A Man Named Chris

As I was walking out of church and toward my car I saw a ragged looking fellow sitting on a bus bench surrounded by all of his belongings. I had seen him there before, in the parking lot behind the bus stop, but hadn’t ever paid attention. I noticed him, would think to myself ‘maybe one day I’ll offer to help him out,’ but nothing more than that.

Tonight though, as I walked to my car I realized I wanted to go talk to him. I put my purse in my car, took out my wallet, and stood by my car for a few minutes wrestling with myself. He seems to have food, maybe he is taken care of. After all, there was a food bag near him. I know I have been praying that I would reach out to people, but maybe there will be another chance. Then I looked up, took a deep breath, asked God for strength and the next thing I knew my car was locked and I was walking over to this strange man.

It took a moment to get his attention and I asked him a simple question: Do you need anything?

Little did I know those four words would lead to an hour of me listening and learning about this amazing individual.

He told me that he did not need anything. He had his little stove, he had a new coat he had picked up for $1.44 somewhere, and he had coffee. His name was Chris, and for an hour he shared a lot about his life and what it is like to live on the street day in and day out. He told me that he was forced out onto the street because housing was too expensive, but said that he did not blame anyone.

He gave me advice, too. He told me that sometimes people have to make the hard decision even if it means giving up achievement and success. People get stuck going in one direction and they never stop to look around or see if it is really worth pursuing. They pursue success, but sometimes success is not all it is cut out to be. He said even animals know to not head in the same direction all their lives and that even though he had chosen a difficult direction he would figure out a way to get back to a good place.

Chris mentioned that he did not like Starbucks coffee; he was a Folgers guy, but that the lemon loaf was delicious. He then offered to give me money to go buy one for myself to try. I said if he wanted to buy one for me, then he should come with me and we’ll go enjoy some together. He then told me about life on the street, about how he could not just leave all of his stuff because people would come and steal it. He said rarely gets a good night’s rest because he always has to be half awake in order to protect his few possessions.

The most amazing thing, though (really everything that came out of this man’s mouth was amazing) was his willingness to forgive those who stole things from him. He told me that he tried not to dwell on it, that he often hoped whoever stole something of his really needed it, and that one day he will save up money to replace the things that were stolen so he would have no reason to ever hold a grudge. It was just stuff.

Did I mention that this man told me he was over 80 years old? He was born and raised in Texas, moved to Santa Ana where he lived and worked for 42 years. He did not explicitly mention that he was a veteran, but he kept mentioning his various visits to the VA hospital so I suspect he was. He told me his brother was the most decorated black man in the Army during the Korean War and that he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Chris also told me about the restaurants that turn him away when he asks for a cup of ice or even when he has money to spend and tries to buy food.

I spent an hour at that bus stop talking with him and by the time I was ready to walk away, I could not believe the encounter. He told me that there is a church in downtown Orange where he gets dinner a lot of nights and he would be happy to have a sandwich and another conversation with me. I told him where my church was and invited him to try it out one Sunday night. I figure if nothing else, he could sit in the warm lobby and maybe have a nap before he had to face the evening.

In the end I do not really have anything to share except this encounter as it stands. I did not approach this man by my own means, but through God’s strength I overcame my fear, I overcame the pressures of conformity, I overcame everything I was ever taught about not talking to strangers and learned more than I had ever anticipated.

We ended the night with a fist bump and a promise to say hi to each other if we see one another again. 

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Schooled by a Child in the Art of Giving (Outside of a Target)

I stopped by Target today. I’m going to the Grand Canyon this weekend and I had a couple more things I needed to pick up. As I walked up to the doors I saw a table set up with a lady sitting at it, a donation box in front of her for an organization that helps homeless families. She was wearing a turkey hat, which was what really caught my attention. Yet I walked by and went about my business.

After checking out I exited the store and saw her there, knowing she was going to ask for money. I did my best to hustle by. I refused to make eye contact and hurriedly made my way to my car, saved from having to respond to her plea for money since her sights were on someone else. Yet as I was crossing the street a man’s son ran by, waved at her, and then exclaimed, “I would give you change!” I looked over and his dad was ushering him away, but something about his exuberant exclamation made me pause.

My thoughts as I had exited Target and hurried past this woman were as follows:

I already give enough.

I have other organizations that get my money.

I will fill a box for Thanksgiving for a family.

Oh how hard my heart is and how it melted at a little boy’s words! No wonder Jesus loved children so much. Their hearts are soft and their hands are open. They do not try to justify their inaction. They wear their hearts on their sleeves.

As I loaded my stuff into the car I took out some cash and walked back over to the lady in the turkey hat and dropped the money into her donation box. Her face lit up.

It was only a couple of dollars and I am not writing this to glorify me. I am writing this because the sweet, innocent words of a child who would have given every last cent he had to help someone in need showed me something about my own heart. If a little child who has nothing would have given it anyway, how much more should I who has more than plenty, be willing to give to help those in need?

“Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, ‘Truly, I tell you this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.’” (Luke 21:1-4 ESV)

I stepped out of Target unwilling to give even a little of my abundance, already justifying my inaction because of all the other things I do. Really, I should be giving first to those in need and then dealing with the rest. Children are often willing to give all they have to help, but I was not even willing at first to put a couple of dollars in a donation tin.

I pray God helps me to be a person with a soft heart and the willingness of a child to help those in need. 

The Lion and the Lamb

I am bothered.

I’m currently taking a class on Revelation and there is one image that has stuck out to me. In the midst of all of the symbolism, the Old Testament references, and all of the insane imagery that Revelation uses there is one moment that I think sums up everything about this life I’ve chosen in Christ.

Revelation 5:1-7 (ESV):

Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. As I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?’ And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, ‘Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.’

 And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne.”

John is weeping because no one is able to open the scroll, which scholars believe is a symbol of God’s plan of redemption. Yet in the midst of his sorrow one of the elders around the throne calls out and declares that all is well, the Lion of the tribe of Judah can open the scroll! The Lion, the powerful kingly and conquering Messiah had arrived. All would be well because the Lion of Judah would decimate the enemies of His people and end suffering.

Excited at this prospect, John probably swung his head around sharply in order to catch a glimpse of this magnificent defender and conqueror.

Instead of a lion, however, he saw a slaughtered lamb.

The slaughtered Lamb is the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of the house of David, the Messiah, and the conquering King.

You see, Jesus did not come to conquer with violence. He did not come to bring glory to himself and his people through blood and death. He conquers through suffering. He conquered through dying.

The implications of this are heavy and hard because our idea of glory in this life is not what the Bible makes glory out to be in the Kingdom of God. We conquer through suffering. We begin to model the Kingdom of God when we sacrifice ourselves humbly.

While evil still exists and Christ is still to come again, our call is to not glorify ourselves and our actions. We’re not called to prideful boasting in our own holiness. We also do not get a free pass from the suffering of the world just because we believe what we believe. We are called to pick up our cross daily, die to ourselves, and engage with the world from a place of humility because that is the model our savior laid out for us.

So now I’m bothered because this is both a beautiful revelation and a hard truth to swallow. There is no gospel of prosperity, Deuteronomistic theology holds no ground. We will not achieve glory, fame, and riches in this life. Rather, we will have to pour ourselves out like Jesus did and realize that we are here to serve even in our suffering.

Ouch.