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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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Hey…I know that dude (Keith-part 3)

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.”

“I’m Chuck.”

“Keith.”

“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.”

“Oh yeah?”

“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?

 
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Posted by on March 15, 2011 in Keith

 

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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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Running the Race to Win (Even If You Finish Somewhere In the Middle)

I’m going to sidetrack a little from Keith’s story, but I want to share something with everyone.

Today, I ran my first 5K. My time was 27:51. I started at the back of the pack and finished somewhere in the middle.

I have always been overweight, and it had seemed like running would never be a part of my life, not even when I played football in junior high and high school. I was in a little bit better shape then, I mean, I was still obese, but I could move a lot quicker. After high school, I just continued to get bigger and bigger. Then in 1997, I had to go to the doctor for the flu, but I had never been to this doctor before, so they had to weigh me for their records.

I weighed 334 lbs.

Oh my God.

That scared me, so in 1998, I lost over 60 pounds. I didn’t have an exercise regimen, I just changed the way I ate. I kept that off for several years, and then I slowly began to put it back on, about 25 lbs. of it. During those years, I felt horrible and the depression, that I had always struggled with, was defeating me. This wasn’t really about weight, though. Deep down, I knew that, really, I was just running from God, and, in the process, negating my life.

There are always deeper issues with any kind of vice. Everybody knows this. Food is an addiction like any other. The problem with addictions is that they derail you. It’s not just about what you are doing to yourself, it’s about what you’re not doing. It is the life that you are not living that is the tragedy.

I had been trying, in my way, to be closer with God. I started reading the Bible everyday. I read through it twice. This started in 2005. God wanted more for me and from me, though. He kept trying to show me during these years, that I was so wrapped up in self-loathing and self-destruction that I had no time for anything else. The fog had to be lifted. I had to take control of this life that I was flushing down the toilet. Again, this is not about food. This is about the things that we allow to become giants in our lives. Soon enough they are bigger than God, and they will diminish His light much like a mountain in front of the setting sun.

So, in January of 2009, I started eating better. Then, over the next several months, I began walking, playing tennis, going to the gym, etc. Just being more active, in general. In 2010, I quit smoking and began running. I had never run a mile before.

Never.

The first day that I did, I thought my heart would explode, but I felt alive. Later that year, a sciatic nerve in my hip rolled over some muscle tissue, putting me out of commission for about a month and a half. I had been running fairly consistently up until then and I didn’t think that I would recover from the layoff. But, I finally did. Of course, there was a lot of grunting and obscenity involved.

So, after two years of losing weight (85 lbs.), a year of sporadic running and a year of not smoking, I did it.

My first 5K.

The race was in Dallas and was sponsored by an organization that helps the disabled lead normal lives. The event was called Cupid’s Chase, and it took place, simultaneously, in 24 other cities. It was incredible and the weather was perfect. My mom and step dad were there, cheering me on and Ginger was yelling loudly for me from Santa Fe. It was pretty sweet.

Today was the result of a lot of answered prayers. Thanks everybody.

Thank You God for kicking me in the ass when I needed it.

Thank You for whispering you can do this in my ear when I needed that, too.

Thank You for giving me the opportunity to live this life.

Thank You for loving me.

Thank You.

 
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Posted by on February 12, 2011 in Running the Race

 

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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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