When the “Right Words” Don’t Come

or-peter-41-square-400When I started at Emmaus three years ago, I fell victim to a common misconception: success depends on having the “right words.” I’ve since learned that success is simply the result of being present and available for God to show up.

My predecessor, Doug Van Ramshorst, told me a story illustrating this. He and his Outreach partner Andy saw “Alonzo” loudly and drunkenly holding court with friends. They said hello and made small talk, and as they walked away, Alonzo stumbled up between them. He kept his voice loud until they turned the corner, then he dropped a bombshell. “I have cancer. It’s wrapped around my spine. I may not have a year to live.”

Neither Doug nor Andy knew what to say. Then Doug blurted out, “That stinks. Want a taco?” They sat down in Taco and Burrito Palace, ordered food…and listened.

“Why am I dying of something I can’t avoid?” Alonzo said, his voice thick with grief and bitterness. “I could understand lung cancer—I smoke. Or liver cancer—I drink. AIDS? Yeah. Gunshot wounds? Yeah. But spinal cancer? I quit dealing drugs. I haven’t hustled in months. Why is God wounding me now?” Doug and Andy prayed for words, but none came. The restaurant closed, so they left and walked a few minutes before Alonzo stopped.

“Thanks for listening to me, guys. Emmaus is the only organization I trust out here.” He pulled out a syringe.

“I was going to use this tonight to end it all, but talking it out helped me a lot.” He broke the syringe and threw it away.

“On the way home,” Doug said, “I realized that the whole time, God was telling me to keep my fool mouth shut. We were there to be a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on.”

Alonzo went on to beat cancer and is still alive today. God’s power, made real through Doug and Andy’s presence, healed his spirit in ways “the right words” never could.

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