Staring homeless in the eyes.
The temperatures outside had taken a nosedive, nasty wet-snow was falling from the gray sky, and traffic jams crowded what little scenery I could still see despite the snow that significantly decreased my visibility. I decided to order a salad from BDUBS for dinner, so I forged through the traffic until I finally reached my destination.
As I began my drive home, the little red light on my dashboard flashed on and the all-too-familiar*ding, ding, ding* sounded, informing me that I needed to fill my gas tank. I rolled my eyes, frustrated that I’d have to get out of my warm car to pump gas in such ungodly temperatures. My intention was to stop at the IndependOil station located about a mile before the turn into my subdivision, but my mind wandered and I completely forgot about my car’s desperate plea for refueling.
The ever-persistent *ding* sounded again as I drove through my neighborhood and reached the edge of my street. Again, I rolled my eyes, this time frustrated that my plan to “stop on the way home” was foiled by my wandering imagination. I passed my street and headed toward the back-end of my subdivision, where the next closest gas station was located about 200 yards away.
The snow was still falling. My temperature gauge still read in the single digits. My patience was still running as low as my almost-empty gas tank. When I finally reached the gas station, I hulled myself out of my car, slid my credit card into the reader, and began pumping the gas. That’s when I saw him.
He was riding some sort of mountain bike at a turtle’s pace. He was wearing something with a loose hood under what looked like an off-brand Carhartt jacket. He had a backpack stuffed with who-knows-what. His face was gentle, rose-red from the cold, and handsome. He began digging for pop bottles in the trashcan next the gas pump I was using with one hand while his other hand held the grocery bag containing the bottles he had already collected. He was so young… he couldn’t have been but maybe a couple of years older than me, at the most.
I didn’t want to stare, so I quickly twisted the gas cap back on my tank, closed the little door, and headed around to the driver’s side of my car. Right as I opened my door, he walked his bike up next to me.
“Excuse me… you wouldn’t happen to have any spare change, would you?” he was quiet and sincere, but didn’t have even the slightest sound of hopeless desperation in his voice.
“Umm… no… I don’t have any change.” And with that, I dropped into the driver’s seat of my car and closed the door. I watched him slowly walk away and cross over a big snow bank, heading for the small shopping plaza located next to the gas station.
*Heather, you’re such a sorry, selfish, lowdown, hypocritical piece of dirt.* I can’t remember the last time I felt that guilty over something I had done. I looked down at the floor and stared at the carry-out container holding the salad I had purchased for dinner. I looked back at the homeless man, now parking his bike outside the Laundromat. I wondered how many times he had heard the word “No!” that day. I wondered how many Christians might have overlooked him and turned a blind eye to his need over the course of this week, this month. *You should be ashamed of yourself! You may not have any spare change to give him, but you could have given him your dinner! Or what about one of the several restaurant gift cards you have stuffed in your wallet?*
I was torn. Should I chase after the homeless man with my car and offer him something that could feed him for the next couple days? Or should I just let it slide this one time and take it as a lesson learned? I sat and stared for a few more minutes before I could no longer live with the guilt that was fluttering through my insides. I had to do something.
I pulled out of the gas station and into the shopping plaza next door. By the time I got there, he was inside the Laundromat talking with the lady on duty. I parked my car and just sat there looking at him through the ground-to-roof windows in front of the building. He was holding up a pair of old jeans that had been in the lost-and-found basket – he measured them against his waste… perfect fit! I watched him peel off his snow-crusted, heavy, outer jacket and drop it to the floor. Next he peeled off his hoodie while the lady behind the front counter handed him a royal blue, long-sleeve, quarter-zip fleece. It looked nice on him.
I gathered up what little was left of my self-accused and guilty-sentenced pride and marched right up to the door. I took a deep breath before entering and then gave the door a good hard shove. A little bell jangled, announcing my presence and catching the employee’s attention.
When I reached the homeless stranger, I cleared my through to get his attention.
“Look… I’m sorry… you just asked me for money back there at the gas station, right?” My voice was shaky, mainly because I wanted to cry in shame over my prior actions.
“Yes… I did…” He stated his confirmation just as quietly as his original request.
“Well… I don’t have any money I can give you… but I can give you these if you want them…” I extended my arm towards him and held out two SUBWAY gift cards – they had been given to me as Christmas presents. “They’re both new, I’ve never used them… but I’m not sure how much money is on them.” I looked into his eyes as he slowly took them from me. He glanced up at me, and for a brief 5 seconds I was staring homeless in the eyes. *so this is what it looks like… this is what standing in the presence of need and newfound hope feels like. This is what Jesus would have done.*
“Wow… Than— wow… thank you… God bless you…” His eyes were soft, and his smile refreshing.
I smiled at him and nodded as I held back the grateful tears – tears that wanted to shout “thank You for the second chance, Father!”
As I headed for home, I began thinking how glad I was that my wandering mind caused me to forget my original plan for filling my gas tank. Perhaps it wasn’t so cold and dreary outside after all. Maybe what started off as a major annoyance to me was God’s will of provision for that man.
I may never see him again, but I asked the Lord to give me countless more opportunities just like this one in the future.
“Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
~ Matthew 25:24-40