Stranger in Boston

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The station wagon with the third seat facing the rear pulled into Boston. My two younger brothers and I rode that seat from California to Massachusetts, watching where we’d been, rather than where we were going.

3,177 miles backwards. For a while I was dizzy, car sick, nauseous, but after a while I got used to it.

third-seatThe ’59 Dodge was a big car. It seemed like Mom and Dad, and whoever else was sitting up front with them, were in a different county. The actual dimensions of this monstrous car? Just over eighteen feet long, six-and-a-half feet wide, weighing about 4,200 pounds. The advertised top speed was 120 MPH, but I never saw my parents drive faster than 115. Mom liked to drive fast. I remember my turn to sit up front and help her “stay awake” one night driving through the Arizona desert while Dad got some sleep. It was scary.

We got about nine miles per gallon if one or two people were in the car. Seven or eight miles a gallon when all ten of us went somewhere together, like we did on this cross-country trip. Nobody had seat belts back then.

As we pulled up to a traffic light in this strange city far from home, suddenly, my dad was yelling and talking excitedly. Someone outside was shouting and talking just as fast. From way back in the third row, I tried to see what was going on. Were my dad and the stranger mad at each other? Why were they yelling? I looked out the side window of our car and saw that the driver of the car next to us had dark skin and black curly hair. Why was he yelling at my dad? And why was my dad yelling back at him?

At first, it seemed they were angry with each other. But no, they weren’t upset. Rather they were excited and happy. They were yelling for joy. But why?

As I kept on looking at the man in the car next to us, I glanced down to see the license plate on his car. We had played the license plate game all across the country: keep track of all the license plates, and see who gets the most states. There were a lot of variations to that game; you’ve probably played something similar.

Riding backwards made it easier if the cars catching up to us had front license plates, because looking backwards I could see them before my brothers and sisters in the middle seat could see them. But if we were passing the other cars, then they got to see the license plates first. The way my parents drove, nobody ever passed us, so I never won the game.

traffic-lights-686041_1920At the red light in Boston, the license plate on the car next to us looked familiar. Was it? Yes! It was orange and black, a California license plate! We hadn’t seen one of those since we left home. Was that why Dad and the other guy were hollering? Yep, sure was.

There we were, our first day in Boston. We didn’t know a single soul in the city, or in the entire state of Massachusetts. But that first traffic light we stopped at in Boston placed us right next to another human being from California. It was his first day in Boston too.

My first memory of encountering an African-American, and the thing that stuck in my mind more than anything else was the connection that he and my dad made with each other. It wasn’t age; my dad was forty-two and the other guy seemed to be younger. It wasn’t family circumstance; my dad had a wife and eight kids in the car, while the other guy was single. It wasn’t that they had similar careers; my dad was in the Navy, and the other guy worked in a factory. And it wasn’t that they looked alike; my dad was a balding white guy, and the other guy was black with a full afro.

No, the connection they made with each other was simply that they had something in common. They were both from California, and that was enough. They were both more than 3,000 miles from home, and friendless – until that moment. They found someone from home.

I often think about that experience. Why is it that people who are different despise each other? Why do people of different skin color or different nationality or different language or different gender or different religion or different political party or different socioeconomic standing hate each other? Why can’t we do what my dad and the stranger did in Boston that day in 1962?

I was seven years old when we drove into Boston. Over the past fifty-plus years, I’ve tried to focus on what I have in common with other people, instead of our differences: marriage, kids, jobs, sports, music, food, weather, fears, dreams, movies, faith, or our human-ness. There’s so much we share, it’s a shame people choose to fight over their differences.

Something powerful and amazing happens when we connect over something we have in common.

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Grab Your Scroll

I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard a loud voice behind me like a trumpet saying, “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea” (Revelation 1:10-11, HCSB).

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Lloyd John Ogilvie is a tremendous communicator, an outstanding preacher who used his speaking skills in his Los Angeles congregation and on the radio. Because of his influence, in 1995 he was elected Chaplain of the United States Senate, where he served thirteen years. He considered the chaplaincy to be a non-political, non-partisan ministry. In his words, “I saw my role as Chaplain to be an intercessor for the members of the Senate family, a trusted prayer partner, and a faithful counselor to them as they sought to know and do God’s will in the monumental responsibilities entrusted to them.”

As effective as he is in person, perhaps through his writings he has reached more people than through his public speaking, publishing fifty-four books, and editing a commentary series.

According to Revelation chapter one, when the Lord wanted to communicate with his people, he chose a writer to do that. God still uses writers to speak to people, and not just writers who happen to be apostles. Those who have a calling to write, and a gift for communicating with words, can use any genre to communicate truth. This is just as true for writers of fiction and poetry as it is for nonfiction, just as applicable for bloggers and tweeters as it is for preachers, novelists, and playwrights.

If you have a vision for telling your story, communicating a message, or sharing hope with people in need, then you are like that apostle, except you have a laptop, a printer, and email instead of a quill and scroll. If your story rings true to your reader, the Lord can use you to inspire, enlighten, educate, and entertain.

It turns out that, in addition to being a great apostle, John was a really good writer. Similarly, Lloyd John Ogilvie was a great preacher, but also a fantastic writer. If you write with excellence, people will want what you have to offer. So, grab your scroll, and start writing.

Lord, we need your inspiration, so we may use the gifts you’ve given us to reach people with truth and hope. Encourage us when we’re feeling low, inspire us when we run dry, and restore us when we’ve fallen. In Christ’s name, amen.

Elegant Divider

This devotional was published on December 10, 2018 on a website for Christian writers called Inkspirations. Every week, http://www.inkspirationsonline.com posts a new encouraging article for writers.