Moving to a new neighborhood means finding new running routes. After 12 years at the old place it had become easy to head out on familiar paths with a variety of choices depending on the distance I wanted to run. Now I was living out in the country surrounded by roads with narrow shoulders lined with high weeds and barbed wire. And everybody drives big pick up trucks.
Determined to get back on the road, I cruised the area finding a route that I thought would give me a good workout and at least even odds of not ending up road kill or as a hood ornament that one of the locals might proudly display on his pickup at the local watering hole.
I found a three and a half mile loop that seemed harmless enough and late one afternoon decided to give it a try. The first mile started out along a dirt road passing ranch homes and chicken coops. It emptied out onto an asphalt lane with no shoulder, but the ditch was only a couple feet deep, so when an oncoming pickup got too close I could make a jump escape— kind of added to the adventure.
The second mile was along a major road and featured a rare commodity: a bike lane. Of course out in the country, the bike lane rarely sees any bikes, but is usually populated by ATV’s, power scooters, lawn tractors and an occasional mini goat herd— also adding to the adventure.
But on this particular day, the bike lane was wide open for about a mile, which was nice because the late afternoon traffic was a heavy parade of pickups heading home. I settled into a comfortable pace as the delta breeze started to pick up, which often happens toward sundown. My shadow was directly in front of me and stretched out quite a ways as the warmth of the spring sun massaged my back and the cool of the approaching evening brushed my face. When I run on the side of the road against traffic I make a practice of waving at every oncoming car. I figure, whoever doesn’t hit me is my friend. Low standards, but it works.
One of the first oncoming vehicles caught my attention right away; fully one third of it’s overly pretentious girth was hanging in the bike lane heading straight for me as if I wasn’t even there. Normally I wait until the car or truck is near to wave, more of a hi/thanks/now we’re buddies type gesture. But this guy was coming straight for me and not moving over. At about 25 feet away my international gesture of friendliness more resembled the international gesture of drowning with arms flailing wildly.
I was about to pull the eject cord and bail into the barbed wire weeds when suddenly the driver jerked his murder machine out of the bike lane. As he passed by I could see a bewildered “what the heck are you thinkin?” look in his eyes.
I barely had time to reflect on my near death experience when I noticed a Hundai barreling toward me. Come on, it’s a Hundai! You can put three of them side by side in a single lane and still have room. But no, for whatever reason, this guy’s gotta be hugging the bike lane. Not quite in it, but close enough to claim a few of my arm hairs as he whizzed by.
What am I, invisible?! Before I could get the answer from whoever I was expecting it, another truck had me in it’s cross hairs. What is wrong with these people?! I scooted over as far to the left as possible, my shirt snagging on the barbed wire just as the hurricane force wind blasted dirt into my eyes and nostrils as the third member of the hit squad passed by.
By this time I’m pretty indignant at the thought of this continuum of rude country drivers. I thought people in the country were supposed to drive leisurely along with a strand of hay hanging out of their mouth. I thought when they passed you they’d say “Howdy” and flash you a semi toothless smile. I didn’t think the regional sport was turning runners to road kill.
Having had enough of this road and craziness, I decided to take the next turn, even if it led to Bakersfield. My thought was to cross the road diagonally and avoid having to wait at the stoplights. As I started to cross the road, I looked back to make sure the coast was clear and the honking horn and screeching tires clued me in; I had not only felt invisible, I had been invisible. What I didn’t realize is that I had been running with my back directly in the sun. Oncoming drivers, blinded by the angle of the sun, had also been blinded to my presence until they were practically on me.
And I, blinded by that same sun, had almost stepped in front of a car that was invisible to me. Invisible can not only be frustrating, it can be deadly.
There’s this great story that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me in the book of Genesis. Patriarch Abram has been promised by God that he will have all kinds of ancestors— as many as the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. The only problemo is that Abe is in his 90’s and his wife Sarai is barren. I guess the thing to do in those pre-invitro days was to have kids by proxy, so Sarah grabs her maid Hagar and gives her to Abram to make a baby with.
Abram, being the accommodating husband, indulges his wife, receives the maid and lo and behold the happy announcement is made that a replacement promised child is on the way. The Bible tells us that Hagar, “When she saw that she had conceived, looked with contempt on her mistress”. I’m not exactly sure how that works between women, but I wouldn’t want to be in the middle of it. And neither did Abram. After getting an earful from Sarai his manly response: “Do to her as you please”. With this green light, Sarai wastes no time in making Hagar’s life so unbearable that being on her own in the wilderness is far more appealing to Hagar than hanging out in the household of her mistress.
