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Sue Left Hand

 

 They’re like missing people. Sometimes I’ll meet them on the street and wonder if someone is looking for them, because no matter how lost we may become, everyone leaves a trail. Whether it’s friends, family, enemies, lovers, ex-lovers, husbands, wives, children, pets, or maybe just the residue of the things we leave behind. Sometimes, however, people simply disappear. The trail vanishes, and they are gone, swallowed up by the outer dark, only to resurface as one of the nameless rabble, haunting street corners and underpasses, searching for warmth.

Maybe they vanish because of poor decisions they’ve made, or bad circumstances, or to escape abuse, or perhaps they have no money, no job, and believe that they have no future. We pass them on street corner after street corner, in towns and cities of all sizes. We wonder who they are.

Or maybe we don’t. Most of us simply don’t have the time to talk to them. We have our own lives, our own problems. We have families that need us. Why should we care? We are not lost. Surely, their fate is in their own hands. They’re just looking for a handout, right? We work for a living, why should we give out our hard earned money to a bunch of lazy bums?

We don’t always feel this way, of course. Sometimes we take pity. Sometimes we feel really badly for them. And then other times we just think of them as the nameless rabble. But, they have lives. They have stories. They have a place in this world. The nameless rabble is never name-less.

So if you need a name to put with the faces that you see on the street corners, here’s one: Sue Left Hand. She’s another in the small list of people that I’ve walked up to, talked with and prayed for.

On February 18, 2011, I met Sue Left Hand in the Sam’s parking lot. I know the date because I wrote it down in a document entitled ‘People I’ve Met On the Street’ which is filed away in my computer collecting digital dust. It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything on this blog although there are other people that I’ve prayed for, I just haven’t written about them yet. As I was running through the subpar writing of my notes, many of the names and circumstances had slipped my mind. Several times, I’ve uttered, “Oh yeah, I remember that guy (or girl).” Up until now, I’ve tried to write about everyone in order, but I think that I’m going to jettison that because whenever I think about writing another post on this blog, I always think of a name that is further down the list. I always think of Sue Left Hand.

She’s about five foot two, a good foot shorter than me. As I was getting gas at Sam’s, I saw her standing by the exit. Dark skinned and diminutive, I got the feeling that Sue was not as old as her appearance would have me believe. Deep crevasses lined her face. I parked the car and walked up to her, handed her five bucks and introduced myself. She shook my hand and told me her name. I had to ask her twice to repeat it. ‘Sue Lefland’, I thought she was saying. Then she annunciated a little more clearly, and at the same time the cobwebs were brushed out of my head and it clicked. Two names: Left, Hand. She’s Native American. I knew that when I saw her, but my brain had to catch up.

After that we began to talk. She was slightly hunched over as she spoke and I had a feeling that she might have been drinking earlier that day. Dirty, thinning, jet-black hair framed her face and came down to her shoulders.

Sue told me that her son had committed suicide in 2000. She didn’t say how old he was, but judging by the fact that Sue was probably in her late 40’s or early 50’s, he couldn’t have been that old. She told me about sleeping at the shelter and being kicked out at six in the morning. It was difficult to follow her at times since she was slurring somewhat.

After listening to her for a bit, I asked Sue if I could pray for her. She said that I could. I asked her if there was anything specific that she wanted me to pray for. Sue told me that her granddaughter had just died within the past few months. She had been eleven years old. I didn’t ask what had happened and Sue didn’t say. The lines around her face seemed to deepen as she told me again that her granddaughter had only been eleven. After that there was an awkward silence.

“Pray for my daughter,” Sue finally said then looked at the ground.

“What’s her name?” I asked.

“Antoinette.”

I reached out and touched Sue’s shoulder and began to pray. I bowed my head and so did she. We stood there as the wind gusted around us on a chilly February day in Santa Fe, New Mexico: a tall white guy, still in his work clothes and a short, dark Native American woman enigmatically named Sue Left Hand who had arroyos of age and pain etched into her face. I fumbled through my prayer, but I knew that God heard this one. I felt it.

When I was finished, Sue said, “I believe in Him, too.”

“Really? That’s good,” I replied, uncomfortably, because even though we had just shared this moment with God, I still feel strange when people profess things to me. Especially when it has to do with God.

“I can hear Him talking to me now,” she said.

I froze.

“You can hear Him now?” I managed to sputter.

Sue was silent. She was no longer looking at me. Her eyes weren’t focused on anything in particular, at least not on anything in the material world where we stood. Suddenly, all the sounds that had been surrounding us, the horns honking, the clicking of the gas pumps, the revving of engines, the cars driving by and the incidental voices, went silent. We could have been anywhere. My heart was beating fast as I waited for Sue to respond.

