In an effort to mask my disturbance I answer, "I'm good, Rodriguez, How are you?"
"Oh, I'm fine My blood sugar was low last night and I'm on my way to ther-py You tired I know you tired You work hard Can I have some water god bless you."
Sliding a glass of ice water across the counter I tell Rodriguez that it is 7:30am, I am not tired yet, God does bless me, and he'd better get moving if he wants to make ther-Ah-py on time.
He says, "Yes ma'am You good to me god bless you I know you tired You date black men Where's your mama That other one working today god bless you."
He leaves - forty five minutes later. Now I'm tired.
Rodriquez is a man in his late thirties who had a great job delivering furniture with an upstate business for eleven years. A moment of random, violent crime changed his life. He was robbed and crippled for $3.28. They kicked in his knee and drove away. He couldn't work. He started drinking and smoking crack.
Rodriguez lost hope.
He waves, walks a few steps, and waves again. He's smiling a wide crooked smile. His teeth are brown, and crowding his mouth. He doesn't brush them because his house does not have running water. It doesn't have electricity either. He waves and smiles and waves and smiles and thinks bad thoughts. His mind is corrupt and he'll do anything for a can of beer.
At first it was easy to give him water. He was polite and guarded. He would drink and sit quietly. Customers came and went hardly noticing he wasn't like them, but every day that passed gave rise to familiarity. I began to discover who Rodriquez was and who he had become. His ease with me brought about change. He felt more comfortable, less inhibited. HotRod was getting on my nerves. He talked constantly: stupid questions, rehearsed apologies and blessings. He was a rogue. But I was no longer naive.
I smiled at him less and less. I didn't return the friendly foolishness. The water became a chore. His very presence was agitating. His dark side repulsed me. I would avoid eye contact and turn away.
Then one day a customer commented on how beautiful Coffee to a Tea was and asked "Why in Heaven's name were we in West Greenville?" I answered the way I always do, "God led us here."
But did He really? I began to examine my situation. Did God lead me here to prove I have what it takes to make a business work - AND in the most challenging area I could find? Did He want to humble me or make me appreciate what I have? Was He involved at all? Am I actually blaming God for where I am?
Rodriquez doesn't care why I'm in West Greenville. Neither does Joseph, or Otis, or Mike, or Eddy, or Allison, Cody, Gordon, Jennifer, John, Elaine, Anthony, Stan, the artists, the business owners, the residents. They would go on with or without me.
But I wouldn't. West Greenville has changed me. When I go to bed at night, I fall asleep naming them one by one. I think of them always. I love them and want to be invested in their lives. Some of them are easy to love, while others are not. I ask God and he gives me this:
Jesus said, "I tell you the truth ...'For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ They answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He replied, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me."
Rodriquez still gets on my nerves. He's still dirty and repulsive. But I love him, and if I love him I will treat him as those I love. I will give him water until he bursts. I will answer his stupid questions and tolerate his lies. I will love him because I love my Savior who first loved me - dirty, repulsive, me. I am no better than the 'least of these'. Jesus didn't say to me "whatever you do for them and don't worry, it will be easy..."
He said, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it:
'Love your neighbor (The Rod Squad) as yourself.' "