DaRT: Christians, Crosses, and Cupcakes: Finding Family and Faith at Ackard Station

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Contributed by Julie Atwood.

The instant Brandy starts leading us in prayer—moments after she hops onto the train at Garland Station to meet the rest of us—the images come drifting in, bobbing behind my squeezed-shut eyelids.

Four crosses. Every one enclosed within a circle.

The crosses quiver and bounce before my inner eyes yet, all through Brandy’s prayer, remain and hold their shape. So when she asks the group for location clues, I share them.

And am greeted by six pairs of puzzled eyes, six noncommittal shrugs.

Tonight’s agreed-upon location is Ackard Station. A stop halfway between the stately churches and cathedrals looming up against the sunset beyond Pearl Street . . . and the ragged homeless men propped against the flanks of red-brick buildings by West End.

What does Ackard Station have to do with crosses inside circles?

Nothing. At least so far as any of us, including me, can see. Oh, well . . .

After disembarking at our new location—and there meeting up with Abby’s friend Jason, who’s joining us for the first time—we split up into two teams. First-timer Darla follows Abby, Jason, and Henry as they stride ahead to our right and cross the street . . . while Sharla and I head left in the direction we just rode, tagging after the DaRT co-leaders Brandy and Natalie.

We spot her instantly. She’s slumped on one of the metal chairs waiting for her train, digging into a popcorn bag and munching as she gazes ahead with pensive eyes. The rounded silhouette of the chocolate-skinned young woman is highlighted at once to Natalie.

“Yeah, I believe in prayer.” With a faint smile, Marisa nods in response to Natalie’s and Brandy’s concerned questions. “I was raised in church and grew up bein’ taught from the Bible. And I could sure use some prayer right now for my job situation. Got three kids—ages six, four, and ten months—and me an’ my husband really need some extra income to raise them. Have been out searchin’ every day. . . .”

As Natalie, then Brandy, then Sharla take turns speaking words of God’s blessings and provision into the lives of Marisa and her loved ones, I see it. Still another cross, floating up before my inner eyes. This one’s a purple stain . . . nestled at the heart of a lavender-white flower with four plump petals.

Brandy’s already sharing aloud a picture of her own. “I see you as a lynx, a beautiful wild forest cat who can flow gracefully in and out between the cracks of every obstacle. . . . Does that mean anything to you?”

Marisa only shrugs. It’s the same offhanded shrug that met my own earlier vision, the one I shared with my fellow pray-ers on the train. Yet I now dare to share my present picture with this lady . . . and am once again met with a shrug. (I find comfort in the fact Brandy’s picture just elicited an identical response.)

Brandy peers more closely at the troubled young mother. “I sense a great sadness in you, Marisa. Have you experienced a sorrow in your life?”

This time Marisa does react. Her stoic face crumples as tears roll down her cheeks. “Yeah. It’s my papa and my sister. Lost them both about seven years ago. . . .”

As the rest of us express sympathy then gather to intercede, Sharla speaks up in a gentle voice. “Do you mind if I give you a hug?”

Marisa nods. And when Sharla’s arms wrap round her, I see her whole face soften with relief . . . then ignite in a profound glow of gratitude. Something deep within her has been touched and healed by that hug.

“I feel peace,” she tells us, beaming as we bid her goodbye.

Moments later, while we pause on the street corner to scan both ways for passing people, Natalie checks for images of my cross-bedecked flower on her smartphone. “It’s a blossom from a dogwood tree,” she discovers. “It says here that according to legend, the wood from a dogwood tree was used to build the cross on which Jesus was crucified.” She reads on about other natural images stained upon those blossoms . . . not only crosses, but also shapes of nails and even a crown of thorns.

Whether that flower held any personal meaning for Marisa remains uncertain. But on this still sun-soaked evening as we encounter person after person, a common pattern—a theme—seems to unfold.

Well, maybe not with the first man. Spotting him across the street and suspecting he might be our next “pray-ee,” we wait for him to cross the street in our direction. But the moment he steps up onto our curb, the caramel-colored stranger protests in a clipped accent, “I need to get to work!” And tears away from us as quickly as he can.

“Hi, how ya doin’?” By contrast, Tyrone flaps at us a cheery wave as he comes barreling straight toward us, his midnight face wreathed in sunny smiles. “Hey, can you folks tell me where to find Olive Street?”

When Natalie answers his question—once again with the help of her trusty smartphone—he responds with a grateful, “God bless you!”

Next we notice young Chet, lanky and pale with a shock of cornsilk hair. He’s pacing before his train stop in a series of restless twitches. Yet he also welcomes our blessings and returns them in kind before springing onto his train.

Then we see Darnell, racing down the block at lightning speed. He’s moving to the rhythm of whatever tune is bouncing through the sound buds tucked into his ears.

Rather to the surprise of both Sharla and me, Natalie and Brandy about-face and go pounding after him. But when they catch up with this young man at the corner, they find anything but a harried pedestrian annoyed to have his music or his route interrupted. Instead, Darnell greets them with his most dazzling smile, flashing like a half-moon in the night sky of his face. And in response to their offers of prayer, he’s pouring out his life story . . . a relationship gone sour, a need to forgive the woman who walked out on him.

“Are you willing to break off any soul ties with Shirelle?” Brandy’s just explained how an intimate relationship binds two people together into one . . . an oppressive spiritual union if the couple has not been joined in marriage.