“Yes, I can hear him now,” she said.

I wasn’t sure what to say. Then Sue filled in the gap. “He’s telling me to turn to Him.” Then she looked at me and seemed to snap back into the world. The sounds returned all at once and we were next to the gas pumps in front of Sam’s.

“He’s telling me to turn to Him,” she repeated.

I don’t remember much of what Sue said after that. It’s a bit of a blur. I know that I ached for Sue. That much was certain. I also felt like God breathed on us as we stood there. Maybe breathed isn’t the right word. Perhaps it’s more like God brushed us as He walked by. But I knew He was there, if only for a moment. That floored me. I realize that God is with us always, but we don’t always perceive it. Well, this was one of those times that the doors of perception were opened, and it was almost overwhelming.

Before I turned to go, Sue gave me a hug, her frail body tight against mine. Walking back to my car, Sue called out to me.

“It will come back to you double,” she cried.

I smiled, waved and got back into my car.

Trust me, Sue, it already has.

 
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Posted by on October 12, 2011 in Sue Left Hand

 

The Sins of the Father

The Sins of the Father

Two weeks ago, I prayed for my father. It was a Thursday. I prayed for him not from a distance, but standing at his side with my hand resting on his upper arm. I’ve prayed for him in private before, but this was the first time that I’ve ever prayed over him. I’m still stunned by the experience. I’ve barely been able to talk about it, much less write it down. I think I’m still in shock about what God can make possible.

We had been talking on his back porch that afternoon. I hadn’t seen him in months, and frankly, I had been agonizing over getting in touch with him. We don’t always see eye to eye and more than once our visits have devolved into petty bickering, or worse. We have little in common and somehow a deep-seated resentment has built up over the years. Him and my mom were divorced when I was five. Mom got custody. I don’t think he’s ever gotten over it. Mainly, I think because he lost. My father is a proud, stubborn man and he needed to win that fight, and he didn’t. Part of me says, Tough shit. Another part of me is more forgiving. I don’t know what’s it’s like to have a son who is being raised by the other parent. I don’t have children. So it must be quite a blow, and I can sympathize.

A little.

In a nutshell, I am angry with my father. I didn’t see a whole lot of him growing up. My mother raised me and I’m grateful for that. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. I’ve never really stood up to him, either. When I was younger, he was godlike to me. Untouchable. A mystery. But now, when I’m around him I just kind of check out or we snip back and forth about politics or whatever. Sometimes we get along. He can be a funny man. He’s not a tyrant. He’s just a man who feels like something has been taken from him.

I can’t forget that.

I’m not going to air all our dirty laundry. What’s the point? Most men have complicated relationships with their fathers. It’s nothing new. My father and I don’t communicate well. We never have. How is that different from most other men?

The night before I went to see him, I felt God moving me to pray for him. That word seemed to come out of nowhere. I know it didn’t, but that’s what it felt like. Months ago I started praying for strangers on the street. God was preparing me for this moment.

You want me to pray for him? In the flesh? Really?

I didn’t have to ask. I had my answer. In a flash, I knew God had been laying some groundwork. He was preparing me for something I never thought I would do: lay my hand on father’s shoulder and pray for him.

The thing is, though, I wasn’t scared. I felt at peace. Nervous, but calm. I felt like a prayer that I had been praying for many years was answered. Not just my prayer, many people’s prayers. God’s solution is so simple and so profound. Pray for those who persecute you…

Sitting on the porch with my father, I told him about Five Bucks and a Prayer. I told him that I prayed for people on the streets. Then I hemmed and hawed a bit, told him some more about the blog, talked around what I wanted to say, and finally I took the plunge.

Dad, I’d like to pray for you, if that’s okay.

Last year, my father lost his wife. She battled health problems for years. Finally, it got the best of her. It had taken years for the two of them to get together. They had dated when they were younger, but circumstances broke them apart. Through many years and different lives in different states, they found each other again. They were married in 2000. The same year Ginger and I were married. The same year my mother remarried.

I know my Dad has had a difficult time since she died. Who wouldn’t? My mom lost her husband in 1998. A drunk driver killed him. Nothing can prepare you for that kind of loss. Nothing can make the grief pass any quicker. It takes years to reach some kind of acceptance.

It’s going to be a long journey for him.

I’m not going to write about the prayer that I prayed for my father. Maybe I will someday.

Maybe not.

For now, I think I’m going to keep it to myself. But, if anyone out there has a minute, pray for my father.

His name is Charles Russell, Sr. For the past few years, he has gone by Chuck not Charles.

Last year he lost his wife.

He has a difficult relationship with his son.

He is in need of some intercession.

He is in need of God’s love.

