My friend Rodney works at Publix. This is how I know him. He worked at the one that closed across town and now makes his daily trek to the new one, where he greets folks with a “Hey, ma’am!” and bags groceries. His sweet gentle nature is a great mix with his boisterous welcomes and infectious laugh.
Last week I went in to shop for Mama and Daddy. I picked up a few things for my family as well (it is rare that I spend more for Mama than I do for myself–comes with feeding a family of five, I guess). As I was checking out, I explained to Mr. Tom that I had two separate orders. Rodney was bagging up the groceries and asked, “Who you shopping for?”
“My Mama and Daddy.” “She can’t come?” he asked. “No, my Daddy’s sick and she can’t leave him.” Rodney thought about this and paused for a second. “What’s wrong with him?” “Cancer,” I said. “Cancer. He’s in the bed a lot now.”
“Oh,” he said, still bagging. “I’m so sorry. I’ll say a prayer for him.” I was about to thank him when the most amazing thing happened. Rodney started praying right then. “Dear God, please heal her Daddy and make him well. And help her Mama. Amen.” Tearfully, I grabbed Rodney in a hug and thanked him. What a powerful prayer from a man who saw a need and didn’t wait to reach out and try to meet it.
I have been reading a book called “Praying for Strangers.” Each day the author, River Jordan, would approach a stranger and tell them she was going to pray for them and ask them what they needed prayers for. The book is compelling, but I haven’t done anything with it myself. Yet.
In that moment with Rodney, I felt covered in prayer, but something else. I felt that I was supposed to stop (all of our groceries were bagged–my littles were waiting on the bench patiently, but I was unsure how much longer that would last) and take a moment with Rodney. I was sure of this.
“Rodney, thank you for that beautiful prayer. Is there something I can pray for for you?”
He grinned his “aw shucks” grin and said, “No. No. Not really.”
I could tell he was holding back.
“Yes there is Rodney. What is it?” I asked gently.
He sighed. “My family. Please pray for my family.”
I felt prompted to ask, “Anything in particular?”
“For my mom. For my family.” He paused again. “My Daddy passed last night.”
I began crying. I hugged him again. “Oh Rodney, I will. I will pray for you and your family. I am so so sorry.”
He fiddled with the bag holder. “Yeah. It happened last night and my mom just called me this morning. I am sad. That’s the only Daddy I’ll ever have, you know?”
Yes. Yes, Rodney, I do know.
What a beautiful soul this man has! Sweet, sweet spirit. Whose faith is probably so much stronger than mine. This kind man who had just lost his father, and yet took the time to pray right then and there for the father of someone he only knows by sight, occasionally, and at his job. He stepped out of his own grief to reach out and walk with me through mine for a moment.
Rodney is interruptible. I’ve seen him stop pushing carts to speak to someone and welcome them. I’ve watched him talk to customers as he bags the groceries (he’s just that good). But in those moments, the world around us faded and he did what came very naturally for him. He stopped. He reached out. Even in his own pain.
I have a lot to learn from Rodney. May God bless him and his family!