Appreciate your prayers for the Lopez family in Los Angeles. They were good friends of ours and part of Mosaic. Ronald (pictured on the left) died tragically in January leaving behind an ex-wife and 2 little boys, a mom, a dad, two sisters, two brothers-in-law, and a brother. When Caleb was an infant and required a blood transfusion during his open heart surgery, Ronald donated blood to Caleb. Ronald came to a farewell party for us in 2010. We miss him so much.
I was able to spend some time with the parents in February and with their youngest son Rafael, Jr. during a layover in Los Angeles in May. Rafael had wandered from church a few years ago and was obviously struggling with the loss of his big brother. He had always remained spiritual and one of the kindest and most enjoyable people to be around. He gave me his business card so we could keep in touch. He was working full-time at his parents coffee shop – The Porter Junction Cafe near downtown L.A..
Since I’ve seen Rafael, we emailed each other once, and I thought of him and even prayed for him many times. A few times I even thought of specific messages to send him to encourage him – specifically a message from Erwin McManus called “Life’s Toughest Questions: Does God Care?” and one I shared recently at Gateway Church in Austin called “How Do We Know God Cares?”. Unfortunately, I would forget or I would get distracted, and I never did send them.
Tragically, Rafael, Jr. (pictured on the right) died in a car crash on July 9th. As you can imagine, the family is devastated and so am I (along with many others). The parents have now lost 2 sons since the beginning of the year.
I know God was reaching out to Rafael, Jr through others, but I could not help but feel guilty for not reaching out to him more, for not calling him more, for not sending him these messages.
Just after I received confirmation of his tragic accident last Tuesday afternoon (July 10th), I walked to the car from the office and waited for my ride. While I waited, I put my wallet on the top of the car and my computer bag on the ground so I could listen to a couple of voicemails left on my cell phone from others who were calling me about the loss.
Still in a state of shock, once my friend arrived and unlocked his car, I got in the car with my computer bag but I forgot about my wallet. Thirty minutes later I realized what I had done. My wallet flew off the top of the car somewhere in Northwest Austin. I drove through the worst traffic of the day from where I live in South Austin near downtown to see if I could find my wallet. Not only did it have my license, credit cards, and all my gift cards and frequent buyer punch cards, it had Rafael’s business card.
After searching the office parking lot and along the frontage road, I went to a small group. After the small group I came back in the dark to look even more. I went to several of the local businesses hoping someone had turned it in. I looked under the freeway overpass hoping the homeless gentlemen I had seen at the corner earlier had found it and left it there. I didn’t care if all the money was gone, I just wanted my wallet back. Still not finding it, I searched along the frontage road for about 200 yards with a flashlight and in the pouring rain. We’ve had more rain this month in Austin than we had in all of last year, and most of that rain fell on that dark Tuesday night while I searched for my wallet on the side of the road.
Driving away disappointed, I called to cancel my credit cards. The next day I went to go get a new driver’s license. I was certain I would never see my wallet again, and I had lost Rafael’s business card – the last thing he gave me 2 months before his passing.
Somewhere near the end of last week a strange thought crashed into my mind: “when you find your wallet, you will know Rafael is ok.”
I didn’t need my wallet to know he was ok! I know he is in a much better place.
It was such a ridiculous thought that I put it out of my mind. I wasn’t going to pray to find my wallet. I had much more important things to pray for like the Lopez family and all of the family and friends who were grieving. Even still I couldn’t quite shake the idea that God wanted to give me back my wallet as a symbol of his love for Rafael.
I had a chance to talk to Rafael’s mom Annette. She was devastated yet so strong.
I heard from another friend who had been in the same youth group – Daniel Ramirez. He had talked with Rafael more recently and let me know that Rafael had been reconnecting with friends from Mosaic and had even gone to Highlander, Mosaic’s men’s retreat just a few weeks ago.
Still stunned from the loss, I found myself more and more reflecting on the great days we had with Rafael and the wonderful person he was. Spending time on his Facebook page, I found several of his friends had created pictures of him with some of the poetic and insightful words he had shared over the years. He had always been so mature for his age.
On Monday, July 16th I received a phone call from Ontario, Canada. Even though I was at the swimming pool with my family, I answered it so I wouldn’t have to call back and get charged international rates. As soon as she introduced herself as being with American Express, I realized that was the one credit card I forgot to cancel. I assumed I was about to be asked about all sorts of crazy charges someone else had made on my card. Instead she told me she had a woman on the other line who had found my wallet.
Still feeling this was too good to be true, I set up a time to meet with her at a Starbucks in Northwest Austin. I brought a copy of Chasing Daylight: Seizing Your Divine Moment by Erwin McManus thinking it would be a nice gift for her, and I bought her a Starbucks gift card. Sherry was easy to spot because she put my wallet on the table next to her, but the wallet was much, much thinner. All of my frequent buyer cards, half my credit cards, my driver’s license, and Rafael’s business card were all missing, but all of the cash ($21) and several of my credit cards were in there.
I gave Sherry the book and then told her the story of Rafael and how this wallet means more to me than usual. The fact I had my wallet again meant Rafael was ok. I knew he was ok, but God confirmed it in a miraculous way.
Sherry said she had goosebumps. She explained that the night before she had begun reading a book on divine signs as part of her spiritual quest. The day before she had been at her ex-husband’s funeral. She felt for certain that this meeting was not an accident. I agreed with her. I believed God was pursuing her and offered to talk more in the near future.
She later explained that she hadn’t called to find me for a week since she had been dealing with the loss of her ex-husband. She had seen my wallet in the middle of the road, so she slowed down enough to pick it up and then threw it on the floorboard. She had forgotten about it until that day when she saw it under her seat in her car.
She promised she would go back to where she found it the next day to look for the cards. She had seen several papers in the grass next to the road. She was especially hoping to find Rafael’s business card for me. She explained where she found it – near the Pennzoil Automotive Center on Duval Road.
After I got back in the car where Debbie had been waiting for me, I decided I wanted to go look for those cards too. Seemed like a crazy idea now that it was dark and nearly a week since I had lost my wallet. What were the odds they would still be there after a week – a week filled with thunderstorms?
Driving down Duval Road, I could not find a Pennzoil Automotive. Before giving up, I thought I would drive by where I had originally looked a week before. Up ahead I saw a Meinecke Car Center near McNeil Drive and thought that perhaps she had remembered the location incorrectly. As we parked and got out of the car with our flashlight, I saw Sherry was already there looking in the grass and bushes along the frontage road. She was there to find Rafael’s business card for me.
She pointed at the place in the road where she found my wallet. In the rain a week before I looked all along the frontage road all the way down to a road sign. She had found my wallet 10 feet away from that road sign. If I had kept going 10 more feet beyond the road sign, I would have started finding the contents of my wallet that had blown all over the place. For the next half hour, we found several different cards including my health insurance card, my frequent buyer card to Progress Café in East Austin, my stamps, and on and on. Finally, I could see it somewhat buried beneath the grass. I found Rafael’s business card.
Rafael made this world a better place, and he is now experiencing a life with God so much better than we could ever imagine. My heart still hurts from losing Rafael and I am continuing to pray for his family and other friends that are also grieving, but in the midst of this pain – God spoke to me and He did something miraculous to bring comfort, to show Sherry how real He is, and to show how much He loves Rafael.
Jesus talked about God’s pursuit of us is like the way we go after a lost coin or a lost sheep or a lost son. I have another example of God’s love for us – a lost wallet that was found.
Rafael’s memorial service will be held Saturday July 21, 11am at Mosaic (7107 Hollywood Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90046). To help his family with the expenses, click here.