Just like every last one of us.

 
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Posted by on April 29, 2011 in Dad

 

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Painting of the Day

Painting of the Day.

 
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Posted by on April 20, 2011 in Travis

 

The Confidence Man and The Burden of Belief

Lately, I’ve slipped. The blog has been neglected. I have more stories to tell, but it’s been hard to gather myself to write and post. I’m scattered most of the time. Not that I was ever the most grounded person, but I’m worse lately. Granted, my wife and I have been stretched thin. Between Texas and what’s left of our lives back in Santa Fe, it’s been a strange time. We don’t know exactly where to be.

Well, that’s not really true. We know where we want to be, and that’s Texas.

We want to be home.

The problem is that we don’t know exactly where we want to live and what we want to do. Conveniently, my wife and I are going through a bit of a mid-life crisis at the same time. She has been on her journey and I ‘ve been on mine. Some days it’s difficult to depend on each other. There isn’t always a stronger party. We both feel shattered.

Bear with me, this probably isn’t going to be the most coherent of posts, but I’ll do my best to ramble as little as possible.

Life has been turned upside down since Ginger’s mother died. God has provided at every turn, but waiting on Him has been difficult, to put it mildly. To give you an idea of where I’m coming from, I want to fill in a little of what’s happened in the past couple of years.

I’ll be brief.

In August of 2008, the construction company that I had been with for almost seven years went under. That was scary at the time, but it turned out to be a blessing. On October 31st, 2008, my brother-in-law, Josh, moved in with us. He was 25 at the time. That proved to be a whole other layer of difficulty, although he has risen to his potential on so many levels. Frankly, it’s been a miracle to watch him change and grow. Anyway, I’ll talk about him some other time.

The day after Josh moved in, November 1st, my wife and I had to put our dog, Bear, to sleep. He wasn’t yet three years old, but he had a congenital defect and over the course of several months his health declined. He was still young, so when he would have his bad times, he would be able to rally. Ultimately though, he just had nothing left in the tank. Food wasn’t absorbing into his body. He was slowly starving.

At the end he could barely walk, much less eat. After going from vet to vet, and having test after test performed, we came to the conclusion that there was nothing left to do for him. I could ask no more of him. It was one of the worst days of my life. I still feel like I failed him. I could not make him better. I couldn’t take the pain away.

I know that some will say he was just a dog. Okay, that’s true, but I’ll say this: I loved him unguardedly. That may seem like an odd thing to say, but it’s true. For someone who has been so closed off with the majority of his human relationships, it was good to know that I had the capacity for letting the castle gate down over the mote. Bear was the beginning of something, I believe. An opening up. When he died it was devastating. I mourned for that dog. I was pissed at God for not doing anything. It’s taken a long time to get to where I can talk about Bear without tearing up.

Now, we have a new dog, Toto. We got him a little over a month ago. He’s no Bear, but no dog could be. He’s Toto. And that’s a good thing.

Sorry, I kind of got sidetracked, but that’s what life is, right? Sidetracks. If life were a straight line with no curves and no detours, what would be interesting about that?

Anyway, at the beginning of 2009, I started trying to lose weight. I’ve written about this before. At the time I started, I just wanted to feel better. I wanted to lose 20 lbs. I ended up losing 65 that year. I played tennis. I walked almost every day. I ate better. At the start of 2010, I took a full load at the Community College in Santa Fe. Photoshop. Photographing Artwork. Portfolio Development. Office Technologies. Something else, but it’s slipping my mind right now. The classes were geared to get me to embrace technology, but I also had a foggy notion of getting my art career off the ground. I mean, really trying to get my stuff out there. I had been somewhat of a go-getter in the early days, but after my museum show in 2003, I had done less and less to promote my work. The work kept piling up, but it didn’t go anywhere. Occasionally, I would sell a piece to a friend, but that’s it. When I began to take the classes in 2010, a funny thing happened. I lost my taste for painting. It didn’t happen overnight, but I noticed that I was becoming more interested in other mediums like photography.

And writing.

At the end of the year, I moved out of the studio. I had been in that building for close to ten years. In the process of moving out, I threw away four dumpsters full of work. It was intense. Hüsker Dü was in heavy rotation, blaring out of the speakers every day. Probably annoying the neighbors. I have a whole new appreciation for ‘Zen Arcade’ and ‘New Day Rising’ now.

I kept some paintings: all of the work from the museum show and some scattered pieces. I also kept almost every Confidence Man painting. This was my dark western self-portrait. It’s sort of like a graphic novel. I kept around sixty of them. When I was working on them, I didn’t know I was working on an autobiography. Everyone else that saw them seemed to know that, but they never told me. The paintings are good. I just wish someone else had done them. In my hands, they have little chance of seeing the light of day. They will sit in storage because I’m crouched in the corner licking my wounds. Nursing my defeat. I failed. That’s the way it feels. I’ve got nothing to show for all those years of my life.

