Written by: Barbara Ann Hall
Weary and forlorn, I watched the old man limp along the edge of the highway begging for
someone to pick him up. After dozens of failed attempts, he dropped to his knees on the grass and hung his head in despair.
My heart ached for him, but the world was such a dangerous place among strangers. I was torn about what I should do. “Father,
what do you want me to do?” I prayed. I sat quietly waiting for an answer, not taking my eyes off the old man. As I
watched him, he picked up his head and looked toward my direction, his face was sad and his eyes hopeless. He struggled to
his feet and to lift the sack that he had dragged behind him. Once again he raised a shaky thumb to the wind, but no one seemed
to notice him. Just then, I thought I heard a voice inside me say, “you noticed him”.
That was enough
for me. I ran inside the convenient store and purchased a cup of hot coffee and a freshly made sausage biscuit. Then I jumped
back into my RV and pulled out onto the highway in the direction of the old man. As I neared closer, I slowed down and carefully
pulled to the side of the road. When I stopped, he looked a bit confused, as if he wasn’t sure if I had stopped for
him or if I had just pulled over for some other reason. I rolled down the passenger side window and motioned for him to get
As he limped towards me, I noticed he was not as old as he appeared from a distance. When he reached the open
window, he thanked me for stopping and asked me if I was sure it was okay for him to ride along for awhile. “Where you
headed?” I asked him. “Don’t know really, just going where the good Lord leads.” He said with an awkward
smile. “Well that makes two of us,” I told him, “hop in!”
When he was settled with his
sack in the back and seatbelt on, we started our journey together to nowhere specific. I introduced myself as Barbara and
my new friend introduced himself as Ryan. I offered him the coffee and sausage biscuit I had just purchased. “I had
an extra.” I told him.
Ryan seemed very grateful, as he could not thank me enough. As I watched him eat,
I wished I had gotten him something more, as he appeared almost starved. “I hope that won’t spoil your appetite,”
I said lightly, “because I was planning on picking up hamburgers just down the road a bit. There’s a place that
has the best I’ve ever had, and they serve them hot and fresh all day long! I always have to have a couple when I pass
by this way. And their fries are to die for!” He smiled at me and said, “Pop’s! Right?” “You
got it! I’m assuming you’ve eaten there before.” “Oh yeah! But, it’s been years.” What
ran through my mind when he said that was that it appeared like years since he last ate anything. He looked so frail and weak.
Although, I knew reasonable that wasn’t possible. “That sounds wonderful Ma’am, but I only have a few bucks
in my pocket, and I never know what life will bring around the next corner. So, I’ll just remain grateful for the coffee
I responded in a joking manner, “Well then, I’m sorry to say that you won’t
be able to continue this ride with me.” Ryan just looked at me. “That’s right, unless you eat a couple of
Pop’s hamburgers, with an extra large order of fries, and a large drink to wash it all down with I can’t take
you any further.” Ryan scratched his head, not quite sure what to say. Never being able to carry out a joke for long,
I immediately smiled and said, “I’m joking of course! But really, I would feel much better if you would participate
in all the extra calories with me. Covering your cost would be well worth the comforting thought that I would not be going
it alone!” He smiled and said, “Okay then, I will most graciously join you in your share of ten thousand calories!
Thanks again for your kindness.” We both laughed.
We got our order and I pulled the RV into a shady area,
opened all the windows to allow in the coolness of the late morning breeze and spread our feast on the kitchen table. Four
huge hamburgers dripping with hot grease, two orders of extra large fries with lots of ketchup packages, two large drinks
and a wad of napkins! It smelled so delicious! Even though I wasn’t really very hungry. But, I was determined to stay
a bite or two ahead of Ryan, while keeping up the façade of my calorie sharing appreciation and he must have thanked
me in excess to the calories we both consumed!
After enjoying our lunch together, Ryan and I decided it was best
to digest a little before we hit the road. “Boy! Now I am more than tired!” Ryan said yawning. “But, I guess
that’s the price to be paid for eating like a king!” And he thanked me again. “There’s a very comfortable
bed in the back.” I told Ryan pointing towards the back room. “You are more than welcome to take a nice long nap.”
“That is very tempting my new friend, but I am less than desirable to crawl between clean sheets.” I told him
that I had the perfect remedy for that too! “There is also a nice hot shower waiting for you, if you’d like.”
