Speaking to Strangers and Spreading Christmas





Talking to strangers
(Shutterstock)

I.

There were three people in front of me at the Wal-Mart checkout. I was on my way to a drawing assignment and stopped to pick up a large sketchbook. Wal-Mart has them cheaper than the art store, although David Art of Metairie is a great place with wonderful people, and I keep them in business.

In front of me was a Hispanic lady with a toddler in her shopping basket. I opened the sketchbook and did a hasty drawing of the child. I signed it and handed it to her. She was thrilled and said, “Merry Christmas.” That was around November 1st, and she was the first one to greet me in this way this season. A Spanish pastor friend heard this and laughed. “We Latinos love to celebrate our Lord’s birth for months!” he said.

II.

Driving the interstate that day was no fun. We were returning from visiting our son and his family (I’m working hard not to say the truth here—that we were visiting our grandchildren!), and all day long the highway had been beset with rain, fog and mist at times so heavy we turned on the blinkers and leaned forward to see the lines on the pavement. But finally we arrived and checked into the hotel and drove down the street to the Cracker Barrel restaurant.

“You have a 15-minute wait,” the hostess said. That was fine. Margaret began browsing, and I hung around close to the line.

Behind me stood a young mother with her daughter about 5 years old. Now, I’m the grandfather of six little girls (little—ha! They range in age now from 16 to 24) and love children. So, I struck up a conversation with the child.

“Have you ever seen a man with a purse before?” (I was holding Margaret’s while she shopped.) She shook her head; she hadn’t.

I told her, “Grandma is off somewhere, so Grandpa has to hold the purse.”

Mommy told her that Daddy sometimes holds her purse.

I spotted a rack of coloring books a few feet away and called her attention to the one with horses. I said, “I’ll bet you like to color, don’t you?” She nodded.

At that, the child reached over and pulled out a coloring book with children on the front. I said, “May I see it?”

I saw it was only $3.95 and the inside covers, front and back, were blank and white. So I said to the mom, “I’m a cartoonist. May I draw her picture here and then buy the book for her?”

She smiled and nodded.

By this time, Margaret had returned from her browsing tour and entered the conversation. I was glad, because people are justifiably suspicious of strangers who strike up conversations.  I grieve over this because our society is becoming at the same time more dangerous and more isolated.

The drawing of the little girl turned out excellent, so I turned to the inside back page. “May I draw you here?” I said to the mother. She agreed and gave me a smiling pose.

At the end, I wrote—as always—”joemckeever.com” and got in line to pay for the book.

Some of our readers are wondering why I didn’t write their names on the drawings in the rather creative style I use. Answer: To ask for their names like that felt as though I might be crossing a line of some kind. The mother was already taking a risk by engaging in the conversation and allowing me to sketch their likenesses. Later, Margaret agreed that not asking for names was the right thing to do.

I frequently pray the Lord will lead me about a) engaging strangers in conversation (as to if, when and how) and b) give me discernment as to whatever messages He is sending. I pray c) He will help me draw well, enough to bless and encourage those I sketch, and d) be glorified through it all.

III.

I was in the car wash waiting room with four or five other customers, no one saying a word, everyone eager to get on with their day. After a few minutes, the front door opened and a man and a little girl entered. They made quite a contrast.

The man looked scruffy, like he’d been hitchhiking on the highway. He needed to shave, he carried a scar on his face, his jeans were dirty, and the T-shirt had seen better days. He did not look like anyone you would want to cross.

The little girl, perhaps 4 years old, was a vision of loveliness. She was dressed up in her party clothes with her hair beautifully fixed.

Everyone in the waiting room turned to watch them enter, stared at the unusual duo, and said nothing. That’s when I spoke up.

“How did an ugly guy like you get such a beautiful little daughter?”

Yep. I said it. And you could feel everyone in the waiting room sucking in their breaths, wondering what was about to come.

In the dead silence that followed, the man said, “I ask myself that every day of my life!” And everyone laughed.

We got into a conversation, and I sketched them both. And then I learned what was happening.

The man and his wife, the child’s mother, were divorced. She was remarrying and moving several states away. Today was the last day he would be seeing his little girl for some time.  It was a sad occasion.

God used me to minister to him that day, for which I will be eternally grateful.

Do not fail to show hospitality to strangers, Scripture tells us in Hebrews 13, for in doing so, some have entertained angels without knowing it.

Sometimes you are the stranger, and sometimes you get to be the angel.

Addendum

Some people, when hearing these stories, give me far more praise than I’m entitled to or comfortable with. This is nothing, folks. I’m just doing what I do, in the same way one of you might cut someone’s yard or repair their steps or bake them a loaf of fresh bread.  

Later this morning after typing this, I drove to the supermarket in the Alabama city where we had spent the night to buy a case of water. As I paid for it, the young employee standing next to the checker said he would carry it to my car. That caught me by surprise.

His name was Matthew, and as he helped me place it in the back seat, I noticed the tag on his apron said, “No tips accepted.” So I said, “Matthew, I can’t give you money, but I’ll give you something else.”

I opened the trunk and took out some paper and did a quick sketch of him, signed it and handed it to him. After a few words of encouragement to him, he was on his way. And I was blessed. Matthew was the angel today.

Dr. Joe McKeever writes from the vantage point of more than 60 years as a disciple of Jesus, more than 50 years preaching His gospel and more than 40 years of cartooning for every imaginable Christian publication.

For the original article, visit joemckeever.com.

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