I met my first homeless person today.
Oh, I've seen my share of them, but today I actually put a name with a face. I heard part of a story that is in the process of being told...
As I was standing outside of the apartment, checking e-mails and such on my iTouch, he approached me. He asked if he could make a call on my phone quick if he paid me 50 cents. I told him not to bother, and dialed the number for him.
It was a voicemail.
He had me dial another number, and talked with the person on the other end for a few moments before handing the phone back to me.
He didn't leave right away. In fact, he started striding to the sidewalk and back, all the while talking my ear off. I responded in short sentences, keeping my eyes on the iPod, checking Facebook, e-mails, and all the other important things that should rightfully hold my interest more so than a person in need.
He started telling me about how he'd been through several divorces, and that all the women he'd been with had cheated on him for other guys. The words he used to describe both women, and people of other races were very offensive, yet he claimed not to be prejudiced.
At that moment, something moved me inside, and I felt prompted to listen a bit closer.
Have you ever had a wake up call internally?
The kind of thing that smacks you, like a bucket of cold water thrown in your face?
Here is a person in need, a fellow man, who has endured more hardship than I can say I have in my short lifetime, and I'm treating him as if he is a fly attacking a hamburger at a cookout in July!!
Repeatedly brushing him away until he loses interest and moves on...
I realized that I had been on a wary defensive ever since he had approached me.
Keeping myself relatively closed off to him.
Because he doesn't have a working cell phone?
Because he doesn't dress in fancy clothes?
Because, somehow, people who are homeless, or have fallen on hard times, are somehow less trustworthy than others?
Worse yet, are they somehow less human to me than others?
It is these moments that have a profound impact upon the individual.
Maybe it's the realization that there is something beyond the scope of their own little world; or maybe it is the revelation that we tend to be much more selfish than we give ourselves credit for. Whatever it was, I was listening.
His name is Tim.
He used to be in the Navy, and became disabled later in life, some sort of shoulder injury, I guess.
He has been with his share of women and, as mentioned earlier, has been married several times. He told me how he desperately wishes he could find someone but that, because of his past experiences, he is unable to trust women.
He looked at the car I was leaning on, and asked if it was mine. I told him it was. I saw a flicker of longing cross his face. He told me how nice it'd be to have a car, which I was quickly coming to realize after he asked me the initial question.
He told me that he is homeless. He crashes periodically at a house across the street from me, but only sometimes. Many nights he doesn't know where he sleeps.
Maybe he doesn't want to remember.
I asked him if he wanted something to drink and he did, so I rummaged through the fridge and produced a bottle of Gatorade. He thanked me.
He remarked on how big my place was and said it was really nice.
I gave him "the tour."
He, again, told me how nice my place was.
It had been awhile since he had called his ride so he used my phone a few more times to get ahold of people, thanked me and walked back across the street. He sat on the step, waiting for a ride that didn't come.
When I came back out, he moseyed back across the street.
He had a new brilliant red shirt on. He said he wanted to show it to me.
It was a Harley shirt that he had bought in Vegas. He loved Vegas he said. He asked me what I thought of the design on the back (a muscle car with a scantily clad woman on the hood).
I told him it was boss.
He used my phone again to call his friend.
I then felt I should offer him a ride to wherever he was going.
He accepted, and I went inside to get ready for work.
His ride did end up coming, and he stopped by to thank me once more.
That was it.
It was today that I realized something that is very difficult to swallow.
I still have prejudices.
As much as I try to rid myself of judgementalism in my heart, it still lingers.
I judged Tim without even bothering to get to know him.
I had slapped a label of "homeless freeloader" onto him.
I had robbed him of a tiny piece of what it means to be human.
Tim is a person.
A homeless person? Yes.
In a sense, we are all homeless.
We are all far from Home.
We are all impoverished, broken creatures.
Because I happen to have more wealth than Tim, doesn't make me any more whole, or complete than him. In some ways, my hesitance to act showed the exact opposite.
Jesus had a lot to say about ignoring the cries of those in need, and failing to use what you have been blessed with to bless others.
Because that really is, in essence, why I believe we are given anything in this life.
If I have a car, I want to use that car to help others who may not have a car.
If I have food, I want to use it to provide for those who may not have food.
My phone might as well be every one's phone.
The reason that Jesus was so adamant about these things was because it helps our perspectives. By realizing that nothing is ours we are freed to focus on the things that matter.
Relationship. Helping others. Giving charity.
When everything is God's, one doesn't have to cling to or hoard material things. They are mere tools at our disposal, ready to be used for His purposes.
Yet, though I "believe" these things, my heart was still reluctant to trust.
I was hesitant to open up to another in need. To share a bit of my life with him, and allow him to share his life and story with me.
And when it comes down to it, if you don't act on something you claim to believe, you probably don't believe it.
To be a follower of Jesus, one needs to be known for more than just having the "right" theology.
It is more than just being able to explain to someone why the way of Jesus is the best way to live.
Following Jesus requires action.
I felt something once I started listening to Tim.
A prompting? An urge? Direction? Call it what you will.
As I gave him that cold Gatorade, I realized that that simple beverage wasn't enough. I started thinking of other ways in which I could possibly meet his needs. To let him know that, though love hasn't been kind to him in the past, he has always been, and always will be, loved.
A simple exchange.
A phone call.
It is amazing how such simple things can wreck you in the best of ways.