“I have never experienced such kindness from a stranger before. To what do I owe such an honor?” Without hesitation,
I told him that all honor should be credited to God, which brought tears to his eyes.
I handed Ryan a fluffy clean
towel, washcloth and a clean pair of plain grey sweats to change into. “The bathroom is off the bedroom. Please feel
free to use whatever you need, and please take your time. The bedroom door locks and there are extra pillows in the closet.”
I told him. His eyes once again filled with tears, and again he couldn’t thank me enough. “It’s been a long,
long time since I enjoyed a hot shower, and even longer since I slept in a bed.” “Then it should feel extra good!”
I said, pleased to know that he would greatly enjoy his shower and afternoon nap.
Before Ryan headed off,
I asked him if it would be okay with him if I drove while he slept. “That’s just fine with me!” he said.
“Please don’t hesitate to wake me should you need me for any reason, or if I should happen to sleep too long.”
His offer was sincere. “Hey, don’t you worry about me. Just go ahead and enjoy your time.” I told him.
That was a little past one in the afternoon. I drove well past eight, until I myself was exhausted. I pulled the RV
off the road and parked in a well-lit area. Then I tiptoed softly to the bedroom door, where I could hear Ryan snoring quite
loudly. It made me smile inside, as I could well imagine he was getting his fair share of much needed rest. I pulled a pillow
and extra blanket from the hall closet, tossed it on the couch and made myself a hot cup of tea and a chicken salad sandwich.
Then I snuggled beneath the blankets and watched a little television as I ate. I couldn’t imagine myself being hungry
after such a heavy lunch, but I guessed eight hours of driving would make anyone hungry!
After eating, I turned
off the television and stretched out on the couch. It felt so good! Just as I was really getting comfortable, it hit me! I
hadn’t taken any time to pray since I had asked God earlier that morning what He wanted me to do about Ryan! “Oh
Father! I’m so sorry! I didn’t forget about you, it’s just that after you confirmed it was okay for me to
pick up Ryan this morning I had so much on my mind! And in my stomach! And even now I was ready to fall off to sleep before
talking with you! I feel awful Father! But, I guess you knew this would happen, so at least I don’t feel as though I
left you hanging… but, I am sorry that I most likely disappointed you!”
The very moment I finished
blurting all that out, I felt the urge to laugh. I felt silly laying in a dark room by myself laughing, almost hysterically,
about such a serious situation. Or, at least, what I felt was serious. Though, with the laughing fit I was thrown into I realized
that God probably didn’t think it was quite so serious. So, I composed myself and started my prayer again.
“Father, thank you for the laughter! And thank you for the special assurance you put in my heart this morning
about Ryan. He is a sincerely nice, kind- hearted person. But, I’m sure you already knew that too. I have enjoyed his
company and am very happy that he is resting comfortably. Please bless me with the wisdom of your ways, not my own, to know
what you want accomplished during our journey together and when and where your will is for it to end. Bless us as we sleep
and keep us free from evil. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.”
Morning seemed to come in the blink of an
eye. When I awoke, it was nearly nine. I could still hear Ryan snoring. It made me feel good inside. I put on a pot of coffee
and made a batch of scrambled eggs and bacon. Just as the last piece of toast popped up, Ryan came from the bedroom with a
look of horror on his face! “Oh my! Please don’t tell me that it is already the morning after! I am so embarrassed!”
Buttering the toast I said casually, “Hey, don’t worry about it, I’ve done it on more than one occasion
myself. I’m just glad you were able to get some rest. How do you feel?” “Other than completely embarrassed,
I feel great! Thank you so much for your generosity!” He said.
“You’re more than welcome.”
I told him as I put breakfast on the table. “Please, help yourself. I hope you like bacon and eggs.” He assured
me that it was one of his all time favorite breakfasts, and of course, he couldn’t thank me enough. After breakfast
Ryan cleared the table, washed the dishes, folded the blankets and made the bed as I showered and dressed. It wasn’t
until after he was done that he asked, “Where are we anyway?”
“I’m not exactly sure,”
I said, “but, I think somewhere in Northern Virginia.” He looked surprised. “Is that okay with you?”
I asked sensing some concern. “Oh, that’s fine.” He managed, barely above a whisper. “It’s just
that I haven’t been in Virginia for well over twenty years. You did quite a bit of driving last night, didn’t
you? What made you travel northwest? If you don’t mind me asking.” “Not at all. But I really don’t
know. Just where the good Lord led us, I guess.”
