In the back of my mind I’ve always carried a picture of Elwood. He was not a friend of mine. In fact, I despised him in high school. He was the track manager, and wore coke bottle glasses, hitched his pants up to his belly button, and carried one of those plastic contraptions in his pocket that held everything from a calculator to pens to erasers. I think the lost ark-of-the-covenant was probably somewhere near the bottom.
The reason I think about Elwood is because he’s the reason God woke me up one day and told me to keep hitching. Led me to the highway in up state New York, and proceeded to have me thrown off the road by a kind police officer. I was very happy he didn’t search me that day. Long hair, bohemia like pot smoking and severely stuttering, I moped my way down a service road and jumped the fence. How else was I getting to Boston? The next car that came by picked me up, and in the drivers seat was a normal looking man named Russ, who told me an extraordinary story about a manger, and an empty tomb, about love and purpose, and about how I might know all of this for myself. You see, Elwood the dork, Elwood the brunt of every joke, the classic nerd, and tortured soul, turned out to be Elwood my greatest champion. He prayed for me every day in high school. He put up with ridicule from me, his chief antagonist, nearly as often. He decided to be track manager JUST because he was praying for ME!
That leads me to a confession. I don’t want it as bad as Elwood wanted it. I don’t think I’m cut from the same devotion, the same cloth of sacrifice, willing to suffer under the calling to pray, just because that’s what God has offered as His very best! My more base motivation includes wanting others to think well of me. It includes, but not limited to, pleasing, performing, priding and pontificating, just so that I might feel a little better about myself. It’s all props, and all vapor, nothing of substance.
The other night I was kneeling in prayer, and God was once again having a little talk with me. He said something I still can’t get out of my mind. “You are invisible, until you are concrete love.” “What?” That’s exactly what I said. I strained to understand it. I began to wrestle with God, once again putting my resume out there for him to be impressed by, but He looked past it, and into my eyes. Seriously, this is how I experienced it. Then for some reason only He knows, Elwood’s picture popped into my head. No, not Elwood! ‘Are you willing be like him, for the sake of those I am stirring, leading, wooing and bringing to myself?’
I wish I could say I flung myself into a pile of repentance and took the plunge. I didn’t. I felt numb, sort of like hoping for a new red bicycle for Christmas, and getting bongo drums instead. You see, God and I, we’ve had this conversation before. He’s patient, and won’t give up on me. And He’s using Elwood, the example of a man under fire, a man full of guile, and a nerd, who hung out with a cock sure athlete named Kevin, whose inner life was crumbling under an avalanche of personal fear and rejection, and somehow he knew it. Elwood saw far beyond my brass exterior, to a place God was preparing, and prayed I would find that place. Two years later, I did. I will be forever thankful for Elwood.
I don’t know where he is, but wherever you are my friend, thank you. Yes, I call you friend. There are important things in life, and then there are really important things. To pray and not grow weary is one of those supremely important ones. Slowly and surely God is using a picture of a man whose dedication sloshed through rejection, but whose prayers paid huge dividends when a young long haired hippie met a man on a lonely stretch of interstate 87, bound for Boston to see an old flame, but instead found the living flame of love, Jesus Christ.