The One About When The Ex-Con Asked For My Phone (by Coach Toyin)
Soooooo … this one day, about two months ago, I drove downtown to a federal building to sort out some ‘business with the government’ (* serious face pasted on * haha). Anyhooo, as I walked across the parking lot opposite the federal building, a lady stepped to me and asked for money. First thought that came to mind was, Am I safe?
I wasn’t sure. I felt she might be on something other than ‘food and drink’ if you get my meaning, and because I was new to the area, I just wasn’t sure if I should be giving her money or mumbling an excuse and walking away.
“Sorry ma’am. I can’t help you,” I mumbled with a slight smile, and slipped into the building. Now my guard was up.
When I was done with my ‘high-level engagement with the powers that be’ (hehe), I traced my steps back to the elevators. Now imagine a typical government building downtown. Lots of elevators. I was probably on the 17th floor standing alone, a man suddenly showed up at my side.
“Ma’am. Do you have a phone?” he asked.
Odd, I thought. Okay … what now?
“Yes, I do sir,” I replied in my best American accent (which is poor, to say the least). I’d noticed that over here, folks are really big on calling everybody “sir” and “ma’am” so I thought, hey, let me not look like I don’t know wusup! LOL!
“Well, may I use your phone? I just got out of Federal Prison and I came to these here offices to sort out my social security. I need to call my peoples to let ‘em know I’m here so they can come get me.”
Jesu!!! Was all that came to mind. Full on Nigerian accent reloaded! See me see trouble o! Who sent me? T’alo be mi n’seeeeee (who begged me to run this errand)? All by myself with the latest federal prison releasee, at the elevators of the 17th floor of some building downtown?! What will my people say? E gba mi o!
(Just as an amusing aside, I mostly think in Yoruba (my mother tongue) when I’m really angry or really freaked out!)
I looked at the man in front of me who was impatiently waiting for my phone, which might I add was in my hand! For the second time in two hours, I kicked into profiling mode. The man was probably in his fifties. Yes, he had tattoos all over, and he looked a bit rough around the edges, whatever that means … but to be honest, I was not phased by the tattoos or his looks at all. All that bothered me was this: HE JUST GOT OUT OF FEDERAL PRISON! What was he in for? Was I in danger if I refused to give him my phone? Would ‘his people’ keep calling my phone looking for him if I allowed him to use my phone?
Other than the fact that he had just come out of prison, I really had no reason to feel insecure … but I was, and I could not bring myself to give the man my phone.
“Oh I’m sorry sir. I’d love to help, but I’m nat sure I can,” still with my best fake accent. “Would you like to take the elevator to the 1st floor where the security office is? They might be able to help you.”
And then I held my breath, hoping that the fact that I spoke to him with my kindest smile would make a difference.
“What? Ma’am, that just don’t make no sense. I just wanna use your phone to call my people, to let them know that I’m here, so they can come get me! Urgh … “ he huffed, and stomped into the elevator that had arrived.
I didn’t follow him o! I looked away as if ‘nothin’ do me’ and waited for the next elevator.
Phew! What was that? I thought, as I entered the next elevator that arrived. Did I do the right thing? Did he understand why I felt uncomfy about giving him my phone? I wondered. Let me just get to my car and go home!
But then I got out of the elevator at the 1st floor and walked straight into an even more annoyed version of my guy.
“But you said the security office is on the 1st floor?!” He demanded when he saw me.
Yepa! I thought and I stepped to the side.
“Oh I’m saaarrryyyy. They nat here? Maybe try one floor down, on ground.” I kept my smile pasted on as if I couldn’t notice his irritation.
See me see trouble o!
Then we stared at each other for a few seconds because he knew I wasn’t going to take the same elevator with him to go to the ground floor, and I knew I wasn’t going to take the same elevator with him either (it turns out my exit was also on ground floor). Then the man huffed again and stomped towards the stairs.
Phew! Relieved, I waited for the next elevator to come and made my way to the ground floor, only for me to get there and spot my ex-con friend, sitting calmly in the security office, waiting to use their phone.
How sad for me. How sad for this man who just needed a phone.
Let me go ahead and make my point. As you know by now, my platform is all about my Christian transformation journey, as well as yours. I work with people to help them live consciously and intentionally on God’s work table, allowing Him to work in, through and all around our lives to transform us increasingly into His image.
One of the many lessons I have learnt on my very intentional transformation journey is this: Transformation is never about ignoring your past, but rather about confronting the effects that your past has had on your identity, and allowing God to work in, through and around your past, to bring about the grace and gold that He alone can squeeze out of even the worst set of circumstances. Your past will not ignore you just because you decided to ‘transform’. Your past will come for you and try either to drag you back into its prison cells, or to keep you paying a perpetual price for whatever you got up to (or whatever got all up in your face) back in the day. Not just that; some folks will profile you unfairly, like I did twice on my visit downtown, because they just don’t believe that you can ever change. Gosh, you might profile yourself, and without knowing it, you put yourself back in a box and constrain yourself from the greatness that God actually wants to bring out of your past. I mean for a few moments there, it looked as if this gentleman was gonna ‘clap’ me straight for not giving him the benefit of the doubt. If he’d done that, then I wouldn’t be here feeling bad for profiling him. On the other hand, he would have allowed the pressure of dealing with his past to knock him 10 steps off his restoration path.
The Christian transformation journey of ‘bowing out the old man’ of sin and inner brokenness that has stood between you and God and prevented you from knowing and fulfilling your purpose in life … can feel like scalding your skin. Ouch! But it is a journey that births the God-life, and we must neither run away from it, nor stay down when the harshness of the process knocks us down.
Are you going through some rough patches in your transformation journey right now? Would you rather turn your back and ruuuuunnnn instead of facing the stubborn knots that are still trying to tighten a noose around you? Gotta keep your eyes on the prize friend. The end goal? Freedom, true intimacy with God, and the miracle of discovering your God-given purpose in and through your past mess, and walking in it. You and your past mess can change the world; you just keep your behind strapped to that work-table that God has you on.
P.S. Clearly God still has some work to do in me when it comes to seeing people the way He sees them. Profiling is human nature, and I guess we do it because we cannot see into the heart of a person to know for sure if we are safe with them or not. God does know the heart of a man though. So, my 2nd lesson from this whole saga is that instead of trying to figure things like this out myself, how’s about I stay in tune with God’s heart so that I know whether in a situation, He wants me to guard myself or rather extend myself to someone He might want to reach through me. Bottom line; transformation requires sticking close to God, and staying strapped to His worktable.
As always, I end this by saying, I am Toyin, fully convicted by my own words and very much still under construction in the hands of the Father.
CHRISTIAN TRANSFORMATIONAL PROGRAMS BY COACH TOYIN