I was having one of those days. Exhausted from an eighty-hour work week, I was spending my Saturday morning running errands for camp, but nothing seemed to be going my way. Simple tasks were taking twice as long as they should, I couldn’t find the product I needed, and when I was finally ready to head back home, I realized I’d forgotten something. Little did I know that God was setting me up for a divine appointment. Forgetting something was just the first step of His plan.
Facing the unpleasant task of going back into a crowded Walmart for the second time in an hour, Jen and I looked at each other and just shrugged. What else could we do? It’s best to just get it over with.
We needed to get a phone charger. I was prepared to walk to the electronics section at the back of the store, but as we entered, Jen suggested that we could probably find what we needed at the mobile phone shop at the front of the store. That was step two of God’s plan.
We quickly found what we were looking for, and turned to make our purchase. Both of the sales representatives were busy working with other customers. After waiting for just a minute or two, it became apparent that both representatives would be occupied for quite some time.
“Maybe we can just buy it at the regular checkout lane,” I suggested.
“Can we do that?” Jen asked. “I thought purchases from here had to be made inside this shop.”
I looked at the sales reps once again. They were both wearing the familiar blue vests of Walmart employees.
“I don’t think so,” I replied. “These guys work for Walmart. I think this store is still part of Walmart.”
We cautiously stepped out of the shop. Hearing no alarms, we shrugged at each other again and headed to the checkout lanes. That was step three.
I was about to walk around to the entrance of the checkout lanes, but then the thought occurred to me to head straight up the aisle of the self-checkout. My motivation was simply that I was hungry and in a hurry to get home for a late lunch. But the idea, I believe, came from God. That was step four. Now everything was set for the divine appointment.
As we walked up the checkout lane in the wrong direction, I realized there was just one person waiting in line. He was a well-dressed black man in his early twenties. We saw each other at the same time. I smiled and nodded, intending to walk around to get in line behind him.
Before I could, however, he stepped toward me, blocking my path.
“You’re Steve,” he said. The expression on his face was neither pleasant nor unpleasant, but rather intense. I tried to awaken my exhausted mind to discern where I had met this man, but only resulted in two seconds of confused silence.
“Tell me you’re Steve,” he said again, this time extending his hand.
“Yeah. That’s me,” I replied, shaking his hand.
“From South Mountain Christian Camp, right?”
“That’s right,” I said, now concluding that I was speaking with a former camper. I was still shaking his hand, but I froze as I heard his next words.
“You changed my life.”
A volcano of emotions began erupting inside me as he went on to explain that he had attended summer camp every year when he was a kid. He said that the lessons I taught him, and to a greater degree, the example I lived before him, motivated and inspired him through his high school years into early adulthood. Images of a thousand campers flashed through my mind as I tried to find one that matched this man’s features.
“You kept me out of trouble,” he said. “Now I’ve got my education, a good job, and a relationship with the Lord. And it’s because of you.”
He smiled. And when he smiled, I saw it. I saw him as a ten-year-old boy across the foosball table from me. I saw him sitting on the third row in chapel wearing an oversized black t-shirt. I remembered him.
And suddenly, I was hugging him, right there in Walmart. We chatted for a few more minutes about the old days, then he made his purchase and walked away.
I looked at Jen, tears in both our eyes. In the middle of our frustration and exhaustion, just when we needed it most, God gave us this glorious reminder of why we do what we do.