Cold run to kick off our first WAWA of the year….so I purposely planned an indoor track run to keep everyone (including me) happy! Afterwards, I asked the group to finish the following passage from scripture:
“Blessed are the poor…..”
Admittedly, I looked up the passage ahead of time so I knew the answer. From the gospel of Matthew, we recall:
“Bless are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:3
Do you ever feel like your life is playing out like a Hollywood script? I do.
Last Saturday morning was another chilly one here in Charlotte, with temps well below 20 degrees. I was up early and drove just up the street to the Starbuck’s over on East Boulevard. I got my normal weekend order for my wife and me….two grande blondes, one with two packets of Spenda (for me) and another with one packet of raw sugar for Janelle. Then, after going back outside in the bitter cold, I jumped into my truck and noticed the gas tank was nearly on empty.
I drove around the corner from the Starbuck’s to the Shell station. No one appeared around the filling pumps; just me and the cold, brisk air. My eyes wandered around as I was pumping the gas to the side of the convenience store. There, a haggard looking, younger man was standing on the side of the building. His dreadlocks added to the stereotypes I immediately placed in my mind. He appeared to be dancing, of sorts, but was really just shifting his weight between both feet, moving his body to stay warm. He had what looked like a fairly warm coat, but it was unzipped. Perhaps the jacket was broken, I wondered. But what really caught my eye was what he had on his feet….shower flip-flops!
Now, like some of you, I tried not to make eye contact for fear of “what I would have to do next”. I simply finished filling my truck with gas, completed the transaction at the pump, and drove off.
But my mind would not leave the image of the freezing, homeless man.
I got back home in relatively short order. Everyone in the house was still asleep so I quietly walked back to the bedroom to take Janelle her coffee. She wrestled somewhat as I placed the hot coffee on her nightstand. And in that groggy, half-awake voice said, “Thank you….that’s so sweet of you.” (Same thing she says every time I bring coffee…)
“I’m going to head back out for a few minutes”, I replied. “I saw this homeless guy by the gas station and I want to take him some warm socks.”
And with that, I reached into my sock drawer in the darkness, found the thick wool socks and headed back out the door.
On the way, I was thinking the man might need a hot meal, so I made plans to hit the ATM first before returning to the gas station. Driving past the station, however, I noticed the man was not outside anymore.
“Where could he be….”, I wondered.
I grabbed twenty dollars from the ATM, and then circled back to the gas station. Then, as if on queue, the man exited the convenience store, clutching a hot cup off coffee that the manager had obviously given him.
I parked my truck directly in front of the store, grabbed the socks and the twenty dollar bill. The man was still having a conversation with himself. So, for the second time that morning, I was having several stereotypes enter my mind.
“Is he crazy?”
“Will he hurt me?”
“Will he steal my truck?”
I approached the man and simply said….
“Good morning. I noticed you as I was pumping gas a few minutes ago. Can I give you these warm socks”?
Then, the man spoke…..with perfect, pleasant grammar, and a smile on his face. His voice was a clear as if I were talking to one of my closest friends.
“Thanks. That’s very kind of you but my feet are really okay. I know it looks bad, but really, I’m okay.”
“Are you sure”, I asked. “It’s very cold out today and will still be cold for the next several days.”
“No. I’m fine, really”, he said.
And all of a sudden, his sidewalk dancing and talking to himself had stopped.
“How about some money? Can I give you something to buy a hot meal”, I asked.
“Yes, that would be great”, he responded.
And with that, I handed him the crisp, ATM twenty-dollar bill.
There was a brief awkwardness as I stood on the sidewalk, looking at this man and wondering “okay…what next”.
“I’m very grateful, my friend” he said to break the silence. And with that, he stuck out his hand for a gentle “fist pump”.
For that brief second, two humans were equal. Two people sharing a fist pump as if to confirm, “I’m okay….and you’re okay too.”
And then I drove off.
The next morning, Sunday morning, I again headed to the Starbuck’s; again in the early morning; again in the freezing cold. Part of me wanted to drive by the gas station again. But another side of me, sadly, wondered what I would do if I saw the man again.
So, sadly, I over-ruled my urges and went the opposite way, avoiding the gas station. Instead, I drove to the Dunkin Doughnuts store, convincing myself that I’d pick up some munchkins for my sons back at the house still sleeping.
Enter God to the story.
I drove around the store to the drive-thru line, but as I did so, I glanced to see one person sitting inside at one of the tables. It was him. I could tell, mostly, because the clothes from the previous day were still on him. Hair was still in dreads, still haggard looking.
I asked the drive-thru attendant, “Is the guest inside your store okay?”
“Oh, yes. We’ve given him some hot food and coffee. He can sit here as long as he wants.”
And, so, I drove off again.
That man’s face has been on my mind for the past several days. Do you know how Hollywood portrays Jesus? Pastor Derek used to refer to Hollywood’s portrayal of a “hot Jesus” many times; the one who’s very clean cut, long but combed hair, perfectly trimmed beard.
But we’ve also seen portrayals of the haggard Jesus, and to me that’s more realistic. It’s more probable that the “real” Jesus from two thousand years ago looked more like the homeless man I witnessed than the Hollywood “hot” one.
God is around us. And sometimes, like in my case, we will get direct reminders of His presence in our lives.
I appreciate, always, that there are no coincidences in life.
I have two prayers this week. First, in the broader sense, my prayer is that we look for those moments when we are called to action; and that we are brave enough to do the right thing. Sadly, I’m not sure I did all that I could for that man.
Secondly, there are those all around us, whether it’s in my hometown of Charlotte, or around the world, who need help. My next prayer is that each of us finds a way to help. In these colder months, it can be life or death to those living on the streets. Find assistance for them; buy them a bus ticket to a shelter, or, if safety is obvious, drive the person to a shelter to stay warm, get a hot meal, etc.
Many churches, locally, also provide temporary lodging and meals through “Room In The Inn” programs. Check your church’s outreach ministry to see where you can volunteer to help out!
And, without sounding too “preachy”, God expects us to do this.
We’re all in this world together.
“…..for theirs is the kingdom of heaven….”