This was originally posted on Myspace in mid-2007, and then re-posted on an old blog of mine on July 30, 2008. It’s copied again here in its entirety — sorry for the length — and without edits, though it needs a lot. I simply want it to live on as it was, reminding me of who I was, and continuing to challenge me in areas of my heart that have not changed. There is more to come, as this is the first post in a mini-series on the homeless.
To those of you who have been, have you ever noticed that there are a ton of homeless people in Miami? I guess it’s the place to be if you’re homeless. But you know what? Although I sympathize with the fact that some of them have mental health issues, I’ve always felt a little bothered that they’re at EVERY intersection begging for money. I’m just going to be honest: it’s annoying and sometimes scary. You also don’t know if they’re scamming you and their car’s around the corner or if they plan to waste your money on dope. Thus, I’ve always been leery when it comes to homeless people. I generally avoid them, finding something incredibly important to do in my car as they walk past my window. If they persist and ask anyway, I usually lie and say I have no money. “I’m really sorry. I just don’t have any cash.” Mmm. Right.
So, I’d been feeling kind of bad about this and had read in the Bible all these passages about caring for the needy and I decided I’d turned over a new leaf. Anytime I saw someone at an intersection working for the Homeless Voice organization, then I would give a buck or two. They may still steal out of the bucket or whatever, but I just felt a little better about it being an organization where the homeless were working. When you donate money, you get their publication that has news about the homeless population in the area as well as other handy tips just about life. Here begins portion A of my story.
As I drove home from church on Sunday, my car squeaked to a stop at the intersection of 95-S and Ives Dairy. As expected, the familiar bright yellow “Homeless Voice” shirt came into view with a shady-looking young man in it. Coarse, long hair and a snaggle-toothed smile topped the baggy yellow shirt that hung on his emaciated frame. I estimated his age to be in the upper-30s range, but then I quickly reassessed in light of the probability of years of drug abuse. He may have been no older than myself. I gave a dollar in exchange for a “Thank you” and one of their newspapers.
Upon my arrival home, I collapsed onto my couch a little amused in anticipation of reading the little stories in their little paper. But the stories were not little at all; rather they related heart-wrenching tales about homeless children who “live” all around me and are turned away from shelters. I muttered the obligatory, “That’s just so sad,” and shot up a three-second prayer as I turned to the last page. Staring back at me was a young man with long, scraggly hair and a scruffy beard. He wore the stereotypical sign about his neck lamenting his lack of food. But this sign was different. It simply stated, “Will work for loaves and fishes.” What…? Then my eyes caught the caption, “How can you worship a homeless man on Sunday, and ignore one on Monday?” Wow. That’s pretty good.
I didn’t feel terribly bothered by this. I thought it was very clever. Cutting it out, I put it by my computer. There was no stinging conviction in my heart because remember, I had just given a whole dollar. I didn’t ignore him – not at all! I gave him money and I didn’t worry about what he would do with it. (Even though I did see him 30 seconds later apparently stuffing something in his pocket and I muttered,”Typical.” But I still did my part!) So ends Portion A.
Fast-forward three long days. This brings us to yesterday. Running about 10 minutes late for work, (which would get me there right on time, because I’m usually 10 minutes early), I’m pulling up to what’s normally a busy intersection and I’m trying to fix my hair at the same time. Although this is an intersection of three streets and it is usually semi-dangerous, it was noticeably empty this morning. Empty except for this mis-buttoned flannel shirt with a hairy belly and very dirty jeans sticking out of the bottom. I could smell him in my mind’s nose even though my windows were rolled up and he was about five yards away from my car. Watching him stagger around somewhat aimlessly, a mixture of anxiety and disgust tightened in my chest. So, I stopped my car several yards back from the intersection to keep my distance. He seemed to be crossing the street at this point anyway. As I was checking my reflection in my mirror, my peripheral vision noticed him walking toward my window. Without turning my head, I let my foot off the brake enough to inch the car forward to pass him (nice trick I picked up in Miami), hoping he’d get the hint. He didn’t. I see his belly in my side-view mirror swaggering up to the car and I quickly glanced up at the light. Still freaking red. I’m thinking, “God, he’s probably going to ask me for money, but he seems drunk and I don’t know what he’d do with it. And what if he’s really crazy?” My eyes darted around and I noticed that I’m still alone at the intersection with this man. And the light’s still red. He’s at my window now. My anxiety heightens as his hairy navel framed by dirty flannel stops literally six inches from my face. Keeping my eyes locked on the red light, I wave my left hand up by my head in a stern “go away” fashion. And he did. And the light turned green. And God slapped me across the face as I made my way through the intersection.
See, I had been feeling pretty good about myself as far as compassion is concerned. I give money to the church, which I know gives money to the homeless, and I committed to giving money when I saw Homeless Voice people. I was doing my part! Certainly more than most people do, I know that for sure. I was even so sure of myself that I cut out that little picture of my homeless Jesus and kept it in agreement with the sentiment. And then I’m driving along, completely self-absorbed, and Jesus walks up to my car absolutely out of the blue. I never even let him say a single word to me. I never even saw his face. I refused to connect enough humanity with that sloppy, dirty clothing to even give him the dignity to look him in the eye. I still, ultimately, don’t have a clue what he was going to say to me. I waved him off like you’d shoo away a fly.
Do you think I’m being too hard on myself? I was a woman alone who felt scared by an intimidating man approaching my vehicle! In that situation, I simply did what was best for my own safety! I couldn’t have known what his intentions were, and I have to go with my gut in these situations! And he probably would have taken my money and drank or smoked it away. Maybe.
Or maybe I could have looked at him the way Jesus looks at him and taken two seconds to stop and think. EMPTY intersection. If he was the slightest bit aggressive, I could have run the freaking red light! OH MY GOSH don’t you think a cop would understand that, Angela? Maybe he really was just starving. Maybe he was lost. Maybe he just needed one good meal because he was feeling disoriented from lack of food. And I didn’t even have to give him money! That’s what kills me in all this! If I had taken that two seconds to think, I would have remembered that my mother-in-law had just mailed me a Subway gift card to use “any time you need a lift”. So God, in all His wisdom, knew that I thought I was a pretty nice person. And He orchestrated the perfect circumstances for the claims of my head to come face-to-face with the reality of my heart.
Jesus showed me my heart yesterday in a way that literally broke it. I haven’t felt convicted by the Spirit like that probably in years – if ever. Sure, I’ve felt correction and guidance. But something like this? Sometimes, you feel gentle nudging by the Spirit. Sometimes it’s so gentle, or else you’re so self-absorbed, you feel nothing at all. And sometimes, He lets you alone to let you see how disgusting your nature is, and then walks right into your soul and spiritually and emotionally breaks you into little pieces.
And I have no idea if that poor man ever got any food, or if that was even what he wanted, or if it was actually an angel of the Lord sent to test me. Whether human or angel, I know without a doubt in my mind that he was a test that I failed so miserably. And do you want to know what I realized later is even worse? Even though I realized my error within a block of where he was standing, I didn’t go back. It literally didn’t occur to me. I was late to work.
“Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ Then they themselves also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.'”