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You Forgot Something…(Hey Joe)

I was leaving the bank in front of Pier One when I saw Joe. He caught me by surprise, so I didn’t have time to pull over, park the car and get out. It was sometime in the afternoon. Still cold. This was in late January of this year. I eased the car over, rolled down the window and held out a five. He put his left hand on the car door and leaned into the car slightly.

“Here ya go, man,” I said.

“Hey, thanks,” he said and his hand lingered on the door and he kept looking at me.

Do I know this guy? I thought. What is he waiting for?

I couldn’t park and pray for this man. Cars were behind me and there was no way to pull off to the side.

“God bless you,” I said in weak consolation.

“You too,” he said and removed his hand from the window.

He was young. Maybe early thirties, maybe close to forty. It was a little hard to tell. He didn’t look to be as road weary as some of the other people I’ve met. I pressed the gas and threaded the Explorer into traffic.

Stopping at the traffic light at Zafarano, I kept trying to figure out if I knew this guy or not. He didn’t look familiar, but maybe his face just wasn’t clicking. His expectant look was gnawing at me though. Did he know something? Did he have some kind of intuition about me? That seems crazy, but so does praying for strangers on the side of the street.

Should I go back?

I already knew the answer to that.

I looked over my shoulder and eased into the lane to my right. Then I did it again. I knew I could make my way back if I turned at the Giant store. Traffic was getting to be heavy and it took me a few minutes, but I pulled into the lot by the Blue Corn Café and parked the car in front of Pier One.

I got out, walking towards this guy, feeling strange about coming back. At first he didn’t see me. Then a car honked and the man seated on the concrete in front of me returned the wave of the person in the car, who, I think honked because of the sign the seated man was holding; enigmatically, it said, You Dropped Your Smile. I hadn’t noticed it the first time I drove past.

When the man finally noticed me, a thin smile crossed his face. He didn’t appear to be confused by my reappearance. I think he knew I might return.

“So, I was told to come back here and pray for you,” I said with both hands stuffed into my pockets. Looking at his eyes, I was searching for a sign, or something, to tell me that I was supposed to turn around and come back here.

“Cool,” his watery blue eyes offering nothing but a greeting.

“I’m Chuck,” I said, trying to remain in the moment.

“My name’s Joe.”

“Nice to meet you, Joe.”

Joe was recently clean-shaven. He had dirty blond hair and dark, formerly black, jeans. He wore a black and yellow plaid shirt and a black jacket. I can’t remember what material the jacket was made of. Denim, maybe.

“Where you headed, Joe?”

“Not sure, I’ve been up in Cuba. You know, for the Rainbow Gathering?”

“Yeah…yeah, of course.”

Not Castro’s Cuba, New Mexico’s. It always throws me.

“I was there for a while, but I’ve been in New Mexico for about three years, I guess…”

Then Joe launched into a convoluted story about why he’d been in New Mexico for so long. His tale suggested that it wasn’t by choice and I recall it having a vague conspiratorial air to it. I don’t remember any of the details.

Joe had never gotten up during our exchange. He sat on the ground leaning against the stop sign, looking up at me. His short, dirty-blond hair gusting in the winter wind.

“Joe, do you mind if I pray for you?”

“Sure, that’d be cool.”

“Is there anything that you want me to pray for?”

“I guess…just in general. You know…everything.”

“Okay.”

I stood over Joe and prayed for him, my hand resting on his shoulder. Joe had bowed his head and placed his elbows on his knees. He looked to be staring at the concrete between his legs. Joe still held the sign; it rested on his bent legs while I prayed.

God help Joe. Let him know You love him. Help him find his way.

I patted Joe on the shoulder as I left, and once more told him that it was nice to meet him. Lingering a little, I suppose, thinking that I was going to receive some secret message. A word from God. Why else did I have to make such an effort to get back here?

Walking away, it struck me.

I had to come back for Joe. God wanted me to stand in the gap for him, even though I didn’t pray for anything in particular. It was for Joe. Not for me.

That’s easy to lose sight of. I’m constantly questioning God. Asking Him why I need to do something. What am I going to get out of this? Is this good for me? How am I going to be blessed? That day, I didn’t have choirs of angels of singing, simply because I obeyed. That never happens, anyway. What I got was a guy named Joe, a man sitting on the side of the road holding a sign.

I got the opportunity to pray for that man.

I got the opportunity to pray for another human being. Another soul.

There is no greater honor.

As I was still walking towards the car, Joe called out, “Hey!”

I turned around, and Joe held up his sign and pointed at it, grinning.

You Dropped Your Smile, the sign told me.

Joe lifted his hand and waved.

I waved back, and got in my car, smiling.

 

Thinking back on it, maybe I got my message after all.

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted by on March 23, 2011 in Joe

 

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America Goes Down the Drain (Cash-part 2)

“We’re living in the last days,” Cash said.

Uh-oh.

“America is the Whore of Babylon and she’s headed for destruction. This great nation is in the toilet, and has been for a long time,” he continued. “The only way that America can save herself is to repent of her evil ways and get on her knees before God! This was once a great country, blessed by God, Ordained by God! But it has fallen away,” Cash looked like Jeremiah out there on Rodeo road: a prophet of Doom calling the people to repentance.

The clouds began to darken as he declared the coming Day of Destruction.

“I try to share the Gospel with as many people as I can,” he said. Cars passed by, I wondered if anyone heard him talking. Part of me was a little embarrassed. I know that’s kind of a jerky thing to say, but it’s true. I’ve heard this kind of stuff for a long time. Everyone has. Whether it’s someone on the far Left or the far Right, both sides have their end of the world scenarios. The end is ushered in through the carelessness of the other. The Left blames the Right’s greed and rampant pollution, and the Right blames the Left’s moral bankruptcy. What Cash was talking about was biblical prophecy, though, and that’s a whole other matter.

