Tonight I watched the Lakers vs. Celtics game on the single story screens at our local casino. I watched in luxury because right in the heart of the sports book they've arranged six or seven rows of plush leather seats with arm rests and drink holders for betters and fans alike to enjoy the "big game."
Once I arrived the game was already twenty minutes old, so I scanned in search of a seat. There was one empty in the third row, one in from the end. I asked the man next to it if anyone was sitting there. "Nope! You are!"
As I slouched down into the leather he began to chat. "Who you pulling for?" "I'm a Suns fan," I confessed, "so I'm rooting for the Celtics just because I'm still bitter about their loss to the Lakers."
He chuckled with approval. To my surprise, in a room filled with gold and purple jerseys he told me he was pulling for the Celtics too. At least it would be a safe place from which to offer cheers for the team in green.
Within four or five minutes we were into a regular pattern of dialogue exchange. I quickly learned that he's a limo driver for the Rio Hotel and Casino downtown, but lives two miles from me on the north side. He told me about one night when he had Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Doctor J in his limo. He told me about his Vietnam experiences. He told me about the time he played Pebble Beach, the site of this year's US Open. He told me about his view of the 13th green at the Aliante golf course from his back porch. He spoke with a roughness that made the walls of his heart seem course and unwelcoming. He cussed like a sailor. He was a sailor.
As we sat together I was asking myself, "What opportunity am I going to have to say anything gracious? Is there a way to point this man in the direction of grace without putting my life in danger?" I considered thanking him for his military service, but I didn't expect an approving response.
Just then he told me about his three heart surgeries, including one for which he was only the fifth known patient in the world. He had been the lucky recipient of a local doctor's expertise and willingness to push the medical frontier ahead with hopes of giving my new friend a longer life.
That's when it hit me. He's got so much for which to be thankful! Then he told me that he's been married 40 years, and that his wife is a cancer survivor. He outlined her fear during the days when he was in a coma and fighting for his life with a lung infection after his second open heart surgery. His summary: "I'm a lucky SOB. That's for sure!"
"You've got much so much to be thankful for, don't you?" I meekly spoke into his right ear. He looked me in the eyes and spoke. "You know, you're right. I sure do."
The game ended moments later. Our conversation was finished. I had no opportunity to say more, but I learned something tonight. I learned in a new way that even God's common grace in the lives of the hard-hearted is so abundant that there is a door for the gospel. I remembered that it's His kindness that leads us to repentance.
I know where my new friend lives now. I don't even know his name, but I know the green he likes to watch on the par 3 13th. I hope to see him next time I'm playing at Aliante. I am praying that he lies restless in bed tonight because he realizes that somebody needs to be thanked for his health. Someone deserves his words of gratitude. Hopefully we will soon have the chance to introduce him to Jesus.