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Ya Know, Like Johnny Cash…(Cash-part 1)

Not long after I met Keith, I came across a man named Cash at the entrance to the Santa Fe Place Mall off of Rodeo road. It was still Christmas, which meant that I still had plenty of cookies left. My plan had been to wrap them up in small packages and hand them out along with the money. This was the same batch that I had made about a week before I met Keith. I thought they’d be gone by now, but like I said with Keith, things don’t always work out like we plan. That day the temperature had dropped in Santa Fe, the wind had picked up and the sky had clouded over. I remember thinking that it might snow but I don’t think it did. Maybe it did in the mountains, but not in town.

When I saw this man across the street, I was heading in a different direction and I had to double back and pull into the mall parking lot. Unfortunately, there wasn’t anywhere nearby to park, so I pulled into a spot on the side of the Harley dealership at the edge of the parking lot. I grabbed the clear, plastic bag decorated with the flat, green trees and headed up the slight hill back to the intersection. There wasn’t any sidewalk here, so I followed the dirt path cutting through the side of the hill, which meant that I would have to climb a little rock wall once I reached this guy. As I was trying to maintain my footing on the rocks while I climbed, he asked if I was a Harley man.

“What’s that?” I responded, a little confused.

“What kind of bike you got?” He asked as he leaned forward slightly.

“Oh, I don’t have one…I’ve never even ridden one,” I said, as I thought, how could I have never been on a motorcycle?

“Well you came out of the dealership, I just thought maybe you had a bike…” He looked disappointed.

“Oh yeah…no, I just parked down there. I’m here to talk to you,” I said as I stuck out my hand, “I’m Chuck.”

“My name’s Cash.”

“What’s that?” He wasn’t mumbling, but I couldn’t hear him for some reason.

“Cash…ya know, like Johnny Cash,” he said as he grinned slyly.

Cash was as tall as me. Taller, maybe, but memory’s a funny thing; because as I think about it, now, I’m looking at Cash’s chest as we’re talking. His cardboard sign said something about being a vet, and his ragged, olive green flak jacket was dotted with military pins and buttons. He wore a navy blue cap with gold lettering giving the name of some aircraft carrier. His medium length, salt and pepper beard was straggly but not unkempt. The rest of his face was pitted and scarred, but gleaming. Despite the obvious abuses of the road and life, Cash still had a sparkle to him. Something was glittering beneath all that grime.

I had shifted the cookies and the five-dollar bill to my left hand. Handing them over, I said, “Merry Christmas.” Then I pointed at the bag that I had just handed him, “Those are chocolate chip cookies and they’re homemade; they’ve got pecans in ‘em.”

“Thanks,” he said as he slipped the five and the cookies into his jacket pocket.

Cars were creeping by, heading out of the mall and waiting to turn onto Rodeo road. I didn’t turn my head to look, but I knew they were there. I tried to stay focused on the man in front of me.

“Cash, do you mind if I pray for you?” I hadn’t really been nervous until now.

He jerked his head back and smiled, “Can I pray for you, brother? Is there anything that I can pray for…for you?”

What?

I was taken aback, and I fumbled for some way to decline, so I blurted, “No, thanks, I appreciate it. But, I think I’m good…thanks, though.”

Cash seemed a little disappointed.

I’m just here to give you five bucks, a couple of cookies, and pray. That’s all, I thought. I’m supposed to do something for you, man. I’m the one that’s supposed to be giving. Right?

I should have let Cash pray for me. Being prayed for is humbling, and it’s sometimes uncomfortable. It’s easy to get caught up in this act of giving and praying. It’s easy to get single minded and forget that God wants you to experience all of life, not just be obedient. God wants that, but He wants you to keep your eyes open. Be sensitive to the moment. My tendency is to follow a script and that’s exactly when God begins to stretch you. He’s not interested in a merely scripted interchange or a prescribed amount of caring. He wants us to be malleable, adaptable, and ready for the moment.

Ready for anything.

After I prayed for Cash, he asked me how long I had been witnessing to people on the streets.

Witnessing? I thought. I’m not witnessing, I’m just out here praying.

I was completely caught off guard for the second time by this man.

I’ve never thought of what I’m doing as witnessing. Frankly, the idea of someone coming up to me and trying to force something down my throat is offensive. I watch Kirk Cameron and that Australian guy proselytizing and I think, if I wasn’t saved, that would not reach me. Nobody’s gonna reach me like that. It might completely sour me on the whole concept of Christ.

Maybe it wouldn’t, I don’t know. I mean no offense to Kirk Cameron and all the multitudes spreading the Gospel this way. They’re probably called to do that, and I don’t want to get between anyone and God’s call. But, I also know that, sometimes, shoving a person into salvation is the wrong approach. Maybe there’s a better way to show God’s love. By no means do I have all the answers; I’m just saying how I feel about pushiness. That’s all.

Then again, if Cash feels like I’m a witness to him, then that’s very humbling and I am not going to run from it. I have never asked anyone if they are saved or if they have found the Lord. I just pray. For the most part, people have been forthcoming about their faith even though I don’t expect them to be. Maybe they’re just telling me what they think I want to hear.

I hope not.

I stood there on the side of Rodeo road talking to this man for at least twenty minutes. Cash had a lot to say about America, the state of the world, humanity and God’s place in our lives, and it was a surprising, challenging conversation, and, by far, the longest that I’d had to date with anyone that I met on the street.

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Posted by on March 2, 2011 in Cash

 

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What Am I Supposed To Do With All These Cookies? (Keith-part 1)

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.”

“Keith.”

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.

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2011 in Keith

 

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