Last month I was humbled beyond belief by an encounter clearly orchestrated by God.
His name was J, and upon first glance there wasn’t anything striking or particularly noticeable about his appearance. With his sweat-stained, mismatched clothing and hunched demeanor he seemed just another one of the many homeless men and women waiting around on the sidewalks of Chelsea, hoping for something as simple as acknowledgement.
I was there with a friend that day. We were working with an organization called Relief Bus, to not only feed the homeless who gather on the sidewalks and benches near Chelsea Park, but to gather together in community with them as well. J was sitting on a folding chair away from the main hustle surrounding the bus. My friend approached him and started up a conversation that would change not only my day, but my perspective on joy in this season of life.
Once upon a time J was a successful nurse, making a living here in New York City. Then one night while walking home from work, J’s whole life changed. Simply because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, J became the target of a violent gang initiation. After receiving multiple gunshot wounds to the head and stomach, J was left for dead. However, God had a greater plan for J’s life. Instead of dying that night, J spent the next 18 months in a coma. During that time all of his savings and resources were depleted. When he was finally released from the hospital to face a new life with a false stomach and other medical limitations, he was also forced to face a new life of homelessness.
J spent the next two months sleeping on park benches and eating at soup kitchens. With no friends or family in the city J fulfilled the terrifying expression that “we are all just one medical emergency away from homelessness.” Although most people would turn bitter and hopeless at such a fall from grace, J did the extraordinary. He praised God even in the midst of such an impossible situation. Somehow he kept a positive outlook on his current circumstances and his future. He was faithful, and his Savior did not abandon him in the midst of the storm.
One night while sleeping on a bench J was approached by a man. This man started up a conversation with J, and asked him questions about his story and his family. The end result was this: the man offered J a shower, some clean clothes, some food, and a plane ticket out of the city to rejoin the remaining family he had across the country, whom he had previously had no way to reach or contact.
The day I met J he was joyously awaiting his upcoming flight, a mere 24 hours away at the time, with ticket in hand. As he told his story, he constantly pointed people to Christ, reminding them that He was the reason for his joy.
J challenged me. When I met him I was feeling discouraged in my life, spiritually and physically. As I spoke with him, however, I knew God was using this encounter to teach me something important about living a life of joy in every circumstance.
Over and over again that day, J repeated his catch phrase, words that will stick with me, and that will forever conjure up in my mind a picture of J’s face and a reminder of his story of endless grace, “I’m too blessed to be stressed.”
O Lord my God, I cried to You for help, and You have healed me. -Psalm 30:2
“But let all those rejoice who put their trust in You;
Let them ever shout for joy, because You defend them;
Let those also who love Your name
Be joyful in You.” Psalm 5:11