July 24, 2019. Nearly two months into my new life as a nomad writer. I left my home state of Kentucky on June 1, traveled through Tennessee, Arkansas, Kansas, Texas, and by mid summer I was in southwest Colorado, in the San Juan Mountains sharing a cabin with a few other people.
One of those people was Ariella, a young woman from Brazil, and she was filled with passion for life. She was a joy to be around and her positive energy was contagious. One of the best things about her was her transparency and authenticity. She was who she was and didn’t pretend to be anything else. Nothing artificial about her, nor the slightest hint of a facade. I love meeting people like that.
Ariella was a Christian and serious about her faith. Rather than attempting to proselytize every person she met, she allowed her life to speak that which she held so dear within her heart. And even though we didn’t share every spiritual belief, I had such a deep respect for how she lived her life.
I’m an early riser, often getting up and hour or two before sunrise, and that morning was no different. I’d made myself a cup of coffee and sat down to journal my thoughts into my iPad. My heart and mind had been wrestling with a few things and my goal was to gain some clarity about what my next steps should be.
My journal entry began like this:
“My mind is flooded by thoughts. I’ve come again to the place where I must choose where I will apply my energy and focus. I am folding into the nomad life and I am not ready for it to end. I mean I REALLY am not ready for it to end, because I feel like it is only just beginning. There’s a work inside of me, I feel it. My work in this world—”
At that exact moment Ariella entered the room, apparently an early riser herself. We exchanged greetings, as she took a barstool at the kitchen counter. We talked a bit, and she told me that she had been reading my social media posts and listening to some of my music I’d been posting. She told me that I had a gift and that my writing and music was being used, and would be used, in ways that I didn’t yet know. I found the timing of her comments interesting, to say the least, and told her so. We spoke of life and spiritual things, and the conversation was wonderful.
After a few minutes she shared with me a story of a life-changing experience she had while still in Brazil. She had been experiencing some family strife and her home life had become a little troublesome. She grew disillusioned with God and was struggling to maintain her faith. She felt alone, that God wasn’t hearing her, and was in a bad place. She left home to go spend a weekend with her aunt. She began to do, what was for her, some drastic things. She drank, got a henna tattoo on her back, and secretly felt that doing those things would somehow get God’s attention.
She ventured to the ocean to go swimming with her cousin, and after playing in the waves for a while, suddenly found herself far from shore. She had been distracted and hadn’t noticed the currents carrying her away from the safety of the beach. The water was deep and she couldn’t touch the bottom. Terrified, and losing her strength, she resigned to the fact that death was near.
Tears filled her eyes as she told me what happened next. In the very moment she felt she would soon drown, she heard God speak, “Now it’s just me and you.” Fighting the swells, and for each breath, she began weeping, asked God to take care of her family when she was gone, and asked for forgiveness.
Then, a man dressed in red and orange swiftly approached on a large paddle board. In a calm voice, he told her to move her arms, but she could not. He then instructed her to climb onto his board, but she was too weak to comply. The man reached down, grabbed her, and pulled her onto the board. At that moment, another man was swimming toward her, yelling frantically as he approached. The second man told her to wrap her arms around his neck, she did and he pulled her back to shore. Safely on the beach, a crowd gathered around her. Seeing her cousin among the onlookers, she asked where the man on the board had gone. Her cousin was confused, saying there had been no man on a board, only the one who swam out to save her. Inquiring of the others in the crowd, no one had seen the man dressed in red and orange.
Ariella’s story was captivating and spoke to me this truth: There’s more that we don’t know than what we do know. Many would argue that there’s no such thing as angels, others would disagree. Ariella made no arguments at all, but only shared what she herself had experienced. She then quoted this psalm to me: “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.”
For Ariella, there is no doubt an angel saved her that day, and it matters not what anyone else believes. Throughout the telling of her story, her eyes were filled with tears, so vulnerable, open, yet so strong. I thanked her for sharing with me something that was obviously very personal and sacred. She smiled and asked if she could pray for me—an offer I graciously accepted. Then, she said what was probably the most impactful words I heard her say, “God does not live in a box.”
That sentence floored me, and for a number of reasons. First, many of the people I was with at that time were professed Christians as well, but held to beliefs that I could in no way align myself with. Of course, I feel that way about most organized belief systems. Maybe those systems are the “box” and whatever doesn’t fit is tossed aside. I tend to be more interested in what has been tossed aside.
I began that morning searching for answers, wondering if my path would lead me to what was most meaningful in this life, then along comes this wonderful person—all the way from Brazil—who confirmed for me one of my most sacred core principles: Believe what I have experienced for myself, and allow no other human to invalidate the truths I’ve uncovered.
My Brazilian messenger departed a few days later, and as she was walking out the door I thanked her for being who she was and for all that she had shared with me. She smiled the biggest, brightest smile I’d ever seen and said, “Keith, may I bless you before I go?”
Of course, I said yes and she took my hands and prayed over me. We hugged, and then she was off. I’ve not been in the same space with her since that day, and I may never again, but I’ll never forget the power that comes with an authentic, transparent, and vulnerable sharing of one’s heart with another.
I continue to live one day at a time, quite literally, and go from one “next step” to another with full faith that all is well and will continue to be. With each interaction I have with another, I remember to remain open, transparent and vulnerable. Perhaps, just maybe, I’ll be a messenger for someone else.