together, and he contributed significantly to making my life great. I always enjoyed going to his home. His mother, Cindy, was always an encouragement. She always had the perfect words to say to make me feel like a million bucks. She was one of those church ladies that was constantly praying and encouraging others. On this particular morning, I stopped by Michael’s house to lend him my car for his driving test. As we were getting ready to leave, Cindy, stopped us and asked us if we would like to pray before we started our day. I quickly agreed, not realizing that Cindy was going to ask me to lead the prayer. I bowed my head and prayed, “Father God, I pray that today you would lead us to at least one person that we can share Jesus with today.” As soon as the words left my mouth, I heard Cindy say, “Amen.” I quickly looked up and saw her. However, in this moment I saw her with new eyes. Suddenly, all the pieces came flying out at me like a jigsaw puzzle ready to be put together. I realized that Cindy was the lady that I had prayed for three years earlier. I found myself slapped with the reality that I had been living under the blessing of her friendship for a little over a year, not realizing that she was the lady that I had continuously been praying for.
This is what I learned that day.
- I can always trust God to answer my prayer.
I’ve learned that although God’s hand is not visible to my human eye, it does not mean that he isn’t actively answering my prayer. In fact, He has shown me that many times he is working behind the scenes to provide a greater answer than I could ever imagine. I just need to trust him.
- God’s narrative is better than the one that I’ve devised in my head.
As humans, we are meaning making machines. We constantly create stories surrounding everything that we experience. This experience taught me that I can’t always trust the stories that I create. I could have never imagined the story ending the way that I saw it end. I’ve learned that God is a way better narrator that I can ever be.
- Each encounter, with another living soul, has meaning and purpose.
It’s easy to write off the people that we run into, daily, as ordinary encounters. However, this situation taught me that every encounter with another human being is an opportunity for God to do something meaningful and huge. Our minds don’t always comprehend the power that our words, and time, have when we spend it with others. Nevertheless, God is always working behind the scene to bring hope, healing, and encouragement to a world that needs him.
John Eli Garay
*disclaimer: Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.
John Eli has spent over 15 years mentoring and coaching individuals in life skills, career transitions, and through organizational change. His resume includes pastoral care, behavioral health, and higher-education advising. From an early age, John recognized that God created him to bring hope, healing and encouragement to others. He is currently walking out his purpose by helping others confront, and work through, self-inflicted trauma. His ministry includes blogging, speaking, and personal development coaching. He currently lives in Chandler, Arizona with his wife, mini-schnauzer and an antique piano whom he calls, “Betty.”