What a waste.

Now, I write. The problem is that I start all these projects, but don’t follow through, now. I’m gun-shy. Anytime I think about continuing on the short stories I’ve started or the novel, or the screenplay, I think about the years I spent painting. All the hours and the commitment that I put into that. All for nothing. They sit in a storage unit. In a few weeks, I will remove them from that location and transfer them to a big red trailer. There, they will sit. Waiting for someone to rescue them from oblivion.

When I think of writing, I think of the dust collecting in the brushstrokes of those paintings. I don’t want that to happen again. But, it’s overwhelming. I tell people that I write now, and I’m embarrassed of what they will think. He’s on to something else, now. What a loser.

A couple of years ago, I read a collection of Flannery O’Connor’s letters. She wrote “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”, a couple of novels and a bunch of astonishingly brutal short stories. She was a devout southern Catholic who raised peacocks. She died at 39. Within this large collection of correspondences, there are religious discussions, recounts of daily life, schedules of some of her upcoming speaking engagements, some advice to other writers and the occasional review. Flannery had wildly eclectic tastes in literature and was very forthcoming in her praise or damnation of other’s work. One particular review was of a new book by Martin Amis. She said that the book was rather weak and shallow. His first book had been noteworthy and interesting, she explained, but she probably would not pick up another. Her reason was that Amis seemed to be a man who was not “burdened with belief”. In other words, the struggle for faith had been conveniently removed from his work and when that happens, all that is left is surface.

Whether we choose to believe it or not, the search for something that is greater than ourselves is the central concern of mankind. It always has been. You can’t just take a black magic marker and blot out God. Well, you can, but you’re destroying what makes you human to begin with. It is built into our natures to seek for a higher power. We may settle for things that are less, but somehow we know it’s incomplete. U2 said it best in “Mofo”, I’ve been looking for a way to fill this God-shaped hole.

Exactly.

My character, the Confidence Man, was on this journey. Searching for a higher power, settling for something less. Much less, in most cases. The final painting that I worked on in that series featured the Confidence Man naked and passed out in a chair. A woman was lying in the small bed beside him, struggling to get up. I was imagining an opium den. The light in the painting is orange and oppressive. The brushstrokes slash. It was the first time I showed the Confidence man up close. There are no barriers. He is defenseless. I left him in that den. I left him with no salvation, no redemption, and no hope.

I left him in hell.

Why did I do that? Maybe I left him there because I felt that he deserved no better.

That wasn’t my plan. The Confidence Man, in truth, was a fictional imagining of the life of the thief on the cross. The one that was crucified beside Christ. The one who was told by Christ that he would be in Paradise later that day.

The man was a thief. That’s all the Bible says about him. And that’s the reason I chose the name for my character: the confidence man. It is a term that originated in the 19th century. A confidence man was a deceiver. It was shortened in later years to its more familiar form: con man.

Again, I ask myself, why did I abandon him? That’s not the end of the story. That’s not what’s supposed to happen.

Perhaps I just gave up on him.

The disturbing thing is that the Confidence Man seems to be my doppelgänger. And if that’s true, then what does that say about me? Have I given up as well? Have I given up on myself, like I gave up on him? Do I feel like I deserve no better than to be abandoned to the darkness? I feel like I have promoted myself to judge, jury and executioner. The sentence is death, or at least anonymity. I have cast myself into the outer dark.

 

I realize that this seems like a rather deep analysis of a character from a group of paintings that haven’t seen the light of day. But it’s more than that. I worked on those for almost five years. I got to know this guy. I got to know a little about myself as well. Eventually, all those paintings would make their way into the world at large. That’s what I thought would happen. But it didn’t.

 

Maybe this comes off as whining. I don’t know. But, for all those years I believed that I was on the road to something great. Something extraordinary. Perhaps I’m in the midst of it, but it doesn’t feel that way. It just feels like failure. I didn’t think that I would be some anonymous eccentric creating strange outsider art in his garage. I wanted more than that. Now, I feel like all I have left on the creative front is uncertainty.

Don’t get me wrong. This is my fault. The world didn’t fail to understand me, or anything like that. I quit trying. That’s it. And now, I can’t seem to shake this feeling that anything I do from here on out is bound to fail. This is a bad place to be. A dangerous place.

I have no answers, but I will say this: the Confidence Man deserves better from me.

I deserve better from me.