When I went outside, I noticed for the first time
that our surroundings were breathtakingly beautiful. Green fields stretched out in every direction, spotted with cows and
hearty shade trees. It was another beautifully cool morning and I asked Ryan if he wouldn’t mind spending the day there
before we moved on. He seemed happy to do so. “It’s been a long time since I enjoyed a beautiful day with a beautiful
woman.” He said respectfully.
I set up two big comfortable folding chairs outside and poured two large glasses
of sweet tea while Ryan went to shower and dress. While I waited on him, I lifted up a simple prayer, “Father, thank
you for all your blessings and for your comfort and your protection. Please keep Ryan and me safe in the palm of your hand
as we spend this beautiful day together.”
Ryan came outside clean-shaven and looking quite refreshed. He
sat down next to me and stretched out his legs. “I forgot just how beautiful Virginia could be.” He said with
a sigh. As he sat quietly, sipping on his sweet tea, the land that surrounded us slowly began to absorb him. He held a distant
gaze as if in very deep thought. My heart fluttered. “Father, is that you?” I prayed silently. My heart fluttered
again and I closed my eyes.
“Father, I know you put Ryan in my path, for in an instant you took away my apprehension
about picking up a hitchhiker. I also know you lead us here to Virginia, because my original destination brought me many miles
south before ending up so far north.” After praying that, I thought about just how clever God really was. He brought
me south to pick-up Ryan, before delivering us to this very spot! “I’m trusting that you will give me the knowledge
and wisdom to know what to do and what to say to help Ryan as a work of your own hands here on earth Father. Again, thank
you for our many blessings and for the beauty of the day.”
When I opened my eyes, Ryan was still absorbed
in his distant gaze. I didn’t know what to say, so I just sat silently watching the cows in the field. That’s
when I heard it! “Look deep into the heart of the man.” “What?” I blurted out loud, startling myself!
I quickly looked at Ryan, who did not appear to hear anything, even my abrupt “What”.
was that you?” I whispered aloud. It was not a feeling in my heart that spoke to me, but an auditable voice! I couldn’t
move. I prayed silently, “Father, if that was you, please make known to me exactly what it means.” I sat completely
still, practically holding my breath, and once again I heard… “Look deep into the heart of the man.” And
immediately I knew what God wanted me to do.
Once again I looked over at Ryan, who seemed to be in a daze, trapped
within himself, or perhaps lost in some far away yesterday. “Ryan.” I said, softly touching his arm. He blinked
several times before responding. “Hmmm?” He finally managed.
“You seem so deep in thought. I
was just wondering if perhaps there was something you would like to talk about.” That’s all it took me to
say for him to open up a lifetime of vague memories and lost hopes.
“I use to live here in Northern Virginia
as a kid. My parents had a little tarpaper shack and a dime in the bucket. But, we kids always had a hot meal on the table
and shoes on our feet. I guess we were happy enough in our pitiful little lives, but nevertheless, the locals considered us
trash. My brothers and I were shunned by most of the other kids and finding work as we grew older was never more than a kind
neighbor finding enough pity on us to cut their grass or water their cattle for a few cents. I was twelve when my parents
passed away, my brothers and I moved across town to my aunt’s two-story, twelve room house, complete with columned porch
and built in pool. Talk about a culture shock. We went from rags to riches overnight. I’m not sure why, but we never
visited my aunt’s house before then. She would bring us groceries from time to time, but she’d never come up to
the house. Momma and my brothers and I would always meet her at the end of the driveway. She was always glad to see us and
would always lavish us boys with hugs and kisses. Then hand out little toys and candies she would bring for us in her pockets.
