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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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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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Mike

Mike was standing in the median in front of Sam’s Club on Rodeo road. I think it was still November, shortly after I met Kenny. Just to set the record straight, I don’t approach people on the street every day. It’s sporadic. Sometimes I just don’t see anybody. I’ve also passed up quite a few people, thinking things like: I’ll catch you later. I really have to be somewhere. I don’t have any cash on me, anyway. Not to say that I have to stop every time I see a homeless person. On occasion our lives take priority. I don’t want to discount that.

But, I’ve become a little more sensitive to God telling me when I absolutely have to do something. I’m certainly not completely sensitive to God’s call. Quite the contrary. Many times I just ignore His voice and pretend like I didn’t hear Him. What’s that, God? Were You talking? Sorry, but that’s the truth. Listening and obeying God is a complex experience. Just because you obey God in a few small things, it doesn’t mean that you are certain about what He’s telling you to do every day. Not in my experience, anyway. I don’t think I’m alone in that. I will say this though: on occasion you are right in line with what God wants you to do and, people, that’s astonishing.

Anyway, Mike was in front of Sam’s. I saw him a little late, so I had to drive a little further down Rodeo and make a U-turn. I turned at the red light into Sam’s and looked for a place to park that was relatively close. Luckily, there’s a crosswalk here.

I had five bucks prominently displayed, so I jogged across the street.

He had a very prominent limp and as I stepped up onto the median, he had to hobble towards me, swinging his leg out slightly and around in order to move forward. For once, I remember what one of the signs said. The man was a vet, and his sign hung in his left hand as he held out his right and shook my hand. I’m almost positive that it said “Vietnam Vet”. He looked to be about that age. Mid-50’s, probably.

“Hi, I’m Chuck.”

“My name’s Mike.”

Mike had long, shaggy hair, and a scraggly beard. He looked a little like Charles Manson. Not the demonic part, though. Just the man. But, Mike didn’t look threatening. He was small. In my mind, I see Mike as being probably a foot shorter than me. Maybe it’ wasn’t quite that much, but it was significant. Like K (Katherine), Mike wore a leather jacket. Military patches were sown into its worn exterior. Faded reds, yellows and greens cluttered the surface, telling of how and with whom he had served. Gray hairs were beginning to show themselves in his beard and unkempt hair. Mike looked to be Hispanic.

I asked if I could pray for him. Standing in front of Mike, I didn’t feel rushed or distracted like I did with Kenny. I didn’t have the first time jitters like I did with Travis. I didn’t have the fear of approaching a woman like I did with K (Katherine). In fact, as I look back, I didn’t feel much of anything. I have to be honest about that. The encounter with Mike was short and I was back in my car before I realized it, driving away. One thing did stick in my mind, though, more than anything else. When I asked Mike if I could pray for him, he made a point of telling me he was Catholic, then he looked at me a little strangely. As if I was going to try to save him from his Catholicism. That’s the impression I got. Like he had to be up front with me about that, so that I had the option of refusing to pray for him. Maybe Mike had lost touch with the religion that he had grown up with. Maybe he mentioned it to me because he needed to affirm that it was still there somewhere. I don’t know, but it was an odd moment.

“That’s okay, I’m a Christian, too,” I responded.

I prayed for Mike. Like the others that I met before him, I didn’t ask if he had any prayer requests.

Let him know you love him, Lord. Bless him in his life.

I think if someone prayed like this for me, I would feel slighted. I would feel like they weren’t really paying attention. Insert name here___________: now pray. I know I’ve talked about this before, but I need to keep saying it. Some days I feel like God can’t possibly hear these bland prayers, but He does. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t bother. God not only hears them, He honors them. That’s not to say that God doesn’t teach you how to pray for others in a more precise way. He does. But, you have to start somewhere, and maybe sometimes it’s just about being in the right place at the right time and not the words we say.

I don’t know that I can say a lot more about Mike, but I do have a thought about the Catholicism that he made a point of mentioning. Growing up in Protestant churches (primarily Baptist and it’s offshoots), there was a barrage of criticism against the Catholic Church. At the non-denominational church, which I sporadically attend now , I overhead a couple of people talking about leaving the Catholic Church. They were both Hispanic men who had grown up in that faith. When they talked about the Church, now, it sounded like they were talking about a cult. I’ve heard a lot worse said about Catholicism, unfortunately.

I’m not getting into a debate about Catholicism. If you want to think ill of it, then I guess that’s your prerogative. But I’ll tell you this one little story. When I was going through a particularly difficult time, I went to a Catholic church here in Santa Fe. It was early afternoon on a weekday. There were no services, but the doors were open to those who wished to pray. I was the only one sitting in the large sanctuary that day, and I remember looking at the Stations of the Cross and the candles, and listening to the silence and beginning to weep, then moving beyond weeping into streaming tears. At that point, a group of children and their instructor came in through the rear doors. The kids were talking loudly and chattering, but when the teacher spied me across the cathedral, he immediately quieted the children down, telling them to be respectful.

“Someone is praying,” he said.