 
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Posted by on April 8, 2011 in The Burden of Belief

 

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You Forgot Something…(Hey Joe)

I was leaving the bank in front of Pier One when I saw Joe. He caught me by surprise, so I didn’t have time to pull over, park the car and get out. It was sometime in the afternoon. Still cold. This was in late January of this year. I eased the car over, rolled down the window and held out a five. He put his left hand on the car door and leaned into the car slightly.

“Here ya go, man,” I said.

“Hey, thanks,” he said and his hand lingered on the door and he kept looking at me.

Do I know this guy? I thought. What is he waiting for?

I couldn’t park and pray for this man. Cars were behind me and there was no way to pull off to the side.

“God bless you,” I said in weak consolation.

“You too,” he said and removed his hand from the window.

He was young. Maybe early thirties, maybe close to forty. It was a little hard to tell. He didn’t look to be as road weary as some of the other people I’ve met. I pressed the gas and threaded the Explorer into traffic.

Stopping at the traffic light at Zafarano, I kept trying to figure out if I knew this guy or not. He didn’t look familiar, but maybe his face just wasn’t clicking. His expectant look was gnawing at me though. Did he know something? Did he have some kind of intuition about me? That seems crazy, but so does praying for strangers on the side of the street.

Should I go back?

I already knew the answer to that.

I looked over my shoulder and eased into the lane to my right. Then I did it again. I knew I could make my way back if I turned at the Giant store. Traffic was getting to be heavy and it took me a few minutes, but I pulled into the lot by the Blue Corn Café and parked the car in front of Pier One.

I got out, walking towards this guy, feeling strange about coming back. At first he didn’t see me. Then a car honked and the man seated on the concrete in front of me returned the wave of the person in the car, who, I think honked because of the sign the seated man was holding; enigmatically, it said, You Dropped Your Smile. I hadn’t noticed it the first time I drove past.

When the man finally noticed me, a thin smile crossed his face. He didn’t appear to be confused by my reappearance. I think he knew I might return.

“So, I was told to come back here and pray for you,” I said with both hands stuffed into my pockets. Looking at his eyes, I was searching for a sign, or something, to tell me that I was supposed to turn around and come back here.

“Cool,” his watery blue eyes offering nothing but a greeting.

“I’m Chuck,” I said, trying to remain in the moment.

“My name’s Joe.”

“Nice to meet you, Joe.”

Joe was recently clean-shaven. He had dirty blond hair and dark, formerly black, jeans. He wore a black and yellow plaid shirt and a black jacket. I can’t remember what material the jacket was made of. Denim, maybe.

“Where you headed, Joe?”

“Not sure, I’ve been up in Cuba. You know, for the Rainbow Gathering?”

“Yeah…yeah, of course.”

Not Castro’s Cuba, New Mexico’s. It always throws me.

“I was there for a while, but I’ve been in New Mexico for about three years, I guess…”

Then Joe launched into a convoluted story about why he’d been in New Mexico for so long. His tale suggested that it wasn’t by choice and I recall it having a vague conspiratorial air to it. I don’t remember any of the details.

Joe had never gotten up during our exchange. He sat on the ground leaning against the stop sign, looking up at me. His short, dirty-blond hair gusting in the winter wind.

“Joe, do you mind if I pray for you?”

“Sure, that’d be cool.”

“Is there anything that you want me to pray for?”

“I guess…just in general. You know…everything.”

“Okay.”

I stood over Joe and prayed for him, my hand resting on his shoulder. Joe had bowed his head and placed his elbows on his knees. He looked to be staring at the concrete between his legs. Joe still held the sign; it rested on his bent legs while I prayed.

God help Joe. Let him know You love him. Help him find his way.

I patted Joe on the shoulder as I left, and once more told him that it was nice to meet him. Lingering a little, I suppose, thinking that I was going to receive some secret message. A word from God. Why else did I have to make such an effort to get back here?

Walking away, it struck me.

I had to come back for Joe. God wanted me to stand in the gap for him, even though I didn’t pray for anything in particular. It was for Joe. Not for me.

That’s easy to lose sight of. I’m constantly questioning God. Asking Him why I need to do something. What am I going to get out of this? Is this good for me? How am I going to be blessed? That day, I didn’t have choirs of angels of singing, simply because I obeyed. That never happens, anyway. What I got was a guy named Joe, a man sitting on the side of the road holding a sign.

I got the opportunity to pray for that man.

I got the opportunity to pray for another human being. Another soul.

There is no greater honor.

As I was still walking towards the car, Joe called out, “Hey!”

I turned around, and Joe held up his sign and pointed at it, grinning.

You Dropped Your Smile, the sign told me.

Joe lifted his hand and waved.

I waved back, and got in my car, smiling.

 

Thinking back on it, maybe I got my message after all.

