It is important for the understanding of this essay to know where I am in my Christian walk. I am a young Christian, not yet two years old, having been saved at the age of 25 in May of 2012. I crosswalked for the first time at approximately six months of age by the encouragement of a dear brother, and the following is the story of how it all happened and what it meant to a newborn in Christ.
First things first—what is crosswalking?
I didn't know either until I met Vernon Costolo, who joined Grace Church of Alpharetta (enjoygrace.com) around the same time I did. What drew me to him was his role as the Georgia Representative for Way of the Master. Before our acquaintanceship, I had been invested pretty heavily into the sermons and videos of Way of the Master, learning from Ray and Kirk the basics of evangelism. Of course, being a newborn in Christ, I was filled with a fiery passion for the Lord and a near gluttonous hunger for the things of righteousness—and certainly eager to share. So, with my foundational knowledge in evangelistic tactics and a desire to hit the frontlines, I approached Vernon, fancying myself to be an able soldier to join the ranks.
I was quickly discouraged.
Vernon was perfectly friendly, certainly an active and seasoned evangelist, an able teacher, and all other things pleasant and agreeable except for one thing. He was not currently into the tracting and 1-on-1 witnessing that I was eager to begin. At the time, he was doing something I had never heard of: crosswalking.
Vernon was in the middle of a personal mission to crosswalk for 100 consecutive days, so naturally, that was what he invited me to do. He wanted me...to hold a cross in public.
Presently, carrying a cross doesn't at all sound unreasonable but rather very natural. But, for a 25-year-old new Christian who had lived a deeply secular lifestyle, walking around with a cross in public sounded very...extreme, radical, fundamentalist, and downright awkward. To my shame, I parried his invitations.
My excuses were valid though not substantial. He would invite me out on days that I had plans, but if I truly wanted to go, I could have moved things around in my schedule. Instead, I latched on to my "plans," knowing they were saving me from what I imagined to be a nauseating public shame.
But, it is here that I want to make the first beautiful point of it all. In the end, Vernon won. Though, it is how he won that is so profound. He conquered me through a basic yet powerful Christian force.
Surely, you've been invested in an intense game of checkers in which you have a single king left, at a disadvantage to your opponent, who, in heated chase, slowly shepherds you into a corner of the board through superior moves or greater numbers. This was the effect I experienced. In this case, Vernon was the shepherd.
He used no real force in his invitations—never once urged me with sternness, never referenced authoritatively the many appeals of Scripture to evangelize, never rebuked my rejections, never showed a glimmer of disappointment or discouragement. Certainly, these things have their places, but loving persistence is exceedingly more aligned to the character of the Lord and His mercy and longsuffering towards all of us. Consider how the Lord has endured you with gentleness before you turn from patient loving-kindness to sterner methods in the treatment of brothers and sisters.
Vernon persisted in love—his only tools, a question, a smile, and repetition. Soon enough, I was cornered and fresh out of "plans." He invited me when there were no excuses, and I had to decide: yes or no. Here, is where we explore the second simple, beautiful point.
You can look through the blinds for only so long at the one knocking at the door; no one convinced of a Sovereign God can long ignore a repetitious appeal, knowing that the Lord Himself ordained each recurring invitation. The knocks, it seemed, grew louder although Vernon's appeals were consistently cordial. And though some may not receive the divine order to crosswalk, I did. I knew in my heart that God wanted me to hold His cross, literally. He sent Vernon to my door again and again, and utterly cornered, I had to choose either obedience or cowardice and hypocrisy.
Although my mind raged and my stomach turned, defeated by grace, I said, "yes."
At this point, I had agreed to obey but hadn't yet obeyed. The moment of truth was to be Saturday morning—at one of the busiest intersections in the city of Roswell.
The time between the invitation and my Saturday debut spun about with the same sort of hysteria that I imagine any civilization would endure had news arrived of an incoming meteor of end-all magnitude. With any looming crisis, time works in extremes—in the frenzy of hurried preparations, the time speeds away impossibly fast, but when a moment is taken to reflect, to step outside the blurry craze of humanity, the time melts unceasingly slow. In this delirium, Saturday dawned.
I rose to my normal activities—shower, clothes, breakfast—but they were all a lie. No routine activities could disguise my uneasiness. The time soon arrived to make the 15-minute drive to the intersection of Alpharetta Highway and Holcomb Bridge, and I was ready, at least, superficially.
