Searching the Obvious

Dixil Rodríguez

is a university professor and volunteer hospital chaplain living in Texas.

​Just a Simple Question

I learned a good lesson from my father. He’d arrive at work early, very early. I remember asking why he did this, and his answer was simple: “It is a good time to commune with God, share my plans for the day, ask for guidance, and of course it’s a good time to write.”

My workdays now begin at 6:00 a.m. Classes begin at 9:00, but in the quiet of the office suite I find it a truly beautiful time to commune with God.

Then came Joel.

* * *

By 5:45 a.m. on Monday I have turned on all the lights in the office, turned on the hot water carafe, and made sure that there is an assorted array of beverages in place. I share an office suite with four colleagues. We all decided to have a beverage bar for our students. Not all students can afford to pay $3 for an orange juice in the cafeteria. As a community, we all chip in and keep the office stocked.

Sometimes we hear students walk in, get a hot beverage or grab a water bottle; it depends on what they need. Always we hear them say, “Thank you, Professors.” And as my dear colleague Heather says: “It’s not the thank-you that warms my heart—it’s the fact that they appreciate what is given to them.”

Students come and go and say thank you, but Joel broke the routine.

Sometime after 6:00 a.m. I sit at my desk, grading essays. I have committed my day to God, having prayed in my office asking to be an instrument for His work.

“Excuse me?” I hear a weak voice outside my office door. “Excuse me, is anyone here?”

I open the office door and meet Joel. He is a student, carrying an overloaded backpack, wearing glasses, looking a little disheveled, holding wrinkled money in his hands. I introduce myself.

“I only have $1.31 today, and the cafeteria asks for more than that for orange juice. I was wondering if it would be OK if I brought the rest tomorrow.”

What?

I tell him that the beverages are his to take; there is no charge. He looks at me, then looks at the money in his hands. He tells me he would feel better if he could pay for the juice. I insist and even invoke the tradition of starting the day by sharing with one another. I smile at him and he nods, puts the money in his pocket, and grabs a juice.

I am missing something. I can feel it.

I watch him grab a napkin. He says “Thank you” at least five times, and out of nowhere I hear myself ask, “Have you had breakfast?” Where did that come from?

Joel looks at me, holds up the orange juice, and says this is his breakfast. He never has breakfast because he works the night shift and there is never time or money. I grab my keys and invite him to the cafeteria. He looks at me and puts the juice down. I tell him to bring the juice, and add that I haven’t had breakfast myself.

At the cafeteria I pick a few items and insist that Joel get more food. He smiles in a shy manner and tells me I remind him of his mother in the Philippines. Three breakfast bags later I head back to my office while Joel stays in the cafeteria. I have a feeling he could use a quiet breakfast on his own. As I walk toward the office I thank God that the Holy Spirit inspired me to ask such a basic question.

Two hours later I walk out of my office, headed to class. In the distance I see Joel with a young man and a young woman. Joel is opening the breakfast bags and sharing the food with them. He shares bagels and fruit, handing them his food. What he doesn’t let go of is the orange juice he got in my office. He waited; he waited two hours, hungry, to share his food.

I quietly slide the glass door of the suite shut and head to class remembering: “My God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19).

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