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


Posted on January 21, 2011, in Helping the Homeless, Personal and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 24 Comments.

  1. I deal with many homeless addicts and it is sad to see what their lives have become. We look at them and think how horrible it is that they live this way, but to them this is normal. For better or worse this is their life. I feel for them and just wish they could get their lives together.

    • We must remember that not all of them are there by church. Some are there due to reasons beyond their control. Whatever the reason though, they are still people – and they each still have a soul that needs redemption through Jesus Christ. The Lord loves them just as much as the housed person, the job-working person, the church-deacon, etc.

  2. We’ve stopped to give food to different people too. It’s really sad. That could be us! I actually have a story that happened, which sometimes would make me apprehensive in helping out. This person took my mom away from me for years and helped her continue to get farther away from God. I won’t go in detail, but it brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it. Anyways, she was homeless for a while cause she left all she had for this person. And I don’t know if you know what it’s like having a mom living on the streets wondering constantly where she is and how she is. But it’s heart breaking! We bought her food and stuff when we knew where she was. but this person had such a hold on her she didn’t wanna
    come home. It’s sad when a person has to live like this. It def makes me thankful for all that I have. May God bless you for helping this young man.

    • Jessica, your comment broke my heart.
      This world and some people can sure do a bang-up job on our hearts so we don’t know which end is up. A couple years back I almost walked out on my family for a person – thank God He got my attention before I did something I’d regret for the rest of my life.
      The Lord bless you.

  3. Hebrews 13:2 Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

    A little kindness goes a long way – this happens to me often and more times then not I turn the homeless one away. On the flip-side of the coin our Church entertains the homeless and destitute when ever they show up. The one that stops by only has to sit through the service then two of our Deacons will take the homeless out for a meal and often put them in a motel for one night. Our Pastor tells the Church often of thee folks.

    • DeanO, I used to look the other way constantly when I’d come in contact with them. Then I gradually began to purposefully stare them in the face with degrading looks because I viewed them all as a bunch of mooching bums.
      But the Lord has been working in my heart alot lately about them. They are people too – they were fearfully and wonderfully made by Creator God for a great and glorious purpose. They are not done until the Lord calls them home or turns off the switch.

  4. Wonderful! So convicting also. I meet so many “professional” beggars… its so hard to know the difference sometimes. But you did well. I thank God for your response to the needy man and for your sharing this. One of your best posts EVER… in my book. 🙂

    • Thank you, Daniel. That means alot to me coming from you.
      Had this guy been all up in my face freaking out at me, I’m not sure how I would have responded to him. But his quiet, pleading attitude touched my heart. He was “in need” but wasn’t allowing his “desperation” to show forth on his face. I honestly don’t know if he’s a drug addict or an alcoholic – he surely didn’t “seem” like it (for whatever that’s worth). Regardless, I’m glad I listened to the Holy Spirit and helped the man.
      In Jack Hyles words: “If I and a need meet, God must have had in mind my filling it.”

  5. This is absolutely beautiful Heather! May God give us all the courage to do what you did. Blessings!


    • Thank you for the comment, Eden.
      I’m seriously searching for some “homeless ministries” here in my area that I can help with. If I’m able to get involved with one, I’ll definitely be blogging about it more.

  6. Nice one Heather Joy. Roundabout, tussled obedience is still obedience – and God smiled when He foresaw that episode!

    Your post reminded me of something I wrote a while ago – one of my Screwcap Letters!

    @Deano – I like the sound of your church’s plan with deacons taking the homeless out for a meal etc. And I grew up in a house which entertained strangers and some of them were unquestionably angels. Some of them were con-men and thieves too but hey, it was never boring!

    • Thank you, Pop. (that sounds funny… “pop”) – nevermind…

      Anyways, your comment reminded me of the parable in the Bible about the two sons who were told to do something. One refused, but later did as he was told. The other agreed, but never did what he was told. When Jesus asked them which one did the will of his father, they answered the one that at first refused but later obeyed.
      Thank you for the reminder.

  7. This brought tears to my eyes – kinda embarrassing to be crying at the PC while the plumber is at your house fixing the water heater…but… – Be not forget to entertain strangers kept coming to my mind. Do they need to get a job? Yes. Obviously a man needs to work to eat – the Bible says so. Are a lot of the homeless homeless because of drug and alcohol abuse? Sure. But many are victims…victims of childhood abuse and neglect, victims of people who should have cared, but did not or could not. God can change lives. Will a subway card save a life? probably not. But passed out with a salvation tract – who knows how God can work in returned His word not void. We can’t judge why they are where they are..and we can’t help everyone who needs helping. Even Jesus said the poor we would have with us always. But we cam, and must, help those the Spirit promts us to help.

    • You’re absolutely right, Jessica.

      “Will a subway card save a life? probably not. But passed out with a salvation tract – who knows how God can work in returned His word not void.”
      Yes, I full inteded to give the man a tract when I gave him the gift cards, but I forgot. 😦 I remembered as I was driving away. I have some in my car and pass them out when I’m able.

  8. As I was reading this, I felt strongly of the Holy Spirit convictions, in regards of the homeless people. I have been so busy to See them! I see many homeless people in the trains and in the street. Yes, there are many homeless people in New York City. God so desire for us to be His hands extended and just love them! Many people see them, they ignore them and walk away. I have been guilty of that myself. Others cross the street to avoid them. Many homeless people extend their hands asking for a penny or a nickle. I have been guilty of not giving them that penny or nickle, because I am always in hurry to get to my destination. I have no excuse to this! Especially, when Jesus clearly said in Matthew 25:35, “For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home.”
    This must make them feel like they are thrown away people!

    Lord Jesus forgive me!


    • Thank you for stopping by, harmony7. Like you expressed, we are ALL guilty of walking by and ignoring homeless people. Or how about those that aren’t even homeless… what about those that are just less-fortunate than we are? Those in third-world countries? Those that are ill in the hospital?
      Need is all around us. There will always be something that we can do to help those who are less fortunate than we are.

  9. Allelujia! As I read through your post I was able to relate at every level. The reality of homelessness is something that, in many ways, even the most sympathetic among us can grow hardened to. I am reminded of Galatians 2:20: “Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.” If we love Jesus and embrace the whole of the Gospel, then the well being of the poor, especially those in the body of Christ, will matter to us.

    May the Lord bless the man you came in contact with and may He continue to bless you!

    You are gem my dear friend & sister.

    • Amen, Christina. You hit the nail on the head (I seriously need to find a new saying that means the same thing… I WAY overuse than one). lol
      Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment, love.

  10. Very well written – and a challenging reminder that there is always something we can do – and should do – to help people in need.

  11. Wow, I came back a checked for more replies to this post and noticed all my typos. Sorry. In my defense there was something in my eyes. 😉

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