As kids, my brothers and I played with a metal replica of a Greyhound® bus. I think my mom purchased it on one of our many bus rides to Minneapolis to see her family. I loved that little blue and gray toy and its movable rubber wheels. Little did I know that one day I would ride half a day on a Greyhound and those hours on public transportation would alter my view of what is true in life.
The sun lazily curls beneath the covers of the horizon. If only I could stay asleep instead of boarding a 5:15 a.m. Greyhound bus bound for Denver. The behemoth blue and gray vehicle throttles gruffly in a parking lot corralled by rows of dew-soaked Nebraska cornstalks. While I hug my friend goodbye, the slick-haired bus driver jams my overstuffed travel bag into the underbelly of the diesel-fuming bus.
I climb inside and the driver slams the hydraulic door with a brisk who-o-o-o-o-s-s-s-s-s-h. Scanning for an empty seat, I encounter a host of groggy-eyed passengers hurling mental daggers my way. A couple of travelers hurriedly spread out their bags and bodies to occupy two seats. No one looks eager to share after this predawn, wake-up call.
The Window Seat
“A hooker, Judas priest!” a man bellows from the back. Instantly a bunch of guys gawk out the windows toward the truck stop. I’m relieved they are not ogling my way. The passenger liner rolls toward West I-80 as I nearly trip over an unkempt man sitting directly behind the driver. The stranger motions that the window seat is open. I sidestep his heap of plastic grocery bags crammed with snacks, socks and apparently the rest of his possessions.
“Excuse me. Thank you,” I offer as I slip into the dingy seat.
Strands of greasy gray hair flop from the top and sides of my seat companion’s head. My fellow traveler ignores me and closes his eyes. Before he nods off, he picks his nose.
Good morning, America, I smile to myself. I got up at 4:00 to iron my shirt for this! Oh, is this going to be an interesting day. To slow my racing heart, I inhale deeply. But no sooner does the oxygen brush my nostrils than I recoil in a partial gag. The smell of a barnyard mixed with stale sweat assaults my nose. My seatmate reeks!
I knew I should have flown. I knew I should have flown is all I can muster to calm my dismay. My 60ish-looking neighbor is oblivious to his body order, nose picking and the drool now inching along the corner of his mouth. I look to see if fresh cow manure is clinging to his ratty sneakers. Nope. I wish I had a pillow to burrow my nose into. The stench twirls my stomach.
A Little Chat with God
For the next several hours, my odiferous seatmate sleeps, and I stare at the back of the bus driver’s balding head. Eventually I shut my eyes and drift into a tête-à-tête with God.
“So, what’s up with sticking me next to B.O. Man? God, I don’t know if I can hack the smell much longer.”
“Aren’t you a little prideful this morning?” God interrupts. “Did you ever stop to think that I might be the passenger next to you?”
It’s amazing how a little chat with God can turn to big awakenings. God riding on a Greyhound…next to me? God with foul B.O., loose nose boogers and slobbering drool? God with greasy, whacky hair? What about the robe and sandals? The radiant halo glow?
That summer morning cruising in a bus liner with dozens of everyday people—all of them strangers to me—I let my nose and eyes overrule my heart and mind. I considered my fellow traveler simply a rumpled, wandering outcast. Yet who was I to judge if his heart was tidy and clean before God? Mine certainly felt smudged.
Effectively humbled, I contemplated how I don’t really know God like I thought. Sure, I had memorized enlightening facts about him, but I wondered if I would recognize his true personality. I wondered if I would really know my Creator if he were sitting inches away from me…on a crowded bus.
I’m not alone in my myopic perception of God at times. Some of us treat God like he’s a stinky stranger in holey high-tops. We back away, fearing he’ll take too much control of our lives. Others of us view God like he’s a congenial chum who will give us anything we want, anytime we ask. I doubt either of these perspectives is accurate.
Skip the Evening Clothes
Have you ever wondered if God is more like a nose-picking stranger or a friend you can’t live without? Perhaps at times, he takes on the persona of both. Years ago, my Greyhound ride made me consider how I view the Almighty. Even today, I’m still learning to open my eyes more fully to this God and my heart more readily to his trustworthiness.
My former malodorous seatmate reminds me of United Irish leader Austin O’Malley’s comment, “You are not obliged to put on evening clothes to meet God.”
I applaud this advice. We don’t need to fancy up our lives to connect with God. He will meet us right where we are with our mistrust, doubts and fears. He’ll even welcome us with greasy hair, ratty clothes and holey high-tops.
According to the 2006 Meryl Streep movie, The Devil Wears Prada, but I’m trusting that God wears Holy High-Tops. Besides, sneakers are more comfortable, especially on long bus trips.
Wow. What a story and what a meeting with God.
I know, Marylou. I can still catch a whiff on that day in my mind. 🙂
Reminds me of the verse about entertaining angels unaware, Beth! We never know how or when God may present himself to us, do we? Stinky as he was, this man offered you a seat when others didn’t. Thanks for reminding us, as Zach Williams sings, we all need to be “a little more like Jesus, a little less like me!”
Nancy, you are so right about meeting angels unaware. Thank you for the reminder that he was the only one who offered me a seat. I humbly learned so much on that bus trip about accepting others right where they are and feel forever grateful for those teaching moments. I’ve sung along with Zach when I’ve heard his song on the radio, but you just helped me apply those lyrics to my life experiences. Thank you, my friend!