Last year, a couple of weeks before Christmas, I decided to bake some chocolate chip cookies and hand them out to the people that I met on the street. I even bought some clear, plastic bags decorated with solid green trees, as well as some thin red ribbon to wrap around the bags. I’m no Sandra Lee, but I thought that was pretty festive of me. For the past few years I’ve made cookies at Christmas and handed them out to clients or co-workers. I even gave some to a young couple on the streets once (this was before I was getting out of my car to pray for people). Really, the cookies were just a variation on the tried and true Toll House recipe, but I would add Pecans and use better chocolate chips. Something like Ghiradelli, maybe. So I made close to thirty good-sized cookies, wrapped up a few and put them in the front of my car.
Then, a funny thing happened: I didn’t see anybody to hand them out to. I mean, for days. I normally don’t drive around searching for people. This time I did, however, but to no avail. How can I see nobody? This is ridiculous, I kept thinking, I did this out of a good place, I mean, I was just trying to be nice.
We were about to leave for Texas to be with family soon, and there were still cookies at the house and cookies in the seat of my car. I finally told my wife and brother-in-law (who was living with us at the time) that it was okay to start eating as many of the cookies as they wanted. I was a little frustrated and pissed off, frankly. In my head I had these visions of being some kind of Santa Clause for the homeless. Word would get out and I would be known as The Cookie Guy, or something. Maybe I would even be featured on the local news, or the front page of the paper. Man Spreads Christmas Cheer Through Chocolate! Homeless Rejoice!
Obviously, that didn’t happen.
No one is immune to vanity, least of all me.
At the time, I had a painting studio on Rufina Court. I had had it for years, but it had become mostly just a workshop. I don’t really paint anymore, but I was still there a lot, even though the ship was sinking. By now, I had, frankly, just about forgotten about handing out the cookies. The whole thing just annoyed me. The best laid plans of mice and men…
So one day I left the studio, the clear, plastic bags sitting in the passenger seat. The chocolate cookies had been out in the car for days and were beginning to lose their luster. I turned right onto Siler, heading towards Cerrillos Road and I saw Keith at the corner, only a block and a half from my studio. I knew that corner, and I had never seen anybody there before. I’ve driven up and down that road countless times, and, in all that time, I had never seen a soul asking for money on the corner of Siler and Cerrillos.
God’s timing is not our timing. Just because we’re ready to give doesn’t mean we always get an opportunity to serve right at that moment. He wants us to be vigilant and watch and be ready when He wants us to do something. He wants to see if we’re really committed to serving or if we just happen to be in the mood to serve. I’ll be learning that lesson for a while. God knows I’m a slow learner.
On that corner is a gas station with a couple of cheap motels behind it. Luckily, I saw Keith early enough to pull into the parking lot of the motel and stop beside the station. I fished out five bucks, grabbed a bag of cookies and walked toward the corner.
Keith wore a red and blue puffy jacket that was torn in several places with the cotton sticking out. He had to be about my age, mid to late 30’s and he wore a light gray Stetson. It was a big hat. I hadn’t seen too many homeless people with one quite like that. It’s not that the hat was in great shape, but it was definitely nicer than the jacket he had on. Keith had bushy red hair and an ungainly limp, which was far more pronounced than Mike’s (the older Vet that I met in front of Sam’s Club). Much like him, Keith had to swing his leg out in order to move forward. His body contorted, terribly, every time he took a step. It made me think of a tree that, suddenly, has been asked to walk and has no idea what it means to do that or how it should look.
God, how does he do it everyday? I thought, as Keith closed the gap and stopped in front of me. I held out the cookies with the five-dollar bill I had folded up lying on top of the bag.
“Thanks a lot,” he said. Keith had rich, blue eyes. They were still vibrant and alive. The world hadn’t stripped them of their color. Not yet.
I stuck out my hand, “My name’s Chuck.”
Finally, I got to give out a couple of the chocolate chip cookies. I am well aware of how stupid that sounds. Oh well. It was important to me, but it led to something real, because I was supposed to meet Keith. I believe God was positioning the two of us so that we could cross paths.
You can’t force God to do anything. He will defy your expectations almost every time. That day I met Keith, I couldn’t have known that, of all the people I’ve prayed for on the street, he would be the only one that I would pray for twice.