This moved me. I can tell you that I felt a reverence for the stillness of God in that moment that I have rarely felt elsewhere. My wife had a very similar experience. The church is open, urging the flock to come and pray. That day the Gospel was gently laid out, and it was simple and beautiful. Come…abide with Me, Christ said, and lets be still together.

I have no larger message, here. All I’m saying is that my wife and I have been comforted by a faith that we are not a part of. We are not Catholics. We most probably will never be Catholics. But if we had allowed denominational prejudices to steer us away from that faith, we would not have had the experiences that we did.  That’s it.

Pray for Mike. He’s a vet. He’s a Catholic. He’s on the street.

Pray that he will see the Gospel laid out, simply and beautifully.

Pray that we all will.

 
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Posted by on February 8, 2011 in Mike

 

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A Gathering of Shades (Kenny-part 1)

I believe it was November of last year when I met Kenny. He was standing at the traffic light in front of the Wal-Mart on Cerrillos road. This is a popular location. K (Katherine) was/would be standing here as well (not sure where she falls in the order). Out of all the people I’ve met so far, Kenny carried the most visible pain. He looked devastated. Life had punched him in the stomach and he was crawling on the ground trying to recover, gasping for air.

I fear Kenny may never get up.

That autumn afternoon felt later than it was, with the golden light permeating the atmosphere, dimming it with a golden brown haze. That Fall day seemed more than appropriate to the man I was about to meet.

I think I may have been at Wal-Mart buying something for the house or I could have been on my way to  Home Depot which is close by. I remember that I had my work clothes on: tan, paint smeared work jeans, a cheap gray sweat shirt and sneakers that had logged quite a few miles. They were my walking shoes, but had recently been downgraded to work shoes. Next stop, the trash heap.  At the time I was still in school. I was taking 12 hours at the community college (Photoshop, Indesign, webdesign, Digital photo, a fitness class), and when I wasn’t in school, I would try to pick up as much work as possible as a handyman (Chuck’s Chores).

I never intend to meet these people. God just puts them in my path. I don’t troll around looking for these opportunities. They just happen. Not sure why it was important for me to say that, but I think it was. That day in November, I was just going about my business and God, prayer, and someone else’s pain couldn’t have been further from my mind. Sorry to say, but it’s the truth; I was distracted.

I parked the car in the corner of the lot and took out a five and held it in my hand. I opened the door and headed toward the man holding the sign. Not sure what he had written. I rarely remember what their signs say. Don’t know why. The man looked to be in his 40’s with patchy reddish blond stubble. It looked like he had shaved recently. A scab had been opened on his face, on his left cheek bone. My guess was that it was an old wound and the razor had aggravated it. He wore jeans and a faded, tan Carhart jacket that was worn through in several places. Old white tennis shoes were on his feet. I handed him the money.

“Here you go, buddy,” I said.

“Thank you brother,” he responded, and for the first time I really paid attention to this man. I had been drifting, going through the motions. I stuck out my hand.

“My name’s Chuck,” I offered and as he shook  it, I looked at his hands. They were almost white, like no blood was flowing through them, and they were beginning to crack in this dry, high desert air.

“I’m Kenny,” he said, next I noticed his eyes. Pale blue. But it didn’t look like they had always been that color. I got the sense that the real blue had been drained from them, and this was all that remained. Kenny, overall, was just like his eyes: drained, pale. His skin was a faded pink, common to a lot of people with the same reddish/blond hair that he had. I was starting to be in this moment with Kenny, rather being lost in my head, but I wasn’t quite there.

“Do you mind if I pray for you Kenny?” I asked, lightly touching his shoulder.

When I started praying for people who are on the streets, I never asked about their lives. I would go straight to the prayer, and promptly make my exit. Get in and get out. I have fulfilled my duty, what else do I need to do? Just being out here is enough, right? I thought.

“I’m a Christian, too,” he responded. Just like Travis. “Please, pray,” he added. There was a touch of desperation in his voice when he uttered please. Picking up on that emotion spooked me a little, and I had the faintest thought that I was in over my head with Kenny. This was pain that I hadn’t encountered with Travis. Not even with K.

Kenny wanted to tell me something. And later, when I left him, I was shaken, but not so much by what he told me. It was the way he said it. His tone reminded me of someone. Me.

I saw myself in that man, and it scared the hell out of me.

 
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Posted by on February 4, 2011 in Kenny

 

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K (Katherine)

The people I’ve met over the past three months, or so, have stayed in my memory. This is the first time that I ‘m writing about them, so some details have faded, but many remain. I am trying to write about them in the order that I met them, and I know that’s not really going to be possible, but I think I’ll be pretty close. Some gaps refuse to be filled, however, and that’s the case with K.

I think her name was Katherine.

I’ll stick with the Kafkaesque K, however, simply because I’m not sure about the name and I don’t want to pretend to have a firm grasp on something that I don’t. I’m also not sure about where she is in the order. Second, I think. But, it could have been Kenny (more about him later). Not sure.

