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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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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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