Saturday, September 4, 2010

Letter to a Homeless Man

Dear sir,

I apologize: I do not know your name, or almost anything else about you. I know you were walking. I know you were tired, hot, and alone. I know you were hungry, that you wanted money for food, not beer. I know you were homeless.

I got you a meal, tried to point your thanks to where they belong, to the one who gave everything for me, gave everything I have to me. I am glad I fed you lunch today. But I wanted to do more. I wanted then and I wish now that there was more I could have done—that somehow I could have been more a debit card swipe, more than some well-made rice and shrimp. (I hope that plate was as good as it looked.)

I wish I could have helped you more.

Jesus told us that if anyone asked something of us, we should give it. I have wondered, over the last few years, what that looks like—whether I should keep cash with me to give to people who ask, or whether I should buy them what they claim they need, or whether I should stop at all. You made it easy: you just wanted some food. I could give you that.

But I wondered as I sat down to eat my own meal with family a few minutes later: will you have food to eat tonight? Or will you be trying to use your two dollars—those meager two dollars, too little for a meal—to buy some more sustenance on your trek to somewhere unknown? Do you know where you are going? Do you have any hope at all, or are you just trying to survive another day?

I wish I could have helped you more.

But I don't know you, I don't have your name, you don't have my number, and even as I sat with those unshed tears in my eyes, you walked out of the restaurant and out of my reach. I moved on, ate my meal, laughed at my father-in-law's jokes, and could not forget the sorrow in your eyes or the depths of your gratitude for a meal that cost $7.05. Less than an hour at minimum wage. But I spoke with you, and I think I understand. What jobs can you get? Where will take you, and more than that: where will keep you?

We have left you alone, wandering through this life like you are wandering through Fort Worth, on your own.

Do you know that there is hope beyond the prison bars of this life? Do you know that there is one who can help you more than I ever could, who loves you, who died to take your sins and give you life? Do you know him?

Should I have somehow told you more? Should I have sat with you as you ate? Should I have found you a way to where you were going? Should I have done more?

I don't have the answers. But I know yours is the face I will remember as I keep chewing on this thorny problem in front of all of us. Yours is the face I will see when I hear politicians use the homeless as a talking point, when people talk about poverty in America, when discussion flares about starvation. You are a person, not a statistic, talking point, or problem. Yours is the face of the downtrodden and lonely ones that Jesus came to save.

However poorly I showed it, I saw for just a moment His love for you (and even, a little, his love for me: as poor compared to Him as you are). The feeling will fade, but I will remember.

I hope you get where you were going, and I pray that someone feeds you more along the way.

I wish I could have helped you more.


  1. this makes me cry. it makes me cry b/c you have taken yourself out of who you are to try to see who this man is.

    it is difficult when we sit in our relatively 'pretty' lives to understand another's life that does not look good to us, for any reason. i tell people they don't have to understand, but they need to understand that they do not understand.

    people would look at me in my most worst days and say, "You should just do ..." or "Can't you just ..."

    and the answer was, no. i couldn't. i was so weakened in every part of me, and continuing to be depleated, not knowing when i would again begin to be filling rather than depleting again. i had no strength. i had nothing left to give after caring the best i could for my girls and myself.

    but people who were 'full' and 'satisfied,' who were not 'hungry' for anything in their lives except, perhaps, a new outfit to fit into their already full closet, or new shoes to add to their already full shoe shelves, or how to fit another extracurricular activity into their child's already full life ... these people could not understand where i was. not only could they not understand, which was acceptable and good to me, but they would not acknowledge that they did not understand that they did not understand. so they sat in their places of strength and security and 'fullness,' looking upon me in judgement, turning away from my desperate needs ... b/c *they* would NEVER _________.

    you, however, never did that. neither you nor your parents. you saw me where i was, and even though you did not understand everything, you accepted that you did not understand everything, and you all loved me where i was and carried me there.

    your heart to see is from God. our selfish humanity would not care to see. but you have a heart from God that is willing to allow God to open your eyes to see.

    when your life is laid before your feet in heaven, and fire is set to the pile, when all has burned away, you will see my girls and me ... and you will see this man.

    thank you.

  2. God is good. (I can't really take credit for things he has done.) Thanks for your encouragement.


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