K was standing beside the entrance to the Wal-Mart on Cerrillos Road. I saw her from the opposite lane and I pulled into the parking lot and turned off the engine. Meeting Travis  had given me a little confidence, and I didn’t have quite the nerves that I did before. At least that was true as I fumbled through my wallet for a five dollar bill. When I got out of the car, however, there was a moment of real fear. Mostly I was afraid of what this woman was going to think of some random guy crossing the pavement to talk to her. Like with Travis, I displayed the bill prominently and walked toward her.

K looked to be about the same age as Travis. Mid 30’s probably. She wore a leather jacket that still had a little life left in it. There were patches on it. Words were scratched into the surface. Maybe that’s not true. Maybe the words weren’t there, but something tells me that K’s life was written on that jacket. I realize that’s abstract, but that’s what I see.

She had on faded black combat boots, and her hair was a dark, unnatural red. It had been dyed recently. She wore a long, faded red pleated skirt that was embroidered along the bottom. There was a Mexican restaurant, close to where I grew up back in Texas, that made the waitresses wear something similar.

As I approached, she looked at me a little suspiciously, and I awkwardly handed her the money. I stuck out my hand and told her my name. She shook my hand and told me hers, then there was an awkward silence. I plodded on, however, and asked if she minded if I prayed for her.

“Sure,” she responded.

She was hesitant, though, so I quickly added, “If that’s okay, I mean… as long as that’s okay with you.”

“It’s alright…” She reiterated, and so I prayed.

I reached out and touched her right arm. I can still feel the worn leather beneath my palm. I remember stroking her arm, trying to make her feel at ease, but she never did. I think she even bristled slightly when I reached out, but I didn’t remove my hand. Then I prayed my generic prayer, being careful, however,  to include the part about God letting K know she wasn’t alone. God, let K know you love her. Please.

I don’t know what happened to K in her past. I don’t know if she may have been molested or assaulted or abused. I didn’t ask. How could anybody ask that? I don’t want to speak for K, but I get the sense that she believes that God has left her out in the cold. Forgotten her and left her to die a slow death, all alone. A lot of people feel that way. I go in and out of thinking that myself.

There was no emotional catharsis with K, unlike with Travis, who was immediately grateful and made me feel like I had made at least a little difference in his day. It was almost instant gratification and very humbling. The encounter with K was humbling in a completely different way. She didn’t start beaming simply because I had graced her with my presence, an awkward prayer and a measly five bucks. In fact, I feel like she would have preferred it if I had just given her the money through the rolled down window of my car and driven away. But I was supposed to pray for K. I know that. Not everyone wants to be prayed for. Not everyone wants to hear it. I understand that. God knows I’m the same way. I fight him tooth and nail on so many occasions. More than I care to think about.

Pray for K. God only knows what has happened to her. Like Travis, I haven’t seen her since. Pray for this leather jacketed, combat boot wearing, broken-hearted soul that I met in front of Wal-Mart one day.

I think her name was Katherine.

 
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Posted by on February 3, 2011 in K (Katherine)

 

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Travis (part 1)

In the latter part of 2010, God began to quietly speak to me about an idea for ministering to the homeless. Off and on for quite a few years, I had been giving spare change to people on the streets, like so many of us do. On a few occasions, I had even been moved to buy some kind of fast food and bring it back to the place where someone was holding a sign. This was not often. In fact, the whole thing was very sporadic. But I knew that something was urging me to do these very small things. Then I started to get a word from God about doing a little more. Of course, I didn’t think God was talking to me. Why would He? Especially since so many of my days are spent being angry about one thing or another and, given the fact that I had barely been talking to God at all. (More about that later.)

Anyway, this urging didn’t stop. Weeks went by and I seemed to get a little more of an idea of what God wanted me to do. He wanted me to give a little more than I had been giving, and He wanted me to pray for these people. Okay, I’ll dig a little deeper in my wallet as I stop and roll down my window; I’ll say a little prayer in my head as I drive away, I thought, that’s not so bad. Well, that’s not exactly what God had in mind. He wanted me to pray for them where they were. Okay, I thought, I’ll ask their names and pray quickly. That wasn’t it either. Logistically, I couldn’t figure out what to do, and then, God, being the ultimate pragmatist said, you have to get out of your car. Oh…crap.

I barely even speak to You, I kept thinking over and over, a prayer isn’t going to mean anything, You probably won’t even hear it. This argument with myself went on for days, weeks. Was God really telling me to do this? Why me? This doesn’t make any sense. It scared me to put my faith out there. What if some of them were hostile? None of these questions got answered, by the way, before I agreed to just try it. What could possibly happen? So I resolved in my mind that I would step out in faith: a faith that most days I felt I barely had. It seemed like a joke to even think things like step out in faith. Then, on a Saturday morning, I got my opportunity.

I was leaving the Albertson’s on the south end of town, and he was standing in front of the stop sign that leads out onto Zafarano. He looked to be about my age and he had a dog. I don’t remember the breed of dog. I don’t remember what his sign said. I barely remember getting out of the car. But I do remember one thing:

His name was Travis.

 
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Posted by on February 1, 2011 in Travis

 

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