In most eyes, Panama City Beach is seen as a dark place full of danger, binging, and evil–especially during Spring Break. This past week, I definitely got to experience all of that first hand while walking the strip at odd hours of the night and telling people about the news that could change their lives if they let it. Honestly, it broke my heart. But, while there was an abundance of scary situations, I want to focus on the people who made PCB so great.
While walking along the beach with my friend Kailey, we met a beautiful character soaking up the sun in her cute little lawn chair. Her name was Barbie. With her nails neatly painted and her hair perfectly done, I quickly decided that her name was quite fitting. But what made me smile the most was her sass and her wit, even in her older age (maybe even BECAUSE of her older age). She called my friend and me over to her perch and our friendship blossomed instantly.
She told us how she was hoping to buy her “dream condo” right off the beach where we were talking (she described it as “paradise”). We discovered that this sweet lady had been a Miss America runner-up in the 1960’s and she was more than happy to tell us all the juicy stories. It didn’t take long to realize that she was so full of life and humor.
I later met Alvin in a small parking lot off of Front Beach Road. He was wearing a pretty sweet hat and an even sweeter smile to match. It was clear to see that Alvin and his best friend Red were homeless. This teensy-weensy detail of their lives didn’t stop them from welcoming every single person who walked by them with open arms. I’ve never felt so at home in a parking lot. Alvin was a cheerful man who had three requests for us. He would say, “One, remember my name. Two, always smile. Three, pray for me.” What a guy.
Alvin had a pretty unique talent for creating flowers out of palm tree branches. These creations were beautiful and it surprised me that this homeless man gave them away to anyone willing to receive his gift. A man who has nothing gives away his masterpieces just to see a stranger smile. I admire that.
On our last night in Panama City Beach, we ran into a wonderful man named Walter while spreading the news about our free van service that ensured the safety of PCB’s visitors. Walter and I began talking and quickly realized that we were practically the same person. Walter’s personality and struggles mirrored mine and we instantly became friends. Just to give you a little example, Walter told me that he wants to help people with his Marketing degree (sound like someone you know?). He described how he loved to make people happy. Seeing me smile was all he wanted and I can tell you that he certainly achieved his goal!
I began to tell Walter my story: the good, the bad, and the ugly. He was so understanding and compassionate. He listened intently and answered everything with a follow-up question or his own thoughts. We talked for about an hour and every minute was filled with kindness and encouragement. You know what he told me? He said that the way I spoke was captivating. Me? Captivating? I know I was stumbling through my words and blurting out whatever odd thought came to my mind (this blog is called Colleen’s Cluttered Collections for a reason) there’s no way I was captivating. And perhaps I wasn’t, but Walter chose to see me as such.
These three stories remind me of someone very special. That’s right, you guessed it: the big man upstairs. Barbie, Alvin, and Walter pointed me to Jesus in the midst of me attempting to show them who He is. Jesus calls us over to His “beach chair” and fills us with life and laughter. He turns our brokenness into a beautiful creation, gives us “flowers” that we don’t deserve, and through our “babbling” and “stuttering,” He sees us as worthy and captivating.
P.S. Walter, I know you’re reading this. I hope it makes you smile as much as you made me smile! I’m praying for you, sweet friend.