When we moved in with her, she gave us all the best money could buy and if anyone’s love could make up for the loss
of a mother and father, hers most certainly could. For the first time in my life, I was happy, really and truly happy. I missed
my parents, of course, but somehow I was able to tuck them deep into my heart and put the past behind me. When I was sixteen,
I began dating the most popular girl in school, Anna Rose. She was a beauty! Imagine me, the little tarpaper shack, dirty
faced kid dating Anna Rose! After graduation, I swore I was going to marry her and ride off into the sunset to live happily
ever after. But instead, shortly after graduation, she broke things off. She told me, with tear filled eyes, that she was
going to live with her cousin in South Carolina and didn’t want to be bound to a boy in Northern Virginia. I was heart
broken. I tried to talk her out of it, even said I would go with her, but she wouldn’t have either. I never did give
her the ring I’d bought for her, nor did I ever return it. I still carry it with me.” He patted his right hand
on his shirt pocket when he said that. “The next few months without Anna Rose were terribly heartbreaking for me. Then
my aunt and three younger brothers died in a fire when our house went up in flames in the middle of the night. I had fallen
asleep on the porch swing, but by the time I awoke, the flames were so intense, I couldn’t save them. An investigation
determined the fire was caused by stray ashes from the fireplace that caught the silk pillows on the sofa.” He paused
his story for a moment and pointed toward the dirt road that ran through the field just off to the right of where we were
sitting. “Ironically enough, just down there.” He said that with a gazed look in his eyes and I thought that he
was just remembering the scene in detail or possibly even hallucinating, but when I looked down the road, I actually saw the
remains of a house! A dilapidated spiraled staircase amidst piles of brick, two huge stone pillars still standing erect and
several old heaps of household remains! I sat with my mouth agape and my mind reeling as Ryan continued. “I thought
my life was over. And it pretty much was, at least in my small world. I contemplated suicide and the only thing that saved
me was a nervous breakdown. Yep. I was carried off to the funny farm, where I spent the next three years of my life looking
for a God I had not yet met. I found Him there, or I should say, He found me. When I got out, I learned of a huge settlement
that legally became mine because I was my aunt’s only living heir. I purchased a little house across town with a tiny
portion of the money and lived very comfortably. About a year after that I heard that Anna Rose was back in town and that
she had only left because she didn’t want anyone to know about the baby. Imagine my surprise! I went to see her, but
she was distant. I asked if the baby was mine, but she wouldn’t say. Her family had turned their back on her and it
took all she had just to keep food on the table for her and the prettiest little girl I had ever seen. They lived in worse
than I ever had and that little beauty wore no shoes on her scrapped and dirty little feet. I gave them the house and all
my money before leaving town. Staying there would have only killed me. I saw visions of my parents, my brothers, my aunt,
Anna Rose, but mostly of that pretty little girl, who looked to me, just like my mother. But Anna Rose firmly denied it. I
saw them all everywhere I went, heard their voices echoing through my head. I just had to get away. So I left. Since then,
I’ve been just about everywhere imaginable, but this is the first I’ve been back here.”
he finished his story, his eyes filled with tears as he gazed back towards the ruins of his life. I took a deep breath before
saying, “Ryan. I do believe God has found you again.” He turned his gaze towards me, tears now streaming down
his face. “I don’t understand.” He said. “I believe God led me to you, He found you, not me. Then
He brought you here, not me, for I had no way of knowing. So now, the question is why? Why did He bring you back?”
Ryan looked into my eyes as if searching for the answer. “I don’t have the answer Ryan.” I told
him. He bowed his head in despair, “I don’t either. I guess only God does, but I don’t know how to reach
Him.” “That’s why He has come to you.” I told Ryan. “He knows you feel you can’t reach
Him, but He wants you to know that He hears your prayers and smiles upon your works.”
“For years, all
I have prayed is for my daughter. I knew that little girl was mine, even if Anna Rose wouldn’t admit it. That’s
why I gave them the house and the money. In hopes it would provide her a better life. I didn’t want to leave town, but
I was in a losing battle of a lifetime of sorrow and I didn’t want to cause any additional upset or confusion in the
life of that little girl. So leaving was all I could think to do. But, I have prayed for her everyday since. I’ve sent
money every opportunity the good Lord provided. I remembered her every Christmas, and because I didn’t know her birth
date, I sent a birthday present every month. I sent money for school every year and a special graduation gift when I thought
the time was right. Of course, I sent everything anonymously, through Anna Rose.” He hung his head. “I don’t
even know her name.” He said, choking down a lump in his throat.
“Does Anna Rose still live in the
house?” I asked. “About five years ago, my mail started to be returned unopened.” He said as if deep in
thought. I asked Ryan if he wanted to take a ride by, just to check things out. “Oh, Barbara, I don’t think that’s
a good idea.” Ryan answered in a shaky whisper.
“Ryan, why do you think God has brought you back here?”
