By Brian Jennings
“Man, I don’t have any rewritable CDs. I don’t think anyone still has rewritable CDs.” My words failed to calm him down. De-escalation seemed impossible. He got louder and angrier. He took a step forward and I was thinking, It’s about to go down—right here, right now.
Twenty minutes earlier I’d asked my friend, José, if he wanted to walk from our office to my favorite lunch spot in the neighborhood. I was in the mood for Korean food—I’m always in the mood for Korean food. About a half-mile of worn-out parking lots and side streets separated us from the restaurant. When I felt the cool breeze, I knew I’d be ordering the extra spicy pad Thai.
We’d gone only a few hundred yards when a guy named Michael came running at us. I knew Michael used drugs and sold drugs in the neighborhood. When he was desperate for money, he’d record his music on CDs and try to sell them. I bought one once. I listened to part of one song, but quickly turned it off before anyone wondered why I was jamming to the most profanity-laced music since Tupac.
A month earlier, I’d given Michael the last stack of CDs from the church office; I’d found them collecting dust in an old cabinet. But Michael now was back for more and he wasn’t taking no for an answer. He was convinced we were lying to him (because nobody wants anyone to discover their giant stash of CD-RWs, right?)
Michael was desperate to keep his family together. He was desperate for money. He was probably desperate for some other stuff too. And he definitely did not believe me when I told him I was out of CDs or that our food pantry was currently closed. Then he asked for cash. Then he called us names. Then he told José what he thought about Mexicans.
Storekeepers were peering outside, cell phones in hand. My mouth told them things were fine, but my eyes were begging them to call the cops. His verbal assault went on for what seemed like eternity.
Finally, we turned and walked away. This sounds like a good idea until you realize you can’t see if someone is about to hit the back of your head. But if you look back, it invites more insults. Thankfully, Michael yelled, but didn’t follow us further. We didn’t see him on our way home, but my habit of scanning bushes and alleys for Michael began.
Fast-forward nine months. A lot can happen in nine months.
Michael hugged me before he headed off to start his new job. Yep, that same Michael. He’s steadily held a job for several months, but he’s jumping at a better opportunity. He’s no longer using or selling drugs. His family is together with him. His kids are in school. He’s earned back the trust of our food pantry, although he doesn’t expect to need help with food again.
Like the CDs he wanted, Michael was “rewritable.” So am I. So is everyone.
God is teaching me not to give up on the person who let me down, offended me, or ran from God. He’s showing me there is hope buried in the shambles. And he’s reminding me the person I see in the mirror is nothing but a product of grace.
I’m so thankful God never gave up on me. He’s rewriting me all the time.
Oh, and if you have any old rewritable CDs lying around, I know a guy.
Brian Jennings lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with his wife, Beth, and their four children. Brian preaches at Highland Park Christian Church and serves on the boards of Blackbox International (help for trafficked boys) and Ozark Christian College. You can learn about his books, Lead Your Family and Dancing in No Man’s Land: Moving With Peace and Truth in a Hostile World (May 2018) at brianjenningsblog.com.