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|ďBright futureĒ said it all. Single, good looking, recent college grad. His family loved him, girls noticed him, career opportunites invited him.
And yet, while Eric appeared confident without, he was tormented within. Tormented by inner voices he could not quiet. Tortured by mental images he could not avoid and by thoughts he could not understand. So, desperate to escape the torment, Eric decided to escape from life. On a gray, rainy February day, Eric walked out the back door of his home. He never returned.
When Eric walked away, someone was watching. His sister Debbie saw her brother leave, his tall fram ambling down the street. She assumed he would return. He didnít. She hoped he would call. He didnít she thought she could find him. She couldnít. Hours became years. Years of wandering and wondering. As Eric wandered, Debbie wondered. Where could he be? What could have happened? Is he all right? Is he alive?
Where Eric journeyed, only God and Eric know. But we know that he ended up thousands of miles from his home. And somewhere along his path, somehow, Eric began to believe he had been given an assignment. Someone noticed Eric going through a dumpster, looking for food. And that someone suggested Eric sweep up in exchange for the garbage. Eric interpreted this comment as an assignment: he believed he had been given a permanent commission to clean up a roadside in San Antonio, Texas.
To the local residents, Ericís lanky form and bearded face became a familiar feature as he walked up and down his ďassignedĒ section of Interstate 10, gathering trash. Through the years many tried to assist him, but Eric resisted. He was content to survive on what he collected. He created a home out of a hole in a vacant lot. He designed a wardrobe out of split trousers and a torn sweatshirt. Summer sun was delfected by an old hat, winter chill softened by a plastic bag covering his shoulders.
His weathered skin and stooped shoulders made him look twice his forty-four years. But then, sexteen years living on the side of the road would do that to you.
It had been sixteen years since Debbie had seen her brother. And she might never have seen him again, had it not been for two events. The first was the construction of a car lot on top of Ericís hovel. The second was a pain in Ericís abdomen. The car lot took Ericís shelter. The pain took Ericís health.
When EMS found Eric curled up in a ball on the roadside, he was already dying of cancer. Another few months and Eric would be gone. And with no known family or relatives, he would die as heíd lived - alone.
Ericís court-appointed temporary guardian couldnít handle this thought. Surely someone is looking for this man, reasoned the attorney. So the attorney searched the Internet for anyone missing a brown-haired adult male with Ericís last name.
A reply came from a New Hampshire woman. Could this homeless man in Texas be the brother sheíd been seeking for so long? The description seemed to match, but she had to know for sure. So Debbie, her husband, and two children headed for Texas.
By the time Debbie arrived, Eric had been released from the hospital. Debbie found him near his old home, resting against the side of a building. One look was all it took to convince her - the search was over. She saw beyond the sun-dried skin, beneath the inkempt hair and beard. She saw her brother.
Eric, however, didnít recognize his sister. The years had ravaged his mind. Debbie longed to embrace this long-lost sibling, but her instincts told her she must await his cue.
And then something small led the way. Eric noticed an angel pin Debbie was wearing. He was intrigued by it. When Debbie offered the pin to Eric, he said yes. He even allowed her to pin the angel on his shirt. And with that one gesture, she, at long last, touched her brother.
Debbie came to Texas planning to spend a week. But a week passed and she couldnít leave. She rented an apartment, began homeschooling her children and reaching out to her brother. It wasnít easy. he didnít always recognize her. He wouldnít call her by name. One day he cursed her. He refused to sleep in her apartment. He didnít want her food. He didnít want to talk. He just wanted his vacant lot. He wanted his ďjob.Ē
But Debbie didnít give up on Eric. Weeks became months, and still the sister stayed. She understood that he didnít understand. So she stayed. I came to know her as she began to attend our church. After hearing her story, I asked what you would have asked. Why? Why didnít she give up? ďSimple,Ē she told me. ďHeís my brother.Ē
Her pursuit reminds us of another doesnít it? Another kind heart who left home in search of the confused. Another compassionate sould who couldnít bear the thought of a brother in pain. So, like Debbie, he left home. Like Debbie, he found his sibling.
And when God found us, we acted like Eric. We didnít recognize the one who came to help us. When he told us we were part of his family, we didmnít believe him. When he offered a safe place to stay, we didnít follow him. We ingonred him. Some even cursed him and told him to leave.
But he didnít leave. He lingered. And still lingers. He understands that we donít understand. he knows that we are torn by many voices and infected by a cancerous sin. He knows we are near death. But he doesnít want us to die alone.
Like Debbie, he wants to give us something before itís too late. He wants to give us a place in his family. And he wants to hold our hand when we die.
So God follows us. He pursues us along every roadside; he follows us down every highway. He follows us all the days of our lives. ďSurely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. And I will dwell in the house of the Lord foreverĒ (Psalm 23:6)
What a surprising way to describe God. A God who pursues us.
Dare we envision a mobile, active God who chases us, tracks us, following us with goodness and mercy all the days of our lives? Heís not hard to find. Heís there in Scripture, looking for Adam and Eve. Theyíre hiding in the bushes, partly to cover their bodies, partly to cover their sin. Does God wait for them to come to him? No, the words ring in the gtarden. ďWhere are you?Ē God asks (Genesis 3:9), beginning his quest to redeem the heart of man. A quest to follow his children until his children follow him.
Moses can tell you about it. After forty years in the desert, he looked over his shoulder and saw a bush blazing. God had followed him into the wilderness.
Jonah can tell you about it. he was a fugitive on a boat when he looked over his shoulder and saw clouds brewing. God had followed him onto the ocean.
The disciples of Jesus knew the feeling of being followed by God. They were rain-soaked and shivering when they looked over their shoulders and saw Jesus walking. God had followed them into the storm.
An unnamed Samaritan woman knew the same feeling. Alone in life and alone at the well, she looked over her shoulder and saw a Messiah speaking. God had followed her through her pain.
The apostle John, banished on Patmos, looked over his shoulder and saw the skies begin to open. God had followed him into his exile.
Lazarus had been dead for three days in a sealed tomb when a voice awakened him. He lifted his head and looked over his shoulder to see Jesus. God had followed him into death.
Peter the Apostle had denied his Lord and gone back to fishing when he heard his name and looked over his shoulder and saw Jesus cooking breakfast. God had followed him in spite of his failure.
Sin, wilderness, ocean, storm, pain, exile, death - our God is the God who follows. Have you sensed him following you? He is the one who came to seek and save the lost. Have you sensed him seeking you?
Have you felt his presence through the kindness of a stranger? Through the majesty of a sunset or the mystery of romance? Through the question of a child or the commitment of a spouse? Through a word well spoken or a touch well timed, have you sensed him?
Like Eric, we have left home. But, like Debbie, God has followed us. Like Eric, we are quick to turn away. But, like Debbie, God is slow to anger and determined to stay. We donít accept Godís gifts. Yet God still gives them.
God gives us himself. Even when we choose our hovel over his house and our trash over his grace, still he follows. Never forcing us. Never leaving us. Patiently persistent. Faithfully present. He uses all his power to convine us that he is who he is and he can be trusted to lead us home.
By the way, Debbieís faithful persistence moved Ericís heart. Before his life ended, he acknowledged her as his sister. In doing so, he found his way home.
And thatís what God wants for you. He simply wants you home with him. And to bring you home, he offers you a gift.
My prayer is that through these pages youíll see his gift like youíve never seen it.
If youíve already accepted it, youíll thank him again.
And if youíve never accepted it, you will. For itís the gift of a lifetime, a gift for all people.