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on March 23, 2011 in Joe

 

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Rocky and Bullwinkle

When I met these two, the sun had already gone down. Winter had truly set in and they were standing in front of Wal-Mart holding a sign. They were in their early twenties, at the most. They could have been teenagers. For the life of me, I cannot remember the guy’s name. Let’s call him Bullwinkle, which actually sort of fits.

You’ll see.

Bullwinkle was a thin, white kid with curly, dark brown hair. Think Harry Hamlin in “Clash of the Titans”. He wasn’t quite as strapping as Harry, but he was a good-looking kid. He wore a white shirt with thin blue stripes. In my mind he’s not wearing a jacket, but that can’t be right. It was cold that night. After several months, my memory of him is that of a kid who could be working at the mall. Maybe at a place like Hollister’s. You know one those kids wearing a flannel shirt that has the sleeves already rolled up for you.

 

Bullwinkle had a drum. It was a tom-tom, really. He was slowly beating it as the cars passed him, pulling out of the Wal-Mart parking lot. As I crossed the grass towards them, I began to be a little intimidated. I’m almost forty years and, I’m still spooked by kids who seem cooler than me. Adolescent pain runs deep, apparently.

 

What are these two numbskulls doing out here? I thought. I’ll bet they have a tattered copy of “On the Road” tucked somewhere in their packs. Is this some sort of traveling fantasy? The Great American Quest for the Self? This bitterness blazed through my head, and I felt like a fool. Self-defense had kicked in and within a few seconds, I had written off these two as silly children, in over their heads.

Even so, I held the money in my hand. This time, since there were two people, I pulled out a little more than five dollars. I believe that I had eight bucks. I gave them seven.

“How’s it going?” I asked as I handed the five and two singles over. I was trying hard to act casual.

“Wow, thanks man. We might have enough to get a room tonight,” he said as he looked over at his companion whose face was hidden within a furry gray hood pulled over her head. She was sitting on one of their bags. The sodium lights gave of all of us an orange glow, and the traffic light punctuated the scene with green, red and yellow.

Bullwinkle looked back at me, “Hey, man. How are things with you?” Bullwinkle threw my greeting back at me with a disarming openness. His eyes were unguarded and 100% focused on mine.

“Good…good. Where are you guys from?” I looked away from his gaze. My annoyance was beginning to dissipate.

I can’t remember what Bullwinkle said, but the girl stood up then and said, ”Utah.”

“What are your names?” I asked both of them, but I was looking at her. The girl was beautiful. Dark, olive skin. She could have been Hispanic. What was this girl doing on the streets? What were either of them doing out here? I didn’t think they were on a voyage of self-discovery anymore. These two were running from something. Or someone.

He told me his name, which, of course, I ‘ve forgotten. She said her name was Rocky. They said some vague things about the journey they were on, but I can’t remember a word of it. Then the conversation drifted to the Youth Hostel in Santa Fe. I was the one who mentioned that place. I was becoming more and more concerned with their safety. The idea of them being new inmates struck me. They were not hardened enough for this world, not matter what they thought. They were too fresh faced and, maybe not innocent, but inexperienced to say the least.

“That place is expensive. We tried to stay there last night. The Motel 6 was actually cheaper. It was crazy…” Bullwinkle said. He was becoming more animated and spacey as the conversation wore on.

“Really? That sucks…my wife and I were gonna stay there like ten years ago when we first rolled through town. They wanted us to do chores. I didn’t realize it was so expensive now. I guess that place is like everything else in Santa Fe, it’s not for the people who need it,” I said.

“Yeah…”

“Would it be okay if I prayed for you guys? I mean if that’s okay…” I asked.

“Sure, man, that’s cool. I feel like I’ve been praying for people, too. Every time someone passes by, I beat the drum for them and it’s like a prayer. So, I’m praying, too, ya know?” Bullwinkle said as he looked at all the cars passing us by, a goofy grin across his face.

“That’s cool…” Why not? Why does prayer have to be so rigid? I was smiling, too. The kid was loopy, but endearing. He still had these reserves of hope.

Rocky hadn’t said another word. She stood a few feet off to the side, unsure of me, I think. So, I went to grab their arms to start praying, but I didn’t realize that she was so far away. I retracted my right arm and held it to my side. She didn’t try to close the gap.

So I prayed, holding just Bullwinkle’s arm. I didn’t ask for prayer requests this time. But I made sure to pray for their protection. That, most of all.

As I walked back to my car, I was thinking about my studio. They could spend the night there, I guess. At the time, I still had it and it was close by. Of course, there wasn’t a bed, but they would be out of the weather and it had a heater.

