Wednesday, July 25, 2007

City of Angels

Lately, as my worldview has leaned further and further to the left, I have been feeling a bit of guilt about what implications these leanings have toward my own Christian faith. Biblically, I feel confident in the “God gives people choices, so we should let the government give people choices” conclusions I have drawn, but then the whole element of evangelism comes in and I’m shaking in my boots. It’s not that I am ashamed of my Lord and Savior, but I would just rather people fall in love with Him in a way in which they see Him, are attracted, and decide to pursue Him; not in a series of ambushed blind dates forced upon them by a friend who "just knows they'd be perfect together!" – you know? Then there’s judgment. Judgment is an activity associated with religious-types that I really would just as soon abstain from for personal reasons as well as deep spiritual convictions. Add to it the [fundamentalist] Christian version of the Mommy Wars, and wow – I just don’t stack up.

Increasingly, because of the above reluctances, I’ve recently found myself wondering if I am a lukewarm Christian, the type that God would prefer a non-believer to. I've been wondering if my increasing liberality is a sign that I'm losing my Christian distinction and blending in with the "world." I’ve been wondering if the MPA really is a direction He would have me go in, or if it was just my own selfish ambition...

This past weekend, after one Friday evening and a full day Saturday of being sequestered in an interior (read: NO windows. NONE) classroom pumped full of stale, albeit cool air, listening to rather abstract theories (which, remember, theories are only potentially reality, and not necessarily the real deal) of academia as they pertain to the third, or non-profit, sector, I was ready for a bit of “real-life” reality on Sunday morning. We’d decided to reconvene the class at noon, but I felt like I could get more work done at a café than at my hotel, so I checked out of my room and headed to LoDo.

Being broke as a joke, and knowing that we were working thru lunch Sunday, I had bought some filling staples (read: cheap, totally filler food) the night before to bring with me. I did not need a WHOLE bag of bagels, nor the entire cluster of bananas, nor the complete box of fruit leathers, but being that the interior of my car would reach well over 100 degrees in the sultry climate of exposed asphalt, I brought ALL of it with me. I didn’t want to walk around LoDo with this ginormous grocer’s sack AND my laptop/book bag that was weighing me down – so I thought I would see if I could get into the university building and put my food in the breakroom. Which would have been fine, except, the doors were locked and my id card had not been activated as a door key when I’d gotten it Friday. So, I took my plastic bag and stuffed it behind the newspaper machines, thinking that if it was gone when I got back, someone obviously needed it worse than I did.

I walked downtown to find a café. It was a bit strange hearing the church bells chime and not being at worship on the Lord's day. But I rested assured in the fact that He would bring Himself to me and all would be well. I found a popular chain café, grabbed a java, and set about to work. After an hour and a half or so I was done and I started to walk back to the university building.

It was then that I saw Him.

I thanked the Lord for showing Himself to me, as I walked past the homeless man who’d just scored the remnants of a to-go box out of the trash. I hurried past him returning to my plastic bag of goodies, saw it was still there, grabbed it and started back toward the man.

When I stopped at the bench on the sidewalk where he sat, he looked puzzled, his face begging the question, “Didn’t you just walk past me?”“How’s it going?” I asked him with a smile.

He looked up skeptical, but overall in good spirits. “Good, how ‘bout yourself?”

“Good. Hey, you’ll probably think I’m crazy, but I just last night bought a bunch of snacky-type food that I really only need a little of – and when I walked by you the first time, I couldn’t help but think that perhaps I could share my extras with you. Could you use some bagels and whatnot?”

His face lit up – sure, he said, he could use all the help he could get. However, he told me, he only had room for some, not all of what I was planning on giving him. It is always so poignant to me when those in need reveal that they haven’t lost all of their need for human dignity, despite primal survival instincts.

We sat and talked, with no strings attached to case management or service plans, for a good 45 minutes on that bench. Passersby stared at us, this unlikely pairing of a grubby old chronic and a young professional woman, neatly done up for the day.

