The Napkin

It started just like any regular Tuesday. Or so I thought. But it was the beginning of a turning point in my life.
And also, the reason I believe some angles have dark brown hair.
Tied in two braids.
I was sitting in the DQ by our house. The one I went to most Tuesdays. Today would be different though. I just didn’t know it.
Uncle had picked me up from football practice. My jersey was dirty and my brown hair was a wreck. As I sat in my corner booth, I wished I was back at football practice. Or any practice for that matter. Anywhere but with the math books in front of me. It was my worst subject.
I just couldn’t do it.
Uncle Victor’s loud voice broke into my thoughts, recapturing my attention. He told me I’d better pay him some respect for all the time he was wasting on me. He made sure to add that it was hopeless trying to teach me anything. I turned back to the problem sprawled out across my notebook.
My Uncle got up to refill his cold drink. I offered to get it for him, due to him having to hassle with his crutches, but he insisted. That was Uncle for ya’. Ever since I’d moved in with him 2 years ago, he’d definitely shown an independent side. But I could tell it was a mask. Especially after his accident. I usually could tell with people.
I turned back to look out the window. I loved noticing things most people didn’t. I noticed what people laughed at. I noticed how people treated their animals. I noticed how people dressed. I could even guess their self esteem by the way they talked, and how much.
I didn’t have any friends at school in those years. I was too far behind everyone else my age. Nobody cared why I was behind. And nobody even seemed to care that I actually was good at one thing. Football.
It didn’t matter because, I didn’t matter.
There was one person I had almost begun to call my “friend”. Two actually. They were older, cooler, guys at my school. They always got A’s. I had no idea why they originally befriended me. If you could call it that. We weren’t close. In fact I was pretty sure they wanted me for whatever money they could make off me. But it felt good to seem wanted at all.
We had a “deal” scheduled for the next day. Wednesday. Up until then I had never gotten into any of that stuff. Dad had. And how could I, a nobody, stand up to the boys?
I couldn’t.
I didn’t want to think about that. But I figured that I was stuck in that kind of “living”, being dad’s son an’ all. That’s what everyone said. There was no way to avoid it.
I just couldn’t.
I had tried. And the night before, I had even prayed.
I didn’t expect an answer. Not in a world so full of hate.
A white mini van pulled up outside the big restaurant windows. No bumper stickers. I saw a young girl get out of the side passenger door. Then another. Then another. Soon a large family (consisting of mostly girls) was heading up the sidewalk towards the Dairy Queen doors. They were all wearing skirts. The girls, that is. But didn’t look like nuns. They laughed and talked like they were happy just to be together.
Uncle sat down heavily, leaning his crutches against the end of the table. I turned back to my books. From the corner of my eye, I could tell the large family had come in. Actually I think everyone in the whole restaurant could. They seemed even bigger once inside. It reminded me of a field trip. They each ordered an Oreo frappé. The one on special. Yup. Field trip. The girls all looked the same. Dark brown hair and skirt. If one stood out, it would have to be the one with that laugh. She had her hair in two braids.
“Hey!” Uncle addressed me loudly. I turned quickly and wished he’d quiet down for once in his life. He gave me a warning glare. I pushed everything out of my mind and focused on my homework.
Believe it or not, the van-family migrated over and sat near us. Taking up 2 full tables. There was a lot of laughing and chatting as everyone found a seat. I kept my eyes on my books. It was hard to concentrate, with a family bigger then the Vontrapps, sitting just a table over.
Uncle picked up his drink and I glanced over the half wall which separated our booths. The girl with braids and the only boy were closest to me. He was tall. Maybe taller then me, and a bit slimmer. Maybe he played basketball.
She was maybe 15, but small. And spunky. By the sound of her laugh, I guessed she could sing. I couldn’t. In her eyes I could tell she noticed things. Most things. Things others missed.
I quickly turned to my math as Uncle placed his drink down. He explained the problems to me in a voice that could reach a thousand people. Outdoors.
I clenched my teeth, and bore it. Knowing that the two sitting just a few feet away probably knew how to do these easy algebra equations backwards. In their sleep. But that was my life. I would never get ahead. I couldn’t.
At one point I could tell the girl with two braids had glanced at me. I wished Uncle would quiet down and order something to eat. Then again, he talks with his mouth full too.
It felt like an eternity before the family finished their drinks and prepared to go. I had learned a lot about them, just by listening. Even though Uncle was loud, it wasn’t like they were whispering.
They were interesting. And fun. Like they enjoyed life. I would never be able to do that. I couldn’t.
They gathered their things and began making their way towards the door. The girl stood and grabbed her cup. As she turned to go, she swiftly slid a napkin with writing on it towards me. I was startled. Uncle had his head turned. I had barely enough time to pull it onto my lap and quickly lean forward, before he returned his full attention to me.
I was nearly overcome by curiosity, but he resumed our problem and jumped into a loud explanation.
As the family neared the door, I didn’t dare look up at them or down at the note. There was no way I could even glance at either without Uncle noticing. He was staring down at me. Rambling on and on.
It was all my self control not to wave goodbye to the people I felt like I’d come to know. Eventually Uncle reached the end of his lecture, stood, and with the aid of his crutches limped towards the restroom. I waited till he turned the corner, then dropped my eyes to the note in my lap. There, sprawled in a casual hand were four small words.
Words, that changed my life. Forever.

“You Can Do It”

l would never be the same. “You can do it? You as in …me? I could do it?” I stared at the napkin. “I can do it?” Someone believes in me? I looked up, stunned. Sliding out of the booth, I leapt to my feet. The napkin clutched tightly in my hand. I hurried to the door and pushed it open. I bolted into the parking lot. The family was gone. I rushed to the edge of the road, but they were already to the intersection. I watched the white van as it turned left at the light, and sped out of sight. I stood for a moment and then took a deep breath. “I can do it.” I whispered.
I pushed the note into my pocket. “I won’t forget”.
The rest of the day flew by in a blur. That night as I was putting away my homework, I remembered the prayer I’d made only the night before. I scratched my head, and slowly opened the bottom drawer of my dresser. That was where I kept my most special things. The things that reminded me of Mom. In the far left corner there lay a Bible, soft and bendable from much use. She’d always read from it. I slowly picked it up. Opening it gently, I flipped to the back. Searching. A memory tugging at my brain.
After over an hour of paging through and looking at the places she’d underlined, I finally found what I was looking for.
“I can do all things” it read. But it didn’t end there so my eyes continued reading.
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” I read it again. “Through Christ.” I repeated. “Through Christ.” It rang in my ears like a bugle call. “I want to KNOW Christ.” I said aloud.
Then I noticed the tears filling my eyes. Things my mom had told me began popping into my head. Flooding me.
“Christ died to save us!” she’d said. “He is our only hope.”
“I can’t do anything on my own! I need You!” I prayed. “My best is nothing before You, God. Please. Fill me with You. And take command of my life.”
I bowed my head and surrendered.
That was the beginning of a life long journey. God took my rags and gave me His righteousness. That doesn’t mean everything was easy. It doesn’t mean all my problems went away. But from then on I knew where to take my problems. And I’m not talking about algebra.
I never saw that girl again. But I’ll never forget her. And I still have that quickly scrawled note. It’s the perfect bookmark for that familiar passage in my Bible.
God showed me He was my real Father and I could follow His example.
A week after that day at the Dairy Queen, a few young agents were slipped into our school, and several boys caught up in the “trade” were nabbed.
God spared me just in time, from a life of prison and crime.

And it all started with a brown haired girl who was willing to care. And a napkin.