Did you catch the switch? Hagar goes from being a simple servant to star of the show to goat of the century in 6 verses. And now she and the “promise” child are cast into the wilderness, out of sight and out of mind.
It’s amazing how invisible can just happen. You’re moving along in life, shuffling along with the herd just fine, then something happens and it seems like you’re cut off, isolated, alone.
I’m not sure if invisible happens to everybody, but I know it can happen to anybody.
Awhile back, I dropped into the hospital to visit with one of our white hair saints who was having circulation problems and in danger of losing her toes. She went through great detail describing the progressive deterioration process as she held her foot very close to my face so I could get a view I never wanted of her bluish blackening toes. There was nothing they could do, she explained, the only hope was the clot dissolving itself.
That was the perfect cue for a pastor with a Bible tucked under his arm and an array of healing prayers in his arsenal. So I went to work. I read a few Scriptures from the psalms that described God’s healing presence. I shared a story about Jesus healing. And then I prayed. I even held her foot as I prayed, thinking there might be some kind of sizzle and pop and we’d open our eyes and there’d be five healthy pink toes wiggling at us. I ended with, “But nevertheless, Lord, thy will be done.” It’s the catch all phrase, just in case God decides sizzle pop healing is not in the cards right now.
As we finished the prayer, in walked nurse Tatiana from Latvia. “This is my pastor”, my friend offered. “Tatiana”, the nurse responded as she looked me over, wondering why I was holding this woman’s foot. She had no difficulty conveying that, though the presence of a pastor was a nice gesture, it was at the same time an interference to her more important work. She had come in response to my friend pressing the call button for her pain pill.
As she handed the pill to her patient, Tatiana announced, “He can’t help you with the pain, can he?” No, he can’t” my congregant quietly admitted. And there, even though it was for a brief moment, it happened.
I was invisible.
You can probably relate.
Your best efforts that netted zero results.
Responding to a request for help, only to be rejected for the attempt.
Laying yourself out for a person, a company or a cause with no regard or acknowledgment of your sacrifice.
It suddenly comes upon you in those moments: I’m invisible.
Sometimes it’s a moment like a hospital room visit. Sometimes it’s a situation, like a too-busy household. Sometimes it’s a season like a marriage that has gone adrift.
So Hagar finds herself in the wilderness pregnant, alone & pretty much cut off. And then a voice from on high speaks, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?”
Really? You’re the angel of the Lord and you don’t know where I came from? You hang out with the Almighty and you don’t know what’s going on? I’m thinking the question was more for Hagar— and for you and me— than for the Angel of the Lord.
Hagar indulges the angel and explains her situation to him. The angel responds, explaining that God does indeed know her situation and relates to her not only where she came from but where she’s going through the boy— “You shall call his name Ishmael because the Lord listened to your affliction.” Ishmael means “God hears”. And now Hagar has a new reality. In the midst of being invisible to the world around her, she is seen by One. Into her history of being used, shunned and cast off a new character emerges: the God who sees. The Word tells us Hagar gives God a new name saying: “You are the God who sees me.”
Hagar is no longer invisible. Ever.
In the word from the angel, God reveals to Hagar that her life was, is and always will be, before His eyes. The shocker part of this account is that in the redemption story of the people of Israel, Hagar is a mere deviation, an oopsie, an insignificant side story. But God tells Hagar something different: I see you.
Abram becomes Abraham, Sarai becomes Sarah, Isaac eventually becomes the star of the show and the spotlight moves along after him & his kindred. Yet God saw Hagar. And after 4000 years, we are still reading her story.
I think the thing that attracts me to Jesus more than anything is His eye for those that the rest of the world overlooks: the woman caught in adultery; the outcast leper; the blind beggar by the side of the road. And the thing about Jesus is that He could never see without acting. Just as His Father saw Hagar’s plight and acted on her behalf, so the Son acts on what He sees.
It was from a cross on a hill on a very dark Friday that Jesus spoke with His life these words: I see you. In all the things that would render us invisible— whether things that we bring upon ourselves or happen to us— He sees and He acts, exchanging His life for ours, taking on Himself the rejection of the world and giving us the approval of God. Through Him, we are never invisible. Ever.
Yeah, we still have to be careful when we’re crossing the road in the shadows; we will still have moments when we’re overlooked or unseen by those around us. But even in our most invisible times we know there is One who sees. And that’s enough to keep going, to stay on the road.
I gotta run…