I was washing my hands in the bathroom of a burger joint when he sauntered into my business, this Cowboy Prophet. He stood tall—at least 6’4—and wore an old, worn white cowboy hat. Our eyes met, and I nodded politely towards him in the mirror. He continued with a persistent, unwelcome conversation that broke all societal codes for men in bathrooms. “You dig country music?” he asked, still looking at me from his post at the urinal. “Sure,” I obliged—pronouncing conclusion in my tone—hoping that would be it.
It was not. “What about Garth Brooks?” “Yup. Good stuff,” I affirmed disparagingly as I went to dry my hands. Stop talking to me in the men’s room. “OK, OK, more of a George Straight guy?” Seriously? “Gotta’ love King George,” I said as I bolted for the door. He laughed as he finished his business at the urinal. “I know your kind. You’re a Willie Nelson guy.” I had one foot out of the door when his statement stopped me cold in my escape. “What?” He moved to the sink, tilted the brim of his hat, and winked at me over a confident smile. “You like Willie Nelson, right?” “Yes. Yes, sir, I do.” I fled. I left the Red Headed Stranger in the bathroom and returned to my table.
My mind was racing. Surely this was just coincidence. Surely it could be explained. The restaurant was playing country music. Check. They had old Willie Nelson concert posters on the wall. Check. They even have a giant painting of Jesus and Willie Nelson with other Texas musicians a la da Vinci’s Last Supper hanging in the main room with Willie painted as James. Check. But the timing was still too strange.
Just the night before, in a very rare moment, my wife and I had stayed up late together watching a Willie Nelson concert on TV that I found channel surfing. It was on a channel we don’t ever watch. Neither of us listens to Willie Nelson regularly. We don’t talk about Willie Nelson. I don’t ever think about Willie Nelson. But late that night, we found ourselves captivated by the old concert footage and verbally committed to being Willie Nelson fans. We both said out loud, “I really do like Willie Nelson.” That was only hours before I met the Cowboy Prophet. I chalked it all up to Texas and the Cowboy’s strange restroom manners, paid my check, and started out of the restaurant with my family. But my encounter was far from over.
My first turn to the right on the wide sidewalk outside the restaurant’s front door put me face to chest with the Cowboy. He let out a deep, gravelly laugh. “Well, hey there. I was wondering where you went.” Before I could respond, he put his catcher’s mitt of a hand down on my right shoulder. With great joy, he whispered to me, “This new job is the right thing, son. It’s the path He wants you on. It’s going to be alright.” He laughed again as I winced in disbelief. The other thing that had happened the night before was that I prayed for God to make it abundantly clear that my new job opportunity was His will for my life. “He loves you. And He sure is good, isn’t He?” “Yes, He is,” I muttered—still in shock. Then he moved his attention to my son. “Is this your boy?” He didn’t wait for me to answer. His hand went to Will’s head. “You do love baseball, don’t you?” He lowered his tall frame to meet Will’s stature. Still doubting what was happening, I quickly scanned Will’s attire. No baseball cap. No baseball clothes. “Listen to me good, boy. You know what it means to honor your mother and father, right?” “Yes, sir.” “And you do that, I know. But you are going to have to make sure that you also obey them—even one day when it’s hard, and it doesn’t make sense to you, and you think you know better. Remember to obey them in that hard thing.” He looked back at me and winked again before sliding on a pair of sunglasses. “Godblessya’.” He dipped the front of his cowboy hat between his thumb and forefinger and disappeared down the opposite sidewalk.
It took me two days to collect my thoughts around what happened that afternoon. As I applied the faculties of spiritual discernment, it became evident that God was indeed speaking to me through that Cowboy Prophet—answering my prayer. I still have no idea what his words to my son will mean. That is his story for someday. It will probably have something to do with picking guitars and driving old trucks. At first, it all seemed unbelievable and odd—that God would confirm His will through such a channel. But—much like the way He spoke through the Old Testament Prophets—it was so specific and foolish that it was undeniably sacred. The Creator of the Universe knows what I need to hear and how to help me hear it. I was on His mind.
Even God loves Willie Nelson.