But, I didn’t say anything. I had neighbors, and I just couldn’t drop off strangers to spend the night. Maybe I could have. I don’t know. They would have been in my space, I suppose, but it doesn’t matter, now.

When I got in my car, I looked back at them under the sodium light. Bullwinkle was beating his drum again and Rocky had returned to her seat. I drove past and waved and I think Bullwinkle gave his drum an extra few whacks as I pulled out onto Cerrillos.

 

So pray for these two.

Pray that God will protect them.

Pray that He will keep them out of the jaws of the enemy.

Pray that He will keep a watch over them.

 

Pray that He will show Rocky and Bullwinkle their place in this world.

 

Pray that He will show them the way.

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2011 in Rocky and Bullwinkle

 

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Gallery

Hey…I know that dude (Keith-part 3)

Out of all the people that I’ve met on the street, Keith is the only one that I have talked to more than once. In an earlier post about him, I said that I had prayed for him twice. Really, I’ve prayed for Keith three times. Strange, but it’s almost become a relationship. I have a feeling I’ll see him again.

Anyway, this post is about the second time that I stopped to pray for Keith. Actually, I wasn’t looking for him at all; I was chasing down some other guy so I could pray for him.

That day, as I pulled into the Sunflower Market on Zafarano, I noticed a young man sitting beside the entrance. He was playing a guitar and wearing a black fedora, a gray and white flannel shirt, black slacks and a black leather jacket. I think he may have been Native American. I passed him by and parked.

I’ll get him when I leave, I thought, I’m hungry.

My stomach was rumbling. I was there at the hippie-mart to get some lunch. Hunger won out over compassion. After I bought my Clif bar, banana and some trail mix, I sat in the car and ate. I had a good view of the guy from across the parking lot. While I listened to sports talk radio, I periodically glanced up at him through the dirty windshield making sure he didn’t leave.

To be honest, I felt awkward about this guy and this location. Sometimes it’s hard to know how receptive someone is going to be to a stranger’s prayer. The young ones give me the most anxiety. No one has ever refused prayer, mind you. This is in my head. But, on that day I was in the enemy’s camp. That’s probably not fair to say, but I was in the parking lot of the Sunflower Market and if you mention God or prayer to some of those people, you may as well be handling snakes, foaming at the mouth and speaking in tongues. Quite a few of the so-called “open-minded” liberals I’ve met are violently unreceptive to Christianity in any form and they are not shy about voicing their opinion. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to bash the libs, but it’s true that many of them think that nuts like Pat Robertson are the norm for Christianity. The truth is, I think Pat Robertson is a nut, too.

A lot of other Christians feel the same way.

The flip side of is that “liberals” are often labeled as godless fools and that’s not fair. I’ve said the same thing, myself, on occasion. The truth is, while I lean to the right, my politics often trend back to the left. Many times I am embarrassed by what the Evangelical Right says. Sometimes it feels like someone has hijacked my faith and is speaking for me. I hate that. Back in southeast Texas, my wife and I were considered liberal/hippie Christians. In Santa Fe, when we happen to mention that we vote mostly Republican people think we’re hard-liners. It’s all perspective, I guess.

Sorry, I got slightly off track, but the point is that this irrational fear of liberal/hippie retaliation was in my head. So, truthfully, as I sat watching this young man from the safety of my car, I think I unconsciously ate a little slower.

I was stalling.

Then the guy began to pack up his things.

Before I could even put the car in gear, he was halfway to Cerrillos Road. The dude was fast.

The chase was on.

Guitar bouncing on his back he strode toward the intersection. There was a large median separating us, so I had to go through the light, hoping that I would be able to pull into the parking lot and cut him off.

No such luck.

He crossed the street and continued up Zafarano. The easiest thing for me to do was to make the block and come back up behind him.

Maybe he’ll set up shop at the next intersection, I thought, possibly at the four way stop, not at the traffic light. Okay, I’ll roll through and give him a chance to catch up.

By this time, I had lost visual contact, but I was confident that I would run across him again on my next trip up Zafarano. I turned right onto Rodeo, right onto Cerrillos and picked up where I had left off, at Zafarano and Cerrillos. This whole escapade was beginning to feel a little like Cops or Dog: The Bounty Hunter. Only, I wasn’t trying to arrest this guy, I trying to pray for him.

It was funny, but I didn’t see him again.

What the hell? I wondered, wasn’t this the guy I was supposed to talk to?

Was I a jerk for sitting in my car and eating and not praying for him first? I just assumed that I would catch up to him, so I wasn’t in a big hurry. Now, my day was beginning to go downhill. Like when you don’t exercise, and you’ve convinced yourself that you’ll do it later. The hours pass by and the sun sets, and, suddenly, it’s too late to run and the downward spiral begins.

