I saw him the moment we entered the Market. Hard not to. He was tall and big of the former-offensive-line-sort. He reminded me of Paul Carter, the Pastor who saved my marriage, but with hair. That is not an exaggeration. The salvation of our marriage or the hair. (Marriage story for a later time. Probably.)

As I headed to the deli counter, dad and my sister, Jenny each took an aisle to wander. I overheard Jenny ask dad if he wanted cinnamon rolls; I pointed to the end of the deli counter and dad made his way by me.

The former offensive lineman walked toward the counter, and I stepped back, thinking he was waiting for his meat and cheese order or a homemade sandwich. But he didn’t budge. I felt his eyes on me as I pointed out to dad where to look for the cinnamon rolls. My Spidey-sense was on alert, but not in a danger way. (Spidey-sense = what my best friends for life call my God-given gift of discernment that has yet to fail me.) I cut my eyes toward the man. He was indeed tall and big, wearing an almost Pastor-like outfit of white long sleeve dress shirt and dark pants. Pastor or funeral director for sure was my thought. We made eye contact and his were questioning. He pointed to dad and quietly asked me, “can I ask your dad about his service?” Dad is a proud two-time Vietnam War veteran and wears his Vietnam Vet baseball cap out wherever he goes.

I answered, “of course! He would love that.” The man quietly walked to dad, pointed to his hat, and asked him where he had served “over there.”

The man spoke very quietly. Especially for such a presence that he had. I knew dad was not catching everything he said. One, because I know dad is struggling with his hearing right now and two, he did not respond the way I know he would have if he had heard.

“Thank you for your service, sir.” The man took a step back but didn’t walk away. He looked down.

I saw his tears.

Stepping to him, I lightly touched his arm. He looked up as the tears rolled down his cheeks.

“Did you say your son is currently deployed to…” (a notorious hot spot where we technically do not have American soldiers.) He nodded and said, “’We are not there, you know.” I said, “no, we never are, are we?” My hand was still on his arm. The tears still leaked down his cheeks. “What is your son’s first name?” I asked. “Thomas.” “I will be praying for your Thomas.” He finally looked up. “What is your dad’s name?” “Phil,” I answered. “I’ll be praying for your dad, Phil.” His face was blurry through my tears, but I knew he was nodding slightly, as was I.

I turned back toward dad. As I looked in his face, I realized that the man did not really need to know where dad had served or which branch of service or for how long. He had just needed a connection to his Thomas.

If you think of it, please pray for Thomas, who is in the Army, and serving “over there” in a place we should not be, putting his life at risk. And please pray for his dad. I do not know his name. I didn’t feel the need to ask. But God does.

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