I have a strong faith in God. I believe He is our Creator, and made us in His image. I pray for His guidance and wisdom daily.
To say it is "foreign" to me to consider that not all people feel this way, is not a very broad-minded view, and is not realistic in today's world. I realize there are those who have never experienced or tried to understand the relationship between God and mankind. Without judgment, each person must decide where their faith is, or isn't.
However, it was not until the day at the luggage store that I was confronted with how to respond to someone who called himself an atheist.
It was near Christmas time, and I, along with one of my teenage sons at the time, went to the local mall to find a present in the luggage store. My son wandered in the store looking at items, while I waited my turn in line to check out at the counter. When I reached the front, I saw an elderly fellow at the register, stooped as if he were burdened by life, and with no smile. He rang up the item, and I said to him "Thank you, Merry Christmas!"
He replied "I don't believe in Christmas. I'm an atheist."
It seemed like I was frozen standing there. I wasn't sure I heard him right, have never liked the word "atheist," and didn't know how to respond.
"You don't believe in Christmas?" I asked. "You don't believe there is a much higher power than mere humans, a Great Creator?"
"No" he said with a scowl on his face. He seemed so unhappy and burdened. My mind went blank, not knowing what to say at first. I seemed to stare at him, almost in disbelief. Then when I opened my mouth, out came:
"Well, can I ask you something?"
"What is it?" he asked, irritated.
"Have you ever pondered a bird?" I blurted.
"Pondered a what?" he asked.
"Pondered a bird? Have you ever really looked at a bird? Have you ever pondered a bird's heartbeat?"
To this day, I don't know how that question was formed, it seemed to simply pop out of my mouth. On reflection, I believe it was the Holy Spirit in action right then and there!
"No," he flatly stated.
"Well, will you do me a favor, do yourself a favor, and next time you are at a park, sit down on a bench, and wait until a bird perches nearby. Then take a close look, a really close look, and watch the bird's chest, where you see its heartbeat. Watch the bird's chest go in and out, breathing, and you can see its tiny heartbeat. Even if it's a tiny hummingbird," I said, "you can see its heartbeat beating up and down."
The man said nothing. Then he said, "So?"
I responded "When you gaze upon that bird's heartbeat, you will see how wonderful a creation there is, and I hope you will ponder that bird, along with Creation. Ponder the bird's heart beating, its beak, its feathers, its amazing beauty, and know that no human, no man or woman, could ever create such beauty. Only something much much bigger than ourselves could do that."
He said nothing.
"Will you do that? Will you ponder a bird next time you see one?" I almost pleaded.
"Ok" he said. "Ok, I will do that."
I felt elated. For some strange reason, I felt happy that this strange man with his downtrodden look would one day "ponder a bird." I imagined a whole new world opening up to him!
I thanked him and went to find my son in the store, and we left. On my way to the car, I told my son about the man and what took place. He listened and smiled. The parking lot was completely full when we came out and I couldn't find where I had parked. I said, "Well, let's hunt for the car; it's got to be here somewhere." At that moment, my son said, "Mom, look, it's right over there. It's the one with all the birds on top."
Sure enough, there were at least 20 birds covering the roof of my car. I looked around, and saw all the birds had gathered on our car, in a huge huddle on the roof, as if to send a message: "Share the story, share the joy and Merry Christmas!!"
I looked up at the sky and smiled.