Growing up in church (mostly Baptist, but also Non-denominational, Methodist and a smattering of Assembly of God with a dash of Nazarene) I heard a good deal about the End Times. It always came in waves, and would be a hot topic for a while and then most people would just forget about it.

Of course, every church has someone who reads extensively about the Last Days. Book after book outlining the rapture, the identity of the Whore of Babylon, the final battle of Armageddon, and Christ’s triumphant return as the conquering king. After college, I worked in a refinery in southeast Texas. For several months, I worked with a guy who was at least fifteen years older than me. We were part of a small paint crew. At one point there were five of us in total, and our job was to paint the pipes and valves that were above and below the spheres. If you’ve driven past enough refineries, you’ll recognize these tanks. They sit on large concrete spheres and hover above the ground. As the paint crew, we fanaticized about one day painting the spheres like pool balls. Stripes and solids. But, what we did was strictly utilitarian. Our job had nothing to do with cosmetics. We were trying to prevent rust. It was a never-ending battle, but necessary. You certainly didn’t want any of those pipes to rust through, and the more layers of protection, the better.

Anyway, I worked with this guy, Ernie. Half the time, we were at each other’s throats. The smallest thing that the other did was usually the beginning of an argument. We worked together, just me and him, while the other guys would tackle different projects. It was like a bad relationship that neither party could get out of. One of the main things we argued about was religion. Not just religion, or God, though. Prophecy. We fought bitterly about prophecy.

It seemed like every other day Ernie would come in and present some new piece of evidence to me, proving that the world would end in the next few years. I’m sure he had just read somewhere and he could see the pattern that only a privileged few could see. One of the most consistent topics was Ernie’s paranoid vision of a corrupt police state. He was always talking about the Government and the surveillance of its citizens.

“They’re watching you. They know what your doing every minute of the day. They know what everyone’s doing. You can’t hide,” Ernie would say as he leaned over to me confidentially as we ate lunch in the shack.

“Seriously? Are there that many people working for the government?” I replied.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that it would take as many employees as there are citizens to watch you. Who’s gonna process all that information?” My voice rose a little.

“They can do it, Chuck, I’m telling you. You better be careful. They can track your movements. Just like they do with your credit card. My wife and I use cash as much as possible,” he said. Ernie was now talking to me like I was a petulant child who refused to believe that the sky was blue.

“My point is, who cares? Why would they bug you, why assign someone to watch you. Or anyone?! I mean, most people have boring lives! They go to their jobs and do whatever, and nobody cares! Why would the government spend all that time and money following regular people? The government is just a big, unwieldy bureaucracy. I know they watch people, but they watch people whose lives matter or are some kind of perceived threat. Most of our lives don’t matter, so why bother watching us?!” Now I was pissed off.

“He who doesn’t stand for anything, will fall for everything,” he responded. This little chestnut was his big closer. It’s not biblical; it’s the title of a country song. By this point, Ernie was talking at me and not to me anymore. I was a petulant, unbelieving child who needed discipline, and he was the disappointed parent. Years later in Santa Fe, I would have the same type of conversations with my friends on the far left. The Government was a police state. America was watching you, and recorded your every move, Bush is the Anti-Christ, etc., etc., etc.

You just refuse to see, man. You refuse to see the truth, they would tell me.

Now, I was having another conversation like this on Rodeo road with a guy I just met, and it was bothering me. Every generation has thought this, by the way, and none of them have been right. I just finished reading a book about Martin Luther, and he was convinced that he was living in the last days, absolutely certain. No one is immune I suppose. Not even Cash.

Cash seemed sincere. I mean, he spoke like he had actually considered these things and wasn’t merely echoing someone else’s thoughts. I don’t know, hearing this stuff still made me uncomfortable and I wished we could move on to another topic, but I needed to listen. I couldn’t judge this man. That was a tough one, especially since what he was saying annoyed the hell out of me.

But, I was supposed to be there listening to Cash and all of his crazy talk about the coming Apocalypse. I know that. I was supposed to have my boundaries tested. It wasn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last.

The people I meet are flesh and blood. They have stories to tell. No one said I had to like, or even sympathize, with what they’re saying.

I just have to listen.

 
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Posted by on March 5, 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 3)

I haven’t seen Travis since. I don’t know where he ended up, but I hope that he’s out of the cold. To be perfectly honest, I haven’t said too many prayers for Travis since that day, but I’ve often thought  of him. I know that’s not really good enough, and again, like that day, I feel that I’ve let him down somehow. Maybe I’m wrong. I don’t know.

Writing about Travis has made me relive that moment and reminded me of what a gift God gave me. He gave me the opportunity to serve. I realize that five bucks doesn’t go far and a little prayer hardly seems like  a drop in the bucket, but it was something. I too often talk myself out of doing things because they just seem too small and insignificant. Surely this can’t mean anything, it’s not enough, I think. So then I end up offering nothing. And that’s worse.

Do the small things. They add up. We all know this, but we think we need a grand gesture to serve God. Sometimes that happens, but most days, we just have our lives. That alone is an infinite level of complexity. Joel Osteen once said “there are no ordinary days”. He’s right. We’re alive and that’s in no way ordinary. I mean, Moses didn’t part the Red Sea everyday.

So pray for Travis. He has a dog, a goatee, a silver thermos, a camouflage jacket and he might be in his late thirties. I don’t know where he is, but God does. When you pray, He’ll know who you’re talking about.

I’ll pray for him, too.

 
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Posted by on February 2, 2011 in Travis

 

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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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