There are times when we have experiences that are so poignant, so significant, so intense, that they can forever change our attitudes, our responses, or even our core values. As a young boy, I had such an experience that would forever change the way I saw other people.
My childhood was spent in a small farming community in the South (United States) a bit north of Birmingham, Alabama. In the early sixties, the political climate was changing. Civil Rights legislation had been enacted, racial segregation was abolished, and tensions were high.
But laws are easier to change than people.
In our little town, we had a small local grocery store owned by a man named Henry, and the store was known simply as "Mr. Henry's". Mr. Henry's was situated just below a double railroad track and depot.
If I was there at the right time, I could sit on the wide concrete steps of Mr. Henry's and watch the freight trains go by, counting the cars, listening to the staccato "clackity clack" of the rails, amazed that something so large could move so fast.
One day, I was sitting on the steps drinking an "RC" and watching a long train go by. After the train had passed on, I saw two boys of another "race" coming across the railroad tracks with a dog. That was not an unusual. But what happened next would change my life forever.
As I watched the boys come closer, I noticed their dog. I had a dog too. As I was watching the dog cross the tracks, a thought flashed into my mind from seemingly out of nowhere.
The thought was simple, yet profound. A thought I had never heard before. A different thought. More than a thought. This thought became an observation. Then a concept. Then a value.
The thought was: "Their dog looks just like mine."
I had never thought about this before. I suppose that in my little child's mind (and hearing all the racially prejudiced things I had heard as a child) that "their" dogs should somehow look different than "our" dogs.
But that day was different. That day changed a little boy's life. That simple thought started a cascade of reasoning, life-changing observations, and formation of new values.
They were just little boys with a dog, just like I was a little boy with a dog. So, what was the difference? Why couldn't they sit on the steps of Mr. Henry's and drink an "RC" like I did? Why were they hated and I was not? I didn't "get it".
From that day on, I didn't want to "get it". I never wanted to "get it" again for the rest of my life. I saw no reason to hate "them" without a cause. They were just boys, and I was a boy, and "their dog looked just like mine". So, what WAS the difference?
There was no difference! (I "got" that!)
I believe God "spoke" to me that day. He did it in such a wonderful and profound way. There was no "thunder and lightning". There was no mystical or supernatural experience. He just whispered a simple thought in little boy's mind and heart that would change his life forever.
That simple thought planted in me the desire to look beyond outward appearance and seek to understand the deeper things of people and situations. It communicated to me that I should not accept what someone else says just because they say it, but that I should ask "Why?".
As I grew older, that simple understanding expanded. I came to understand that "their" blood looked just like "mine". I came to understand that "their" tears looked just like "mine". I came to understand that "their" pain hurt just like "mine". I came to understand that "their" love was just as deep and true as "mine".
And I came to understand that God makes no distinction between any of us.
You see, when Jesus was crucified, His blood looked just like ours. His pain felt just like ours. His tears flowed just like ours. His rejection hurt just like ours. And He died. Just like us.
But that is not the end of the story. Jesus rose from the dead, and He is alive today. He became "just like us", so that we could become "just like Him".
I encourage you to love others deeply, passionately, from the heart, and without prejudice or reservation. That is how Jesus loves us.
And I want to be like Him.
Because if Jesus had a dog, it would look just like mine.
G. Randall Vaughn