I asked. He began to think aloud. “Maybe to face my fears? Maybe to put the past behind me, so I’m able to sleep
at night? Maybe to remember the family I thought I held deep inside my heart; my parents, my brothers, my aunt, but instead
I allowed the years to steal their memories. Maybe to be able to see all I gave up and failed to do with my life? Maybe He
brought me here to die and be buried with the rest of my family? I don’t know.” He said shaking his head. “I
really don’t know.”
I told Ryan that he left out a few more maybes. “Maybe God brought you here
to make amends. Maybe He brought you here to find your future in your past. Maybe He brought you here to renew the memory
of your family. Maybe He brought you here to see all you still have and still can do with your life... to find your life,
not lose it. Maybe He brought you here to drive past that house Ryan. And just maybe He brought you here to show you that
He does find your prayers worthy enough to answer.”
Ryan showed me the way to the house. It was a quaint
little cottage style house of red brick surrounded by a white picket fence. As we neared closer, I saw one of the prettiest
little girls I had ever seen sitting on a tree swing in the front yard. Then I saw a larger version of her standing on the
front porch. I glanced over at Ryan. “That’s her!” He exclaimed, staring at the woman on the porch. “She
looks just like my mother did the last I saw her!” He began to cry.
“Ryan. I will go and speak to her
if you like.” I offered. He shook his head. “No, I will go.” He said. “I need to do this myself.”
I patted him on the shoulder as he took a few deep breaths. He stepped out, neatened his hair and clothes, and then appeared
to pray silently before he began to slowly walk toward the house.
I sat there watching as the woman walked over
to Ryan. They stood at the gate talking for several minutes before she invited him to sit with her on the front porch. It
seemed like time stood still, although when I glanced down at the clock, it had been well over an hour since they began to
talk. Then I saw Ryan reach into his pocket, pull out a little black box, and slip something on the woman’s finger.
She began to cry and Ryan gently hugged her. Then she called the little girl over and Ryan bent down and gave her a little
kiss on the cheek before she and who I assumed to be her mother, went inside.
When Ryan came back he shared with
me that that the woman on the porch was his daughter, Leona. “She was named after my mother! Anna Rose didn’t
deny her that!” He said beaming from ear to ear. And he winked at me when he told me that the little girl was his granddaughter,
Then with sorrow in his voice, he shared that his Anna Rose had passed away a little over five years
ago, right before her granddaughter and namesake was born. “She told Leona on her death bed that I was her father and
that she was named after my mother. She also confessed that all the gifts Leona had received over the years, that she thought
came from a distant aunt of her mother’s, where really sent by me. Leona said she tried to contact me through several
addresses she had found among her mother’s things, but that all her letters had been returned.” He sobbed as he
showed me the stack of unopened letters he held in his hands. “She told me that she never received any packages from
me after her mother’s death. Leona believes she may have informed the post office to have all mail sent in her name
returned to the sender after her death. I guess that was before she decided to settle the score while God still granted her
the opportunity to do so.”
“I gave Leona the ring I had bought for her mother. I felt she should have
it.” He told me that with a glimpse of true joy in his eyes. “Leona wants me to stay here with her and Anna Rose.
She lost her husband last year and says she could really use a man around the house.” Ryan smiled at me as he wiped
away a tear. “Thank you Barbara for your kindness, and for sharing your view of maybes with me, but most of all thank
you for your love and obedience to God. For without you I would have never found my way home. He used you to rescue me, and
for that I will be forever grateful.”
Ryan and I prayed together, thanking God for all the blessings He had
provided us along our journey, and for leading Ryan back home, for Leona and Anna Rose, and for the renewed beginning that
He was making possible in his life. When we were done, I told Ryan that I would miss him and that I wished him all the best
life had to offer. Then I gave him a big hug.
Ryan gathered his things together, then made me promise him that
the next time I should happen to be in Northern Virginia, I would be sure to visit him, Leona and Anna Rose. Of course, I
Ryan stepped out for the last time, neatened his clothes, and once again bowed his head in
silent prayer before slowly walking toward his home and family. I saw Leona and Anna Rose standing on the front porch anxiously
awaiting him, as if waiting for the final puzzle piece of their lives to be set into place. Then I rolled down my window and
called out, “God-speed Ryan! God-speed!” When he turned to wave back, I saw in his eyes a newfound hope. Deep
within my heart I thanked God for His abundant love as we continued our journey together into the new day!
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