“Yeah, I’d like to do that.” Without hesitation, Darnell speaks after Brandy the words of release and forgiveness . . . and of starting over when it comes to seeking and following God’s plans for his life. “God bless you folks!” He beams again with misted eyes, pumping all our hands before once more loping off into the shadows.

“He seemed to be in such a hurry. Why did you guys chase after him like that?” Sharla voices aloud my own question.

“Sometimes a person is just highlighted to us,” Natalie explains with a grin. “He might look like the last person to be wanting prayer, but God still makes it clear that’s the one He wants to speak to through us.”

In a burst of generosity, Natalie offers to treat us all to Suellen’s Cupcakes—displayed in a mind-boggling array of gourmet choices, ranging from banana cream to peanut butter to maple. And there in the shop we find two more folks to bless.

Rosita, the shopkeeper, sings in the choir at her Catholic church. A dainty, birdlike young woman, sweet as the confections she bakes and sells, she chirps out a request in her musical voice as she scurries past our table toward the shop’s door. “I’m just about to close up. Would you folks mind sticking around while I take out the trash?”

“Sure, no problem,” Natalie replies.

“Thanks so much!” Returning her smile, Rosita’s maple-syrup eyes sparkle with gratitude in her mocha-latte face.

And when Natalie offers to pay for the bottle of soda pop a fellow customer clutches in one hand, the stolid middle-aged woman—clad in the dignity of a navy tailored suit—thanks her with her own regal yet gracious smile.

“I’m City Councilwoman Deborah Sherman.” She goes on to share about her experience at Megafest—a major celebration, attended by several celebrities, during which millions of dollars were raised for establishing schools. “God bless you!” In a voice as rich as cream, Deborah responds to our prayers of blessing over her political endeavors.

Back outside at our train stop, moments after we meet up with the other team, Brandy and Abby find Sheila in her frayed shorts and tank top. “Me an’ my husband are homeless,” she tells the prayer warriors. “We came here to visit relatives, but we found out they don’t live here no more. We been travelin’ from here to there lookin’ for them, an’ we ended up runnin’ out of money. . . .” This gruff-voiced yet friendly homeless traveler welcomes prayer with the same gracious and regal smile bestowed upon us by the elegant city councilwoman. And she too offers us God’s blessings.

“Hey, did you notice something about all the people we prayed with tonight?” Natalie will ask later. “Something they all had in common?”

I consider this. In once sense they proved varied as the gourmet cupcakes we enjoyed. They came in both genders, in all ages and shapes and colors. They sported hair yellow as bananas or black as bitter coffee. Eyes like blueberries, raisins, or pools of maple syrup. Complexions of chocolate, cinnamon, or cream cheese. They traveled all walks of life, from a soft-spoken shopkeeper . . . to a councilwoman promoting a four-million-dollar fundraiser for education . . . to a journeying homeless couple trusting God to care for them after they lost their final penny. They might be Baptists, Catholics, or members of T.D. Jakes’ imposing Spirit-filled congregation.

But all were believers. Folks of great faith in the same God. Members of our family in the Body of Christ.

Could that be the meaning of my crosses within circles? Or of that one cross staining the heart of a dogwood bloom?

“Hey Julie, you’re not gonna believe this!” Her dark eyes dancing with excitement, Abby seizes a fold of her friend Jason’s T-shirt and points to an image painted on its back.

A cross within a circle. Exactly like the ones that bobbed earlier before my inner eyes.

“And hey, check , these out!” she continues. Once again a smartphone is flashed before my face. Displaying photos of two more crosses within circles. One at a nearby park, a concrete ring behind which shoots up a wooden cross—and the other a revolving structure displayed in a hotel lobby. “And under both these crosses, we found folks to pray with.”

Abby breaks out in gleeful chortles as she points to the park structures. “Man, it was so funny, what happened with the guy we found sitting under these ones at Pegasus Park. After praying with him, Darla decides to introduce us all. She doesn’t notice that Henry’s stood up and wandered off by himself, the way he does sometimes, and that Jason’s just plopped down in his place. ‘This is Abby, and this is Henry,’ she says, pointing to Jason. Then man, does she startle when she catches a good look at him!”

Darla smiles and adds in a quieter tone, “Bob was homeless, looking for both a job and a wife. I found it interesting he had the same name as my husband. I could tell him what it means—‘bright fame’ and ‘well-known.’ He talked about being hungry, and I felt strongly led by God to give him money. He was so grateful, and he really showered us with blessings.”

“And then there was Anita.” Abby indicates her photo of the revolving cross-within-a-circle. “Her job is to operate this thing, make it rotate, over in the lobby of the Joule Hotel. She had the most beautiful, radiant smile. We told her we could see God’s love shining all through her smile.” Abby grins and adds, “Yeah, both our folks also turned out to be believers!”

As we head out on the train back to Rowlett, I’m basking in the thrill of those visions of crosses-within-circles . . . still another confirmation that God is indeed speaking to me. But when Sharla observes in a rather plaintive tone, “I never get pictures”—which proved true of me such a short time ago—I remember grieving Marisa, the first human Treasure we encountered this evening.

“What you had to offer her meant far more to her than any picture,” I can affirm my friend. “God showed His love for her through you in an extra-special way.” And now before my inner eyes, I see still another image . . . a broken woman calming, her crumpled face smoothing out and lighting up with joy, as God wraps her up close in the warmth of a fellow-believer’s arms.

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