he leads me beside still waters

Though I was on a silent retreat I replied “no, just journaling.”when he asked me if I was drawing.  My journal was laid across my lap as he wound his way past me on the giant boulders pushed up against the lighthouse.    Thinking to myself I should stay quiet, not encourage conversation or give him the wrong idea.  “oh, that’s cool. I like to meditate out here.” he said. I smiled and nodded. He got the idea. I sat looking out over the water, and peeled off my stinky leather boots I had worn not expecting such a warm day.   I could tell he was lonely when I saw him strike up a conversation with the fishermen nearby.  A kid, out wandering around in the middle of an abnormally hot day in Ohio. I turned away from the fishermen to the expansive turquoise water and felt my soul begin to be fed in the strange way that only happens when I stare out over Erie any of the inland seas- the Great Lakes.

Looking up from my journal I heard some yelling from some of the fishermen the kid had joined- he was helping one of them haul in what looked like at least a foot-long silver fish.  My butt was going numb from sitting on the rocks too long and I decided to pick my way back over the break wall of boulders to the shore where I could walk and stretch. I paused to take a few pictures of the calm turquoise lake, noticing that the kid was making his way back the the shore as well.   Curious about the fish I asked him- “hey, what were those guys catching back there?” The blond kid broke out into a huge grin; “oh man, a f*uckin’ huge salmon! 23 inches! I helped him haul it in. sh*t yeah!” he said proudly. “yeah, I saw that. really cool!”  I was starting to feel conscious again about breaking silence and not wanting to give the wrong impression to this kid and to be honest, the fear of any woman out by herself in a not so public area- being raped. So I turned my attention back to my camera and said, “well, have a good one!” just as he was extending his hand to me to introduce himself- “hey, I’m josh. have fun taking pictures!” Feeling a little rude I introduced myself, “Jessica” and gave him an air high five when he declined to actually shake my hand because “it’s covered in nasty fish smell.”

I took some pictures and watched Josh walk down the beach along with a couple teenage girls who had showed up in tank tops and short shorts, an older man with a tan barrel-chest strolling with his dog and more fishermen making their way out to the break wall. During a silent retreat I try to quiet my voice and my thoughts to create space to hear from God. Sometimes this comes in the form of pictures, a word to meditate on, a song or a scripture.  As I watched the people on the beach, I sensed the quiet voice of God asking- “are you so worried about being raped that you’re afraid to talk to a lonely kid?”  I thought about how much fear governs my life as I hopped down from the rocks onto the sandy shore.

Walking a little further I saw that Josh had sat down on a log to smoke a cigarette.  As I walked towards him I felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to bum a cigarette from him. “but Lord, I don’t smoke” I replied with a small amount of disgust.  The spirit replied: “so what. Peter didn’t grub on bacon but soon enough he was hanging with Cornelius and his non-kosher pork-eating pals.”  So, heading towards him I called out “hey Josh, do you have another one of those?”  He looked down at his cigarette, “actually I only have one left.”  Feeling kind of relieved I threw my hands up and said “oh, well I don’t want to take your last smoke!”  “naw, it’s cool” he said as he extended the lit cigarette towards me- “you can have this one.”  No longer worried about being raped, I now turned my worry to what kind of germs I would get from sharing a cigarette with a stranger (did he have the virus that gives you cold sores??!) I took it from him and inhaled a drag. It’s menthol flavor brought me back to high school nights sitting around a bonfire, smoking with friends on the shores of Lake Superior.

“So you said you meditate out here?” I asked sitting down on the log with him.  “What do meditate on?”  He looked at me and fished in his pocket for his last cigarette. Turns out he was unemployed and came to the beach to take his mind off the fact that his family had split up because they couldn’t afford the rent living in one house together after his dad and brother lost their jobs as well.  “I pretty much just empty my mind and don’t think about anything” he said, his lighter clicking a few times before his cigarette caught flame. We talked about how he had gone to church as a kid & was a Baptist but didn’t go to church anymore because “it just seems like a competition with who can follow the rules the best.”

Josh and Lake Erie

I asked Josh if he had ever heard what it meant to actually follow Jesus and he told me he hadn’t.  Grabbing a stick that was shoved in the sand I asked if I could draw him a picture of what it means to follow Jesus. And this is what I drew for him.

We talked for awhile about his struggles with drug and alcohol addiction, his love for his family and feeling like a loser for not being able to get a job.  I shared with him about struggling with being content, wanting the best for my two sons and how much it sucks getting in fights with family.  We talked about what is messed up in the world and how Jesus actually can do something about that.  And that Jesus is able to heal us from the inside out, to forgive sin and show us how to live God’s way. “this is weird” Josh said, stubbing out his cigarette and putting the butt in his pocket (yay for not littering!) “you’re like the 8th person to talk to me about God recently.” “Whoa! That is weird- Jesus must really be wanting to get your attention” I smiled and poked the stick into the sand. I invited Josh to let Jesus lead his life and he prayed to do so that day on the beach.  I asked if he had a Bible and when he responded that he didn’t I offered to give him one that I had in my car (yay for my car being my office!)  I shared with him how to meditate on scripture and let Jesus fill his mind rather than trying to empty it, to connect with those friends who had been talking to him about God and inviting him to church, and that I would be praying for him and his dad and brother to find a job. “you’re really cool. no one has ever broken it down for me like that before” he said as he walked back towards the beach to go home. “no problem man- that’s what we’re supposed to do” I smiled, “tell your friends about what God is doing in your life- it’s the most exciting thing we can do.”  And then I drove home, praying for Josh and his family, looking forward to the stroganoff my husband said he had planned to make for dinner that night.


  • Susie VG

    You are so awesome. I love how you open yourself up for God to move in you and through you. So encouraged by this story of your encounter with Cornelius. Glad you broke the silence, being sensitive to the Holy Spirit. Sometimes, God does surprise us like that doesn’t he? Can’t wait to see you in a few weeks. xoxo

    • Jessica

      I am always surprised by how God moves in ways that make me uncomfortable and trust him in new ways! Looking forward to seeing you soon too!

  • Kara Witham

    Jessica, THANKS for breaking the “rule” of staying quiet during a silent retreat AND for overcoming your fear and talking to Josh. This is also a good reminder to Christians to be available to God’s leading and to have a simple story (the story in the sand) to be able to explain Christianity to others. And not fear if you don’t have it down perfectly.

    I’m going to share this with my kids. I recently said “God is in control” to my teenager. He then replied “then why is there so much going wrong in the world?!” So this would be a really good explanation. See – another example of God working through us! We just had that conversation in the last few days!

    God is good!

    • Jessica

      So glad you feel like this would encourage your kids. And I can’t believe you have a teenager 🙂 There is a lot going wrong in the world but Jesus is present working in and through us to restore brokenness!

  • Sheri Morgan

    I love this story, Jess…I would love to talk to you sometime about how to be more open and share Jesus with others…I always feel like I’m going to come off as a weirdo and I’m scared, I admit it..and then I always think about that verse..”if you are ashamed of me in front of others, I will be ashamed of you in front of my Father…”

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