When I realized that I wasn’t going to catch up to this guy, I began to feel that initial twinge of remorse. Now, I was on a mission. Something felt unfinished. Don’t get me wrong; talking to people on the street is not a daily occurrence. I don’t have any kind of weird quota system. Something just felt off. Incomplete. So I needed to keep looking. Not necessarily for this guy, who seemed to have disappeared, but for someone. Anyone.

So, much like at Christmas, when I had all those cookies to give out and no one to give them to, I went trolling. I was looking for someone to pray for.

Of course, I didn’t see anyone. I drove up and down Cerrillos road, and through intersections where I’ve talked to people before. Nothing. Passing through the traffic light in front of Wal-Mart, I finally saw a guy with a sign. This time I knew him, but I couldn’t remember his name. I had prayed for him before, right near my studio. As I was making tracks back to Wal-Mart, I was rapidly thumbing through my internal Rolodex, trying to figure out this man’s name. The only thing that I came up with was K. His name starts with a K.

Red and blue jacket, a hat, red hair, pale skin, a scraggly beard, and large white teeth, tall: he could have passed for a Viking. That’s him. When I crossed the parking lot and was within earshot, I asked, “Do you remember me?”

“Yeah, I’m bad with names, though.”

“I’m Chuck.”

“Keith.”

“Right, right…I knew your name started with a K. How are things coming with the surgery?” Keith has a slipped disc in his back, causing his gait to be painfully exaggerated. The long sweeping arcs of his legs make his hips look to be knocked out of joint every time he takes a step.

“Still trying to make enough money to have it done,” he said.

Keith had told me in our last conversation that it would cost $50,000 dollars to have the procedure.

That’ll never happen, I thought. It was the first thing that popped into my head. Why is doubt my initial response to most things? To quote Darth Vader: I find your lack of faith…disturbing.

“Where are you originally from, Keith?” I asked, trying to find out a little more about him.

“Hawaii. I lived there for a long time. I even had a pretty successful stone business…masonry. I built all kinds of stuff. Really technical things, like fountains, and water features. I’m really into detail, I mean, I could build you the best fountain, and it would be incredible,” he said.

“That’s cool, I do construction work, myself…handyman work, I used to work for a custom home builder, but I do my own thing, now.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yep, it’s not too bad…so what happened to the business?” I asked. Normally, I try to let people talk and not ask questions, I don’t want to be intrusive. But, I felt like I needed to probe a little with Keith.

He looked over at the traffic slowly pulling out of the parking lot and said, “Well, I got hurt, you know…my back. Then I couldn’t work anymore and the business tanked. It was just me, anyway. There weren’t any other employees. Then my wife left. I couldn’t do anything,” he said, still looking at the cars pulling out.

“Man…” I uttered quietly. What can you say?

“So I left Hawaii, it’s expensive there, and I got to the West and…” Then he trailed off and shrugged.

Keith had relayed all this to me with very little emotion. These are the facts, he seemed to be saying; now, you can decide what you want to do with them.

Keith didn’t say a whole lot after that, so I prayed for him. One thing was different this time, though. I asked him if there was anything that he wanted me to pray for. I was taking prayer requests. That was new. Normally, I pray my standard prayer, shake hands and get going. When I asked him, he said that he wanted me to pray for his surgery: that somehow God could make it a reality.

Okay…I didn’t even believe that this was going to happen. How could I pray for it? I did, but I don’t know how effective the prayer is of a man who only believes a little of what he’s saying. I always think of the passage in Mark about the man who begs Christ to help his son. The boy was possessed by a demon, the father told the Jesus, he’s been like this since childhood; if you can do anything for him…

“If?” Jesus asked the father. Then he added, “All things are possible to him that believes.”

Poignantly, the man replied, “Lord, I believe…help my unbelief.”

Help my unbelief.

I feel like that on a daily basis. My faith is so full of holes and flaccid sometimes. On occasion even nonexistent. God knows this about me. The amazing thing is that He’s willing to help me with something as fundamental as belief. Not even that has to be perfect.

Christ healed the young man that day. Not because his father’s faith was complete, but because that man had the guts to be real with God. Faith isn’t about perfection. We are human beings, after all. When we can’t stand and wholeheartedly give in to belief, then sometimes we need to trust God to fill in that gap. I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it: sometimes you just need to show up. God will take care of the rest.

So I left Keith that day. Weeks later I would meet him again. He would still be walking with the same limp and wearing the same red and blue striped jacket.

Still on the street.

Pray for Keith.

He needs surgery.

He’s out there trying to be somewhere else.

Aren’t we all?

 
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Posted by on March 15, 2011 in Keith

 

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