My car started as it had every time before, and I pulled out of the neighborhood with habitual ease. Though, the lie of normalcy, which had been thoroughly fissured by a week's reflection, began to fragment into harsh, jagged pieces. My heart started pumping, more and more with each mile. I was told to meet behind the Chick-fil-a at the intersection, and fortunately, I arrived first. There was time to cope with the reality of the task and seek encouragement from the Lord.
A nervous, shaky mess, I resorted to prayer, begging for inspiration to hold His cross with zeal and joy. My pleas were answered with silence. So, naturally, I flipped open my Bible to a random page, and began looking for that Providential nugget of wisdom to cure my anxieties. (I imagine that God, in His great wisdom, placed the Psalms and Proverbs in the center of Scripture for the desperate wretch, who, in a panicked search for encouragement, peels open the Bible naturally at its middle.) Though, this time, no verse I jumped to gave me the slightest comfort. I was utterly without aid and left to endure my nauseating circumstances. At this realization, promptly, Vernon arrived.
It is here that I saw something I have yet to comprehend. I have nowhere encountered a smile like the one I received in that moment. Vernon, having just parked his car, looked from the driver's seat, and smiled at me with a length and focus that baffled me. It was made of the same stuff, I'm sure, that inspired such loving persistence from him before. Indeed, it was a lovingly persistent smile, not easily exhausted, fueled by genuine and fervent Christian affection. It was the first of its kind I had seen.
Though I would later reflect on this smile for my own edification, at the time, it was no remedy for my angst. We got out of our cars, thanked the Lord for the opportunity, and headed to the corner. In this painful hike, I found a final hope on which to gamble all my confidence. I figured, since it was my first time crosswalking, that they would go easy on me. Surely, they wouldn't expect such a young Christian, on his first march to the frontlines, to hold a cross at such a populated intersection!
We arrived at the corner, and I was told rather unceremoniously (though I don't remember exact words), "here's your cross, that's your corner, see you in two hours." All hope was lost as I took in my hands the cross I would bear.
To reach the little island I would patrol, in front of the Stoney River restaurant (which is still my corner to this day), I had to cross the street. Staring at the ground, I passed in front of the waiting cars, whose headlights felt like burning beams of judgment. I had come out as a Christian to several people close to me and met with opposition, but I had never put my foot down in firm and loving protest for Christ to the unsaved world at large. Standing alone on my island, I knew, in a few brief moments, that I would do just that.
Naturally, I stalled. I pulled out my headphones and scrolled through my songs and fidgeted with my tracts and did any little thing that might delay the lifting of the cross for another instant. Eventually, I ran out of tricks, and then, with as much fake confidence as I could muster, I lifted the cross and faced the rush of passing cars.
I acted as if I wanted to be there, but I was miserable. It was in these minutes that I began to have a serious existential crisis and to question my very identity. I am aware of the theological conflicts of the questions I asked, but the severity of the situation inspired a sincere set of inquiries into my young Christian faith:
"What am I doing?"..."Who am I?"..."Am I a Christian?"..."Is this what I want to do for the rest of my life?"
These are the sorts of things I pondered as I was in the thick of the most uncomfortable moment in recent memory. I was holding a cross in public! There are lifelong Christians who would cringe at the thought, but at six months, I was thrust into the deep end. Consequently, I questioned everything.
Though, soon enough, the questions died out to a pensive silence. I stood there holding a cross, as the cars passed and wafted the wind upon my bubble of meditation. It felt in those brief, quiet seconds as if the world continued hastily even though time had been suspended. Serenity had swept in and captured everything in its balmy embrace. Then, I calmly answered my own questions:
"Yes...I am a Christian...Lord, I don't want to do this...I'm miserable...but, You are worthy of it."
I stood there, cross lifted high, with a numb endurance, having just agreed to what at the time seemed to be a lifetime of uncomfortable confession of Christ. I pictured myself through the coming years holding a cross in tepid acquiescence, but I had accepted my lot and believed Christ to be worthy of it. There was no going back.
I simply obeyed.
With no zeal, I endured the duty for a few more minutes in a tranquil enclave of thought and experience. Then, it happened.
Joy! Joy from nowhere and everywhere consumed me. The Lord shined His face upon me and filled my heart with fire! Oh, to hold His cross! It all made sense. There was eternal purpose in it, and privilege, and love, and glory, and joy and all things good! I was a Christian, and I happily held the cross until our work was done.
The timing of the Lord is an amazing thing. I finished my first crosswalk renewed in so many ways, and though I have often felt anxious before a crosswalk, it has always ended with joyful edification.
I thank brother Vernon for leading the way and giving me a powerful avenue to represent the Lord Jesus Christ.
All glory to God.