A Name and a Story
Every day except Monday, I drive to church, and I admit there are usually trace amounts of anxiety in my heart as I pull into the parking lot. I never know what I am going to find.
I’m not talking about lost Awana materials or a stray football forgotten after youth group. Those are actually encouraging signs of life. The more common discoveries are more sobering: drifts of random trash, bits of drug paraphernalia, old bikes shoved in the bushes, soggy cast off clothes or heavily laden grocery carts. And sometimes, along with the things, there is a person.
Such was the case a week ago, as I crossed the parking lot and saw a form in a sleeping bag lying in front of the main doors. I took a deep breath as my heart bounced back and forth between pity and anxiety. The person appeared to be sleeping, so I decided to leave them be for the moment, but then an early Amazon delivery roused the young man.
As I approached him, he immediately let me know he had a ride coming and would be gone soon. I assured him there was no rush and asked if he wanted a cup of coffee. He said, “Yes, please.” Cream and sugar? “Yes please,” he said, “Lots of both.” A man after my own heart. I was struck by his politeness.
When I came back with the coffee, I was surprised to see an SUV had arrived and a middle-aged woman was loading up his things in the back. I asked her if she wanted a couple of bags to put the things in and she gratefully accepted. The young man seemed to have a serious problem with his leg, but he insisted in getting up on his own.
When everything was loaded, the young man apologized he had no place to put the empty shopping cart. I was amazed. I have returned countless shopping carts to stores, and this is the first time I have ever heard someone express concern about it. I assured him I would take care of it and thanked him for his thoughtfulness.
As the young man gingerly climbed into the passenger seat, I asked the lady, “Are you doing alright?” She sighed deeply and said, “It’s hard having a son who is homeless.” Fighting back tears, she went on to explain that there is a deep rift between Cody, her son, and his dad, and they have not talked in years. This conflict is a big part of the reason Cody is on the street. So, she does her best to help him however she can.
As they drove away, I took some time to process and pray. Less than an hour before, he was just a person sleeping in front of the church, part of the sad statistics of homelessness. Moments later, I knew his name and a bit of his story. I hope to keep growing in my readiness to learn a person’s name and their story, even if the encounter is not so pleasant. I think that is what Jesus did.