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.”
“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.”
“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?