His name was Rick. He was a vet who had fallen in love with the rich culture of the “old world,” while stationed overseas, and felt that we Americans had no culture in the arena of art or history, and what we did have was being replaced with TV, technology and rampant materialism. Somewhere along the conversation, he asked me why I was “bothering” with him. I told him I used to work with the homeless in Fort Collins, but that I was out of the “business” nowadays. I told him I missed the contact. He asked me if I ever read “this guy,” as he flashed a Stephen King novel at me. I nodded, saying not in a long while, alluding to the demands of work, family and my schooling. He asked about my program, and I took the time to explain to him how important it was for me to be able to provide a voice for the needy and disadvantaged to our governments, at all levels – local, state, and federal. We talked about the history of medicine; how in the middle ages the Church forbade anatomical exploration, and how that really held up the progress of the science.

In short, our conversation was highly enjoyable, intelligent discourse covering a vast array of topics. Rick asked my name, and I told him, saying, “I don’t know that we’ll ever meet again, but it does feel good to know a person’s name, huh?” He agreed, saying perhaps we would meet again, that we “never know.” He thanked me for the food, which had ended up being 2 bagels, 2 bananas and several of the fruit leathers. As I looked at my watch, it was approaching 10:00 – the time that my professor had said he would be arriving to open the classroom up. I bid Rick adieu, shook his hand unabashedly, and headed down to the university.

Who knows why Rick has been as homeless as long as he has. I mean, I know all of the risks and contributing factors, but which ones fit him particularly? From our time-encapsulated encounter, I can deduce that he is an intelligent guy and mild mannered; also, a person who does not get a lot of human touch, attention, or kindness. He may have made some deliberate choices that led to this life, or he may not have made any choices and just been the victim of some seriously hard knocks on this earth. Most likely, his reality had come about from possibilities in the middle of these two scenarios. But, as my ponderings meandered through my head, I thought, “Doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t matter.”

The Lord said the Father would welcome into the Kingdom those who saw Him and acted;

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. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.

God's Word doesn't say anything about us asking Him why He was hungry or in jail; later determining if He would be a worthy Recipient of our resources. Nor does it say a word about best practices and/or the safety of inviting a stranger into our home. He just says that we whom He loves will do these things.

I glanced heavenward in gratitude as a familiar song crept into my heart:

What if he's an angel sent here from Heaven
And he's makin' certain that you're doin' your best
To take the time to help one another?
Brother, are you gonna pass that test?

I have no doubt that such tests occur.

I also have no doubt in my mind that God Himself doesn’t have to bother with such tests, because He already knows our hearts.

But we need them, don’t we? To be aware of just how far from (or close to) the target we’re aiming?

I’m sure glad that He sent me that test as a means to remind me that He knows just where I am, and that despite all my shortcomings, my heart's motivations are spot-on in His Book.

After all, Rick may just be telling people about the 45 minutes he spent with an angel on Sunday morning. God works in mighty and mysterious ways, and I am ever thankful to be a willing vessel for Him.


  1. That story warmed my heart. Nice work, Heather.

  2. I have tears in my eyes.. Thank you Heather for making a difference in Rick's life. You know my dad is homeless somewhere in Houston... and I cant help but pray people like you stop him and give him a moment of their time.

  3. What a blessing you were able to be a glimmer of God's love in his life that day. It's great you were paying attention when God presented you an opportunity. So many times our opportunities are missed.

    I struggled with Commandment #4 also... while we're always in church - just focusing on rest, and "His" day - for Him, and as an example for my children to respect His commands as well is particularly tough when I'm thinking it's "catch up" time in the afternoons...

    Your writing are always so fun to read. :)

  4. I have had a few of those "theory" classes too. Sometimes I have really liked them and other times I really hated them.

    Also LoDo looks like a pretty cool area. We had a couple of areas like that in Milwaukee and Pamella and I frequented such places.

    Rich sounds like a great guy. I do not, like you, understand why some folks are homeless. They have been dealt a bad deal some where and I do not know how to address or "redeem" that. But your conversation is an inspiration to me and I thank you for being Jesus for a little while with a person that others are blind too.

    Bobby Valentine

  5. Heather,

    Simply amazing.

    I'm not anonymous its Becky I just don't have my blogger account anymore :)

  6. That was really touching. I just wish that I had the guts to do what you did. Thank you for doing what many don't have the guts to do.