Paying Attention



Yes, it is true. There are some stories it should be a crime not to tell. And yet I realize that in the telling of them, it may be entertainment for the reader. It may be encouragement or a prompt for reflection. But for the person on center stage of the story being told, it wasn’t just a story. It was their life. 

You see, I can tell you about my darkest hour and you will hear it as a story that you may or may not remember. You may even be able to empathize or feel a jab of the pain that was experienced in that moment. But it wasn’t just a story to me. It was my life. Your experience wasn’t just a story to you. It was your life.  

It’s sacred space. It’s holy ground to be able to share in someone’s brokenness.  

There is one story in particular that just wrecks me. Every. Single. Time. Maybe because it’s the story of someone I love more than life. Maybe because I can relate to elements of it. Maybe because it’s beauty in brokenness and it’s exactly how I want to view God. 

It goes something like this…  

“God came to me in the form of a drug dealer from the west side of Cleveland.” 

Yep. You heard it right. God doesn’t always appear the way we expect Him to, which is precisely the reason we feel like we don’t experience Him as often as we should.  

He was serving time in juvenile prison and was placed in solitary confinement after receiving the news that his brother had been murdered. His placement in solitary was for his own safety and for the safety of others, because he began to act out in animalistic rage that his brother’s life had been taken. Life wasn’t supposed to happen this way. It should have been him a thousand times over. But his brother? No way. He was the good one. Selfless. Star athlete. Funny and kind. The kind of older brother you long for. 

He laid in a cold, concrete cell in the middle of winter, a heap of brokenness and despair from the shock and grief of the news. Just a teenager himself, he was left alone to process emotions way larger than himself. He cried until there were no tears left. Weeks and months passed without speaking a word to anyone.  

And everyday, without fail, without a single word spoken in response,  Dayshawn would show up. Dayshawn was that former drug dealer I told you about. He was also serving time. 

He would come to the door of that cell and he would lay himself prostrate on the floor. On the floor of a prison. In case you haven’t been inside of one recently, they are not the most sanitary of places. He would lay on that floor and flick candy underneath the door. “I’m here for you. I’m here if you need me,” he would say with each visit. 

Yes, it is true. Sometimes God will appear in the form of a drug dealer from the west side of Cleveland.  

I don’t know where Dayshawn is today. I don’t know if he is aware that God used him in that moment. I don’t know if he knows the difference his acts of kindness made. Or how many times that story has been told all over the world. 

I know that I have missed God showing up in my life many times over. I am sure I often still do. 

For most of my life, I viewed God as a distant judge, detached from humanity. Detached from suffering. Waiting to find fault and execute punishment. A cosmic kill joy to be honest. It felt as oppressive as it sounds. No wonder I didn’t want to draw closer to Him. 

This was no one’s fault. It was my own misinterpretation, combined with not seeking my own relationship with Him. Relationship is not forced. It takes two. It is impossible to know someone you don’t spend time getting to know. 

Until my own wreckage and undoing gave me the gift of unraveling every wrong thing I thought to be true.  

I know now that God is exceptionally kind. He’s the kind of God that brings candy to your door when your heart is smashed into a million pieces. I no longer believe that God is there and I am here. We are enmeshed, right in the thick of this wild and chaotic life I get to live. On my best day and on my worst.  

I wonder how often there is some beauty before my eyes, some measure of comfort, or a reminder, but I miss it. I miss it because I’m too distracted. Because I’m awake, but asleep at the same time. Because I don’t have eyes in that moment to see it. 

I wonder how many opportunities I miss to lay on the floor and flick candy under someone else’s door. To enter their despair. To whisper “I’m here. God is here. You are not alone.” 

Paying attention is an art. It’s the best gift we can give to a world that is aching for someone to notice. It’s critical to our noticing the ways in which God is among us. 

1 comment

  • Steph

    Steph Canada

    This is awesome. It spoke to me that it’s sometimes enough to just lay on the floor and flick candy to somebody else. God can use my smallest efforts and increase them. Thank you for sharing this!

    This is awesome. It spoke to me that it’s sometimes enough to just lay on the floor and flick candy to somebody else. God can use my smallest efforts and increase them. Thank you for sharing this!

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