Last week, my family and I took our yearly vacation to the beach, where we pull our travel trailer to a campground on the beach for the week. Based on observations from the previous trips to the beach campground, this year I decided to fly a Christian flag above our camper since every other flag under the sun was already represented along the beach. To me, it just seemed fitting and the right thing to do.
About three days into the vacation, an older couple named Tom and Mary arrived and occupied the camping spot next to us. After a brief introduction, we both went our separate ways and agreed to let each other know if we needed anything…the usual exchange of pleasantries with both parties secretly concluding not to exercise said offer unless under dire circumstances.
Later that day, I was tasked with picking up some items from Walmart, which included a ball for the kids to play with on the beach since there was an apparent shark sighting that ended up being fake news administered by an imaginative adolescent. Surprisingly, my middle son, Michael, decided he wanted to accompany me to Walmart and would pick out the ball. To make a long story short, Michael picked out a big red beach ball that quickly annoyed me as soon as we got it to the truck (in retrospect, I should have put a size limit on the ball).
The next morning, as I was packing up our beach wagon with chairs, towels, umbrella, and, yes, the big red beach ball, Tom walked up to me and asked, “Jay, I’d like to know if you could say a prayer for my wife and I during your prayer time or whatever. These last few weeks have been rough for us and we are close to calling it quits. I saw your flag, knew you were a Christian, and, quite frankly, I’m that desperate…I don’t want to lose my family.” To be honest, the sheer unexpectedness of this question completely caught me off guard! As best as I could, I assured him that I would pray for them, he thanked me and walked away. Immediately thereafter, I replayed this encounter over and over in my head, thinking of all the things I should have done or said…should I have prayed with him right there on the spot…continued talking with him about their problems…shared the Gospel with him…?
Later that morning, after getting all set up on the beach relaxing in a beach chair, I began talking/praying with God about Tom and Mary’s situation, asking God to honor his faithfulness and courage for seeking prayer. All the while, my mind kept returning to my regret of not acting in the moment. It bothered me so much that I prayed that God would present a second chance in order to speak with Tom and that I would obey.
Meanwhile, as the day progressed and the wind increased, I began to fiercely despise the big red beach ball. You see, with each gust of wind, that ball would break away from whatever was holding it and roll down the beach, thus requiring me to retrieve it each time. My wife, Nikki, was sunbathing a few feet away and the kids were in the water most of the time, so I was the only one lucky enough to chase this stupid ball down the beach every 10 minutes or so. However, my attention was eventually directed elsewhere and I lost track of the ball for a while. Sometime after lunch, Nikki and the kids decided to head back to the camper for a bite to eat and I remained behind to guard the stuff.
For what seemed like a good while, I dozed under the shade of the beach umbrella thinking of nothing in particular. Suddenly, I heard a familiar voice ask, “Hey, is this your beach ball?” My first thought was that this wretched beach ball is now haunting my dreams! However, as I opened my eyes, there stood Tom holding the ball that had apparently blown down the beach to their spot. I immediately apologized for letting the ball get away from me once again, took it from his hands, and placed it snugly under a chair.
As he turned to walk away, it hit me like a lightning bolt: God had provided the second chance I had asked for by using the one thing that I had come to despise…that big red beach ball! I immediately decided to obey God, opened my mouth, and let His Spirit direct my words…and He did just that. On that day, on that beach, to a desperate man named Tom, I spoke the words that God wanted Him to hear. For what purpose I may never know, but this I do know: when we come to recognize and obey the leading of the Holy Spirit in our daily encounters, God’s purpose for those encounters will be fulfilled in His time. For Tom and Mary, I know that God is at work in their situation and I will continue to lift them up in prayer each day.