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.