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?”
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.