It was a shock to me. As I walked up to put trash in the dumpster, in the dark, behind the grocery/liquor store, a man stood up from inside the dumpster, like a jack in the box. My heart stopped, my adrenaline spiked, sweat poured from my glands like rivers of salty lava. Instantly I went from exhaustion, nearly sleep walking, to a level 9 fight-or-flight mode, with my heart beating from my chest like never before.
I was there because my Pastor and Jesus were testing me. My family was young and we were in that transition period between college & full time work. I had gone to Bible College, had been faithful everywhere I had served. I had been on the stage preaching, teaching and singing to thousands of young people over the course of a few years. But, now, I was being vetted by the man I wanted to be my next boss and the Jesus I claimed to love and serve. I was hungry to get started in full time ministry. It kept me up at night thinking and praying about it. This was what I was created for, I knew it, and yet, the full time position had not yet appeared. I was impatient as well. Aren't we all when we are in our 20's.
During this waiting and frustrating time of having tons of vision but no place to carry it out, I was approached in the isle by my Pastor who acknowledged he knew I was looking for more work and praying about what was next. I had a wife and small kids on the way, so my day job at the book store just didn't cut it. As he began to speak about my job situation, I just knew he was going to invite me to join his staff, which is what I expected. It was my home church, my home town and I was convinced, this was my time.
Instead, with empathy for my financial situation, he introduced me to a man who owned a cleaning business. A parking lot cleaning business. WHAT??? And, to make things worse, when I began to imagine the fun I could have driving a street sweeper around, he said he would pay me $100 a night, but that we did our job with a broom and dust pan, and with our hands. And, did I mention at night. A broom, dustpan and bare hands....ARE YOU KIDDING ME...not even a street sweeper to cruz around in.
Let's see, serve Jesus helping people, teaching, preaching, singing, coaching and serving with the church vs. cleaning parking lots at night with a broom and dustpan?? WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON....That was my reaction.
Of course I saw what this was in real time, for what it was. . I began a conversation in my head while I had another with the men in front of me. I said thank you while trying to get the blood to flow through my face again, then got this man's contact info. It didn't take me long to say, this is my test, this is the door open to me.
When the door you want to open does not, take the door that IS open and make it your best, do your best, be the best, bless others and bless Jesus through the path HE has opened up. That is called Faithful Stewardship, Character Development, Proving Grounds, Passing The Test....... So, I said yes.
I said yes to a schedule of working at the bookstore all day, eating a fast dinner, fitting in a nap, sometimes, then reporting to work at the first location in the route of parking lots I would clean that night. In one night there were 8 to 13 grocery store size parking lots needing to be cleaned. Many of them had liquor stores next to them. Many of them were in more troubled parts of town than where I lived. People were still walking around, selling drugs, turning tricks, passing out on sidewalks, fighting, making out in cars or "parking", and whatever else goes on in the dark of night.
I drove all the way form Brandon to Tampa and back every night. I took our only car, a little hatch back, which turned out to be convenient for carrying nasty trash bags in the back. I used it to carry huge nasty trash bags from the four corners of the parking lots, to the very nasty dumpster areas behind the store. This was always at night, in the dark, with rats, raccoons, birds, ants, roaches and humans, yes, humans hanging out all around them.
That brings me back to the dumpster.
Here is what I know and what I learned. God is a Father. He wants to give us the keys to the car and let us drive till our heart's desire is satisfied. He also knows we need lessons, driving school. And, the bigger the car, the more expensive the car, the more difficult the road ahead, the more intentional the training must be. Race car drivers go to school to work on their skills all through their career. They never stop learning and being tested.
I think God had a plan for me to drive a car that was important, a car that carried many, many passengers. He knew my job would be to care for, lead, teach, support, coach and rescue other people. And, because people are HIS most precious cargo, He saw I needed testing and training. Basically, if I were not willing to do whatever it took to take care of my own family, how could I stay determined and faithful when taking care of other families.
So, at 10pm I started running each night. Picking up nasty diapers thrown on the ground, bear bottles, bags of pills, pot, food, and trash, just laying everywhere. If it rained, I could not stop. I swept cigarette buds, and every kind of small trash left on the ground of after a week of cars filling the parking lots. Newspapers & trash flew across my path when it was windy. And many times I ended the cleaning efforts on one side of a parking lot only to see a car stop and throw stuff out in the place I just cleaned. So, running, I would clean up the nasty trash bag or whatever, and run to the dumpster.
The dumpster reminded me every night, that I was blessed. While I felt like a slave who ran around picking up crap other people threw to the ground, and while I worked all day in the bookstore, with very little sleep, God was working something into me and out of me. This was a test. God wanted to see If I would serve him in the pit before he gave me a platform. He also wanted to provide moments of grace where my worship was focused on him and him alone, not on my job, kids, wife, ministry, money or hobbies. I opened the hatch of that little car every night and blasted the radio with Jesus music crazy loud across the dark night. I prayed, sang and ran, literally ran.
The dumpster reminded me every night, that I was blessed. While others crawled in and out of dumpsters for food, I worked hard for a paycheck and went home to hot water, a warm bed and a wife who loved me. I was even blessed to stop and purchase my food on the way home each morning, as the wonderful sun came up, instead of diving into dumpsters.
Lastly, The dumpster reminded me every night, that I was blessed. While others wandered through the darkness and loneliness of the night, I realized I had a purpose and was blessed to do life with people who felt that same call and purpose. I was healthy, strong, hopeful and full of God's Love. I watched the sun shine across the city streets as I drove home, dirty, drenched in sweat and grime, more physically tired than I could quantify, but full in my heart because God's Mercies are New Every Morning. I was blessed to see the morning, and to see God's faithfulness through that season when I learned so much from the dumpster, the smelly, nasty dumpster.
I am totally willing to clean parking lots today, even with a broom and dustpan, but needless to say I am not visiting the dumpsters anymore. By God's Grace I get to see Him move in lots of different ways, but still love seeing that sunset bring His Mercies each day and I am thankful for the lessons I learned at the dumpster.